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If you grow fresh herbs, be sure to use them as often as possible.

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I guess I think a lot about herbs and spices as the fall/winter seasons begin. Probably because those were always the BIG cooking and feasting times in my family, and the time when more of those were used. Maybe it’s the same for you?

Do You Have A “Green Thumb?”

If you are a “green thumb” sort of person with the gift of growing things, maybe you might grow your own fresh herbs. If you do, you probably have them inside in pots so that during the winter months they don’t die out and you can snip them for recipes. That’s great, but unfortunately, not all of us can do that!

Dried Herbs and Spices

For those of us who must resign ourselves to the dried variety, available at our local grocery, here are a few tips. There’s nothing wrong with dried herbs and spices, except if care is not taken, even the dried ones get old and stale. Replenished regularly, and stored in airtight containers, they will last and be flavorful a long time. Here’s how I keep freshness in the flavor of my dried spices and herbs and how I manage to buy new ones every year without breaking the bank!

Set a Replenish Date

First, I set a replenish date. Since I know that the herbs and spices that I use most on a yearly basis in my fall/winter holiday cooking include dried sage, thyme, rosemary, pumpkin spice, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon, I tend to replenish those around the end of October. This puts new flavors in my pantry before those intense cooking dates in November and December.

Spring/Summer – Fresh to Dried

During the warmer months when I do less in the way of big dinners, I can buy fresh rosemary, thyme, cilantro, parsley, etc. Even if you don’t use them up, you can dry them and put them in an airtight container just as if you bought them that way. Hang them with the leaves pointing down, in a cool, dry place. Check them frequently without keeping them in the light too long. When they begin to feel crisp to the touch or start to crumble when touched, strip the leaves and put them in the container. You’ve just saved yourself some money. Write the date on the bottle, so you know when THEY are to be replenished.

Replace and Replenish

The next thing is to replace and replenish current dried spices and herbs. If you open one of your old containers, it may smell and look good, but chances are it’s from a year or more ago. Believe me, when they’re used in cooking they just don’t measure up to the heat. Throw them out and stock up with new ones, and you’ll be happier with the holiday food. If you’ve ever experienced a meal you prepared that tasted a little flat and less flavorful than you expected, it’s possible your herbs and spices were at fault.

Space Out Your Spice and Herb Purchases

Third, my shopping list before the holidays begins to show that I space out the spice and herb purchases. When we have the expensive of turkeys, ham, fancy beef cuts, etc., who wants to add other expensive things? Herbs and spices may not seem to be a lot of money, but if you bought them all the same week, it could add quite a lot to your already-strained grocery bill. So begin to add one or two spices or herbs during the weeks leading up to the holidays and before you know it, you have them all without investing too much money at one time.

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Spice Racks Come In All Shapes, Sizes and Designs

Spice racks and containers are important. I have a large revolving “Lazy Susan” style spice rack that I’ve had for years, like the one below, (photo is not of my Lazy Susan) but like many things, spice racks are not “one size fits all.” You will need to determine what your needs are before you buy a rack. You could try making a list of those herbs and spices you use the most, as I did, which will help you determine the size rack and how many containers you need. Plastic store containers  herbs and spices come in are okay for a short time, but if you have your own airtight containers, it’s best to use them. Your herbs and spices will stay full-bodied and strong much longer. Glass containers are the best when it comes to retaining flavor.

This is like the “Lazy Susan” I have!

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Keep Spices Away From The Heat

It’s good to have spice racks near your cooking area, but be careful that you don’t have them too close to the heat from your kitchen range. Heat destroys potency of herbs and spices quickly even though they may be in an airtight container. If you don’t have a large enough counter, keep them in the spice rack in a cool dark place such as a pantry, or cabinet that isn’t exposed to light or heat and take them out only when you cook.