While Edible Kent's full-on harvest of garden goodness at our beds is a few weeks away, with Main Street Kent’s Potter Fest coming up this weekend we thought this was a great opportunity to cover one of the special ways to preserve some of our coming bounty - with alcohol. (We’ll also be addressing harvesting tips and tricks, as well as seed saving basics on our blog and at the Haymaker Farmers’ Market later this summer.)
Since the big event is right around the corner, we wanted to provide some supplementary material for our July 30, 2016 Potions & Herbology Class at Hog’s Head Pub (AKA The Local Public House - where you’ll also find whiskey barrels of Edible Kent herbs and cocktail recipes). Here, we'll be discussing herbs and alcohol from a preservation perspective. On Saturday, we’ll be covering how you can use the herbs and alcohols that you’ve created or acquired.
Pairing Your Herbs & Alcohol
For all of these preparations, you’ll want to be sure that the percent of alcohol in your mixture stays above 40%. If you’re preserving material with a higher water content, adjust the proof of alcohol you choose accordingly. Also, try to be mindful of flavor and pair herbs with an alcohol that will be complementary to the herb’s flavor profile. Alternatively, you can choose an alcohol with little to no inherent flavor so it won't clash with the herbs - vodka is a good example of this. When using the finished products, be aware of the alcohol that you’ve stored the herbs in. Some cooking methods, like baking, are good at drying off all of the alcohol, while other methods like boiling are not as effective.
Hard Spices in Alcohol
The easiest preparation is simply preserving hard spices in alcohol. This is best for roots, bark, and twigs that may not dry easily - like licorice, ginger, turmeric, and others. In these cases, you want to clean and prepare the material into large chunks, just small enough to fit tightly into a container and large enough to accommodate typical recipe amounts. Pat the cleaned material dry to remove excess water, then pack it into a jar or other vessel. Fill the container with a high-proof alcohol (80 proof or more, the higher proof the more room for error and less chances of deterioration). Make sure that there are no air bubbles by scraping along the inner edge of the container with a flexible spatula or flat side of a knife blade. There is no minimum storage time, and the maximum storage time varies depending on the final percent of alcohol and storage conditions; but six months is fairly standard. When using these spices, use as if they were fresh; the alcohol preserves the flavor so you can stock up from your garden or a market sale and use at will.
Another popular method of preservation for herbs is as a tincture. In this case, you’re interested in the liquid that the herbs have been steeped in, as opposed to the herbs themselves. You will again want the alcohol percent to stay above 40%, so you may choose to dry herbs first, and then create your tincture - in most cases that is unnecessary, especially if you start with 100-proof alcohol. Chop the herbs finely, as a larger surface area allows easier diffusion of alcohol into the plants. Pack the herbs loosely into a container and pour alcohol to cover all parts of the plants. Cover tightly and store in a dark place for 4-6 weeks, shaking regularly. After the tincture has had time to develop over its 4-6 weeks in storage, remove the jar and strain the contents through a cheese cloth, reserving the liquid and squeezing all of the fluid out of the herbs before disposing of them. Use the resulting tincture as a flavoring in dishes or drinks, like you would an extract.
To learn more about herbology and mixology and the healing benefits of herbs and alcohol, stop by our Potions & Herbology Class this weekend!
Have a drink to your health!