Autumn, culinary herbs, seasonal living

Harvesting Basil (and what to do with it)

In spring, two of my daughters planted some basil seed. I wasn’t optimistic. First, the seeds were from a kids’ mini-greenhouse kit from a toy shop. Second, I have tried to grow basil from seed before – and failed. Well, I should have had a bit more faith, because that basil sprouted …

Baby basil seedlings

… and grew, and grew, and grew. All summer we had it outside the kitchen door, wafting its lush basil-smell into the house and providing us with leaves for every tomato salad and sauce. In late August, it started getting a few flowers on it, and I quickly pinched them off. But by late September, I was pinching them off twice a day. The basil was sending a clear message: the end is nigh and I want to spread some seeds.

Basil in flower

When a basil plant gives you this message, you’ve got to listen. Resistance is futile. You can carry on pinching flowers, but all that’s going to happen is that the lovely lush green leaves are going to start turning yellow and dropping off. Basil is an annual, and when it’s done, it’s done.

As human beings, we have an innate instinct to survive, to go on living, and to save everything. It might be human nature – but it’s against Nature. Nature knows that nothing lasts forever, from a mayfly that lives for a day, to our own Sun. Everything has a life cycle – they are just (wildly) different lengths.

Seasonal living brings this truth home all the time: there is new life, there is abundance, and then there is the end of abundance and the end of life … but not exactly. Because every end in nature is another turn of the wheel, and the start of something new.

I wanted to keep my lush green basil plant alive and outside my kitchen door always, but it doesn’t work like that. Trying would have been pointless. But there were two things I could do to enjoy my basil and honour its natural cycle: harvest its abundance and let it go to seed.

This was one big basil plant.

Harvested basil

There was enough to make a batch of pesto and dry a jar full too. Another thing I have done in the past with fresh herbs is to whizz them up in the blender and freeze them in ice cube trays to add to dishes while cooking. Fresh herb flavour all year round!

Dried basil leaves

My youngest daughter and I made a really simple pesto. For once, I wrote down the recipe (with this blog in mind) so I could share it with you.

Little hands prepping the basil

Simple Basil Pesto

INGREDIENTS

75 g pine nuts

70 g basil leaves, washed and dried

1 garlic clove

2 tablespoons of lemon juice

salt and pepper (a generous pinch of each)

100 g olive oil

30 g parmesan or pecorino cheese (grated)

METHOD

  1. Toast the pine nuts in the oven at 170℃ for five minutes. No need to add oil, just use a non-stick baking tray. Leave to cool slightly.
  2. Put the toasted pine nuts, garlic, lemon juice and salt and pepper in the food processor and blend. Add the basil leaves and pulse until well combined.
  3. Add the olive oil a little at a time, pulsing in between each addition. Use your judgement – you may not need all of it.
  4. Finally, add the cheese and blend until smooth.
  5. Taste to check seasoning and adjust if necessary. Then, spoon the pesto into a glass jar and keep in the fridge for up to a week.
Basil pesto

I left a bit of the plant to flower, and the flowers are just beautiful. Once they go over and turn brown, I’ll dry them and collect the seeds. Hopefully, next year, the children of this basil will grow outside my kitchen door. I’ll probably get my kids to plant the seeds, just to be sure. They’ve obviously got greener thumbs than I have!

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