Category Archives: Drying

Making the Most of Mint

If you have seen mint growing in the ground then you know – give it an inch, and it will take a yard…and perhaps the sidewalk too. What to do with all that mint? After sipping a cup of fresh mint tea, you can harvest all those leaves to make delicious mint jelly and dry them for a year’s worth of refreshing mint tea. (You may also want to dig up those plants and re-plant them into containers – mint does well in pots.)

Classic Mint Jelly requires the addition of a strongly acidic ingredient in order to produce a gel-structure, as you’ll see in our recipes for Mint Jelly (with cider vinegar) and Mint Jelly (with lemon juice). These two recipes are very similar, but the quantities of mint and water vary slightly to adjust to the required proportion of a strong acid ingredient (i.e. more vinegar than lemon juice, so less water added to the version with vinegar). Green food coloring is listed in the ingredient list for the version made with cider vinegar, but it is optional, and note that it is also optional in the recipe made with lemon juice. Mint Jelly is traditionally served with roast lamb, and it can also be mixed into other sauces and gravies.

Mint is a tender-leaf herb, which means that it has high moisture content and therefore will mold if not dried quickly. To dry mint, try hanging it inside a paper bag that has holes torn in the sides for air to circulate through. Use a rubber band to secure the base of the stems to the top do the bag. The bottom of the bag will catch the dried leaves as they fall. If you live in a region with high humidity and/or don’t have a location where air currents can pass through the bag, then you may get better results from drying leaves individually. To do so, remove leaves from the stems, space them apart on a paper towel, cover with another paper towel and layer up to 5 layers. Place the layers of paper towels and leaves in a cool oven – the oven light of an electric range or pilot light of a gas range will be enough. (Higher heat could easily burn the leaves, and the paper.) The finished, crispy dry leaves can be left whole or crumpled into an airtight storage container. Dried mint is can be substituted into recipes that call for fresh mint, using 1/3-1/4 of the amount listed.

For more information about growing and using mint, read this publication from UGA Extension: Herbs in Southern Gardens.

The Heat Is On

Do you have the heat on in your house to stay warm this time of year? If you do, then make the most of that dry air and dry some herbs at home!

All it really takes to dry most herbs is to expose the leaves or flowers to warm, dry air. Gently flowing air and good ventilation will help pull moisture away from the herbs as it evaporates. If you have an accessible heat vent, then near the vent and moving air may be an excellent location to hang or place herbs to dry them — as long as the plants are not actually touching the vent, in order to prevent a fire hazard. You also want to protect the herbs from dust or contaminants coming out of the vents; see below.

There are two categories to apply to herbs for drying purposes: less tender herbs and tender-leaf herbs.

Less tender herbs include rosemary, sage, thyme, summer savory and parsley. These are easy to dry by simply tying them into small bundles and hanging them.

Drying herbs

Tender-leaf herbs such as basil, oregano, tarragon, lemon balm, and mint contain more moisture, so they need to be dried quickly or else they could mold. Their leaves and seeds may also fall off the stems, so try hanging these herbs in paper bags to so that they are caught before falling to the ground. Tear or punch holes in the side of a bag then secure a small bunch of herbs inside the bag with a rubber band. For the herbs to dry quickly, hang the bag where an air current will pass through it.

Leaves are dry when they are crispy and crumble easily when handled. Dried leaves can be left whole or crumbled. Place the dried herbs in airtight containers and store them in a cool, dry, dark area to protect their color and fragrance.

Remember that dried herbs are about three to four times stronger in flavor than fresh herbs, so if you are substituting dried herbs for fresh herbs in a recipe then use ¼ to 1/3 of the amount listed.

Read Drying Herbs for more information about drying herbs using a dehydrator and an oven.

Illustration of herbs drying in paper bag is from “So Easy to Preserve”, 6th ed. 2014. Bulletin 989, (c) Cooperative Extension Service, The University of Georgia, Athens. Revised by Elizabeth L. Andress. Ph.D. and Judy A. Harrison, Ph.D., Extension Foods Specialists.

Going Nutty Over Advice for Preserving Nutmeats?

This time of year, you might be eager to find the best way to make your bounty of pecans, almonds, chestnuts, walnuts or peanuts last through the holiday season and beyond. While canning is a go-to for preserving, let’s not forget that some foods don’t fare so well as a canned product. USDA has never had a home canning recommendation for canning a pack of only nut meats, and the NCHFP website only has a recommendation for canning green peanuts from past work at the University of Georgia.

A previously (and no longer) recommended canning process for “canning” dry nutmeats found in So Easy to Preserve from the University of Georgia is no longer included in the new edition of the book. It was actually just a way to create a vacuum-sealed jar and there was no documentation for any microbial sterilization that might have been taking place. Questions about the risk (even if a low risk) of some bacterial growth if condensation of moisture occurred inside the jars from canning in boiling water led to re-consideration of this advice for sealing jars. Compared to when this was first published years ago, now there are other ways to vacuum pack dry, shelled nut meats at home without heating in boiling water.

Nuts tend to store very well by proper drying and storing in air-tight containers in a cool location. Refrigerated (at 32-45°F) nuts will maintain quality for one year and frozen (at 0°F) nuts will maintain quality for 1, 2, or even 3 years depending on the type of nut. See this publication from the University of California for more specific information about harvesting and storing different types of nuts.

While we know of no tested recommendations for canning pecan pie filling, another common request, you can easily make your pecan pies as usual, cool rapidly, and then freeze briefly before packaging for long term freezer storage (pies will be easier to wrap after freezing). Stored at 0°F, frozen pecan pies are expected to last 3-4 months.

Conserves are a delicious way to use up smaller quantities of nuts. By definition, conserves are jam-like products that contain nuts, raisins, and/or coconut. These conserve recipes allow you to choose your preferred nut type: Apple Conserve, Apricot-Orange Conserve, Cranberry Conserve, Damson Plum- Orange Conserve, Grape Conserve, and Plum Conserve.

Are you wondering why it’s ok to can nuts in conserves but not by themselves? The recommendation we withdrew was just one procedure for canning a jar of all nutmeats in a dry pack. There is nothing wrong with canning foods with nuts in them, if tested that way. Other recommendations (like conserves) were developed with a called for amount of nuts along with other ingredients which influence the characteristics of the final product. Let’s consider Apple Conserve, for example: Apples are an acid food and the lemon juice is a strong acid; if other ingredient proportions are kept as expected, the final product should remain acid enough for boiling water canning. Furthermore, in this conserve, the pectin and sugar combine with this acid and fruit to make a gel, which reduces the water activity of the final product. These characteristics make a difference in what the process recommendation should be, and were taken into consideration for that recipe when a canning process was determined.

A Particular Pear to Bear in Mind

 

Anjou, Asian, Bartlett, Bosc, Concorde…all these types of pear and more are typically available across the U.S. from August through early springtime, thanks largely to orchards in Oregon and Washington. As those pomaceous fruits begin ripening in your home kitchen, you might be tempted to preserve some for later. But did you know that not all pears are created equal, and that there’s a particular type of pear to be aware of before canning?

We’re talking about those pears that are sometimes mistaken for apples – those petite, round, crisp Asian pears.

Asian pears are generally slightly smaller and rounder than other varieties, and are distinctly crisp in texture. There are more than ten varieties of Asian pear and some are classified as low-acid for canning purposes. So, before boiling water canning, Asian pears must have a strong acid (e.g. lemon juice) added to them in order to increase the acidity enough to prevent the growth of botulism-causing bacteria. The exact amount recommended is 1 Tablespoon bottled lemon juice per pint jar (2 Tablespoons per quart). Complete canning recommendations for Asian Pears, Halved or Sliced also include soaking pears in an ascorbic acid solution to prevent discoloration and preparing a covering liquid of a syrup, juice, or water. (Aside from the addition of bottled lemon juice, the recommendation is very similar to canning Pears, halved.)

You could also wash, peel, core, and cut into ½-inch slices then dry until pliable, but not sticky. If you fold a piece in half, it should not stick to itself.

Due to the relatively large amount of vinegar in the recipes, it’s fine to use Asian Pears in Pear Pickles and Pear Relish or even this unique recipe for Chayote and Pear Relish. Also, Pear-Apple Jam has enough bottled lemon juice that you could use Asian pears if you are willing to try a jam that may have a bit of a crunch to it.

However, Asian pears are NOT recommended for use in Pear Preserves. In addition to the potential for a safety concern due to pH, the crisper fruits might not produce the textural quality you are going for in typical preserves. So stick with one of the thousands of other varieties of pear out there for preserves!