21 June 2010

And no one explains the long uneasy afternoons

I have loony ideas sometimes, about getting my heavy gardening work done early in the year, so that when the hot weather arrives, all I really need worry about is light maintenance and drinking iced tea/rickeys in the shade.

I think this is essentially a good idea, in theory. In practice, it never works out. April and May slip by, and any number of obstacles have prevented me from digging out this year's crop of Asiatic bittersweet, spreading mulch, or other tasks that I don't really want to do in hot weather.

The tasks still need to be done, of course, but they have to be done early in the morning or in the evening after supper and even so usually have to be followed by sitting in a cold shower for half an hour.

So there I was at 7 o'clock on a Sunday morning, ripping out the last of the weeds, spreading mulch on the walk, and then swearing abruptly and getting scissors, because as I worked my way toward the fence, I saw that the basil (in pots with the tomatoes) was sending up blossoms again.

Basil is like lettuce or any other annual herb; it exists to bloom, set seed, and die in a summer, and it does not matter one whit if you want to eat its leaves with tomatoes in August. It is 90 degrees now and therefore it is time for it to bloom. If you want basil with your tomatoes in August, however, you can't let it do that. And thus, the getting of scissors, to cut the blossoms off.

I have long since gotten past feeling like a brute for doing this. I think all gardeners must; we develop an immunity to the idea that we're interfering somehow in the natural life of the plant, or rather, an immunity to the idea that this interference is somehow wrong. A naturalist simply observes, but gardening is all about interference. The naturalist watches what grows, and where, but the gardener chooses which one shall go where, how one shall be shaped, and that one (say, a rosebush) shall be allowed to live while another (say, a dandelion) shall not.

Also, there will be tomatoes in August, and a sandwich made of firm white bread spread with the lightest possible smear of mayonnaise, a slice of tomato, and a basil leaf is one of the great pleasures of that month.

Where I do feel like a brute is in tossing the clipped basil flowers into the compost. The plant is at its most potent when getting ready to bloom; those flowers are full of the concentrated essence of basil-dom. But what to do with them?

I was not actively searching for an answer when I cruised through my Google Reader and ran across Nigel Slater's monthly collection of recipes.  In the middle of the group I found this:


Who on earth is Jekka McVicar, I wondered, feeling like I ought to know. So I googled, and learned she was the lady thrown out of the Chelsea Flower Show last year for the unspeakable tackiness of having a gnome in her booth. She's also a respected gardening expert in the UK, and the author of several books, but the gnome story had stuck in my head.

I do not know how you all feel about garden gnomes; I am agnostic about them myself.  The biscuits looked like an answer to my basil-blossom question.


butter 100g
sugar 50g
ground almonds 50g
plain flour 100g
basil leaves a large tbsp, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Cream together the butter and sugar, add the ground almonds then the flour.

Knead together on a lightly floured board to form a dough. Roll the dough in the chopped basil leaves until the leaves are amalgamated into the dough then roll it out into a 5cm diameter sausage. Slice into 1 cm thick slices.

Place the slices on a well greased baking sheet lined with non-stick baking parchment. Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly golden. Remove at once and cool on a wire rack. Makes 15-20.

A few smallish variations here: I used the basil blossoms instead of leaves. I didn't have ground almonds in house, though I had whole raw almonds. I put those, with the flour and the basil blossoms, into my food processor and pulsed them all together. And, having mashed the whole business together into something like a log, I wrapped it up in waxed paper and stuck it in the fridge to firm up before attempting slices. I also waited about 10 minutes before trying to move the cookies from the baking sheet to the rack.

Basil Biscuits

Using the blossoms meant that there were no telltale flecks of green in the finished product, so the basil comes as a surprise.

Try them with strawberry ice cream.

Carol Frost, Love and Scorn: New and Selected Poems

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