A few days ago the weather service was warning us of a freeze here in southeastern Pennsylvania, so I cut the last of the marjoram and thyme and brought the big pot of rosemary indoors. (That was optimistic, since the rosemary will simply die a slow death in the house instead of a fast one on the deck, but one of these days I may succeed in overwintering one.) It’s a very good thing I cut then, since this is what my herb pots look like this morning:
I didn’t cut the parsley because dried parsley is, well, dried parsley. It’s easy enough to buy a bunch at the market and leave it in a glass on the sink, like a vase of flowers. The basil, chives, sage, mint, and cilantro are long gone but I had a huge amount of marjoram, and while the thyme will hang on, it was time. Sorry.
Sometimes I hang lovely bunches of herbs in the window of the laundry room, where they dry in days and look good while doing so. These jars are full of herbs that I dried that way, that we’ll use for teas over the winter.
This time, however, I didn’t have carefully cut and arranged bunches of herbs tied with twine. I had three large tangles of herbs, sopping wet from the rain.
I read about flash-drying herbs in the microwave in the September issue of Cook’s Illustrated. A few weeks ago I tested the method on a few sprigs of marjoram, rosemary, sage, basil, and thyme. The kitchen smelled amazing but the only herbs that retained their scent and flavor were marjoram, thyme, and rosemary. Using their method, then, I wrapped a “single layer” (messy tangle) of herbs in a layer of paper towels and microwaved on high for 90 seconds (thyme) and 120 seconds (marjoram).
The herbs cool quickly and are then easily removed from the stems, although I am careful not to crush them. This is easier with the larger leaves of marjoram than with thyme, of course. I had to remove a few stems that were still a little damp after microwaving simply because of how wet they were going in, and gave them another 30 seconds. That step was unnecessary when I first tested this method.