Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Drying Bay Leaves

Bay leaves are the one herb that I harvest in October. All other herbs are at their peak in May or June, and sometimes I'll take a second cutting, but no later than August.

Bay leaves, on the other hand, are best taken in the fall. It gives the plant all summer to size up its leaves. Otherwise, the small new leaves curl up while drying, and are fairly tasteless.

Yesterday was pleasant - it wasn't raining at least - so I clipped a few branches on our monster bay tree. I washed off some scale insects that were clinging to a few leaves, and hung them in the kitchen to dry. They take a while to dry nicely, but not as long as basil. I don't bother trying to keep the leaves perfectly flat. They don't curl up that badly, and once dry, I either keep them in a glass jar, or generally, just leave them hanging in my kitchen, waiting for me to pluck a leaf for soup. The color of the stuff you buy at the store looks like mine after they've been dead for a year. Hmmm. Makes you wonder how long the store-bought have been around.

I've had an interesting time growing bay leaves (Laurus nobilis). Many years ago, a friend had a small tree that she gave to me to keep while they moved from a house into an apartment. A year later, the tree moved with us to our new home, and I planted it on the south side of our house. It's partially shaded, which seems to give it a compact, brached habit.

When we put the herb garden in, I planted two more trees thinking that my friend would be moving into a house again soon. These trees, planted in full sun, grew very fast, reaching eight feet tall in just a few years. The branches were long, and perfect for making wreaths. What a pretty way to display my bay leaves! I rank it right up there with garlic braids. My friend's tree also grew quite tall, and when they finally moved into a house, the tree was twelve feet tall! There was no way we could move it, so I guess it's mine now. It's now about 20 feet tall. Did I say it had a compact habit?

Unfortunately, a few years ago we had an extremely cold winter. Every so often we get a cold blast out of Canada. It hit zero degrees here with a brisk north wind. The two newer plants weren't protected from the wind, and didn't have the house to keep them warm. Both trees died. My friend's tree, although cold-damaged, survived. The next years' growth was stunted, but it's come back quite well.

So, the bay leaves are drying away to add flavor to another winter's worth of soups. Based on the amount of time they're warning us about the winter we're supposed to have, it's probably a good thing I'm drying lots.

1 comment:

Zev said...

I have to admit I'm rather jealous to hear of you growing your own bay leaves. Adding that to my list of things to grow next year. For now, I'll satisfy myself with basil started in the windowsill. :)