{ Posts Tagged ‘basil’ }

Frozen pesto cubes for winter pasta

Last weekend I had a tall, beautiful columnar basil plant (courtesy of President’s Choice) nestled beside my tomato plants (to help their flavour). It was almost up to my waist. Rather than let it go to seed, which hadn’t happened yet thanks to my consistent pruning, I decided to make pesto.

I found an easy pesto recipe online from Whole Foods and then did a little research to see how to preserve it. The easiest way I found was to freeze it in an ice cube tray, wrap it in saran, being sure to let out all the air, and then pop the frozen cubes into a freezer bag (again, letting out all the air). I left out the cheese from the recipe because I wasn’t sure how it would freeze.

Now throughout the winter, when I want to make a quick weeknight meal–say shrimp with brown rice pasta fettuccine–I can just grab a cube or two, let it thaw a little and then stir it in! No more jars of store-bought pesto required.

I’m feeling ambitious about my herb saving, so this weekend I intend to clip some tarragon, oregano, sage and thyme and dry it out. Charmian Christie wrote a great article for the site that I posted this week called 5 ways to preserve your herbs in 5 minutes. If I get the time, I might also try to create some herb-infused vinegars.

Treat your tomatoes to natural fertilizers

I was reading the summer issue of Reader’s Digest’s new mag, Fresh Home, and I came across an article about kitchen-scrap fertilizers for tomatoes. My tomato plants are doing surprisingly well this year, but they’re still shorter than my basil plant. Here’s what the article suggests:

  • Every week, for every foot of height of your tomato plant, add one tablespoon of Epsom salts to a gallon of water to add magnesium.
  • When you first plant your tomatoes, add fresh banana peels to the hole. They will act as a slow-release fertilizer, providing potassium and trace elements. I’d heard about doing this for your roses… will have to try next year with my tomatoes!
  • Every week or two, add about six crushed eggshells per quart of water and sprinkle on your plants. The calcium will help the growth of leaf tips and blossom ends and will prevent blossom-end rot.
  • When your tomatoes start to turn red, add a spoonful of sugar to your watering can to help make tomatoes sweeter and juicier.
  • Try planting your tomatoes around a compost bin. As nutrients break down in the surrounding soil, the tomatoes will benefit.

I might try the sugar trick… some of my tomatoes are just on the verge of turning. I’m excited because last year I barely had any and I was eating the few I did get in October and November!

Drop me a line below and tell me if you’ve used any of these tricks or others!

Will my herbs survive the winter?

For my last post, I found out that my herbs are basically done for the season. But I wanted to know what I can do with them over the winter. The mint is in a big pot, but the other two are in the ground.

Sadly, my cilantro and basil will not overwinter, so I am going to try to collect the seeds in case I want to try starting them myself next spring.

However, Anne Marie says the mint is hardy and can be planted in the garden. Since it is very invasive, I must keep it in the pot and just lower the whole thing into the ground. Keeping it in the pot will keep it contained for a while so it won't spread everywhere too fast.

Or, I can bring the pot into a garage or shed for the winter or tuck it up against the house and pack leaves around it.

What happened to my poor herbs?

This past spring, I planted three herbsbasil, cilantro and mint–imagining the fresh flavours in my meals all season long. However, in the last few weeks, they've all grown flowers on top. My poor cilantro completely fell over from the weight and my basil just doesn't seem as bushy or yummy-looking. Sigh. My herb-infused culinary creations will have to wait until I figure out if they're still edible. Furthermore, can I cut back the flowers without damaging the plants?

Here's what Anne Marie had to say about the fate of the most fragrant end of my garden.

Some herbs are still quite useable even after they start to flower but others get too strong or woodier once this takes place. For most, frequent harvesting make the plants bushier and produce more harvestable stems.

Mint is usable before and after it flowers. In fact, mint can be collected and dried as the flowers begin to open. Young, tender stems before flowering are better than the older, woodier, bitter stems. Use the leaves dried or fresh.

Basil should be used when young before it goes to flower. You can stall the flowering by pinching out the flower buds whenever you see them. This will help create a bushier plant and promote more side growth. Basil stops producing nice leafy growth when it flowers. It is best to use fresh basil or cut it for drying up until just before the flowers open.

Cilantro should be harvested before the plant goes into flower. I don't know of any way to delay this from happening. It usually starts flowering once the weather gets hot. Or let it flower and harvest the seeds as coriander in late summer.

Ok, better luck next year with my basil and maybe I'll whip outside tomorrow and see about collecting my own coriander. That sounds promising.

But will my edible plants make it through the winter? Stay tuned!