It was hard for me NOT to post about this before Christmas, but had I posted, I would have ruined the surprise for the folks I gifted with these cute little herb jars. I was so excited to share these handmade gifts that I could hardly contain myself. I am sorry that this blog post is being published AFTER Christmas, but actually, it may be just as well — you really need start this in the Spring so now is the time to be thinking about it! These little jars are not only attractive and relatively inexpensive, but they are easy to make and much appreciated by anyone who enjoys cooking.
Part of what makes this gift of herbs unique is that you grow them yourself fresh & organically. There are no chemicals, preservatives, anti-clumping agents or any of that nasty stuff you find in store bought, and they are the freshest, most aromatic herbs you can imagine. The difference between fresh & store bought is almost indescribable (there is photo below that illustrates this … MY rosemary right next to McCormick’s rosemary … see for yourself). If you grow your own herbs then you know what I am talking about … why not share that with your loved ones! Here are the steps to making Fresh Herb Jars as a Handmade Gift!
Select at least six commonly used herbs and plan a spot in your garden in which to grow them. If your recipient is interested in hot & spicy, be sure to include a variety of hot peppers. While I grew more varieties than this, I selected these herbs to use as gifts:
- Italian Parley
- Sweet Basil
- Jo’s special hot pepper blend (described below)
You may want to consider the individual cooking styles of the cooks you plan to gift and grow some cilantro, marjoram, mustard seed, or what ever they will most appreciate.
As the growing season progresses, prune your plants and harvest them. Wash them properly and then dry them. You can hang them (covered with bags), bake in very low oven (not more than 170 degrees F) or use a dehydrator. Here is a post on how to wash and dry dill, but this technique can be used for any herb. I have and LOVE my Excalibur Dehydrator and I personally recommend this product. It does a great job and has been very dependable. However, if I had it to do over again, I would spend a little extra and get one with the built in timer. You can find that model here.
If you are like me, your garden is fairly small and harvests come in in relatively small amounts. That is fine because over the course of the season, you will harvest every few weeks, wash & dry, and eventually you will have enough for your gifts as well as for your own kitchen. In the meantime, once you have dried a small batch of herbs, put them in a mason jars and vac seal them (if you have a vac sealer). I use a FoodSaver Professional like this one. But whatever you order make sure it comes with an attachment port and that you also order a set of jar attachments (one wide mouth and one regular). I prefer this storage method for several reasons.
- An airtight seal is the only sure fire way to keep the herbs truly FRESH for months at a time.
- Vac sealing in jars prevents crushing. Crushing releases flavors & aromas and you should not crush your herbs any more than necessary until just before use.
- Freezing ruins herbs. They clump, their flavors change (sometimes absorbing other flavors) and they get all wet & wilty when thawed.
Once you have collected enough of any given dried herb to fill a quart size mason jar (resealing each time you open it to add a newly dried harvest) , you will have enough to fill at least four 4.5 ounce spice jars and still have some left over for your own kitchen. I chose these spice jars because they are airtight … well, as airtight as you can get without a vac seal, that is. It keeps new air out, but keeps old air in, but close enough for the purpose. I just noticed that the price on these went up a bit since I bought them. You might be able to find them cheaper at Old Time Pottery or any place that sells housewares.
Then you will need labels. This is where you can get creative. There are lots of ways to approach this (find free printable labels online, buy them at an office supply store) but I ordered a package of these chalkboard looking labels with a white pen. They are a little pricy but there is enough left over to also do some jelly jars. I thought they were really cute and the ink is semi-permanent. You can wash them in warm, soapy water, but it takes an ammonia based cleaner (like glass cleaner) to remove the ink completely. Then you can write on them again. So if you make a mistake, you can fix it.
Then, just line all your mason jars up, figure out how many of which herb you wish to gift to whom and start filling and labeling your jars. Once they are all filled, you are set to wrap your gift & go! I bought 2 sets of 12 jars and had four people to gift so they each got six jars. In two of the four sets, we had cooks who like to kick things up a notch so for them, I held back the rosemary and replaced it with my own special hot pepper blend. I used a spice/nut grinder (which I borrowed from a neighbor and like very much – getting my own soon!) to make a powder from dried peppers we grew including cayenne, tabasco, chenzo, and basket of fire peppers in equal parts. Find my recipes for the Best Pepper Powders on The Planet right here. Eddie (my taste tester) said that on a scale of 0-10 with ten being hottest ever … it was about a seven. So it has a decent kick to it. My cooks who enjoy the hot & spicy will surely enjoy this blend!
And here is our usual photo tutorial: