Known for being the destination for fresh produce, scrumptious ready to go dishes, and an impeccable greenhouse full of every herb, plant, and flower that you could possibly wish for in your garden, Sickles Market is also now home to workshops that will teach you some tips and tricks on how to channel their talent when it comes to flowers, plants, and gardens.
While the landscape of New Jersey is slowing changing from winter to spring, Sickles Market is giving others their opportunity to gear up for the season where the world starts to turn into Technicolor. Throughout the months of February and March, Sickles Market offered classes that included everything from floral photography to how to build a terrarium, and even how to grow your first vegetable garden.
On a crisp Thursday afternoon, I had the opportunity to attend an herb lecture hosted by Natale Siclare, a lifestyle specialist and a manager of the Residential Life Services section of Sickles Market, which focuses on bringing the beauty of Sickles Market’s greenhouse right to your doorstep.
Siclare, the former manager of the Garden Center and an interior designer, not only has an eye for beauty, but he also knows a thing (or infinite things) about herbs. As a home cook, food writer, and let’s be honest, eater, I know just how important herbs are to a dish. The addition of fresh dill on eggs, freshly torn basil on pasta, or cilantro in salsa makes all the difference.
Turns out, there’s a lot more to know about these herbs, including their countless uses from aromatherapy to teas, tinctures, and of course recipes. It’s also about that time where we can (finally!) plant our fresh herbs outside so they’re just a few steps away. (There’s nothing quite like stepping outside and grabbing a handful of fresh basil, rosemary, and mint from the garden!)
So what exactly is an herb? Basically, an herb can be anything from a plant, to a weed—even a shrub—but it’s a plant with a tailored use. From saffron, the world’s most expensive herb, to chamomile and even witch hazel, these tiny and potent herbs are the perfect additions to your garden and your plate!
High in antioxidants, Siclare gave us some of his tips for keeping fresh herbs in the garden. First, if you’re going to grow your herbs, be sure they’re in a place with a full-south-to-west sun. Siclare suggested adding organic compost and fertilizer and watering them in the morning only to prevent the herbs from being wet during the evening hours. If you’re planning on bringing the herbs indoors for the winter, Siclare suggested to stop fertilizing mid-August, which allows the plant to slow down and basically “go to sleep.”
Siclare’s best tip of the day? Fill a tube sock with Bumper Crop, a soil builder that can be found at Sickles, and let it sit in a bucket of water, which you can then use to water plants whose leaves you eat, such as basil, cilantro, rosemary, etc., as the soil is high in nitrogen. (Just be warned, if you water a root crop with this mixture, like beets, you’ll have large leaves, but small beets!)
During the workshop, Siclare shared six ways to preserve your herbs to get more bang for your buck. Starting with the easiest one, Siclare said you can always arrange your herbs into a bouquet. (Note: if you are growing your own herbs, the best time to pick them is in the morning, as all of the essential oils and flavor are potent and will be released throughout the day as the sun warms them up.) And it’s good to actually treat bunches of herbs just like a flower bouquet, trimming the stems and providing fresh water.
Or pop them in the fridge, but before you do, wrap them in a damp paper towel, roll them up, and then place them inside an open plastic bag. If you’re looking for something more long term, try air drying them by hanging them upside down and then crumbling the leaves to use as your own dry herb mix. You can also dry herbs slowly in the oven at 100° to 200° for up to two hours (or until they’re fully dry).
A method that also works is freezing them. This works especially well when you have an excess and want to store that fresh flavor for the middle of winter. (According to Siclare, this also put Martha Stewart on the map). You can take the herbs and place them in an ice cube tray with vegetable stock or water and then once they’re frozen, place in a plastic freezer storage bag. If that excites you, you can go above and beyond by mixing your fresh herbs with a light olive or canola oil or even butter.
My notes could go on, but it’s best to go over there yourself and ask one of the experts on site at Sickles Market. If you’re lucky, you’ll meet up with Siclare, but you’re in good hands with anyone you meet.
And if your sweet tooth is calling, try out their new (delicious) crumb cake! It’s baked in house, and they offered pieces of the cake during the workshop I attended. The perfect accompaniment to your afternoon herbal tea!
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