Bay leaves remind me of my Grandmother Simek. She loves the aromatic flavor they bring to soups, stews, casseroles, and meats. Whether it is her homemade chicken noodle soup or chicken paprikash, I remember on many occasions visiting her house for dinner and finding a leaf buried somewhere in my bowl and fishing it out to set aside my dinner plate. Bay leaves also remind me of the Bay Laurel bush in my parent's garden when I go home to visit. It was planted by my Mother and is thriving today in the temperate Pacific Northwest climate. In fact, it is so large I had to recently trim it back. Grabbing the garden shears, I stopped and gazed at it before clipping three feet down from the top as if I were about to do away with a treasured keepsake. I, however, left no trace of my clippings. Every spare branch and leaf was lifted off the ground in solute to the generations that cooked before me. I marched right into the house and set the branches out to dry.
Now, if you are so lucky to get a hold of fresh bay leaf branches, it is recommended that you first tie the ends together and hang them upside down to dry in a dark, cool area for at least a couple of days on up to a week. Once dried, carefully remove the leaves and store them in an airtight container for up to 6 months. Not only will your jar (or two) of dried bay leaves be a wonderful addition to your pantry, they also make prized gifts for friends and family who love to cook (you can even include your favorite recipe along with it)!
Growing and drying your own herbs, particularly leaves from a Bay Laurel bush, is worth the investment. You can purchase even a small plant at your local nursery and grow it in a pot for fresh leaves year round. Add the leaves to roasted vegetables and meats, chowders, and bean dishes. The Greeks and Romans considered the Laurel leaf to be a symbol of honor, triumph, and celebration! To celebrate the late summer harvest and the many traditions in my family, the Bay leaf remains a gift that keeps on giving, whether its leaves stay on the branches or find their way into a hearty soup.