Summer’s heat is blazing this year and my basil plants are thriving – even if that means watering every night. In fact, they’re so big I may have to partially harvest them soon!
It got me thinking about My interest in herbs started at a young age. My family had vegetable and flower gardens but herbs weren’t in the mix. That is until a visit to my aunt’s house where I saw one of the biggest bay trees of my relatively young life. Curiosity got the better of me and I started an endless flow of questions about where she got it and how to grow it in our cold climate. So, began my herb gardening journey.
Over time, my mother and I started an herb garden. We looked for books on herbs and their uses. One year I gave her a book called The MacMillian Treasury of Herbs by Ann Bonar. Mom loves that book and caught me reading so many times that she gave me a copy a year later.
We started our garden with simple culinary herbs like parsley, mint, rosemary, basil and thyme. As our knowledge grew, so did our interest in other uses of herbs used in aromatherapy. We also went on herb farm trips sponsored by a local cooking shop and eventually discovered the Herb Society of Nashville annual sale. The Society is a non-profit organization that promotes the education, growing and use of herbs and the sale is open to the general public.
Mom and I found out about the Herb Society sale, which is typically in early spring, while I was in college. Being novice herb shoppers, we were astounded at the variety of herbs and the sheer number of people who came to buy them. We learned quickly to come early and have a list of what we wanted because the crowds are thick and popular plants sell out quickly.
If you are interested, you can google them or their parent organization The Herb Society of America and follow the links. You can also check out the Master Gardener’s program in Paducah for herb information.
I haven’t made the herb sale in many years. Since we moved three years ago, my wife and I have established a permanent herb garden. We buy a lot of our herbs locally but sometimes we can’t find exactly what we want. I think next year, Karen, Mom and I may just go out for an early morning herb sale and have a nice brunch afterwards.
The herbs my wife and I planted have thrived. The thyme is threatening to take over one end of the garden. The lavender is coming along nicely as is the rosemary, but the basil went nuts. We had to make two harvests of basil last year, which almost never happens. So, I spent an entire day (on the second harvest) making about two gallons of pesto.
Basil pesto is an old friend and I love it on meats, in sauces or just mixed with some nice pasta. It’s a way for me to take a bit of summer into the fall and winter. Pesto is simple to make but takes a little time and some good ingredients. You can change the ratios if you like but this recipe works for me. You can also roast the pine nuts a bit before using to give the pesto a bit more of a warm, nutty flavor.
I typically can most of the pesto in mason jars and store them in the refrigerator. When I fill my sanitized jars, I tap down the pesto to get out air bubbles and then put a layer of olive oil on top. The oil keeps the pesto from oxidizing and turning a dark green and is good for 3 to 6 months. After every use, you should replace the layer of oil and wipe any stray pesto off the sides of the jar to reduce the chance of mold growth. You can also freeze pesto in ice trays or in larger containers if you desire.
This recipe is based on my food processor bowl size so adjust accordingly. If you have more leaves than 6 cups, just make multiple batches.
- 6 cups Sweet Basil leaves, washed and removed from stems
- ½ cup pine nuts (roasted or raw)
- ½ cup garlic, minced
- ½ cup parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ to ¾ cup of virgin olive oil
Place the washed leaves in a food processor with chopper blades. Add the pine nuts, garlic, cheese, salt and pepper. Add about ¼ cup of oil. Put on the lid and turn the processor on high. Add oil to the pesto until an emulsion forms. Transfer to a bowl if making multiple batches. When all the leaves have been processed, stir the pesto and check for seasoning. Transfer the pesto to sanitized jars and tap to remove air bubbles. Place a layer of olive oil on top and cap the jar. Be sure to label and date your pesto jars especially if you plan on giving any away as gifts.