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Oregano Harvest

Oregano, just picked and laid out. The youngest leaves often have a purple color. Oregano is high in antioxidants and is used for medicinal purposes in many cultures.

Oregano, just picked and laid out. The youngest leaves often have a purple color. Oregano is high in antioxidants and is used for medicinal purposes in many cultures.

It’s that time of year, fall in the Northern Hemisphere; the farmers around my house are out cutting their soybeans, while I’ve started to pick the last of my tarragon and oregano. My house smells lovely.

A month ago I brought in vast quantities of tarragon, mostly out of self-defense; the tarragon plant is huge this year, sprawling over everything else in the herb garden, and even though I have stepping stones out there I couldn’t make my way to the back, where a tomato plant had some ripe fruit I wanted. So I chopped tarragon, rinsed it off and piled it on my dining room table to dry. There’s still plenty more of it out in the garden, but I got four jars of the famous French herb packed up, the last of it cleared away just in time to have a friend over for dinner last week. Julia Child would say I’m rich in tarragon – too rich.

Yesterday I picked a smaller quantity of oregano, especially where it had started to go to flower. First I laid it out on my kitchen counter, but that’s working space, so I moved it onto a cookie sheet and then to the dining room.

If you look online about how to dry oregano you get advice that isn’t very practical; bunch it up, then hang it upside down, put it in paper bags with holes cut out, then hang the bags upside down, which would put the oregano back rightside up; huh? Then let it dry for a month, hanging somewhere. Or you can freeze it with a little olive oil; tastes good when you’re ready to use it, but doesn’t look appealing because the freezing wilts it. Obviously drying it is the most practical thing, which is how most cooks use it. Some people dry it in the oven or even the microwave, which saves time but halfway cooks the herb. So I asked my foodie friend Ed what to do, and I liked his answer: “Throw it on top of the refrigerator and forget about it for a couple of weeks.” Now that’s the Hoosier way!

I have two favorites among the herbs I grow, thyme and chives. Thyme is small and delicate, and last winter I actually ran out of dried thyme, so this year I bought two plants instead of one; thyme’s an annual so you have to replace it every year. I’m eager to get going on the thyme once this batch of oregano is done. Chives, meanwhile, fresh-snipped from the garden, are too fabulous, whether you put them on a baked potato with sour cream, in soups and salads or any other way you use them. They add that extra zing that makes herb gardening so worthwhile.

Last year I grew cilantro, which I really enjoyed; this year I switched to flat-leaf parsley, and it’s good too. I’ve used it fresh a bunch of times, whenever an extra taste of “green” seems to help. And of course when you’re decorating a plate, any bunch of leaves adds visual interest.

Here’s a simple recipe for a vinegrette that uses several of my ingredients. I just made a batch of this, and as I type I’m enjoying a salad. The recipe calls for tarragon vinegar, but the stuff you buy at the store ($3 for 12 oz.) is a waste of money, with almost no tarragon flavor. So make your own. I buy vinegar by the gallon ($2), and the dollar you’ll spend for one tarragon plant (which is perennial, year after year) means just a cup of homemade vinegrette has already paid for itself – no artificial flavors, no preservatives, no xanthan gum, no polysorbate 80.

Josh’s Tarragon Vinegrette

2/3 C olive oil*
1/3 C white vinegar
24 fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
1 1/2 t fresh oregano, chopped (1/2 t dry)
1 1/2 t fresh parsley, chopped (1/2 t dry)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t salt
1 t dry mustard
1 t paprika
1/4 t fresh-ground pepper

Dump everything into a cruet or lidded glass jar, shake well and let it sit for an hour to blend flavors.

* Soybean oil (“vegetable oil”) is good too, but olive oil tastes better and is three times higher in monounsatured fat – the good kind.

If you’re making a green salad or some soup, whip up a batch of croutons while you’re at it. I guarantee you’ll never waste your cash on those store-bought things again.

Herb-Garlic Croutons

1 T margarine or butter
1 T olive oil
1 slice of bread
1 clove garlic, cut in half
pinch of basil, oregano, thyme or whatever

Heat a small, non-stick frypan on medium-low, melt butter and add olive oil. Sauté garlic for a couple of minutes to release flavor, then discard. (Or substitute a little garlic powder or garlic salt.) Cut up a slice of bread into inch or half-inch cubes. Toast 8-10 minutes, stirring once or twice, sprinkling herbs. Dry croutons on a paper towel. Leftovers will keep for a few days in a plastic bag.

* * *

I’m pleased to report that my composting experiment is turning out well. Both bins have gorgeous-looking black stuff on the bottom, which I occasionally turn with a half-size pitchfork. If everything looks dry I’ll add a cup or two of water. But the holes I drilled in the lids (large plastic bins, 5 bucks each at the discount store) let in the rainwater, so I’ve only watered once. Now that it’s autumn, I’ll fill the bins with fallen leaves and evergreen trimmings, then bring them into the garage for the winter, continuing to add vegetable scraps and coffee grounds from the kitchen. After the spring thaw, I’ll dump one bin into the other and start a fresh round of composting in the empty bin. The finished compost I’ll work into the soil in my back garden, reclaiming that former wasteland so it will grow tomatoes, peppers, strawberries and flowers next year.

Food cooked from scratch tastes better. Cooking with ingredients you grew yourself tastes best of all.++


UPDATES: It seems the oregano doesn’t take long at all to dry; after just two days I’ve already stripped all but the youngest leaves and filled two jars. Plus I picked all of the thyme yesterday, filled a whole shopping bag and now have a gorgeous mound of this very versatile herb on my kitchen table. No running out of thyme this year.

Now I’m off to make some pumpkin raisin muffins, an ideal breakfast food when you’re on the run. Surely there’s a man out there somewhere who’d beat a path to my door if he knew about my muffins…

7 Responses

  1. Ok, now I feel like a barbarian…we just had Chicken Salad (all pechugas) for dinner, with Light Mayonaise, pepper, grated carrot (we have wonderful/sweet carrots and most all produce down here is excellent) , small chopped celery, and a handful of primo mixed nuts, a handful of raisins and a grated small/mild white onion…I poach my chicken breast very slowly and leave them in the broth until I´m ready to mix them into the salad and they are cooled…it was soooo good and tomorrow Juan Carlos will have chicken salad sandwhices for his lunch (mostly I make his lunch as he goes off to work and I get to be a sort of retired guy)….cilantro is abundant here, I grew it last year but it´s really easy just to buy in fresh bunches on the street (about 10 cents American for the whole thing). Cabbages are everywhere now and I love them to stur fry, make mixed salads (very spicey Latino types) or add to soup…someone sent us fresh oatmeal cookies today…we had them for desert. Now, I´m full and sleepy but still thinking about your chives.

    Thanks, Josh, it was fun wandering around your garden and kitchen.


  2. Leonardo, your chicken salad sounds wonderful, especially the raisins. I make mine with dillweed, which I just love; I bought a couple of dill plants this year, they grew nicely but I didn’t take any cuttings, and now they’re bare. They apparently like a hot summer and, like most of North America this year, it was cool here. I used the A/C all of three days, but had to turn the furnace on in August. August!

    The good news is that dill’s a perennial, so if my plants come back next year I can make better use of them. Besides my chicken salad, I love dillweed floating on top of cold cucumber soup. That stuff is fabulous in hot weather, if it ever gets hot here again. Summer is my favorite season, but this year was just funky.

    Wikipedia reports that in the Middle Ages, dill was used in love potions, and was also believed to keep witches away. Maybe I should send some to the Presiding Bishop the next time she has to go to South Carolina…

  3. hi Josh,
    i stumbled upon your blog when i googled oregano as i’ll be moving into a house with a garden and have always wanted a herb garden. but what caught my attention was your composting experiment. it’s great! i don’t have to throw out organic wastes as i do now living in an apartment. would you be able to share a little bit more about composting with me as i’ve never done it before. also i live in the tropics which probably means that it will not take too long for me to be able to fertilise with it, right?

  4. fen,

    I would think that living in the tropics would indeed speed up your composting, because the essential action takes place as the material “cooks.” Plus you’ll be able to have an active pile all through the year; here in the temperate zone, the decomposition slows way down when it’s cold.

    There are two essential rules to composting: no animal products, including dairy (eggshells are okay); and keep a 50-50 mix of “greens” and “browns.” “Greens” mean any veggie or flower of any color that’s recently been fresh, while “browns” are fallen leaves, coffee grounds, tea bags, moldy bread, etc.

    Your heap needs a little water, heat and very occasional turning. Be sure it gets some sun. If it’s rainy where you live, you may never have to add moisture, just don’t let it all dry out.

    The issue for me was where to put my pile. You don’t need an enclosure of any kind, but most Americans do have a crude version of one, a couple of posts and fencing of some kind (chicken wire’s fine) behind the garage. That wasn’t an option for me, so I went with the plastic storage bins with holes I drilled on all sides. That way I can move my bins into the garage in winter, where it’s easier for me to continue adding material.

    My soil is incredibly rich, fertile black loam, some of the best dirt in the world, resulting in huge plants like the giant tarragon bush I had this summer. My soil doesn’t need fertilizer, but I compost anyway because there’s no reason to waste this valuable organic material. Why should it go into a landfill when it can be so useful to me? I’m trying to live an ecologically sustainable lifestyle, growing my own food and recycling, so even my waste is reusable. I’ve cut down what I send to the landfill by over 50%.

    I’m no expert, just a new practitioner; feel free to ask more questions as you get into it, and if I can help I will.

    Last observation: most of my neighbors, who are not wealthy people, generate huge amounts of garbage for the landfill. Much of it is recyclable, but old habits die hard. You can be an exemplar for your neighbors if they ask why you don’t put out your garbage can but once a month.

  5. Hello and thanks for so much the info. I think I’ll do the plastic storage bins with holes too as the garden is not too big and i want to keep it neat and tidy. I’ll drop you an occasional line for advice especially with the herbs. Right now I’m feeling very greedy wanting all varieties of thyme etc. Since I keep a very busy schedule I do hope my enthusiasm will not eventually die out. A big thing here now is making garbage enzymes. It’s great for cleaning and it’s organic, replacing/reducing the use of chemicals. It’s fantastic for laundry, as a multipurpose kitchen/bathroom/floor cleaner etc. So there’s more use for fruit peels. Anyways, hope winter isn’t too harsh. I know it’s a little early but do have a Happy Christmas and a great year ahead!

  6. I have forgotten who it was but I first found out about your site from a link posted on Twitter. . Love the content I have seen so far and will certainly revisit to read more in a while. By the way, are you on Twitter?

  7. Raylene,

    I don’t Twitter, but I am on Facebook. I tried to check out Twitter once, but the system was down and I haven’t been motivated to go back. I do hear sometimes there are mentions of me there, which is nice.

    However, I am never going to Tweet, “Oh, tired now, going to bed.” A professional writer should never bore the public.


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