Preserving Bits of This and That – Part 2: Dehydration

Now that milking has begun, and therefore cheese making has begun, I’m starting to think about what sorts of things I can add to chevre for flavor. My all time favorite is still fresh dill, garlic, salt and a pinch of sugar but I’ve been experimenting with other flavors as well. Most of the time I use at least a few dried ingredients, especially garlic and onion. Yes, you can use fresh raw onion and garlic but in my opinion the flavor is too strong and harsh. I much prefer the flavor of dried garlic and onion which is much more like to roasted or cooked garlic and onion than raw. So yesterday I chopped up an onion and some garlic that I had previously roasted, covered in olive oil and then froze and put them in my dehydrator.





I didn’t take any pictures of them before dehydrating, but you can probably use your imagination. I dried them on a low heat setting for a long time (overnight). If you don’t dry them long enough they will create a mushy paste when you try to grind them rather than a powder.

I use an old coffee grinder for grinding my dried herbs/spices/etc. It works really well but one my complaint is that its difficult to clean. When grinding garlic and onion its really important that I get it VERY clean before using the grinder for something milder like herbs or something that would taste horrible with garlic like citrus rind.


Powdered dehydrated lime zest and lime simple syrup

Since I had the dehydrator running anyway, I decided to throw a few other things on to dry (and cleaned out the fridge and fruit basket as well). We had a bag of limes that were starting to get some age on them so I cut off the outer rind and dried it, and then used the juice to make syrup. I also found a bunch of carrots in the fridge that needed to be used up so I sliced them up really thinly with a vegetable peeler and dried them up. They made a really pretty orange powder. This may seem like a weird thing to make, but carrot powder actually adds a nice bit of depth to herb and spice mixes. When a little is used in a mix you don’t really taste “carrot”, it just makes the mix taste kind of “gardeny”. It’ll be interesting to see how the bright orange color affects the color of the cheese!


Lime zest, orange zest, carrot powder, garlic powder, onion powder

Finally, I chopped up some left over fish that had been in the fridge just a little bit too long and dehydrated it. Anytime we have left over cooked meat I toss the scraps in the dehydrator and it makes the best dog treats. Both dogs have been very attentive and well behaved today — all I have to do is shake my little mason jar of treats and they come running! 2015-05-20 14.51.37 Oh and I almost forgot. I found a jar of bread and butter pickles in the fridge that was nearly empty and taking up valuable shelf space so I decided to experiment a bit and see what would happen if I dried them. They have the consistency of gummy bears but taste like pickles and I can’t decide if they are delicious or disgusting. DSC_0408

Preserving Bits of This and That – Part 1: Infusions

This is my favorite time of year because there is so much new life in the world. I love it when everything is blooming and growing. In an effort to capture some of that fresh new life and hold onto it for the rest of the year I’ve learned to preserve things. This week, Chris is out of town so I’ve been taking the opportunity to stink up the house dehydrating things and make a mess in the kitchen with infusions and syrups.



Right now our yard and pasture are full of some very beneficial weeds– dandelion and plantain. Both of these plants — really they should be called “herbs” not “weeds”– are excellent for the skin. Plantain, in particular, is great for any type of skin rash, irritation or itch because it is anti-inflammatory and somewhat antibiotic. This makes it both soothing and healing. They are easy to identify in the yard because they each have very distinctly shaped leaves.

Plantain leaves are broad and oval with well defined veins and smooth edges. They often have a crumpled texture.



Dandelions are, of course, easiest to identify when they are in bloom. But all of our blooms have faded by this time of year, so I have to identify them by their leafs which have a jagged toothed edge. I have heard that the name “Dandelion” comes from “dente” (tooth)- “lion” or lion’s teeth because of the shape of the leaves.



Also growing well right now is mint. We have several varieties- peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, citrus mint and apple mint (I think). I love using mint to add an extra bit of freshness to water – I just grab a sprig from the garden and put it in my water bottle. You can also use it fresh to make tea by heating it in water. Of course,  I will dry some to use in tea during the winter but mint can also be preserved in other ways, in my case, by making it into infusions and syrups. Mint syrup is made in the same way as basil syrup which I posted about here.

I happen to have some dried calendula and dried chamomile left over from last year’s garden and so, since I was making a mess already, I decided to use them for infusions as well.


How to Make an Infusion

This is so simple it doesn’t really warrant a recipe. Basically you just take some herbs, fresh or dry, cover them with oil and let them sit. If you need your infusion to be ready really quickly, heat the mixture up first. If you know you won’t be using it soon you should use dried herbs rather than fresh- if left to sit for a long time the moisture in fresh herbs can cause the oil to go rancid (trust me on this). I happen to know that I’ll be using my infusions within the next couple of weeks for soap making, so I’m using fresh herbs.

Step 1: Fill your glass jars up with coarsely chopped herbs.


Step 2: Cover the herbs with oil. You can use any oil but I’m using olive oil because its inexpensive and is used for both soap and salves (the two main things I use infused oils for). If you are heating the infusion you can use coconut oil, but coconut oil won’t work for room temperature infusing since it is a solid at room temperature.

Step 3: Put your jars somewhere out of direct sunlight and at room temperature to sit for a while. I’ve had jars infuse for several months over the winter (using dried herbs) and they are fine, but I don’t think they actually absorb any more from the herbs after the first couple of weeks unless you add more herb material to them.

Step 4: Once you are ready to use your oils, strain out all the plant material using a fine strainer or cheese cloth.

Olive oil infused with Plantain

Olive oil infused with Plantain


An assortment of infused oils

Drying Herb Seeds

basilWith summer still in full force, its hard to believe that its already time to start planning for next year. Two of the plants in our garden that we use the most of are our basil and dill herbs. We use dill weed (the leafy part of the plant) in summer salads and salsa, to marinate fish and to flavor chevre. Since we go through a lot of chevre, we also use a lot of dill! Basil gets used in many of the same ways, plus in spaghetti and pizza sauces and as a garnish and flavor in cocktails and lemonade. My favorite use of basil is pesto, though, and it requires LOTS of basil leaves. And both herbs can be preserved easily as well. Fresh dill weed can be mixed with salt to make dill salt for sprinkling on cheese or dried on its own and the seeds can be dried and used in pickling spice mix. Basil can be dried as well but we preserve most of our extra basil by making and freezing pesto. We save some of the fresh basil for basil simple syrup for year round cocktails.

dillSince we like growing so much of these herbs it only makes sense for us to harvest our own seeds for next year’s garden. Both plants create seed heads that are visibly very different from their leafy edible parts. The basil seed heads look like stalks covered in little white flowers. The dill flower heads look like yellow fireworks! In both cases I simply snip the heads off and lay them on drying screens or paper to dry. Once they are fully dry, the seeds will shake loose and I’ll just have to remove the chaff (i.e. everything that isn’t seed) and then store the seeds somewhere dark and dry until next spring!