Autumn is by far my favorite time of year. Between the indian summer days of September, to that first rainy sunday, to the rainbow of orange hued trees, autumn is full of color, abundance, and the feeling that you must ring out the last drops of summer.
When to Harvest: Gather herbs on a dry day, early in the morning but after the dew is off. The season to harvest varies with the species. Parsley and chervil are dried in May, June, and July; burnet and tarragon in June, July, and August; marjoram and mint in July; summer savory and lemon thyme at the end of July and August. The tender young leaves that appear before the flowering are usually best. Get leaves before the plants show signs of going to seed. That happens after they blossom, when the blossoms turn into seed clusters and their energy goes into making seed. At best the plant is not at its prime; at worst it gets bitter.
How to Harvest: Cut the herbs with pruning shears or scissors and put them into clean pillowcases or some such. Don't cut to the ground; leave at least a 4-inch stem if you're topping an annual. If it's a perennial, leave at least two-thirds of the plant unharmed. Then take the herbs home and carefully pick them over. Rinse in cool water and drain.
HERBAL COMPOUND BUTTER
A classic element of haute cuisine. Make an assortment of blends and store them in the freezer for a quick finishing touch for grilled meats, pasta, and vegetables.
Season: Summer through fall
Yield: 1/2 pound
Store: Freezer (6 months)
1 cup butter, preferably unsalted
5 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs, or herb and edible flower blend, or 2 1/2 teaspoons herb seed, pulverized (I used fresh Rosemary...)
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Lemon zest (optional)
Cream the butter in a standing mixer or by hand until very light and fluffy. Add the herbs, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and zest and blend well. Pack the finished butter into a crock or shape into a cylinder and wrap tightly in waxed paper; the roll can be sliced for serving. Store finished butters in the freezer.
The number of possible flavor combinations is limited only by your imagination and access to fresh herbs. Butter is a perfect medium to store herbs and retain their bright garden flavors.
Possible blends and serving suggestions:
Mint and chive-spring lamb, potatoes, peas
Fennel seed and tarragon or chervil-fish, egg dishes
Rose geranium, lavender, and honey-toast, scones
Parsley, chives, and marjoram-all-purpose, good on grilled meats
Dill and mustard seed-snap beans, potatoes, white fish
Garlic, parsley, and oregano-hot bread, pasta, vegetables
Ginger, orange zest, and thyme-pork, chicken, rice, carrots
Thyme, savory, and black pepper-snap beans, chicken