Pinching Basil: Don’t Shout—Pinch!

They say that basil grows best if you shout insults at it on a daily basis. I find that it grows best when you pinch it.

I grew a number of different types of basil  from seed this year: lemon, purple opal, and ordinary sweet. I started them under lights in April and planted them outside in the same bed with my asparagus (which has really begun to bush out) in May.

 

Basil going to seed

Last growing season, I wasn’t home enough to pinch the tips off my basil. My basil blossomed and went to seed. The result was no new supplies of dried basil or pesto for cooking in the cold months. Fortunately, I did have some of last season’s pesto frozen in my chest freezer and one jar of it dry in the pantry, so I managed to limp through the winter and spring until the new crop started coming.

Now I am harvesting and basil and drying it. Later in the growing season, I will start to make pesto and freeze a new supply. I harvest by nipping off the top couple of inches of the top and side shoots of each plant. The key is to not allow the plant to flower and to keep it branching and producing new growth in all the places I have cut it. The plants become progressively bushier as the summer progresses. Each time you harvest, you get a little more.

I have a pretty simple arrangement for drying basil. I found a really neat wire mesh basket at a garage sale ($1) that works  great for drying herbs. I also use the pizza pans with the holes in the center (for crispier crust), which I set on a cookie cooling rack for better ventilation. I remove the bigger stems from the cluster of leaves and pile them loosely in one layer in the basket. Then I set it in a place with good air flow but no direct sunlight. The leaves dry slowly over a period of days. I have tried using my dehydrator but have found that basil cooks very easily and it was too hot. You will know if drying temperatures are too hot because the leaves will turn black and lose all taste. The essential oils that give basil its fine flavor bake right out of the leaves if the drying temperature is too high.

You can also tie basil in small bunches and hang them in an airy, dry place out of direct sunlight to dry. When we lived in Dubuque, Iowa, we rented a small house with an enclosed back porch. The space faced south and was quite sunny, but it was the only place I had to dry herbs. I solved the problem of too much light by hanging the bunches of herbs inside of upside down paper lunch bags. I poked a hole in the bottom of each bag with a sharp pencil and threaded through the ends of the string I had used to tie each herb bundle.  I hung one bundle per bag so that there would be room for air flow around the edges inside the hanging bag. The top of the bag became the bottom which I left open—again to promote air movement. The paper bag also kept dust from settling on the drying herbs while they air dried.

When the basil is crisp, store it in an airtight glass container in a dark, dry place. Try to keep the leaves whole until you are ready to use them. (Crushed leaves lose their essential oils more quickly.) Basil will keep its flavor for a couple of years if stored carefully.

I’d love to have the resilience and productivity of basil, although I wouldn’t care for the pinching!  Begonia

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