Lately I've been making some new seasonings. I started an herb garden when I came to the farm, and I really enjoy cooking with things I've grown. Fresh herbs are, of course, the most flavorful, and you just can't beat the flavor of something that was cut and then brought immediately into the kitchen. But every night this time of year brings the chance of the first frost (we've had lows of 34 already!) and so I like to plan on different ways to ensure I have delicious herbs all through the winter. I use the dehydrator a lot, and then place the dried herbs into glass jars. Another great way is to simply freeze herbs; many retain more of their flavor that way, although the texture is lost.
I have what some might call a “cookbook problem”. I collect them. I have subscriptions to multiple cooking magazines and never throw any out. I justify this by telling myself that I probably use them more than most people. I cook, from scratch, pretty much daily. I send out recipes in my monthly farm newsletter. I love reading about or adapting recipes to make the best use of whatever is in season. When folks ask me where I get the ideas for all the things I process and offer for sale at the stand, saying “I buy a LOT of cookbooks” really is no lie. One great idea I found recently was for basil salt. It's pretty simple and makes great use of the basil that is so bountiful now, and is a great way to keep that flavor around beyond the first frost. It involves chopping up the basil in a food processor, adding salt and blending it together, then drying it briefly in the oven and chopping it again. The recipe recommended sprinkling it on fresh tomatoes, but I'm thinking up lots of other great ideas, too...for instance, I'm planning on making homemade pizza soon just so I can try adding it to the crust! And since it worked so well with basil, and I'm overrun with sage right now, I made some sage salt too. It's already a winner in my book as a rub for meats! So that has been a fun success recently, and I've made enough to have some for sale at the stand as well.
Another project I wanted to try this year was making my own paprika. Did you know that paprika is simply a type of pepper, which is then dried & ground? It's great for adding color, but most of the store-bought stuff doesn't give a dish much flavor, in my opinion. So, in the winter when I poured over seed catalogs and planned this year's garden, I was intrigued by the thought of growing a few paprika plants. Like the rest of my pepper seeds, I started them out in the sprout house in mid-February, nurtured the seedlings and eventually planted them out in the garden in late May. It took until mid-September to get some red, ripe peppers from the plants. I picked them, cut them up, and put them in the dehydrator. They were good and dry today, so I tossed the pepper bits into the processor and began to pulse them until the small chunks of peppers became a rusty red powder in the inside of the glass. I carefully poured the resulting powder into some small herb jars I have, and was plesently surprised at the yield. I'm excited to do more, and if I end up with enough, I may sell some, but first I want to stock my own pantry. Just for fun, I compared my newly-ground seasoning to the container of store-bought paprika in my kitchen. My freshly ground paprika has an aroma of peppery spice, with a smidge of heat, and is fresh and colorful. In comparison, the other stuff smells like dust and is more brown than red. There's no debate about the winner of this taste test, and I'm anxious to feature it in a dish, maybe even tonight.
It took about eight months to go from pretty seed package to useable spice, but I've learned to savor the rewards of being patient. There is little opportunity for instant gratification on a farm. Time, patience and loving care are the main ingredients in pretty much all I cook (or sell), from the veggies to the meats to canned goods and, as you can see, even the seasonings. Still, I've yet to find anything that tastes better.