Tuesday, July 16, 2013

In Praise of Basil

In These Happy Golden Years, the final "official" volume of the books from Laura Ingalls Wilder, there is a charming scene in which Laura and her new husband Almanzo are visiting another couple when they are caught in a hail storm.  Almanzo, always equally charming and annoying (or so I've always thought), tries to put a good spin on things by commenting that "the rich man gets his ice in the summer, but the poor man gets his in the winter."  He then suggests making ice cream.  I've always kind of hoped Laura gave him a good earful in the buggy ride home for that irresponsible comment.

Anyway, I always think of that when I harvest basil, but in reverse.  If you grow basil in your garden, you are simply awash in the stuff this time of year.  The bushes are huge, and if you take your fresh basil by pruning them right above where they fork, they will continue to spread and get bushier and bushier.  I eat as much basil as I like all summer long, and I freeze a good bit in oil for winter pesto.

Contrast this with the store-bought version.  On the one hand, I'm happy to see fresh basil leaves sold in grocery stores like Trader Joe's.  But I must say that one look at the price should send you straight to buy your own plant.  Fresh organic basil leaves are $2.99 for 2.5 ounces.  Yikes!  Of course, this must reflect the absolute difficulty of transporting a very fragile, temperature sensitive herb from where it is grown (Florida and Massachusetts by the label) to a Trader Joe's, then keeping it in any kind of condition until purchase.  I figure, based on my experience with basil leaves, that these are good for maybe a week from harvest to eating, even assuming modern packaging and transport.

I'll be using this price this year in "How Much Does a Garden Grow," although I'm going to cut it a bit to $1.00 per ounce to take into account that I bring my basil into the house on the stem, which weighs up a little.  Even so, I can easily eat $1.00 of basil a day for the entire summer, which makes it a luxury that would start to get pricey if I got my basil anywhere but my back yard.

I guess the rich can have their basil in the winter, but I have mine in the summer.

The Analysis
Fast:  Trimming basil from your own garden or container is way faster than going to the store.

Cheap:  Look at those prices!  You pay for a basil plant within 3-4 ounces of harvested basil; the rest is pure garden profit.

Good:  I can't imagine the store-bought kind will have the aroma and flavor of fresh-harvested, with the leaves full of their aromatic oils.  Yum.  Affordable luxury indeed.
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