Summer was when the ant and the grasshopper took their different paths, with the ant diligently laying up stores for winter and the grasshopper larking around, playing tunes on his fiddle and acting as though summer would last forever.
The moral of that story is that people who fiddle while the sun burns find themselves with empty larders when the snow falls.
It is not so difficult to make jams and chutneys, to pickle, freeze and preserve, but if that seems more work than it's worth, preserving herbs for the winter take little effort and provides a flavorful reward.
Do not wait until the basil gets stalky and the dill seeds blow in the wind. The time to start putting up herbs is now, while there is still a long growing season ahead for you to pick and the plants to replenish.
Some herbs suffer little flavor loss when dried -- sage and rosemary, for instance -- but be sure that any herbs are dry before bottling them. If there's any moisture on the leaves or seeds, they'll mold. Putting them on a baking sheet in a slow oven for a few hours works very well. Hanging bunches from the kitchen ceiling does not work quite as well but it looks awfully nice. f
You also can whirl herbs in the blender with a light oil like peanut oil -- about 2 cups leaves to 1/2 cup oil -- and then freeze them. The pungent oil can be defrosted a batch at a time when winter comes and added to salad dressings, marinades and vegetables. A little tarragon oil can be mixed with olive oil for a salad dressing or used to baste a chicken. Add rosemary oil to butter to saute rabbit or to a marinade for lamb. Add oregano oil to a spaghetti sauce, and so on.
You also can fill an ice tray half way up with herbs like mint or lemon balm, top off with water and freeze. The mint and lemon ice cubes can be kept in the back of the refrigerator to add to drinks.
Stalks of basil and tarragon and the seeds of coriander make excellent flavoring for vinegars. Chives can be chopped and frozen, either in ice-cube form or in a freezer container. Basil can be made into pesto sauce (without the cheese) and frozen in small quantities, or layered in a crock with coarse salt, sealed and refrigerated.
If you're freezing your own beans for winter, mix in a handful of summer savory first.
Though not a long-term way of preserving herbs, a handful of chopped marjoram or oregano adds a distinctive flavor to whole wheat bread, which then could be frozen for later use. Marjoram also gives a wonderful taste to corn bread.
Fresh herbs add so much to the meals of summer that it's worth the time it takes to bring them along into winter.