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Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Little Basil. A Little Oregano. A Very Little.

About twenty years ago, probably a little longer than that, a work colleague gave me an unexpected Christmas gift. It was a small glass spice jar filled with tarragon, I think, that she had grown and dried in her garden.It was a lovely gift, especially since I loved cooking and hadn't used tarragon often. It was a good chance to experiment with new recipes, new flavors. I was grateful. But I didn't appreciate it the way I do now.


After I bought my house in 1995, I started to grow herbs in pots and in a small bed on the side of the house. The oregano ran rampant, the thyme and sage fairly abundant, all in the ground.


In large pots I grew rosemary and basil, sometimes from seed, more often from starter plants. The basil was a favorite. Summer was filled with pesto making and winter pastas were made all the more flavorful by the herbs I'd dried in my kitchen through summer and fall.

This week I found myself in the process of stripping the dried leaves from their stems and getting them ground and ready to put away for the fall. I had a huge pile of oregano and probably ten bunches of basil that had been drying in the kitchen, wrapped together with rubber bands and hanging from the cupboard door handles attached with a clothespin.


And I was convinced that I, too, would have plenty to share this year. I had visions of including a vial of oregano or basil with some of my holiday gifts to my favorite foodie friends. I'd find cute little tins like the ones I like to use. Or maybe pretty green bottles with corks. I'd tie a little raffia around the tops and include a cute label -- Oregano, 2015. Basil 2015.

Well, I stripped the leaves, crushed them with my fingers, then rolled them out to crush them even more. They were still a little too big and coarse, which was almost fine enough for me. But not quite. So I started to sieve them.


You know what I mean, don't you? You take a sieve and start pushing the leaves through the tiny holes, making them all the tinier, almost powdery. The stems are left behind and the finished result is simply lovely.

And takes a long time. Oh, and by the time you are done, all those nice big leaves that could have filled more than its share of tins or jars would be lucky to fill one!


Needless to say, I doubt that my foodie friends will be getting the homegrown herbs this year. There will be another basil harvest, but I hope that will go for pesto and basil-and-tomato sandwiches, salad caprese and panzanella. All fresh, just the way it should be!

But all the time I was working in the kitchen, spending the better part of the morning on the project, I was remembering. I was saying a silent word of gratitude to my friend who had made a truly generous and thoughtful gift. I hope I was grateful enough. Probably not, but I hope I was. For it was indeed a gift of the heart.

26 comments:

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

My basil plant has been growing like lately so I will have to dry some of it as I just can't keep up with it! I have been making pesto every couple of weeks and freezing that for dishes in the winter, though. And I saw someone post a photo of a grilled cheese sandwich with cheese and basil on it (yum!!) so will have to give that a whirl.

gigihawaii said...

I had a Thai friend who planted Thai basil in her backyard, and it spread like wildfire all over the place. Lol. It made me laugh.

Becca said...

My daughter in law planted some basil in her yard and it’s gone crazy! It’s huge...reminds me of Little Shop of Horrors! lol
She is Thai, and loves her basil, so she is happy.

Marilyn Miller said...

Gifts of the heart are the very best. I should do this. Our oregano usually is good all year long in the garden. I have even chipped ice away and it is still good to use. We usually dig up a plant or two of the basil and put it in a pot in the kitchen window for fresh basil through the fall. Parsley also does OK in the garden. Enjoy your fresh herbs.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

What a wonderful use of your very own plot of land! Loved the pictures descriptions of this fall ritual! I can just smell/taste the delicious oregano-seasoned dishes you'll make!

Annie said...

I'm picturing all those lovely bunches hanging from the cupboards and I can't help but think that the kitchen smells divine.

bj said...

I've never really learned to cook with herbs and most of them aren't pleasant to my taste buds...basil is my fav when used in small amounts.

Jacqueline~Cabin and Cottage said...

What a wonderful impulse to share your savory bounty with friends! I'm thinking there would be enough for me to share, but you have a TON of friends! haha! That's a wonderful thing too!

Tracy said...

mmm... I can almost smell all that herby goodness through the scReen, Jeanie! This is a most delicious and beautiful post. Harvest time is always a surprise in some ways, isn't it--either enough, or not...! We've had some bucketing rain this week which derailed my intended herb harvest. I have my herbs in pots on the deck and they got a real beating. I'm hoping with some dry days ahead now there's still a chance! I've been looking forward to drying them and having more home-grown herbs during the cold months ahead! This all stirs up warm thoughts and memories... I feel hungry now... LOL! Happy Weekend, my friend ((HUGS))



Victoria Zigler said...

Everything always looks like a lot less when you make it in to smaller pieces and put it in a container.

Even if your friends won't be getting some of your herbs, I'm sure you're going to enjoy the meals you prepare with them.

Nancy said...

You never know where a gift will take a person...Sounds like your friend inspired your cooking with herbs and even growing your own. I loved hearing about your processing of the herbs....

I need orange said...

I find the same thing happens when I get ready to make pesto. I think I'll have quarts, and I'm lucky if I get cups....

~*~Patty S said...

Lovely story telling Jeanie as always!
I could almost smell the basil.
I enjoyed a handful of chopped fresh basil on my tomato and avocado salad for lunch today.
Thank you for the reminder that drying some would be a great idea too.
oxo
p.s. as an aside I saw that rubbing fresh basil leaves on mosquito bites helps relieve the itch...I was really hoping they would tell how to repel the mosquitoes altho it's been so dry here they have not been a problem for months ok that's enough out of me ;-)

Mari said...

I grew up surrounded with my grandpa's and later parents' vegetable garden. I've never appreciated herbs when I was younger but I guess as time goes by, I learned to and now I'm kind of becoming more and more interested in them. I'm trying to understand what is best for what dish, so on...

How nice it is to be able to make sauce & spices from your own harvest.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Herbs I find, are very hard to grow! I always get basil and thyme and put them in pots but with our rain here in the last several years, these plants simply don't make it. I LOVE tarragon and savory; these herbs are best for me in chicken stews reserved for FALL!

Enjoy your weekend Jeanie! Anita

Arti said...

I see, this is a simple and easy way to make your own spices. I used to hang flowers upside down to make dried flower bouquets but never though of making herb spices like this as well.

shoreacres said...

I really ought to try to do more with fresh herbs. The thought of a grilled cheese with basil and tomato sounds scrumptious. I don't know why I've never used fresh. My mother and grandmother never did, so I suppose that's part of the reason.

I did laugh at your reduction of that pile of leaves to a tiny pile of herb-dust. Just think how many plants it's taken to fill all the bottles of dried spice in the world's grocery stores!

Jennifer Richardson said...

I bet your kitchen smelled heavenly while you were crushing those leaves and forcing them through the sieve. And your fingers!
Herbs are a labor of love, aren't they.
Growing, cooking, preserving...all like mining treasures.
Glad for your rich little vial:)
And big thanks for the beautiful, life-giving card I received from you this week. Touched my heart with your warmth and kindness.
xoxoxoxo
-Jennifer

Barb said...

I wonder if I could dry my mint stems like that and crush the dried leaves? I've never tried it. My plant is still green and growing strongly next to the deck. I wish I could grow basil in the mountains. I've tried several times both in the ground and in pots, but I think our nights are too cool. I could grow it in pots in Denver. Now I'm buying living plants of it at the grocery store and using the leaves with heirloom tomatoes. Yum! It was funny to see the before and after of the basil!

Jemma@athomewithjemma said...

Jeanie!
I enjoyed your story and I also enjoyed the lesson on drying basil! Do you know that basil is one of the rare herbs that seems to thrive in our Texas heat. So many vegetables and flowers succumb to the wretched Summers, but not basil. So, you have taught me a drying process that I will now use and I thank you so very much!!
Happy Sunday evening,
xo
Jemma

Tamara said...

Love Basil! As it's the end of winter here, the basil is in a dorment stage - but it's still green just producing new growth really slowly.
I rarely dry my herbs, preferring the fresh version in my cooking - but I like the ritual (as someone else mentioned) of drying, waiting, and seiving... My preference is for pesto - lots of it - but I'd love to hear if anyone has other recipes for Basil

Jenny Woolf said...

Oh, looks like hard work but I am sure it is fantastic. Home made pesto! :)

Lynda Shoup said...

Your basil is luscious! How I love basil and dread the end of summer as it means I can no longer find those ample bouquets of it at the farm stand. I can imagine you enjoying your bounty and the connection you have with it as you processed it all.

Betsy@My Salvaged Treasures said...

I've wanted to start a herb garden for years, but still haven't done it. Thanks for the inspiration. I can taste it now!

Beate said...

Mmmmmh, that sounds delicious. Fresh herbs on everything :) I had no idea it was so much work to dry them, but thank you for sharing this, now I know how to do it! :)
Your friend made a truly generous gift. It doesn't matter if you were grateful then or if you are now. All that matters is that you did appreciate it in the end :)
Have a wonderful day!
Lots of hugs,
Beate

Friko said...

How won derail!
This year has not seen me in the garden much and I certainly haven’t grown anything like the herbs I grow in other years. Drying and grinding herbs is such a wonderful occupation, the smell alone makes all the work worthwhile.

Enjoy your bounty and all the dishes your lovely herbs will benefit.

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