I love fresh home-made pesto. There is no other taste such as pesto made with garden fresh ingredients and roasted pine nuts.
This week I was in the backyard and noticing that my basil plants are hitting that scraggly stage. I should've topped them off a month ago to generate more stout, full growth, but they produce so wonderfully that I left them alone.
However, I decided to experiment with drying my own basil. So, I decided to attempt two methods of drying...the old-fashioned method of gathering your basic stems, giving it a gentle rinsing, picking off the leaves that have any blemishes, bundling the basic branches with a bit of twine, then hanging the bunch in a place that will be good for herb drying.
|This old blue colander was a wedding gift to us, over twenty-five|
years ago. It is cracked, warped, missing pieces, but it's still
my favorite, even though I have others. Love it.
The other method I used to dry some basil was to pull out our electric dehydrator. Again, I rinsed the basil, let it dry, made sure to only use the blemish-free leaves, then I lined each dehydrator level with fresh basil leaves, trying to not let the leaves overlap.
The dehydrator cost money to run, it takes a couple of days for the basil leaves to completely dry and this electricity is not free. Also, the dehydrator is so loud that I could not hear the television or have a conversation without raised voices, so that was a drawback. In addition, the electronic dehydrator is rather large...making it difficult to store in the kitchen and it takes up quite a good space on the counter when in use. So, I was already making a frown at having to use the electric dehydrator.
My frown also stems from the fact that I'm "frugal." Hearing that sound of the dehydrator running all day and night sends nightmares of pennies flying out the door. Here in Texas, it is quite hot most of the time and this dehydrator puts off a lot of hot air which you are then trying to air-condition back into cool air. It's kind of silly. However, you must run the dehydrator BEFORE the cold air hits and kills your herbs, therefore, the option of running it during the hot months are limited for drying your garden fresh herbs.
And for the record, I am trying to stop calling myself "cheap," because that sounds so...so...cheap. But, I am indeed frugal. However, that doesn't mean that my city girl side won't pay $300. for a purse that I will use for three years straight.
Back to dehydration fun...After about 24 hours in the loud machine, the basil leaves appeared dehydrated. Deputy Dave stood over the dehydrator to stare at the darkened, shriveled leaves and he exclaimed, "They're dry," and he shut off the machine.
Since I was busy doing other things at the time, I left them in the dehydrator until the next morning, then I got out my clean mason jar to store the dried leaves. I didn't want to crunch them up until we need to use them while cooking because that supposedly helps to maintain more aroma and flavor. However, I first pulled out a dried leaf to conduct the herb-dryness-test --- which is simply putting a dehydrated leaf in the palm of your hand and when you close your hand the leaf should easily crumble.
What happened when I conducted this test of our leaves that were electronically dehydrated? I discovered that our leaves were NOT dry. They still had ample moisture in them...way too much moisture because they had not completely gone through the process of being dehydrated. In fact, when I closed my hand around the leaves, they folded in with my hand...no crunching.
So, I was a bit disgusted with it being Day 3 and the bulky dehydrator was still sitting out on our kitchen island, but the experiment continued. I turned the noisy dehydrator back on for another day, let the leaves cool again and conducted another test to find the leaves super crunchy.
Later, I learned from a fellow gardener here in Texas that it takes at LEAST two days in the dehydrator to fully dry out your fresh herbs...they will appear to be dried, but it takes longer than it looks. The small leaves will, of course, dry out faster, but you really need to make sure the moisture content is completely absent. This has been a good Farm Life Lesson in our household because it taught both of us to be patient with drying out herbs and just because the herbs have shrunk and turned brown doesn't mean they are fully dried.
Another gardening delight that I love doing is to harvest the seeds from our veggies and herbs. I must say that Deputy Dave is the MASTER at harvesting teeny-tiny basil seeds. I'm trying to learn...they are super tiny black seeds and can be difficult to harvest, but he's a pro at it. I tried crunching up some of the seed sections of the basil plant this past week and I got a nice sharp husk-type of splinter deep in my thumb that I could not dig out even with the use of a finely tipped sewing needle. In the future, I don't think I'll use my hands to do this again.
Lately though, I've been having fun harvesting the seeds from my jalapenos.
Every time I make stuffed jalapenos, I scoop out the seeds and veins (I like mild jalapeno flavor), then I set them aside on a clean, dry kitchen washrag. For 3-6 days the seeds with the veins attached will sit on the washrag which will help to dry the seeds. I make sure to regularly turn the drying seeds and to make sure nothing is overlapping because that would slow down the drying time. Within a few days, I have dried out seeds ready for harvesting. I usually take a fork and gently press around the dried out jalapeno vein to loosen the seeds for harvesting. You can also take the washrag and roll it up to gently rub the fibers together so that the seeds will loosen, but I try my best to not damage my seeds.
My seed packets are unique and made the "frugal" way. I take old big brown mailing envelopes and cut them down to make a bunch of little seed packets out of one large envelope. Just a few folds, a few staples and a top flap for folding down to keep the seeds tucked inside is all it takes. Then, I mark on the outside of the envelope with the type of seeds inside and usually I mark the back of the envelope with the dates that the seeds are harvested. I can use the same seed packet repeatedly, as long as they are kept clean and dry.
I'm always amazed at how God was super cool to give us the means to create many more plants from one. It's awesome that one little jalapeno is so jam-packed with seeds that you could produce at least 20-50 more plants from that one jalapeno.
Since I love my stuffed jalapenos with a passion, I will be growing more jalapeno plants this growing season than I've ever grown before. With a bit of cream cheese, bacon and jalapenos, I am one happy woman.
I love stuffed jalapenos so much that I actually make a big batch...they re-heat so nicely...and I usually have four halves stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped with bacon FOR BREAKFAST. Yes, I am a Texan. Stuffed jalapenos for breakfast has GOT to be the best breakfast on earth.
Well, jalapenos are awesome for breakfast, but so is any kind of Italian food. Yes, I'm a weird breakfast food eater. And I LOVE to eat breakfast for dinner. My best-friend Kelly is the same way. Often, we'll be on the phone in the early morning hours and she's eating a piece of lasagna for breakfast...so delicious!
So, this week I'll be onto my next herb drying lesson. I'll try to figure out how to dry cuttings from our huge rosemary plant. I should use rosemary more often in our cooking, especially since I like to roast a whole chicken with veggies. I'm learning that a few sprigs put in with the roasting chicken will heighten the flavor and the addition of rosemary to a roast will make it more savory. I'll do the same thing as I did with the basil and try out both the electronic and the old-fashioned drying methods for experimentation.
As for herbs, I love having an herb garden because these little boogers are especially expensive in the grocery store. Dried herbs are expensive enough, but the fresh packets of Sweet Basil are outrageous and the basil NEVER looks so great. This coming week, I will also be experimenting with freezing basil. I've heard that you can chop basil in a food processor with some olive oil and freeze it in ice cubes to separate for placing in a freezer ziplock baggie. Another way to keep basil on hand (I've researched, but not tried yet) is to put fresh whole basil leaves and olive oil into a freezer ziplock baggy to freeze ---- supposedly these methods help the basil leaves to maintain their color and fresh flavor. Since I use basil in recipes with olive oil, this may be a good way preserving some basil for the winter months and to prepare fresh tasting pesto.
I do know how to make cut basil last for a long time in the refrigerator. You cut your fresh basil, give it a good rinsing, take a paper towel and dampen it, wrap the basil lightly in the wet paper towel and put the bundle in a plastic ziplock to go in the fridge. This keeps your basil nice and fresh for days and days. I hand-deliver fresh basil to my neighbors in this manner. No sense in paying a lot of money for basil when you have a neighbor who grows it next door.