First Frost at Larrapin. And Basil.

Posted on Oct 9, 2012 | 8 comments

The mound of basil spread on a magenta towel on top of the washing-machine is starting to wilt. Last night leaves stood up from the stems, crisp and fleshy at the same time, like a cat’s ear. This morning it is a soft, pungent pile. I pick up the bundle and turn the whole thing over, fluffing the leaves apart. A cloud of verdant scent rises as if summer exhaled. My hands now carry the spicy odor, even typing this later, sharp and earthy at the same time. The leaves need to lose a little more water to the room air before I put them in the herb dehydrator. Otherwise it will take days to dry completely—as it must be to get crumbled and funneled into the bottle labeled Basil.

 

October 7th, last night, was first frost. Just more odd timing in a year filled with weather oddities here in the Ozarks.  Halloween has been a more common frost date in the seven winters I’ve lived here.  But this is the year no winter to amount to anything ever came in late 2011. I kept thinking the cold would catch us off-guard the following spring. But it never bothered. The figs that usually freeze to the ground and must regrow from there had green buds high on living branches in early April. Peach blossoms so often nipped by late frosts were untouched and lit up the branches like pink birthday candles. Those same branches would be stressed by severe drought a few short months later. The new queen of weather is bipolar compared to the more reliable ruler she overthrew. A coup d’état by carbon apparently.

 

The winter we missed last year acts in a hurry to catch up. At least for a night. The surprise low of 27 predicted only reached 32 at our house, set on a slope in the “sun bowl” as we call it.  But 32 is more than enough to brown or blacken basil. So last night had me once again gardening by headlamp. I located and cut the huge basil plants I’d put in late that had not flowered yet. This means peak flavor. Today I will pluck the leaves off the stems and arrange them like puzzle pieces on the racks of the dehydrator. Then set the thermostat only at 95 so the most scent and color will be retained. Though it will take them two or three days at least to get fully dry this way, it’s the only way to keep the full flavor. I want the taste of this basil to be strong enough to cut through a winter day. I want the scent sharp as a green blade, smelling as if it were plucked right from the perfumed hands of Summer herself.

 

—A Larrapin Garden, where the basket of basil picture shown at the top was—full disclosure—actually the September batch I used to make a winter’s worth of pesto. I *love* basil so I grow a lot, as you can see and read. It takes at least half as much as you see in the picture, after drying and milling, to fill a full-sized container for the spice cabinet.  Lotta summer in that little bottle!  Like Larrapin Blog? Please  subscribe to get blog posts in one weekly email. You can also get bonus links, giveaways and recipes by “liking” the Facebook page or following on Twitter.  Thanks! Leigh

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8 Comments

  1. Beautiful Basil!
    Each day in the garden I would pick a spring just to have that scent with me as I worked around the other vegetables and flowers.
    Have a great day!
    Lea
    Lea’s Menagerie

    • pick a sprig! not spring
      Lea

    • Thanks so much for the visit and the comment Lea. Yes, that scent is hypnotic! 🙂

  2. What a beautiful post! Goodbye to Summer! -Marci @ Stone Cottage Adventures

    • Thanks so much for the kind comment and for visiting Marci.

  3. Those plants look gorgeous! Not only am I not planting enough plants for summer cooking & winter storage, the plants I do have grow very twiggy and are small. When I lived in AL they would grow into huge bushes! What am I doing wrong?

    Hope you and M are enjoying the crisp fall days!

    S & S

    • Thanks so much for the comment Stephanie! Twiggy basil sounds like not enough sun? The love full hot sun, rich soil and regular watering. Hope you are doing great and feeling back to new!

  4. Best post ever. But don’t make us wait so long for these beautiful, poetic essays. I can’t wait to sprinkle that basil into my next sauce.