It was not what I had intended for my garden this year. A meager plant assortment is what I am referring to. I referred to my garden as the “salsa” garden. Why I called it this is because it mainly consisted of ingredients for salsa or pico-de-gallo, one of my personal favorites. Very abundant in garlic, tomato, tomatillo, pepper, and herbs. In addition, there was a wonderful show of the African marigold I purchased from Thomas Jefferson’s seed collection. A modest showing of zinnia and a smaller French marigold. And a very disappointing show from the snap dragon, another one of my personal favorites.
This was most definitely the year for herbs. The wonderfully peppery Genovese basil has helped me produce some of my best pico-de-gallo ever. (should have entered it in the county fair) As well as several batches of pesto. I have found that following the classic Betty Crocker recipe, but cutting the oil by half and adding twice the basil has made my pesto very pungent. Just the way I like it. Otherwise, it is a very oily weak tasting pesto. By adding twice the basil makes the pesto thick. This I find is helpful when adding dollops of it onto pizza, pasta, onto bread, mixed in with salad, I guess I could just go on, but you got it.
I must share with you my “new” discovery of the use of basil in my pico making. About two years ago (I have been making pico for at least 18 years, thus the ” around the word new) I was becoming bored with my pico. It seems crazy looking back on it that I could ever become bored with one of my most loved foods, but it is true. So I did something very old fashion, I picked up a cook book. Yes an old fashion book with lovely photos of food to entice you into wanting to make them. And in reading some of the combinations, I came across one I had never tried before. Instead of cilantro as the supporting herb in the pico, basil and mint were used. Hummmm, this I had never considered. We all know that basil tastes like summer, and so does mint. What a great idea to use two of the most summery tasting herbs. Genius! This small discovery has taken my pico making to a whole new level, truly. If people enjoy fresh pico-de -gallo, as I do, actually I treasure it, they go mad for it when they taste this “new” version of my old pico. So all this talk of my pico-de-gallo and I must share my “formula”.
5-6 chopped drained heirloom tomatoes
1 chopped red or green pepper
1/2 chopped Vidalia onion
1 – 1 1/2 minced jalapeno pepper
3 minced garlic
1/2 of a lime’s juice
1/4 t. salt
2-3 minced sprigs of mint
5-6 minced lg. leaves of Genovese basil
Now, all of this is to taste, of course. At times I want more of a lime flavor so I use more lime. Other times more garlic, etc.. This is just a general guideline. One tip I would like to share is, I drain the tomatoes so that the other flavors show up better and so the pico is less soupy. I also freeze the tomato juice to use in the winter as a base for making soups. This I can tell you is so amazing tasting. And truly adds a surprising amount of summer happy tomato flavor to a winter soup.
Another basil that has done amazingly well this year is the Ayurvedic herb Tulsi, which means holy basil in Sanskrit. I have been harvesting it and am drying it on old window screens elevated by rounded mid-sized stones. This free herb drying contraption is in my laundry room on one of the shelves I use for starting my plants.
Tulsi is one of the most wonderfully sweet-smelling herbs I have ever had the pleasure of growing. It produces a typical size basil flower, but the flower is a light lavender color. I am wondering if Mother Nature is giving me this gift of abundant Tulsi because the farmers almanac is calling for a snowy winter. Snowy winter perhaps equals a winter filled with colds and flu? Thus the gift of Tulsi. For Tulsi is a herb that is antiviral, promotes sweating, and treats fever. Perfect for a tea to treat cold and flu.
I have canned tomatoes by themselves. And I have canned tomato and basil together. This is in preparation for making winter time pico-de-gallo. Which is such a lovely surprise for friends and family when I bring this along for gathering. Nothing like having a taste of summer in the winter!
I have also canned several jars of tomatillos. The abundance of the tomatillos were great. The tomatillo I have canned by themselves, as I am undecided what I will choose to do with them into the fall and winter months.
I have also just started on my harvesting and canning of jalapeno peppers. These are my favorite peppers and I have several ways I will preserve them this year. In the past I have canned them in 1c. honey & 4c. cider vinegar, brought to a boil and poured over top of the packed jalapeno, and given a boiling bath for 15 minutes. This is a great combination because the first taste is the sweet honey followed by the acidic cider vinegar, lastly receiving the punch of the jalapeno pepper. Nice! I have allowed several of the peppers to mature to their bright red color. This makes for a very attractive canned pepper.
I am going to try, for the first time, to make jalapeno jelly. As well as making chipotle peppers. This consists of drying and smoking them. I do not have a plan for this yet, but it is something I have been wanting to do for several years now. My husband, Tim, is quite creative and I am confident he will devise a plan for my chipotle pepper dream.