We have loads of herbs in the garden – chives, thyme, parsley, rosemary, lovage, lemon verbena, lemon balm, oregano, marjoram and tarragon to name a few – and this year I am working hard to to prolong the season and experiment with different ways to give us the opportunity of having a supply of fresh herbs (and failing that, preserved fresh herbs!) as we move into autumn and winter.
We eat Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s herby roast chicken (not his personal chicken you understand) a couple of times a month during the winter, eating every last bit of the meat and then making stock for soup and sauces from the bones. At this time of year, so that we don’t have to buy pricey fresh herbs from the supermarket over the winter, we make our own herb butter and freeze it. It’s really simple to do – just follow the instructions for proportions of herbs to butter in Hugh’s recipe and then wrap it up in individual portions in greaseproof paper, pack in a plastic container and freeze. From a 250g block of butter you will get enough for 5 roast chicken dinners! For the chicken herbs we usually use thyme, oregano, rosemary, tarragon, parsley and (a tiny bit of) lovage – but you can mix it up to include your favourites.
We’ve also been making pesto with the last of the home-grown basil and some toasted pumpkin seeds (pumpkin seeds make a nice change, and they’re cheaper – just – than pine nuts). The pesto gets packed up into small jam jars and frozen too – another tip is to freeze pesto in ice cube trays and then transfer the pesto cubes to ziplock bags when they are frozen. I will also be making some tarragon vinegar before following Sarah Raven’s advice to cut back all our perennial herbs, so that we will get fresh growth to pick during the autumn. Fingers crossed we get a bit of warmer weather later in the month, it has been so cold today I’m not sure we will get the fresh growth!
We use a lot of flat leaf parsley in our cooking so we have lots in the garden – this year I have grown Gigante di Napoli that has lived up to its vigorous reputation!
The green netting you can see in this picture is to stop the squirrels from burying their acorns and chestnuts in my veg beds – they make such a mess! But some of the parsley has been carefully planted in a raised bed which has proper fitted hoops for a PVC cover so that I can protect it as it grows colder. And there are bound to be times that I wont fancy dashing out into the cold to pick a sprig of parsley or two, so I have prised up a couple of the smaller plants and potted them up in peat-free multi-purpose compost so that I can bring them indoors to the conservatory later in the autumn.
The plants looked a bit floppy after I first moved them, but I’ve given them plenty of water and, as you can see, it’s perking up now. The other herb that we use a lot is coriander (cilantro!) because we like to cook Indian food a couple of times a week at least. Again, following Sarah Raven’s suggestion, I am making some autumn sowings of coriander, unprotected, in my protectable bed, and also in a pot or two so that I can put it in the greenhouse if it gets really chilly. I’ve not thought of doing this before, because coriander feels so much a summer herb, but apparently it can do well in autumn (the cooler weather suits it), so I will be keeping my fingers crossed.