Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How To-sday: Making a Soup Wreath Gift

Soup Wreaths Winter Gift
I love to cook with herbs and I wish others were not so afraid of it, because really it is not hard.  Cooking with herbs is somewhat fool proof too, because if you dislike the flavor you just cook the dish a bit longer and the herb flavor will diminish.  One of my favorite Herb writers is Jim Long.  He has a farm called Long Creek Herbs and writes a garden blog and contributes to Herb Companion Magazine among others.  I find his excitement about using herbs matches my own and his creativity is fun too.
From his many writings I found this information about a wonderful herb gift idea that I just had to copy.  I like to make wreathes for decoration both in the kitchen where we can eat from them and on the door as a greeting.  For centuries, herbalists and gardeners have used wreaths to preserve the beauty of herbs and flowers long after the harvest has passed. In addition to their aesthetic value, herbal wreaths can add a delicious twist to your soups and stews this winter. What Jim Long did was make tiny wreaths that you would drop whole into a soup or stew to flavor your cooking with a bit of added whimsy.
He packaged the little circle of herbs in nice tissue paper, with a ribbon and recipe card attached, and presented them to friends.  I liked the idea so much I made them and gave them away as hostess gifts.  I also used the idea to teach Girl Scouts to cook with herbs.  They liked making the wreath and then putting it into their food.
Using Jim’s technique, you end up with a completed wreath that is only about 5 inches in diameter. It is the perfect size of an average pot of soup.  Anything bigger, according to Jim and you could over season the average stew pot.
Any of the seasoning herbs can be used. It’s best to use long-stemmed herbs, to make it easier and more fun to weave. I often construct the wreath for a specific kind of soup. For example, if I am going to attach a recipe for chicken soup, I would choose six or so from the following herbs for the wreath:
• Rosemary, thyme, celeriac leaves, garlic chives, garlic leaves, sweet marjoram, small lovage leaves, parsley, lavender, lemongrass, winter savory and lemon basil.
For a beef- or pork-based soup, I might choose from this list:
• Rosemary, chervil, thyme, savory, onion leaves, chives, garlic chives, tarragon, oregano, basil, hyssop, bay and small hot peppers.
A vegetarian-based recipe could draw from any of the herbs on either list.
How to make the wreath
1. To begin the wreath, gather your ingredients. You will need about 6 sprigs of herbs in varying lengths. Longer pieces can be woven into the wreath more easily than shorter ones. You will probably also want 3 or 4 shorter pieces to add into the wreath for bulk and variety.
2. Choose a sprig of rosemary or a similar woody, long-stemmed herb, about 12 to 14 inches long. Bend it into a loop that is about 4 inches in diameter, twisting the ends around each other. You don’t need to tie it in place, simply hold it together with your thumb and finger, then add another long-stemmed herb, twisting it over and around the first one and overlapping the ends of the first.

3. Continue adding additional sprigs — a piece of sage, some thyme, onion leaves, garlic chives and others — until your wreath looks full. Keep in mind the wreath will shrink as it dries, so add enough herbs to keep it looking full after it dries.

4.  Add a long leaf, such as an onion top from winter onions, a long blade of chives, or a leaf of lemongrass, at the very last, spiraling it like a ribbon all the way around to secure all of the herbs and give it a finished look.

5. The two ends of the spiraled leaf can be tucked under some of the other herbs and any loose ends can be trimmed off with pruners. You also may want to tuck in a nice, small red pepper or a sprig of golden marjoram for some color. Chive flowers dry well, as do garlic chive blossoms and oregano. Tuck the stem into the wreath so it is secure.

Dry Your Wreath and Prepare the Gift
Now you are ready to dry your wreath. The simplest way is to put it in a dark, dry place, like a pantry or a cabinet, until it is dry. Even the oven, without heat, works well. It’s important to dry your wreath out of light in order to maintain the vibrant color and flavor of your herbs. You can also dry them in a food dehydrator, especially one which has a temperature control and remains dark inside. If you use basil or parsley in a wreath, a dehydrator will help them keep their coloring as both will darken to black or fade to tan in some conditions. I avoid this issue by using purple basil which tends to keep the darker burgandy color as it dries.  I placed my wreath in the bottom of a paper lunch bag, folded over the top and punched a hole at the fold so I could hang multiple bags with raffia from a hook and not have to worry about dust.
Don’t, however, dry the wreath in the microwave. The microwaving process vaporizes the essential oils in the plant. Also, hanging the wreath in the kitchen isn’t a good method for drying. Light and cooking odors will diminish your wreath’s flavor and color.
Once your wreath is completely dry, you are ready to attach a recipe card containing instructions for using the wreath with a ribbon or string (the card and string should be removed before cooking). Wrap the completed wreath in tissue paper or seal it in a plastic sandwich bag and store it in an airtight container, out of light, until ready to use or give away.

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