An Indian Summer Weekend

It's official: The warm weather this holiday weekend is a full-blown Indian summer. In case you weren't sure, the definition of an Indian summer is when the temperatures are above 70 degrees after a frost. I'm a bit skeptical about whether or not we had a frost last week when it was so cool at night, because I leave for work pretty darn early, and I didn't see any in our yard. But … down our street there was some light frost on piles of grass clippings, and the outdoor thermometer registered 37 degrees as the low point. That may not have produced an actual frost, but it was enough to get to our basil.

Oh, basil, you stupid, delicious, wimpy Mediterranean plant. So delightful, but so short-lived in Massachusetts. I don't think it even takes a full frost to get to it, but what we definitely had by Friday morning was some frostbite:


I am kicking myself now for oh-so-cavalierly dashing off to trivia night without covering the basil last Thursday. By Saturday, we were losing leaves and could see that several stems were killed. Also, many of the larger leaves had their edges nipped and were dying back, and many more leaves had brown freckles of frostbite on them.

Sigh.

Well, nothing to do but pull it all and bring it in before losing any more leaves.


This is what we salvaged. Kirk used a good deal of it for pesto, picking out the best leaves to do so. To make it, he puts a bunch basil in the food processor and adds some pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil. I'm sure you could look up a recipe for exact amounts--he just eyeballs it. To save it for winter, he spoons it into ice cube trays and freezes it:


Once it's frozen, we pop the cubes out of the tray and put them in a freezer bag. This creates perfect 1-oz. portion sizes for the rest of the winter: just pull out a cube and add it to the pasta (or whatever). We find a little goes a long way, and this method cuts down on waste — no half-empty, spoiled jars of pesto in the back of the fridge at our house!

As for the rest of the basil, I pulled the good leaves off the stems and spread them on cookie sheets to dry:


I took this picture after about 10 hours of drying, and you can see how it's shrunken down (the trays were covered at first). Normally I wouldn't go through this much trouble to dry herbs — I would tie the stems together and hang them upside down to dry, then strip them of their leaves once they were dried out, which is much quicker. Because of the frost damage, though, I wanted to cull the good leaves from the bad, and in many cases I ripped off bad spot but saved the rest of the leaves for drying. This was more work, but I hate seeing anything from the garden go to waste, and it was my penance for not having protected it properly in the first place.

When it's done drying, we'll pop the whole leaves into a mason jar and crush it as we need it for cooking throughout the winter.

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