I finally remembered to harvest my basil before it fully flowered! Before it flowers is supposed to be the best time for catching the flavor when drying. I may have come close last year, but this year was the best I’ve done. The timing of it all was perfect. The sprinklers had been on to give it a shower the night before. The sun had come up warm enough to dry it first thing in the morning. No humidity that day. And I was out in the garden early enough to notice the perfect set-up.
Last time I dried basil, I went to the trouble of picking off leaves and putting them in the dehydrator. This was very labor intensive. This time, I was just going to hang it in the open air.
I cut all of the plants off just above the dirt. There was no need to have the roots involved. Plus, they would just make everything dirtier. Then, I brought the plants inside and began to brainstorm about where to hang them. I knew I wanted to hang them. I pondered my dilemma out loud. The shower rod had been taken down, but I might be able to find it and make it stay put in a dry location. The garage doesn’t get opened very often, so it might work to use the tracks on the garage ceiling, but that might get forgotten. And there would be more exposure to bugs and dust out there. The curtain rods in the kitchen would be in too much direct sunlight. The living room curtain rods? My husband walked through and took an interest in my thoughts, whether from concern or desire to participate I am not quite sure.
He casually asked me to put my plans on hold for just a bit. He quizzed me on just where I would like to have a rod hanging to dry things on, then he disappeared for about 15 minutes. Soon, he was back in, asking me for a tiny bit of help, since he still had very limited use of his right arm at the time. Very soon, I had a beautiful metal rod hanging in the kitchen near the fireplace (which we obviously aren’t using this time of year). The details of how he made that will be in another post soon.
Needless to say, I was very pleased. He smiled when I told him that he wasn’t doing a very good job of discouraging my impromptu gardening needs.
I had some string that I had been saving from the chicken feed bags. I wind it in a ball and keep it in my desk. Long enough pieces were cut so that I could wind the string under a fork in the lower part of the basil plant stem. The plants are fairly woody down there, and begin dividing near the base, so this makes a convenient location to attach the string. Once the string was threaded through there, it was tied to secure it, and the ends were used to tie it to the metal rod. It was much faster and easier than I had anticipated. (click on any photo to enlarge)
There it hung, in my kitchen, for a couple of weeks. It was thoroughly dry, but I was busy. A few more weeks went by. I was worried that it was losing potency, but other things were always more pressing, not the least of which was regular sleep. Then, one day, I determined that I would be needing to hang my sunflowers there soon. Sooner or later, the things that get put off move to the top of the list and get done. I try not to live in constant urgency (I’ve tried that and it isn’t too fun for anyone here), but do what I can.
Fortunately, we have large rolls of white paper for pattern making and art projects. It is not expensive paper, so I had no qualms cutting a piece to lay on the table for processing my basil. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do, but when I had the first plant laying there, it seemed natural to just compact the whole diameter of the plant and crush it! This was not a violent, expressive act, but it just occurred to me that it might be efficient. It was! The leaves fell off easily. I didn’t worry about getting off every last one. I did pick out a few small pieces of stem that also broke off.
The aroma of basil filled the air and permeated my hands. It was a wonderful indicator that there was still plenty of flavor stored in those leaves. I scooped up the dried leaves, some of them crushed more than others, and poured them into little brown jars (I love this company. So basic and inexpensive). I thought about vacuum sealing, but I have these jars and I will probably give away some of the basil, which will be opened to smell it. So vacuum sealing didn’t seem that important this time around. Beside, the little brown jars are cute and the opaqueness is somewhat preservative.
Some of the plants had enough leaves for nearly two jars. The leaves from smaller plants still filled one jar. One row of basil didn’t look like all that much in the garden, especially compared to how large the other garden plants get. It looks like I may need to moderate my basil planting, but, then again, one can never tell how well things will grow from year to year. I’ve had years when only a couple of plants do well. For now, though, there is no shortage of basil in Nampa.