Metro-East Living

Just in thyme: the summer season’s best herbs

Metro-East Herb Society

The herb club meets to celebrate the summer solstice
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The herb club meets to celebrate the summer solstice

Ruth Rieso and daughter-in-law Jane Rieso grow a variety of herbs in their Freeburg garden.

Early the evening of June 28, fellow members of the Metro-East Herb Society got to see what was thriving — everything from common sage and sweet basil to dill, mint and parsley.

“We started off with such a small group,” said Daphne Sumner, of Belleville, who is club president, “but over the years we have seen an influx of people wanting to join.”

Members of the herb society are of various ages and walks of life. Not everyone in the group joined with a green thumb, but Diane Rasp of Belleville did.

“I started gardening at an early age when I joined the 4-H club in school,” Rasp said. “After my final project, I realized that I loved plants and I have been planting herbs and vegetables ever since.”

The moist soil and ample sunlight in the metro-east provides the perfect growing environment for many herbs and plants, they noted. Basil, thyme and cilantro are just a few herbs that are ready to harvest in June if they were planted in the peak spring season.

Dill is another herb that does well in this climate, and its harvest season will be here in just a few weeks. Dill can grow up to two feet and attracts insects away from other nearby plants that bear fruit. It makes a great companion plant for cucumber, but not a good one for tomatoes or carrots.

Infusing is a good way to get the most life out of your herbs. Flavored oils are popular in the food industry as are flavor infused vinegars. Add rosemary to olive oil and dill to white wine vinegar to make your own salad dressing.

The International Herb Association has named capsicum, or peppers, the herb of the year for 2016.

Why peppers? The definition of an herb is any plant with leaves, seeds, or flowers used for flavoring, food, medicine, or perfume. Peppers fit the bill. The group makes its choice based on a plant being outstanding in at least two of three major categories: medicinal, culinary, or decorative. Peppers are outstanding in all three categories.

Not to be confused with capsaicin, the chemical found in peppers to give it its hot taste.

Peppers do well in temperatures between 70 and 84 degrees, which makes it a great plant to grow in the metro-east region.

The Metro-East Herb Society meets the last Tuesday of every month.

For more information on seasonal herbs or to attend a meeting, call Daphne Sumner at 618-910-9708.

Daphne’s Dill Pickles

Pickling cucumbers, 3 inches to 4 inches long

3 cups apple cider vinegar

3 cups water

6 tablespoons canning salt (2/3 cup)

To sterilize jars, run through short cycle of dishwasher. Scrub and wash cucumbers

Add the following to each, sterilized jars (wide mouth):

Fresh dill sprig or 1 tablespoon dried dill seed

1 or 2 cloves garlic

1 or 2 dried red peppers

1/4 teaspoon potassium alum powder (also known as tawas)

Stuff as many cucumbers in a jar as you can.

Heat vinegar and water to boiling point. Keep vinegar boiling as you fill jars.

Pour vinegar into jars, one at a time. Wipe rim of jar and lid pieces to remove any moisture. Seal with lids. (Keep the lids in hot water the whole time. Do not boil the water for the lids.)

When jars cool, you’ll hear lids pop. That’s when you know lids have been sealed.

Store for at least a couple of months to cure.

Double batch makes 5 quarts; 1 gallon vinegar makes 15 quarts; 1 bushel makes about 43 quarts

Quick Pickled Jalapeno Rings

3/4 cup water

3/4 cup distilled white vinegar

3 tablespoons white sugar

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon oregano

10 large jalapeno peppers, sliced into rings

Combine water, vinegar, sugar, kosher salt, garlic, and oregano in a saucepan over high heat. Let mixture cool for 10 minutes.

Pack peppers into canning jars using tongs, cover with vinegar mixture, cover and refrigerate until needed.