Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Junque Yard

Good evening...and Happy Belated Solstice!

I am finally starting to see some growth here at the micro-mini ranch, despite the lack of sun and the warmth that generally accompanies it. I have a pot of basil that is doing well. I should have enough to pluck and dry a large batch of leaves on my dehydrator this weekend. Last year I grew basil in a pot and it did really well, that is, until someone (probably a rabbit) chewed the main stalk off at the base one night. I noticed it the next morning, and was just sick about it. I've had trouble growing basil in the past, but finally had felt I'd gotten the knack.

Basil, unlike most herbs, is a little more persnickety in their water requirements. Most herbs you have ignore a bit, make them feel just a wee bit neglected. Then they turn up their oil production and you get all the wonderful scents and flavor you crave. They are woo'ing you, as it were.  Not so the snobbish basil. If basil feels the least bit neglected, it will up and die on me. It wants its soil to be moist almost all the time. It prefers potting soil rather than the clay-packed soil in my yard.

So anyway, I was out one weekend morning last summer, surveying my little green kingdom, and I see that my prize basil has fallen over like I tree in the woods that I wasn't around to hear. Did it make a sound? If it did, I didn't hear it. I will admit that I got a little misty seeing my plant all keeled over, the leaves already looking limp. No pesto. No tossing a few leaves in a soup or a salad. Then I thought, maybe I can dry the leaves and save it that way?  And I did!

I plucked every last beloved leaf off the stalk and gently washed them. Then I laid them in a single layer on several trays of my dehydrator and turned it on.  Within about an hour and half, they were done. I gently crushed the dried leaves into glass container with an airtight lid, and sniffed dramatically one last time.

Over the next few months, I realized what I boon I had made for myself.  Home dried basil is so much more aromatic and flavorful than store bought dried basil. It really needs to be capitalized: its Basil. My spaghetti and pizza sauce become more masterful. Garlic bread became godlike with a sprinkling of my Basil. Pasta salads and even roasted veggies which are NOM to be begin with became MOAR NOM (if you pardon my LOLspeak) with the Basil. In short, I will never buy dried basil again when I can make Basil at home so easily.

And so can you. You don't even need a dehydrator. Go out and buy yourself a basil plant from a farmer's market or local nursery. They should still have some in stock. if not, pick up a packet of basil seeds, and plant in a pot. Keep the soil moist, and in a warm, sunny spot. When the plant starts to get tall and a little bushy, pinch off the first layers of leaves, that causes the plant to become bushier, and less likely to flower. When it starts getting cold, or when you want to harvest and dry your leaves, pluck them off, wash them gently in cool water. Pat dry. Then layer then on some parchment paper set over a cookie sheet in a single layer, if you don't live in a warm humid climate, put them on top of your fridge for a week. They will dry naturally. If you want to speed up the process, put the cookie sheet in your oven set to the lowest temp on the dial. Leave the door open a crack to let most of the heat escape. You don't want to cook your leaves, just speed up the drying process. Check on your leaves every 20 mins or so. Some ovens get too hot for this process, so it's important to check often. You might want to turn off the oven at intervals. The leaves are done when they are dry and crumble easily. Let them cool, and put them in an airtight container.

Now you know what I know about Basil. And it's all thanks to some waskily wabbit.

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