Dry and Preserve Your Harvest

Lynn Coulter
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drying chiles

Summer’s over, but you can still add garden-fresh flavors to your dishes when you dry and preserve your homegrown herbs and veggies. Picked and stored properly, sweet and spicy onions can last through winter, and garlic, dried chiles and frozen herbs will keep for months.

Cure and Dry Onions

Onions are ready to harvest when the green tops start to flop over. Use a garden fork to dig them before frost, on a day when the weather is dry, and spread them in a single layer to cure. Keep them in an airy spot out of the sun.

drying onionsFor long-term storage, hang your onions in mesh bags in a well-ventilated room with low humidity. Ideally, the temperature should range from 32 to 40 degrees.

You can also braid onions while the tops are green and flexible. Start by placing three large bulbs side-by-side on a flat surface. Braid the leaves and add more onions as you go, using some twine, if needed.

Tie off the tops and hang the bulb braid in a cool, dark place until you’re ready to use it.

Are you a fan of fried onion rings? Slice your onions and preserve them in a food dehydrator. When they’re dry, store the rings in airtight containers to cook later.

Freeze Fresh Herbs

Depending on your climate, some herbs, such as mint and sage, can overwinter in your garden. Others should be harvested before frost turns them to mush.

Use pruners to snip healthy leaves early in the morning, while their oils are the most concentrated, and rinse them in tepid water. Spread the herbs in a single layer in a spot that gets good air circulation. Keep them out of direct sun.

freezing herbsWhen the herbs are dry, chop the leaves and place a tablespoonful in each compartment of an ice cube tray. If you prefer, tuck in two or three whole leaves instead. Add a little water and put the tray in the freezer.

When the water is frozen, top off the compartments with more water to keep the herbs from floating. Return the tray to the freezer. When the ice cubes are solid, pop them out and store them in freezer bags.

Make a Garlic Braid

Like onions, garlic leaves start to turn brown and die when the bulbs are ready to harvest. Lift them from the soil with a garden fork and shake off the dirt, but don’t wash them.

Spread the bulbs over a screen in a single layer, and let them cure for three to four weeks in an airy spot out of direct sun.

You may need to dampen the foliage when the bulbs are dry and you’re ready to braid them. Use about 13 bulbs, and trim the roots to 1 inch. Line up three of the biggest bulbs on a flat surface and start braiding the leaves, adding bulbs as you go. Tie off the tops and hang the braid.

To help the garlic last as long as possible, keep it in a well-ventilated area where the temperature stays between 32 and 40 degrees.

String and dry Chiles

dried chile and garlic wreathFiery chiles can last for several years if stored properly. Always wear gloves to protect your skin from their burning oils, and wash your hands after handling them. Run a fan and work in a well-ventilated area, too, as their fumes can irritate eyes and lungs.

Keep them away from children, pets, or anyone who’s allergic to spicy foods.

The quickest way to dry chiles is in a food dehydrator, but it’s also fun to make a ristra (a chile string) or a wreath with garlic bulbs.

Simply push a long, sharp needle through the stems to thread the chiles on fishing line. Tie a small stick or wooden dowel to each end so the peppers won’t slide off.

If your weather is warm, sunny and dry, hang the string outdoors in the fresh air. Otherwise, hang it inside in a very warm, airy room.

The chiles are ready when they turn red and lose most of their moisture; they don’t have to become brown or brittle. Use them as desired.

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