Wednesday, October 7, 2009

An Herbal Harvest

Yesterday was the day appointed to harvest the basil. My husband decided that his poor patch of heirloom tomatoes which we raised from seed had suffered enough, and needed to come out. (The unfortunate things caught some kind of withering disease in mid-August and slowly died with very little production.) Following that well-known wisdom of the ages, we had planted the basil among the tomatoes for better tomato flavor.

Luckily, the basil was resistant to whatever it was; it did well and didn't succomb to the withering disease. This is only one of the 7-8 plants which grew to almost four feet; a bit taller than usual because hubby fertilized his tomatoes.

After hubby's pronouncement that the tomato beds had to come out, (and anyway, fall is here, and basil will not tolerate frost), I picked it stalk by stalk, piled the stalks gently in my gathering basket, and brought in about 3 big baskets-full.

I've decided that washing all of the leaves while on the stems is best, so with a freshly sparkling sink (scoured with a bleach-based cleanser to kill germs and of course rinsed thoroughly) I loaded the stalks into the sink a half-basket at a time and rinsed them thoroughly, one by one, under the faucet spray because of the higher pressure. Then, to dry, I think it works well to put them in vertical containers. (I've tried upside-down, flat, and several other methods.) Here's a picture of the 4 vessels of air-drying stems.

And this is a closer view, just because I love basil:
Then, over the rest of the evening, we picked each green leaf off each stem, putting them onto a bed of towels to absorb any remaining water. (If you're using it right away, elmination of all moisture is nowhere near as important.) Here's one of several times we filled up the towels. (That's our cat Storm, sitting on the barstool in the background, and yes, bottles of red wine within reach are an absolute requirement for this type of tedious work.)
Our favorite way to preserve basil (and in my opinion, the best way to retain that "fresh basil" flavor) is to freeze it. I have done this for many years. After the above, we put the clean dry leaves into a food processor with several tablespoons of good olive oil (I don't measure, just pour a stream on top first, and again when it looks dry) and process. I do not take it down to a homogenous paste but instead leave it at a point where it looks like minced leaves. At this point it's coated by olive oil, which seems to lock in the natural basil oil and thus preserves the flavor of fresh basil.

The final step is to spoon the basil/oil mixture into ice cube trays. I then wrap each tray tightly in plastic wrap and freeze immediately. The next day, the cubes can be popped out and put into a ziplock bag for ease of use. I so love being able to pull out a cube or two of home raised fresh-frozen basil in mid-winter and add it to my spaghetti sauce--or anything else I cook. It's delicious and gives the full summertime flavor of fresh basil.

My first day of harvest (the "yesterday" referenced above) began around 3:30 pm and wound up around 8, resulting in 4 ice cube trays full. The next day, for some reason (??) I had a craving for spaghetti with fresh pesto and brought in another basket of stems; I processed the basil and re-filled one of the ice cube trays, seasoned a pot of tomato sauce, then made a nice big batch of pesto with the rest. Here are some basil cubes in a bag after removal from the ice cube tray.

We used another few stems to make dinner tonight, but there's still a bit more to harvest out there. I'm so happy to have nearly all of my basil preserved for the upcoming year!


  1. Erin, I just made a mega-pot of Pesto with the last of our basil.
    Your freezing idea is super! I'll remember that.

  2. I'm going to make parsley pesto with my crop of parsley...I just need to pick it before it freezes.


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