Saturday, September 22, 2007

What's Growin' On 9/22/07: Packing Back Up The Polarfleece & Putting Purple Basil To Good Use

No Worries Yet For This Cold Intolerant Purple Basil

Realization Of The Day:
Mother Nature is a tease.

Or maybe she's simply bored and figured she'd have some laughs by torturing us here in Missouri. All I know is that our recent little cold snap was a very false alarm.

Last Saturday morning it was 40 degrees. As someone who would be perfectly thrilled if the temperature never again went above 70, I celebrated by diving into a tub labled 'polarfleece,' emerging triumphantly with a cozy pullover and the lime green pajama pants decorated with sheep and stars that my mother once gave me for Christmas. (The Shack is not equipped with closets, so we live out of stacks and stacks of large plastic containers.) I flung a giant polarfleece blanket on the bed, slipped on thick fuzzy socklets, and dusted off the teakettle. While my first cup of hot tea in months sat steeping, I wondered if I had enough clear plastic sheeting to cover the several raised beds I'd just seeded with fall crops so the soil would stay warm enough for the seeds to germinate.

Then it heated back up. By mid-afternoon Sunday I'd convinced myself there was no ignoring summer's return, and that sweating to death in a cotton turtleneck out of protest wouldn't do any good. I reluctantly changed into a tank top, made some iced tea, and stuffed all the polarfleece back into their bins. Today's forecast predicted a high of 89 degrees.

The good news is that most of the seeds I planted have already sprouted. I even bothered to write down what I planted where. (I'll post a complete list in the next few days.) And, as Joe correctly pointed out, just a couple of sweltering weeks ago I would have been thrilled to hear that it was only supposed to be in the upper 80s.

As for this striking purple basil plant, it's no longer draped with a floating row cover to protect it from the cold and will probably be safe outside for at least another week or two. The green basil surrounding it was turned into my favorite pesto a few weeks ago, though I did follow my own advice and left the stripped plants in the ground. The purple basil is ready to be picked now, but, as pathetic as this sounds, I'm not sure what to do with it. I love fresh basil in all kinds of dishes, and I love the color of these leaves, especially how they're outlined in green, but the thought of blackish purple basil pesto--or blackish purple basil anything for that matter--just doesn't seem appealing.

A friend suggested I make basil vinegar with it. You fill a large jar with half white vinegar, half cider vinegar, then stuff it with purple basil and let it steep for a week. Strain it and pour the resulting gorgeous magenta vinegar into a pretty bottle with a few sprigs of fresh basil. That sounds nice, but I'm not sure what I'd do with it. I'm really not very creative when it comes to using herbs in the kitchen. I also never use white vinegar, preferring white balsamic instead, which I suppose would work, too. It would certainly be nice to look at sitting on a kitchen shelf, but she says you need to store the vinegar in a dark place in order for it to retain its color.

So help me out here. If you had a beautiul purple basil plant in your garden, or a bottle of magenta basil vinegar in your pantry, what would you do with them?

© 2007, the award-winning blog where Farmgirl Susan shares stories & photos of her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.


  1. For some reason I've never grown purple basil. But I do think it would look pretty in something like a white bean salad with some red peppers and green onions. I agree, purple pesto doesn't sound appealing even if the name has a certain ring to it.

  2. I just kept mine in the kitchen window all winter because it was beautiful and dipped out a taste every so often so i would remember the wonderful taste of basil all winter and I am always sorry this time of year that once again I forgot to plant it just for this one beautiful bottle of summer.It is worth making one just for pretty I think.

  3. toss it in a salad;

    throw it into a pot of beans, tomatoes, potatoes, zuchinni, and onion (Minestra);

    Caprese Salad (Slice of fresh mozeralla topped with tomato, a basil leaf, a sprinkling of salt, balsamic, and olive oil.);

    Red sauce of fresh tomatoes;

    Garnish anything that the flavor of Basil will complement;

    Grind with Olive Oil and garlic; freeze in ice-cube trays, stir into soups/sauces in winter; the color will not matter, then, just the summery smell;

    tossed into a slaw of chopped carrots, fennel bulb, and garlic just before serving;

    Floated on a bowl of tomato soup the next time the temperature drops below 40.

  4. I kind of like the idea of purple pesto. But I am weird that way.

    If you can keep it alive on a windowsill in the shack it would be great to brighten up salads all winter. If not, I would either do the vinegar - use white balsamic - or grind and freeze in oil.

    I wonder if it would have enough color left when it was dried to break it up and add it to salt in a grinder. (You do have an assortment of salt grinders, don't you? If not, I think I have a dozen and I would share.)

    Will think on this more, but it's nice to see you using some herbs from the garden, oh reluctant one. Now we just need to figure out my vegetable garden between now and spring.

  5. How about puple basil lemonade or better still purple basil watermelon/honeydew melon agua fresca?

  6. purple basil pesto sounds wonderfully exotic! Make the most of it now before the frost knocks it all down!

  7. I'd do what I just did this weekend with my basil: put it in mussels à l'Italienne!
    Recipe: chopped onions sweated in oil for a few mins. Add a few glugs of white wine and lots of chopped tomatoes. Plus tomato purée. Pour your mussels (cleaned and de-bearded) in, cover and cook for 5-10 mins. Put into bowls with lots of chopped basil.
    Yum yum

  8. I just copied this Purple Pesto Soup recipe from the FatFree Vegan Kitchen last week - because I wasn't sure what to do with my purple basil, either. I haven't tried it yet since I am suffering through the same Missouri "heat wave", but once it cools back off...

  9. Make Black Tie Pasta?

    Black pesto tossed with bow tie pastas?

    Come on, that's just fun.

    Or you could make the pesto and mix it with the homemade tomato sauce to unspookify it a little bit.

    I love spicy pesto tomato sauce.

    Oh, you'd have to add some red pepper to the sauce, but you know that.

  10. My mother grew purple basil one year and gave me a jar of it dried. I'd just crumble it in things while I cooked. But one day I put it on top of some fish that I baked and ended up with an odd pink sauce. It tasted perfectly fine, but it was a bit unnerving to look at... like strawberry qwik & fish!

    I like the dried in salt thing! And using it to make pasta noodles. cool.

  11. You could make some pesto and throw some black olives in, that sounds like it would be pretty good and might not look so bad!

    Hmm, I might try that with my own purple basil...

  12. Hi Everybody!
    I'm loving this list of things to do with purple basil! So many creative and delicious ideas. Thank you all for taking the time to help me out with my little dilemma.

    Of course now I'm thinking that it's too bad I have just the one plant!

    Hi Kalyn,
    Purple basil in a white bean salad with red peppers and green onions sounds great--and I bet it would look really pretty.

    Hi anon
    That's exactly what I was thinking--make up some purple basil vinegar, put it in a pretty bottle, set it out where I can look at it all winter, and who cares if I never actually use it! Glad to know I'm not the only one who thinks that way. I love the thought of dipping out a taste every so often. : )

    Hi Rebecca,
    Of course--the color won't matter in soups and sauces, especially in the middle of winter. Thanks for the reminder. And tomato soup with purple basil when the weather drops below 40--what a lovely thought. : )

    Hi km,
    Yes, you're weird, but of course that's part of your charm.

    Oooh, basil salt! Very interesting. I'm thinking the dried leaves of purple basil would probably be pretty dark, considering how dark the green ones get. But still, I like the idea.

    Yes! We are going to have you planting more than herbs next spring! Now technically your climate is mild enough that you could be growing all sorts of veggies now and into the winter, but I'm not going to push my luck. It'll probably take until spring to convert you into One Of Us. : )

    Hi Nabeela,
    Oh my goodness--purple basil watermelon/honeydew melon agua fresca? Now that's something I definitely never would have come up with! I bet it would be gorgeous, too.

    Hi Matron,
    I doubt that the word 'exotic' ever comes to anybody's mind when describing me or my kitchen habits, LOL. Purple basil pesto does indeed sound exotic, weird color or no. Who knows, maybe with my purple basil salt and purple basil pesto I'll turn into Missouri's first exotic farmgirl. : )

    Hi Soilman,
    Your mussels à l'Italienne sound fantastic. And so beautifully simple. All sopped up with some nice crusty bread--YUM.

    Hi Amy,
    Thanks for the link--that soup does sound good. I love that it's made with cauliflower.

    Hi Finny,
    As always, you crack me up. Black Tie Pasta--too cute. And I'm definitely going to add the word 'unspookify' to my vocabulary.

    There's nothing better than delicious suggestions served up with a smile. Well, serving me the actual food would be better.

    Hi Chel,
    Strawberry quik & fish--ack! That's a really funny description, though. It's interesting how the colors of some foods are simply just too tough for our brains to take--even if they do taste wonderful. : )

    Hi Erin,
    Pesto with black olives mixed in sounds great. Thanks!

  13. I made purple basil vinegar (I know someone already suggested it) and it was the most wonderful pink colour and smelled divine. I tried pickling some garlic cloves in it, thinking they would turn the lovely pink colour but they never did and the vinegar itself in the jar with the garlic lost all its colour and turned a sort of blood plasma colour. Yeech.

  14. I've never seen or used purple basil before -- is it interchangeable with the regular basil?

  15. i know i'm a little late on this, but i have a wonderful little purple basil plant from which i just made my first batch of purple pumpkin seed pesto. let me just say that it was delicious. i used raw pumpkin seeds, garlic, olive oil and sea salt--left it kind of thick and used it as a sandwich spread for a couple of sunshine burgers. my boyfriend and i were in heaven. the color really wasn't offputting either--maybe b/c i used raw pumpkin seeds--it was more of a deep green color.

  16. Hey all! Whatever you do, you MUST use it on Halloween! LOL... Spooky Purple Basil. Sounds like fun to me!

    I love all the ideas and will use them this year as I always grow purple basil but as just an a beautiful ornament in my garden. I gave some to my friend last year and she just called me up FREAKING OUT how it has come back everywhere! I told her "SO WHAT! THAT IS GOOD!" She couldn't believe how hardy they are and how they took over! LOL I think that is great! Hey, a garden is a labor of love and my suggestion was to wait until they get bigger and pull them out to transplant them and or do some of the great stuff all of you have done.

    Thanks for the suggestions!

    JanColdwater from NY

  17. Hello! I have been enjoying your account of your quandry re using your purple basil and your subsequent venture into purple basil pesto, and also all of the suggestions for using it. I love basil, both in the garden and kitchen so I usually grow a bakers' dozen [13] kinds, but this year I got a little carried away and have 20 varieties. Some are single kinds in pots (there's a 30" African Blue in full bloom on my front porch), a window box of 3 kinds, and 2 bushel baskets planted with 5 kinds each, plus a 20' row in the kitchen garden as a border to the heirloom tomatoes. I like to use the basil in the kitchen and compare the different tastes, but I do not feel as if I have to use up each and every leaf! Mostly, I just relax and enjoy them like I might any pretty, fragrant annual. Eating them is just a bonus...

  18. Hello, again! I just read the comment from anonymous about her friend saying that her shared purple basil has come back everywhere. I wonder where in NY she lives. I lived in upstate NY, where it gets cold, for over 30 years and never had any basil live over and only 1 ever self-sowed for me(Holy Basil)when I lived in Lancaster Co, PA, one of the garden spots of the world. It reminds me that a lady in NY once told me that her basil was a hardy perennial and that it was becoming a pest because it was coming up all over, but she did not cook with it as she didn't like the smell or taste. I had a suspicion about what had happened so I went to see this prolific purple basil. Sure enough, it wasn't purple basil after all, but perilla, an attractive, but weedy, purple plant, which has a strong odor. However, the Japanese apparently don't mind it. They call it Shiso and use it to cook
    with beef and in stir-frys..
    A common name for it is beefsteak plant and another is red wil basil! I wonder if this might be(Jan's ?) friend's prolific, hardy purple basil? If so, serve it up with steak Japanese style, but maybe cut off the flower heads before they go to seed to curb their wandering ways...


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