The summertime chores ground me. To get the most out of the harvest I have to be in the rhythm of the earth; in tune with the seasons and the weather. It is something farmers know, but not us suburbanites. We normally do what we want when it suits us. To pick oregano when the bouquet is most fragrant, you have to do it just as it flowers. The peppermint needs to be picked in the early morning before the sun heats it and dries up its oil. If I don’t pick the blueberries when they just start turning blue the birds will enjoy every last one. If I don’t pick them when they are just ripe they will turn into hard kernels and drop off. These simple tasks, performed at the optimum time, keeps me in touch with the earth. It makes me feel connected to something bigger than myself.
A week ago I harvested my oregano. To harvest the plant, you simply cut the branches, leaving the flower heads, leaves, everything intact. You just snip them off 6″ up so you don’t hurt the plant. I put them loosely in two drying baskets (any big baskets will do) so they had room to breathe. Nothing fancy, just loosely dumped them in and left them for one week on the kitchen floor. I don’t put them in a dark place because I don’t find it is necessary; just baskets on the floor where you won’t trip on them will do.
Today, one week later, they are totally dry and fragrant beyond all belief. I wish I could put that bouquet in this blog post. You would love it. Ahhhhhhhh. Sorry, got carried away. There is something so essential about the smell of fresh oregano. It just goes up your throat and gives you such a rush of pure, aromatic pleasure. You should grow Greek oregano, if you don’t, just to be able to smell it.
To keep the oregano smelling fragrant you need to remove the leaves from the branches and store it in an airtight bottle. The leaves are ready when they are brittle; not leathery. If leathery, wait a few days. When they’re ready to be picked, I sit down at the table with Ramani or Priscilla with some cookie sheets spread out among us. We pick up a branch and slide our hand from the bottom to the top. The leaves easily crumble onto the cookie sheet. When we get to the flower end we lift our hands off, as we don’t really want the flowers. Easy peasy. When we are finished removing all the oregano, we store it in an airtight glass bottles. Harvesting two huge bottles, enough for us for one year, took Ramani and I sitting and chatting, exactly thirty-five minutes this evening. We enjoy our oregano freely on pizza, salads, and basically anything Italian. Oregano goes well with thyme and basil, with garlic and onions and black pepper. The dried herb actually has more flavor than the fresh, so if you choose to use it fresh, multiply the quantity times three. -Weezie
A Little History of my Favorite Herb
Oregano was first used by the Greeks. The word oregano actually derives from a Greek phrase meaning “joy of the mountain.” Oregano gradually made its way around the world over the ages, the way these things do. But it didn’t make it to the US until after WWII, when it was brought back by American soldiers involved in the Italian campaign. It is loaded with vitamins A and C, and calcium, manganese and iron. Oregano has been used in different cultures for its myriad of medicinal attributes, including antiseptic, anti-bacterial and high antioxidant properties. This time of year I use it constantly, as it goes so well with the vegetables I can harvest from my garden in July and August. I am including the recipe for a simple summertime favorite with summer squash and zucchini.
Summer Squash and Zucchini with Oregano and Parmesan Serves 4
When the squash and zucchini are ready to pick, they just keep on coming. We make this dish quite often and just don’t seem to tire. it is so simple and so tasty with the sweetness of the squash and onions, the earthiness of the oregano and the slight bite of the pepper. The parmesan gives it body.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 Vidalia, cut in 1 1/2 inch long slivers
2 6 inch yellow crookneck summer squash, cut in 1/4 inch coins (you can use any yellow
2 8 inch zucchini, cut in 1/4 inch coins
20 grinds of black pepper, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons of fresh oregano or 1 tablespoon dried
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
Heat a large frying pan to medium low. Add the olive oil and the onion. Fry until the onion starts to soften. Add the squash and zucchini, black pepper and salt. Stir to combine. Let it fry for 5 minutes and then after that, keep flipping it every 5 minutes, try not to in between unless it is burning. If you resist the temptation to stir it all the time it will brown beautifully, caramelizing and sweetening. After 15 minutes, or when quite tender, add the oregano. Cook for 3 minutes more. Turn the heat off, add the parmesan on top and then put a lid on it. The parmesan will melt and look beautiful against the squash.
Note: I used a 15 inch cast iron frying pan, huge, which I use when I am frying something that needs room to brown. If you crowd the squash into more than one layer it will steam rather than brown. You can use any frying pan so long as you give the squash room to fry in a single layer.