Summer in a Jar
This is the most powerful thing I have made this year. I found the original idea in a preserving magazine, where it claimed to be a substitute for commercial vegetable broth cubes, but when I read their list of ingredients, I was convinced it would taste of nothing but sage. I really like sage, but my sage is strong and resinous and it can overwhelm almost any other herb I use it with. So I juggled the list and made the flavors my own.
The instructions said not to use it for ten days, but to me it seemed usable immediately, so I distributed samples to various cooks I know and asked them to test it, using it anywhere they might have used salt or also vegetable broth. All the cooks I asked are competent family cooks with no training. They all promised to get back to me with results.
The reports were rewarding. They’d used it in dishes from tomato sauce to roast pigeon and loved the results every time. More, more, was all I heard, and I honestly wish it were legal for me to make it and sell it, because I think I really could. Instead I plan to make as much as my herb garden can provide and give it away as gifts.
The preservation technique used here is salting. Salting is not used very often in western cookery other than with meats and fish. Some pickles could be said to be salted, sauerkraut is salted and there are a few other pickled items that are salted but found only in certain ethnic kitchens. Once upon a time, however, salting was as important as drying. In places where the climate didn’t offer enough sunny, dry weather following the harvest, what else could one do? You can’t dry herbs in a rainstorm. Salting creates an atmosphere in which bacteria cannot thrive, the same thing that drying does. Instructions are not to put it into the refrigerator but to keep it in that ubiquitous dark and cool space. I think that is probably to avoid mold, because there are molds adapted to every condition, including the ocean which is salty and cold.
Many recipes for preserving herbs and flavorings here in Italy are sott’olio, or under oil. It makes for a great product, but is extremely dangerous because of the possibility of botulism. I feel that using oil for preserving needs to be left to commercial enterprises that have the equipment and science to be sure botulin can’t be produced. This salting technique I feel very confident about.
Weigh the herbs stems and all, because you use all but the rosemary stems in the melange. Don’t worry, it works.
7 ounces onion, peeled
5.25 ounces carrot, peeled
3.5 ounces celery including leaves
1.75 ounces parsley
.75 ounce sage
.75 ounce rosemary, weighed before removing the leaves from the stems
.75 ounce thyme
.35 ounce oregano or marjoram
.35 ounce basil
.25 ounce peppercorns, freshly ground over the composition
8.5 ounces salt â€“ it’s best to use sea salt, Kosher salt or pickling salt to avoid the powder used to keep salt from clumping.
Wash well and sterilize a couple of sealable jars to keep the mixture in.
You can make this melange two ways. The way you see it here is done by stages in a food processor. Starting with the vegetables I minced and scraped until they were very finely minced. I then added the thyme and rosemary and then one by one, the rest of the herbs until they were all in the food processor and all ground up. I then added the salt and pulsed and scraped to mix it all together. The melange is then removed to a bowl to do its preserving thing. The result is smooth, green and not very pretty.
Another way to do it is to mince everything separately by hand, or to mince each ingredient by food processor using the pulse feature to reduce it to small bits, and then assembling all the parts by hand. That is much more attractive and I will try it that way as soon as my thyme recovers enough to make another batch. Then put it into a bowl and stir in the salt. It will be much more attractive, but there will be some twiggy pieces here and there. That’s why it is better looking. The rest will be the same.
If you watch this once the salt is in, you will see the ingredients start to produce water. That’s good. Then it starts to reabsorb the water and when it is all reabsorbed, thus exchanging flavors from one item to the other, it’s ready to pack up.
Using a scrupulously clean wooden spoon, pack the melange into the sterile jars, pushing down and then slapping the jar smartly with your hand, which will help settle it and prevent the formation of air bubbles. Fill the two jars and cap them, leave them for ten days, then start using them in the same quantity as you would use salt in any recipe you choose.
To use it as vegetable broth, boil a tablespoon of it a couple of minutes in a half pint or so of water. You may want to strain it if you’ve rough chopped your version. Always remember that this is very salty. Don’t overdo it.
Here are some ways we have used it:
Rubbed onto chicken pieces before roasting them
Stirred into the oil in which meat was fried, then cooked with a bit of wine or water to make a sauce
Rubbed onto pigeons for roasting
To replace all the salt in Pomorola, or plain tomato sauce
Stirred into the butter in which zucchini was being cooked
Stirred into chicken gravy in place of salt
Rubbed onto beefsteak before grilling
Stirred into hot vegetable soup instead of salt
The originators suggest that it is good for seasoning scrambled eggs, and that sounds good to me.
Keep this on the pantry shelf in the dark among the spices and seasonings. I have had this in my kitchen for a while now, and every time I open the jar, the kitchen fills with a delicious smell of no particular thing, just goodness.
I am planning to go to a shop I know which sells adorable little ceramic topped mini canning jars. That will be a stocking stuffer gift or a little extra hostess gift for the Christmas season. It has been welcomed so enthusiastically here that half my batch of more than a pound is already gone and I don’t yet have enough thyme to make another. It takes a lot of thyme to add up to .75 ounce, even with the stems!
If I had to buy the herbs to make this, I would. As a matter of fact, I am going to have to buy some herbs if I make as much as I plan to. It’s worth it. I don’t plan to use it in every dish, but whenever I make something that calls for vegetable broth or something that has no particular required seasoning, this little composition will add a sparkle of Italy to my plate.
You too can play with this list as long as you don’t alter very much the proportions of wet items to salt. If you hate one of those herbs, use a different one in the same weight ratio. Or if you aren’t sure, make half the recipe and try it out first. Hurry up, though, because the season for tender herbs is leaving us soon. Let’s get them into a jar before summer and her basil run away!