Living in North Carolina, I never had to worry about preserving rosemary. It easily overwintered, and in many yards became excessively large to the annoyance of non-cooks. But here in the mountains rosemary can not survive the cold without intervention. One year it even died in my in-laws’ greenhouses. So I began researching ways to save it for the few months I could not have it. Eventually I was able to overwinter some in our front window with the long winter-sun exposure, but I still preserved some because it is just too handy to quickly grab the baggie out of the freezer and throw a couple of tablespoons into my bread or chicken and dumplings.
To preserve rosemary, it can be frozen or dried. I much prefer the frozen over dried. Frozen rosemary is closest to fresh, retaining the softness of the leaves instead of the tough, stick-in-your-teeth twigs created by dehydrating.
There are several ways to freeze rosemary and doing so will determine how you’ll harvest. Whole branches of rosemary can be frozen and upon thawing the leaves will slip off the branches. Stubborn leaves will need to be removed by hand and then everything chopped. Taking a few more steps however will give you a more convenient product that won’t interrupt your cooking flow, even when you decide at the last minute your dish is just begging for rosemary.
I prefer to finely chop fresh rosemary in the food processor which means only the soft stems of the plant can be harvested. Harvesting this way leaves the plant nicely pruned which encourages more branching, hence more harvest and a more vigorous plant. To harvest, cut above the brown branch where it starts to turn white (see the photos below). The white stems are softer than the brown sections, and will chop smaller and soften even further in cooking. The hard brown branch won’t, though these too can be cut clear to the main trunk, stripped of all leaves and used as skewers for kabobs on the grill. Yum!
You can see below how my harvesting over the summer has encouraged the plant to branch out more. Note the cut center branch which is where the harvested stem had started turning white. Leaving the brown part encouraged the plant to branch out more below the cut.
When processing, if the rosemary sticks to the blade or bowl throw in a 1/2 teaspoon of cornstarch to powder up the leaves and absorb some of the oils:
If you don’t have a food processor, just chop by hand. The frozen rosemary keeps best zipped into double freezer bags, or stored into tightly closed jars.
Liz Pike blogs at Horseshoe Gardens.
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