Posts Tagged ‘Stockbridge Herbs’

Liquid Rubies/Liquid Gold

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009
Truffle's new do makes her feel a little cold (but never nippy!) as September arrives.

Truffle's new "do" makes her feel a little cold (but never nippy!) in September.

September has arrived.
A little nip has arrived in the air here in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. My dog Truffle got her hair cut last week so she burrows under the covers at night. And I’ve just stopped swimming, although I hope my being landlocked is only temporary. Surely we’ll have a warm spell before fall arrives officially!
The chilly evenings have reminded me, a bit belatedly, that I’d better get to work preserving at least some of summer’s flavors. Somehow I never manage to put up as many pickles and jams as I’d like to these days.
I refuse to feel guilty about this. I just do what I can when I can.
So I’m happy that I’ve started … with a little vinegar.
I’ll describe what I’ve done below in paragraph form rather than as a recipe because (as you’ll see) the process is very loose.
purple basil web
My Ruby Vinegar (Cold Method)
A couple of weeks ago I harvested some purple basil to make what my friends at Stockbridge Herb Farm call “ruby red vinegar.” On their advice I went the traditional route with this batch.
I gently washed 1 handful of purple basil and 1 of green. I let them dry on paper towels. Then I placed them in a clean glass jar with a plastic top and covered them with distilled white vinegar. (I used about a pint of vinegar; feel free to use more leaves and more vinegar if you like.)
I left the jar to steep in a warm but dark part of the kitchen, shaking it gently a couple of times a day.
The purple basil started lending color to the vinegar almost immediately. Yesterday the vinegar was a lovely reddish purple and tasted of fresh basil. (One has to monitor the basil; this process can take from 1 to 4 weeks.) So I strained it through cheesecloth and put it in a fresh bottle. It will lend the taste of fresh basil to salads throughout the winter.

lemon basil web

My Golden Vinegar (Hot Method) 

Yesterday I went out to the herb garden and grabbed some lemon basil. This variety of basil really does smell of citrus.
As you can see from the picture above, I have let it go to seed a bit–in part because I’m lazy and keep forgetting to nip off the flowers as they form, in part because I love to add the basil flowers to a small bouquet. They lend a lovely fragrance to their surroundings.
I put a few flowers in today’s vinegar infusion but tried to rely mostly on stalks of basil that hadn’t yet flowered; their flavor is better. For this concoction I used golden cider vinegar from a local apple producer, Apex Orchards.
I took a shortcut with this batch of basil by heating my vinegar almost to the boiling point before pouring it over the cleaned and dried leaves.
(Before I added the basil I poured hot tap water into the bottle and left it there for a minute or two so that the bottle wasn’t shocked and perhaps broken by the warm vinegar.)
As with the non-heated vinegar I used a bottle with a plastic top so the lid wouldn’t react to the vinegar.
I will shake this bottle twice a day for three days. The warm vinegar works faster than vinegar at room temperature so my lemon basil batch should be ready to strain by the time the three days have elapsed.
Note: If you’re trying this method, be sure NOT to shake the bottle right after you add the hot liquid; vinegar will spurt out and make a mess!
If you don’t have purple or lemon basil, you may use either of these methods with regular basil or indeed with almost any herb. And think about planting more varieties of basil next year.
I’m looking forward to using either of my vinegars in panzanella very soon.
red vinegarweb


Tuesday, August 18th, 2009
The Queens of Basil: Denise and Mary Ellen

The Queens of Basil: Denise and Mary Ellen

My cousin Mardi reported last week that this year’s rainy summer has made the basil in her garden grow to record heights. She asked what she could do with the stuff aside from making pesto and sprinkling it over tomatoes.
I said I would think it over. Little did Mardi know that I had a secret weapon up my sleeve: Stockbridge Farm and its annual Pestopalooza celebration.
Stockbridge Herb Farm in South Deerfield, Massachusetts, is owned by Mary Ellen and John Warchol and Mary Ellen’s sister Denise Lemay. Mary Ellen, Denise, and John grow herbs and market a variety of herbal products to the public.
Every so often they host public events. Their down-to-earth, fun-filled personalities make these offerings entertaining as well as informative.
Last weekend they held their annual salute to basil, Pestopalooza. John showed off his healthy herb patch, which features 40 different varieties of basil. Denise and Mary Ellen cooked under a tent for a couple of hours, demonstrating different uses for basil and pesto.
Naturally, I came home with some plants and herb mixes–and a recipe or two. Mary Ellen and Denise explained that one can add other vegetables to this panzanella, an Italian salad starring bread and fresh tomatoes.
They used red-basil vinegar, but since my basil vinegar is still steeping (more on that in a future post) I suggest using red-wine vinegar as a substitute. Be sure to wash the lemons well and slice them into very thin pieces (organic ones are best) since you’ll be eating them rind and all.
The bread should be at least a day old, preferably a little older; use up your stale bread on this one!
It’s a lovely dish for a warm day on which one can’t be bothered to cook. If you want a little protein, add grilled chicken or tuna.
Panzanella web
1 lemon
1 pound firm, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 2 cups); the Stockbridge gals used mixed red and yellow/orange
3 to 4 slices hearty sourdough or whole-grain bread, toasted and cut into squares
1/4 cup capers, drained
1 cup fresh basil leaves (use leaves from a miniature basil plant or chop larger leaves coarsely)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red-basil or red-wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Slice the lemon into paper-thin slices, catching the juice and placing it in a salad bowl. (You may discard the seeds!)
Add the tomatoes, toast cubes, capers, and basil. Drizzle the oil and vinegar over the salad, add the salt and pepper, and toss gently. Let the salad sit for 5 to 10 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. (Don’t let it sit for more than 2 hours.)
Serves 4 to 6.
Forty Kinds of Basil