I find that one of the hardest things to accept about winter is that I can’t go out to the garden and pick fresh herbs and vegetables. All summer long and well into the fall basil grows by the shed in a tossed-together herb garden. I’ve often stopped to pinch off a leaf just to enjoy the pungent aroma. When it comes to making sandwiches, I tend to be adventurous, but lunchmeat isn’t on my list of edible ingredients. It is too full of chemicals and preservatives to be healthy. The question is: what else is there to use? Enter my friend Karen. She introduced me to the delicious combination of tomato, basil and mozzarella. The mixture of flavors is a gourmet delight and makes a tasty sandwich.
Fresh basil is also wonderful in a tossed salad. I’m a lazy cook in the summer and salads often end up on the supper menu. Once the weather has warmed up, I take it for granted that I can walk across the lawn and pick the fresh basil leaves any time I choose.
Then the frost comes.
Recently, I looked out my kitchen window at white ground and gloomy skies. I decided to do a little winter gardening. I’d found some basil plants in the produce department at the grocery store, but they looked sad and about ready to die. I checked every plant, but didn’t feel that I could save any one of them. I was disappointed but decided to wait and see if there were any fresh plants the next week. Vola! Those plants looked healthier. I bought one – on a cold and windy day – placed it in the cup holder in my console and drove the twenty miles home with the heater on high.
When I set the basil plant on the kitchen counter, I remembered I hadn’t put a 5-gallon bucket of potting soil down in the basement last fall like I usually do. You just never know when you might need some nice warm dirt in the middle of winter! All of my potting soil was out in the shed, frozen solid. Then I recalled the cement planters that hold geraniums in front of the garage every year. I’d dragged them into the garage for the winter. That dirt might not be frozen. I went out to check.
Lo and behold, I was able to chip and scrape together enough soil to use. I trudged through the snow and got the empty pot I’d left on the deck then I brought the pot and the cold dirt into the kitchen and set them on the counter. I added a little water to the bone-dry dirt and left it and the clay pot to warm up for a couple of days. Meanwhile my new basil plant was enjoying the southern sun in front of the kitchen window.
On the third day I stirred up the dirt, broke up the hard clumps and removed the maple seeds, dead leaves and other debris. It felt so good to this gardener’s hands to be back in warm soil. The smell of the damp earth was like a whiff of spring. I scooped a couple inches of soil into the clay pot. Then I gently removed the basil plant from the plastic store container and placed it on the dirt. I poured more soil around the basil until it was even with the crown of the plant (where the stems come off the roots).
I drizzled some water all the way around and added a little more dirt where the soil had settled. I stood back and looked at my basil plant in its new home. It seemed happy and turned its leaves to face the sun.