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3/13/2007

Make a Cooking Wreath

Making a Cooking Wreath
Copyright© Jim Long, 2007

I started making these tiny wreaths many years ago as little thank you gifts to give during the Holidays. I’d package the little circle of herbs in nice tissue paper, with a ribbon and recipe card attached, and present them to friends.

I’ve used this method to teach kids about the uses of herbs in my garden, but soon learned that adults enjoy making them as much as children do.

The wreath is tiny, about 5 inches in diameter. Why make them so small? Primarily because they are meant to be seasoning for a pot of soup, added near the end of cooking for the best flavor. if you made the wreath larger, it would be too much seasoning for a regular stew pot.

Any of the seasoning herbs can be used. It’s best to use long-stemmed ones, to make it easier and more fun to do the weaving. 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 from the following list of herbs for the wreath:

Rosemary
Thyme
Celeriac leaves
Sage
Garlic chives
Garlic leaves
Sweet marjoram
Small lovage leaves
Parsley
Lavender
Lemongrass
Winter savory
Lemon basil

But if I am going to attach a recipe for a beef or pork based soup when I give the wreath as a gift, I might choose from this list:

Rosemary
Chervil
Thyme
Savory
Onion leaves
Chives
Garlic chives
Tarragon
Oregano
Basil
Hyssop
Bay
Small hot peppers

A vegetarian-based recipe could draw from any of the herbs on either list.

To begin the wreath, gather together your ingredients. You will need about six sprigs of herbs in varying lengths. Longer pieces can be woven into the wreath easier than shorter ones. You will probably also want three or four shorter pieces to add into the wreath for bulk and variety.

Choose a sprig of rosemary or similar woody, long-stemmed herb, about 12-14 inches long. Simply bend it into a loop that is about four inches across, 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.

Continue adding additional sprigs, a piece of sage, some thyme, onion leaves, garlic chives and others, until your wreath looks full.

Keep in mind, when the wreath dries, it will shrink, so add enough herbs to look still look full after the wreath has dried.

I like to add a long leaf, such as an onion top from winter onions, or a leaf of lemongrass at the very last. I wrap it around, spiraling it like a ribbon all the way around to secure all of the herbs and give it a finished look. The two ends of the leaf can be tucked under some of the other herbs and any loose ends can be trimmed off with pruners.

You may also 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, oregano flowers and others. Tuck the stem into the wreath so it is secure.

Now you are ready to dry your wreath. You can simply put it in a dark, dry place, like a pantry or a cabinet. Even the oven, without heat, works well. It’s important to dry your wreath out of the light in order to keep the color and flavor of your herbs. I generally dry mine in a food dehydrator, which has a temperature control and remains dark inside. If I use basil or parsley in my wreath, I will dry it on a low setting to keep those herb’s good green color.

Don’t, however, dry the wreath in the microwave! That’s the worst way to dry any herb, simply because the microwaving process vaporizes the essential oils in the plant. Have you ever noticed how good the smell of the microwave is after microwaving an herb? That’s because the oils that give the herbs their flavor and fragrance, are now in the air, having been removed in the microwave.

Also, hanging the wreath in the kitchen isn’t a good way for drying, either. Light and cooking odors will diminish your wreath’s flavor and color. The best way is either in a dark space, or in a food dehydrator.

Once your herb cooking wreath is completely dry, you are ready to attach a ribbon or string (which should be removed before cooking), with a recipe card for using the wreath. You may want to wrap it in tissue paper to keep it nice, or store it in a plastic sandwich bag. Store it in an airtight container, out of light, until ready to use or give away.

Here’s an example of my recipe card that I attach when giving the wreath as a little gift:

This is a cooking wreath from my garden. It contains the right amount of herbs to season a pot of soup. Here’s a simple recipe, or use the wreath with your own favorite soup recipe.
Wintertime Chicken Soup

2 chicken breasts, cut in pieces
1 stalk of celery, diced
1/2 cup diced onion
2 carrots, peeled, diced
Optional: rice or pasta
The entire cooking wreath
Dash salt and pepper, to taste

Bring 2 1/2 quarts of water to a boil and add the chicken and vegetables. Cook until the chicken is tender, about 20 minutes. Add the optional rice or pasta and reduce heat to a simmer, cooking 10-15 minutes. When you add the rice/pasta, also remove the ribbon from the cooking wreath and add it to the pot of simmering soup. Simmer until done and serve.

A vegetarian friend would receive this recipe card attach to their cooking wreath:

Bring 2 1/2 quarts of water to a boil. Add an assortment of your favorite diced vegetables, such as celery, carrots, a turnip, some cabbage, onion and garlic. Simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Add 1/2 cup pasta or rice and simmer until nearly tender. Add the cooking wreath (with the ribbon removed) and simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove the wreath and serve.

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