Thursday 27 November 2008

The Boring Bits

Pick up any cake recipe and it will tell you to prepare the cake tin before you start measuring or mixing ingredients. You wonder why until you’ve ignored the instructions a few times and realise how annoying it is to arrive at the time when you pour the cake mixture into the tin and it isn’t there. Then you have to mess around with cake tins, greaseproof paper and scissors when your hands are covered with flour and fruit and other odd bits.

It’s the same with herbs. You’ve gather large amounts of various herbs and you need glass jars to put them in so each herb has its own jar in which to macerate and you realise that there aren’t any empty jars around. Or you’ve made a wonderful syrup and you need more than one bottle to store it in.

Several times this year, when I’ve scheduled a particular amount of time to sort out herbs or tinctures or dried herbs, I’ve had to spend the first hour finding jars, washing them and then scrubbing off the label. This process can make me very frustrated! However, if you can approach the washing and de-labelling task without gnashing your teeth, you do end up with a load of sparkling glass with their attendant lids ready for their next appointment with a herb or its extraction.

Do be careful if you’re washing jars and lids which have contained strong smelling items like Branston pickle or mango chutney. Make sure you wash both items until the smell is removed. Sometimes a single hand wash is not enough. You don’t want your herbal product tainted with curry or something similar!

It is best to take the label off before you put a jar or bottle inside the dishwasher, if you use one, because the washing process will only remove part of the label, which then gets lodged in the filter and bakes the rest more firmly onto the glass. If you are methodical, you can put each jar in a series of hot water baths (plastic jugs are good).

Most glues will dissolve or start to dissolve after 30 minutes or so. At this point the label will either peel away completely or you can rub gently with a wire saucepan scrubber and some washing up liquid until the glue is completely removed.

Sometimes you need to score the paper to allow the hot water to reach the glue. Some modern glues are vicious and won’t dissolve no matter how long you leave them. These will respond to brute force and washing up liquid, but you have to rub away like crazy until all the patches of glue are removed, otherwise you are left with sticky globules which are not aesthetically pleasing!

If a jar has a label both back and front, both need to be removed, otherwise you can fall into the “Can you bring me the mustard, it’s in the coffee jar” trap.

I once had to snatch a jar of St John’s wort oil from an unsuspecting workshop participant who was about to pour it into her herb tea. The oil was in a honey jar and I hadn’t removed the honey label! We all laughed about it at the time, but it would have been dreadful if she had poured it into her tea and then drank it!

The moral of the story is: you might know exactly what is in every jar or bottle, but unless you live in total isolation, you need to ensure there are ways for other people who may come in contact with those items to be sure what they are handling is really what it says on the label.

Everyone has their favourite jar or bottle in which to store a particular item. I tend to use 1lb or 2lb clear glass jars for my dried herbs, covering the most fragile herbs with brown paper bags to exclude light. Tinctures I am trying to ensure go into green or brown glass jars. Oils go into clear glass jars, as do vinegars. I love putting syrups into salad dressing or oil bottles or the 'one glass' wine bottles. Somehow it makes them look more official that way.

Where do you get all these glass jars and bottles from? I hear you ask. Most of them have been household items I’ve kept after using – large and small honeys jars, sauce jars etc. Every time we go and stay at a hotel which provides jams and marmalade in individual glass jars, I make a point of asking for any spares.

The last time we stayed at a hotel in Cheltenham during the February Folk Festival, I came back with 16 little jars which I’ve only just got around to cleaning out and washing. Now I feel secure in having sufficient jars to use for salves – mostly for workshops, but some to give away to family and friends when needed. Pickled mussel jars from the chippie are another great source of beautiful glassware in which to display larger amounts of salve.

Just occasionally I will buy glass items which are specific to requirements, but only if I can’t obtain them through any other form of recycling. A recent purchase was dropper bottles. They were handy to carry around during my recent cold and it didn’t look too strange dosing myself with a dropperful of elixir every half hour. I could have done it with a teaspoon, but the dose is more accurate and when you’re ill, you want to make things as easy as possible!

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