Preserving Your Tarragon Harvest

Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa

History of Tarragon

This herb originated in Asia and is suspected of being brought to Spain by the invading Mongols in the early 1100's. In early folk lore it was believed to cure venomous bites from snakes, spiders, bees, and scorpions.

The Romans believed it would fend off fatigue and used to place fresh sprigs of Tarragon into their shoes before starting out on pilgrimages to aid them through their long journeys.

By the 13th century it is listed as a vegetable seasoning and breath freshener and the ability of the tea to induce sleep. St. Catherine is credited with bringing Tarragon from her native Siena region in Italy to Pope Clement VI in France.

By the 16th century it was a popular herb throughout Europe. Catherine the Great is credited for bringing Tarragon to Russia. Marie Antoinette required her Lady in Waiting to don kid gloves and pick five perfect Tarragon leaves to soak in five teaspoons of lemon juice every morning in preparation for that evening's dinner. King George accredited his chef, Marie Antoine Careme, for saving his life as the Prince of Wales by using only Tarragon as a seasoning for his food.

Culinary Uses of Tarragon

Today it is a popular herb in many world wide native cultures. It is the main seasoning in the classic French Bernaise sauce and can be used to flavor a wide variety of dishes including salads, pickles, fish, poultry, veal, prepared mustards and mayonnaises, rice, flavored vinegars and herb butters.

The Tarragon flavored vinegars are expensive in the stores, but are easy to make at home. Vinegars are the best way to preserve the flavor of the Tarragon, because when the fresh leaves are dried, they loose all of the flavor and aroma of fresh Tarragon

Medicinal Uses of Tarragon

There are very few uses for Tarragon medicinally, but, it is said that chewing the fresh leaves will relieve toothaches. A tea made from 1 teaspoon of the fresh leaves to one cup of hot water is reputed to help with insomnia, if taken at bed time.

Aromatherapy Uses of Tarragon

The essential oil of Tarragon is called "estragon oil" is used primarily in the manufacturing of perfumes. I found no reference to Tarragon in any of my research materials regarding aromatherapy use.

Harvesting Tarragon

The best Tarragon sprigs for use in making the flavored vinegars are the early summer new growth sprigs, while the later seasoned more mature sprigs are best for freezing, and, if desired, drying.

Tarragon is what is known as a tender perennial, meaning that with a heavy mulch and a sheltered location, you might be able to nurse the plants through the winter. I highly recommend a floating crop cover of greenhouse plastic secured to metal arches to form tunnels over the tender plants. This works well for many other herbs and crops to extend the growing season in colder climates.

When clipping the branches for use, make sure that you do not cut the whole branch off of the plant, cutting only the fresh lighter green leaves for fresh use. When cutting for the Fall storage, do not cut the plants down to the crown, but leave the parent stalks at least 3 or 4 inches from the ground to ensure proper, even growth in spring.

After three years or so, the plant should be replaced with fresh plants for the best results in harvesting.

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Garden Shears

Collection basket of some sort

METHOD:

1. Clip the young, green leaves in the early morning after the dew has dried off of the leaves, leaving the hard woody stems to generate more growth. This will encourage branching, for a bushier, well formed plant.

2. Alternate in various locations around the crown, leaving leaves to help feed the plant. This will assure a full crop for drying in the late Fall.

Preserving Your Tarragon Harvest

Drying Tarragon

Traditional Method

Most chefs agree that drying Tarragon is a waste, as it looses most of the delicate flavor and aroma when dehydrated. However, this chapter is included in the event that you want to try drying tarragon.

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Garden or Kitchen shears

Basket or other container suitable for Tarragon sprigs

Salad Spinner or two clean kitchen towels

Rubber Bands

Clothes Drying Rack, Dry attic or porch

Small Brown Paper Bags (optional)

METHOD:

1. Gather your Tarragon harvest in the morning hours after the sun has dried away the dew of the night.

2. Strip the lower leaves off of the stems about 2 inches from the ends and gather the sprigs into small, loose bundles and secure the stems with rubber bands to assure that the bundles stay together as they dry. Be careful to alternate the branches to allow for good air filtration between the broad leaves.

3. If using brown paper bags, cover each bundle with the bags that have slits cut into the sides to allow for adequate air flow around the herbs. The paper bags keep dust off of the Tarragon as it dries and the sunlight from bleaching out the color. Care must be taken to make sure that enough air flows through the bag to keep the Tarragon from molding. Check occasionally to make sure, and, if need be either cut more holes in the bags or remove them. Sometimes the moisture builds up inside the bag, especially if the sun hits it, allowing fungus and mildew to form. Discard any molded leaves or bunches.

4. Hang upside down in a warm, dry place such as an attic or porch until the leaves are brittle to the touch, approximately 2 weeks.

5. Gather the dried bundles and place on a sheet of wax paper.

6. Crumble the dried leaves and separate out all of the tough stems onto the wax paper.

7. Store in an air tight container in the pantry for use in cooking.

STORAGE:

These air tight jars can be stored in a dry, dark place such as your pantry or cupboard, or even your freezer, with proper care.

USES:

Dried Tarragon can be used in sauces, gravies, dressings and all other recipes that require fresh Tarragon, although the flavor will be drastically reduced.

Quick Drying Method

Although not ideal, quick drying Tarragon will preserve some of the color of the leaves and flavor of the herb. Tarragon can be dried in the oven at the lowest temperature, or, if you have a gas stove with a pilot light, spread the sprigs out on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper in a single layer.

Special Note: If using cookie sheets to dry the herbs, place the herbs to be dried on parchment paper to avoid direct contact with the metal trays. Metal contact darkens the color of the herb being dried, causing the Basil to loose its bright green color.

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Salad Spinner or two clean kitchen towels

Kitchen shears or good chopping knife

Chopping board or block

Parchment Paper

Cookie Sheet

Oven

1. Wash and gently spin dry the fresh Tarragon sprigs.

2. Pick out the discolored leaves and woody stems.

3. Preheat your oven to lowest temperature setting.

4. Strip the leaves off of the stems or leave the sprigs whole in a single layer on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet or place the whole leaves on the paper.

5. Place in oven on top rack for 2 to 4 hours or until the Tarragon crumbles easily between your fingers. Drying times may vary according climate conditions and relative humidity.

6. Gather up the parchment paper into a funnel and place smallest end over the mouth of a clean, completely dry jar and seal tightly.

STORAGE: Place jar in a dry, dark place such as your kitchen cabinet, pantry or even your freezer.

Freezing Tarragon

Ice Cube Method

The traditional method of freezing Tarragon is to strip the leaves whole off of the woody stems or chop the herb up fine and suspend the chopped herbs in a little water before freezing. This method is more successful in preserving the flavor and color of the leaves.

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Salad Spinner or two clean absorbent kitchen towels

Kitchen shears or chopping knife and chopping board

Ice Cube trays

Measuring spoons

INGREDIENTS:

Whole leaf or chopped Tarragon

Fresh tap water

1. Pick through the fresh Tarragon removing damaged leaves and tough stems and rinse. Gently spin dry or pat dry between two kitchen towels to remove as much moisture as possible.

2. Strip off the leaves from the woody stem by running your forefinger and thumb down the woody stem, removing the leaves. Snip off the tender top section and add to the leaves you have stripped. Depending on your planned application for the leaves for cooking later, either chop up the Tarragon, removing tough stems, or leave the leaves whole to add to the ice cube trays. Place a teaspoon or two into each compartment of the ice cube trays.

3. Top off with water and freeze in the freezer.

STORAGE: Once the ice cubes have frozen, remove the herbed cubes and store in an air tight freezer bag or jar in your freezer.

USES: These Tarragon ice cubes can be used in sauces and soups. To use the herb as fresh in salad dressings or dishes with little liquid content, place the cube in a glass of room temperature water until melted and strain through a sieve to remove the Sage from the water. Add to the recipe as required.

Vacuum Sealer Method

This method allows for greater color, texture and flavor retention by keeping the sprigs whole and air tight. I feel it is the best way to store more delicate herbs such as Tarragon.

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Vacuum sealer with appropriate bag material

Salad Spinner or clean absorbent kitchen towels

Kitchen shears or paring knife

METHOD:

1. Wash and gently spin dry or blot with kitchen towels to remove excess moisture.

2. Snip or cut off tough woody stems and discolored or damaged leaves.

3. Make a bag from the roll material large enough to hold the sprigs of Tarragon and allow space between the herb and the final seal and seal one end.

4. Label bag with contents and date sealed.

5. Place herb sprigs into the bag.

6. Place bag end into the sealer and vacuum seal.

7. Place in the freezer flat. After the bags have frozen solid, they can be stored upright, taking up little space in the freezer.

Tarragon Herb Vinegar

Cold Method

The most famous method of preserving Tarragon is in vinegar. The vinegar leaches the delicate flavor from the fresh sprigs and allows it to be used in salad dressings and many other dishes requiring vinegar, including pickling.

This method uses the bottle that the vinegar is purchased in, so be sure to buy a high quality vinegar with an attractive glass bottle.

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

1 bottle of good quality apple cider or wine vinegar

Small bowl

3 or 4 sprigs of fresh Tarragon, washed and patted dry

1 clove garlic, optional

3 or 4 pepper corns, optional

METHOD:

1. Pour a small amount (approximately 1/2 cup) of the vinegar into a small clean bowl or measuring cup to reserve for later use after the herb sprigs have been added.

2. Place the fresh Tarragon sprigs in the bottle of vinegar.

3. Top off to fill the bottle with the reserved vinegar and seal tightly.

4. Place the bottle on a sunny window sill for two weeks, gently shaking the bottle every day or so to mix the flavors of the herbs.

5. Soak off the manufacturer label and relabel with a decorative label.

STORAGE: These herbed vinegars are quite attractive and can be stored on the counter top, pantry or kitchen cupboard.

USES: This flavored vinegar is great in marinades for meat and poultry, in salad dressings and many other recipes requiring vinegar.

Hot Method

This method makes a more pungent vinegar.

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Small Bowl

Wooden Spoon

Fresh Tarragon Sprigs

Chopping knife and chopping board

Large clean wide mouth jar with tight fitting lid

Sheet of plastic wrap

Medium stainless steel or enamel sauce pan

Good quality apple cider or wine vinegar

Cheese cloth

Funnel

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups of apple cider or wine vinegar

1 cup of Tarragon leaves

METHOD:

1. Place the stripped leaves into the bowl and gently crush with a wooden spoon.

2. Heat one cup of the vinegar until warm, but do not boil.

3. Pour hot vinegar over the crushed Tarragon in the bowl and stir to mix well.

4. Crush the Tarragon a little more to release the herb oils.

5. Leave to cool.

6. When cooled, add the remaining cup of vinegar and pour into a large jar and cap tightly.

7. Place on a sunny window sill and shake every day or so to distribute the flavors for two weeks.

8. Store as is or pour through a double layer of cheese cloth into a funnel over a clean decorative bottle.

9. Add a few fresh sprigs of Tarragon into the bottle for decoration and identification purposes.

10. Label and store in the pantry, cupboard or counter top.

Tarragon Infused Oil

Cold Method

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Salad Spinner or clean kitchen towels

Medium bowl

Wooden spoon

Large wide mouth jar

Good quality extra virgin olive oil

Fresh Tarragon sprigs or leaves

1/4 or 1/2 dry measuring cups

2 cup liquid measuring cup

Cheese cloth

Funnel

INGREDIENTS:

1/4 to 1/2 cup of Tarragon leaves

2 cups of extra virgin olive oil

METHOD:

1. Pick the freshest herbs, wash and gently spin dry or blot between two kitchen towels to remove as much moisture as possible.

2. Place the Tarragon leaves in the bowl and crush slightly with the back of the wooden spoon to release plant flavors.

3. Pour half (1 cup) of the oil over the bruised leaves.

4. Stir and crush again slightly to release more of the plant oils.

5. Add remaining cup of oil and stir well to blend.

6. Pour into the large mouth jar and cap tightly.

7. Set on a sunny window sill for two weeks, shaking gently every day or so to mix the flavors.

8. Strain oil slowly through a double layer of cheese cloth set into a large funnel in the opening of a clean decorative bottle and cap tightly.

9. Add a few fresh sprigs of Tarragon for decoration and identification purposes and label.

STORE: Keep the flavored oils out of direct sunlight after the seeping process in a kitchen cupboard or pantry. Oils tend to go rancid if left in the sun too long. The shelf life of flavored oils is approximately six months.

Hot Method

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Medium kitchen bowl

Wooden Spoon

Medium stainless steel or enamel sauce pan

2 cup or larger liquid measuring cup

1/4 or 1/2 cup dry measuring cup

Large wide mouth jar

Cheese cloth

Funnel

Decorative bottle

INGREDIENTS:

1/4 to 1/2 cup of fresh chopped Tarragon leaves

2 cups of extra virgin olive oil

METHOD:

1. Wash herbs and spin dry or pat between two kitchen towels to remove excess moisture.

2. Pick out tough stems and damaged or discolored leaves.

3. Strip the leaves from the woody stalks and chop the Tarragon, if desired and measure 1/4 to 1/3 cup, depending on the intensity of the flavor desired.

4. Place the Tarragon into the bowl and crush slightly with the wooden spoon.

5. Pour one cup of the oil into the sauce pan and heat, but do not boil.

6. Pour heated oil over the crushed Tarragon in the bowl and stir with the wooden spoon to mix well.

7. Slowly add remaining oil into the bowl and stir to mix.

8. Once cooled, place in the large mouth jar and seal tightly.

9. Place jar on sunny window sill for two weeks, gently shaking the bottle every day or so to blend the flavors.

10. Slowly pour the liquid a little at a time into a funnel lined with a double layer of cheese cloth set on the top of a clean decorative bottle and cap tightly.

11. Add a few fresh sprigs for decoration and identification and label, including the date.

USES: Flavored oils can be used in almost every recipe that uses oil, from meat, poultry or fish marinades, sautes, sauces, herb flavored mayonnaise, and salad dressings.

STORAGE: These oils will store up to six months in a dark cupboard or pantry.

Tarragon Savory Butter

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Salad Spinner or two clean kitchen towels

Small Kitchen Bowl

Chopping Board

Kitchen Shears or Good Chopping Knife OR Food Processor

Wooden Spoon or Spatula

Set of Measuring Spoons

Wax or Parchment paper

Ice cube trays or small muffin tins

INGREDIENTS:

1 Stick (8 Tablespoons or 1/4 Pound) of Sweet butter, softened

1 1/2 to 2 Tablespoons of chopped Tarragon

METHOD:

1. Set the stick of butter out on the counter to warm up and soften.

2. Wash and spin dry to remove as much moisture as possible from the Tarragon, picking through the leaves to remove woody stems and damaged, discolored leaves.

BY HAND:

3. Strip the leaves from the woody stems and finely chop with the chopping knife.

4. In a small bowl, combine the soft butter and the chopped Sage with a wooden spoon until well blended.

IN FOOD PROCESSOR:

3. Place 2 to 3 sprigs worth of stripped stems of Tarragon into the bowl of the processor and pulse several times to chop fine, scraping the bowl down with the wooden spoon or spatula between each pulse to assure even chopping.

4. Add the softened butter to the processor bowl and pulse, again, scraping the sides of the bowl between each pulse to mix ingredients well.

5. Divide the butter by Tablespoons into the ice trays (for cube shaped butter patties) or small muffin tins (for round butter patties) and freeze in the freezer.

6. Once frozen, remove the butter patties from the trays or tins and store in an air-tight container such as a freezer bag or glass jar in the freezer.

NOTE: You can also remove the butter from the bowl onto a sheet of wax paper, and, as it starts to set up, gently roll it into a roll with the help of the paper. Once the roll has formed, add another layer of wax paper and twist the ends to seal tightly. Place the roll on the freezer shelf to freeze. To serve, these rolls can be unwrapped and sliced into discs for serving with savory toasts, over mashed or baked potatoes or new potatoes and a variety of other applications requiring butter.

Tarragon Herb Honey

Honey is perhaps one of the best natural preservative ever discovered, having remarkable shelf life, and was even found in tombs in Egypt, still viable!

This honey is great to use in sauces for marinates of poultry and meats and is delicious when added to homemade salad dressings with Tarragon vinegar.

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

Clean glass jar with a tight fitting lid

Salad Spinner or Two Clean Kitchen Towels

Kitchen Shears or Chopping Board and Good Chopping Knife

Sheet of Wax or Parchment Paper

Bamboo Skewer

INGREDIENTS:

Fresh, Clear Honey

Whole Leaf or Chopped Tarragon

METHOD:

1. Fill the glass jar half way to the top with fresh honey.

2. Place either the chopped or the stripped whole leaf of the Tarragon into the jar, packing loosely, using the bamboo skewer to make sure the leaves are dispersed evenly throughout the honey.

3. Top off the herb infused honey with more honey to fill the jar. If you like, you can carefully warm the "top off" honey before adding it to the herbs in the jar. This will impart a stronger flavor quicker.

4. Tighten the lid onto the jar and label.

STORAGE:

Because Honey has a way of crystallizing, it is best to keep the jars out of direct light, in a dark cupboard or pantry. If the honey does crystallize, fill a small cooking pot with 2 inches or so of water and place the jar of honey in the center. Gently warm up the water over medium heat on your stove to heat up the honey, stirring occasionally to disperse the honey crystals until all of the honey is smooth again. Do not bring to a boil. Overheating the honey will break down some of the properties of the honey! Microwaving honey is a tricky business, as overheating is easy to do, causing the honey to boil. Microwave the honey jar (with metal cap removed) in the center of the revolving tray and set the timer for 10 seconds. Remove the honey jar and stir. Repeat this process until all of the honey crystals are dissolved.