This past year was pretty horrible for our little garden. An unusually wet Spring and early Summer caused many things to just rot where they stood instead of growing and producing as much beautiful fruit and veggies as they would normally. It made me sad.
It was, however, a phenomenal year for our herbs, particularly our basil plants! From our few plants (maybe 9), I harvested gallons and gallons of basil for pesto, to freeze, and to enjoy fresh. My friends were even able to fill their freezers with some yumminess from my plants. It was amazing.
Plus, I still had basil as late as one week ago while many others in my area had pulled up their plants just before the highest heats of the summer. I literally ripped out the plants (which were now waist high with woody stems at the base) and used the last of the good leaves a week ago, so they wouldn’t get caught in a hard frost and start to look horrible and dead.
How did we manage to do this? By recognizing that basil plants “bolt” or flower and go to seed. Many producers rip out their plants on the first signs of them sending up a flowering stalk. I have read time and time again that production will be diminished and the resulting leaves will taste bitter if eaten after the plant has begun to set flowers. But, in my experience, that wasn’t the case at all. Once the plants began to send up the flowering stalks (and in the heat of a Georgia summer, they will send up loads of them at one time) the leaves that the plant will produce will be smaller and bees will begin to flock all over the garden to get at them! To prolong the plant, every time you walk through the garden, pinch off the little flower stalks at the base where two leaves join. Simple. Every time you do this simple act, you are buying more time to grow the leaves that you eat and enjoy. It’s that simple. As for the leaves, they did get a bit smaller after the plants tried to bolt, but they had the same rich flavor as they did before.
My hubby is a very picky eater. He is probably a supertaster, as he can eat a restaurant meal, determine what flavors he tastes and then reproduce it at home. While my brain is going, “Mmmmm, good!” his brain is going, “Is that a touch of Cardamom? With allspice?” Anyways, he thought the basil leaves tasted essentially the same before and after bolting, so that is good enough for me.
Keeping these plants over the summertime allowed us to harvest approximately 10 gallons (no kidding) of leaves for freezing that we would otherwise not have had. And the smallest of those flower stalks that are still tender will go well into a homemade pesto for freezing and taste just like the leaves. I think this qualifies as a thrifty move as well!
To preserve our harvest, I wash leaves in cold water and drain. Then I pack my poor, old food processor to a ridiculous amount and begin to pulse the leaves. After 3-4 pulses, they leaves on top arent’ moving around, so I begin to drizzle a decent olive oil in the processor while it is running. This will make a green slurry. When it is a nice, pasty consistency, spoon into ice cube trays and pack down. Place in freezer. When frozen, transfer to airtight bags or containers and label. To use them, just drop a cube (or half a cube) into the final few minutes of cooking a pasta sauce, soup, etc. at the last few moments of cooking to add a taste of summertime!
Till next time,