Once upon a time, Mrs. Butcher would always harvest the basil in one fell swoop. We would yank the plants and get enough pesto out of them to last us through most of the year. Then, last year, she decided to try something radical: not pulling the basil plants, but instead just cutting off the most mature stems and letting the plants regenerate for another harvest. She did three different harvests last year and we’re still working through last year’s pesto even after giving away probably 25% of what we had in the freezer. So, now we have a new practice.
Here’s what the basil bed looked like before she went to town on it:
The plastic sheet covers the cage in order to diffuse the sunlight so the leaves don’t burn. When it rains, I pull the sheet back so the plants can drink it all up. Here’s what the bed looks like after the first cutting:
As you can see, she cut a little more than half from the plants, leaving enough for them to be able to grow more branches and more of that sweet, sweet basil.
Now, up until this year, we would also have tons of caprese salads once the tomatoes came into season (actually, last year, I went full tilt into Ellie’s Panzanella Caprese Salad recipe), but Mrs. Butcher has stopped eating raw tomatoes so I won’t be needing as many whole leaves to work with this year (if you think I’m going to stop eating caprese salad just because Mrs. Butcher did, you can forget it). That means, even more pesto!
Prepping the pesto itself is a fairly simple, if tedious, affair. First, she snips the leaves off the stalks (avoiding the leaf stems), then she throws them into a blender with some of our good olive oil, whole home-grown garlic cloves (from last year), raw piñon, and salt (all measurements to taste).
Once everything is blended thoroughly, then she fills a Ziploc bag with one corner snipped off and closed with a clothespin.
Then she squeezes the pesto into ice cube trays that we use specifically for this purpose (because you’ll never get the taste out of them) and then those trays go into the freezer. She got just shy of three full trays with this first harvest.
Once the cubes are completely frozen, we pop the cubes out and fill up freezer bags for air-tight storage. This way, we’re able to use the pesto any way we need to. Most often, we use the pesto cubes with some pasta and olive oil when we want dinner but don’t want to make it a big affair.
The best part? The whole house smells like pesto for several days.
I’ll update you as she makes successive harvests, so we can all see how many rounds we get this year.