Even hundreds of miles away in Ohio, my mother-in-law could sense the shift.
"Grandma just called to ask if Dad is planting pansies this weekend," Graham said on Saturday as we both watch Tim bag faded summer annuals and tuck in cheerful yellow pansies. "How did she know that?'
Tim gently suggested that it might be time to put the basil out of its misery. Even the once plush sage plant that has been its faithful neighbor has given up and become bug feed.
I freeze pureed basil evey year to make winter pesto and pump up soups and rice, but I felt like I needed one more fresh use before bidding it farewell.
I've been in a canning frenzy lately, so I started to wonder if you could make basil jelly much in the tradition of mint jelly. There is considerable variation of the theme available online, but since we had already agreed to hack the poor thing to bits I wanted to be sure I got it right on the first try.
I have no shame in admitting that I relied on the Sure-Jell insert, which is sort of like Jelly-Making for Dummies, but it's never steered me wrong. I wanted to tweak it in some original way, however, and opted to trade some of the infusion water with a sweet reisling. Though its color is pale, I decided against enhancing it with food coloring. One taste and you'll know just how lushly green it is.
2 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
2 tbsp. smallest, intact leaves from the bunch
3 1/2 cups water
1 cup reisling
1 pkg. Sure-Jell
5 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. butter (optional)
Prepare canning jars and lids. I've got the timing down pretty well and know when to pull jars from the water to fill with hot jelly. If you're not sure (or don't want to be rushed), line up jars upside-down on a clean dish towel; top with another fresh towel, sweater-style, to help them stay warm. Keep lid on water-bath canner to retain heat or maintain on low heat setting.
Wash and pat dry basil leaves, separating smallest ones for later use. Chop finely or, better yet, toss in food processor and buzz. Scrape pulversized puree into non-reactive pot. Pour 1 cup reisling into work bowl and pulse to incorporate any basil liquid and remaining puree. Pour into same pot, along with water.
Warm over medium-high heat then add box of pectin, stirring well to combine. You can add a little butter to reduce foam; I usually do but I'm not sure it makes much difference. Stirring often, bring to a full rolling boil.
Add sugar all at once. Stir with gusto until it all melts, then occassionally as it starts to boil. When it hits the boiling stage that can't be stirred back down, watch the clock for one full minute then remove from heat.
If there is an accumulation of foam -- more accurately called scum -- be sure to remove it, especially if you plan to give these as gifts. No one wants goo in their jelly and it's especially noticeable in light-colored jellies. I use a large metal skimmer that allows the good stuff to dribble back into the pot.
Scatter a few reserved basil leaves in each prepared jar and quickly fill with hot jelly. Wipe rims clean with a warm, damp cloth, then add lids and bands. Carefully place in water bath, bring to a boil and process about 5 minutes. Turn off heat, remove lid and let the jars sit for a few minutes to settle. Then carefully remove and place on a steady rack or heatproof surface where they can stay undisturbed until fully cool.
If you did it right you will be rewarded with pale clear jelly the shade of peridot -- if perdiot had tiny basil leaves in it, of course -- and a symphony of pings as the jars complete the sealing process. While Sure-Jell says the batch will produce 4 cups of jelly, this bountiful brew actually filled three half-pint and nine 4-ounce jars. Good thing, as my boasting has led friends and family to ask that it be included in their holiday gift assortment.
If you plan to make jam or jelly more than once, and I heartily recommend that you do, invest in a canning set that includes a jar funnel, magnet-tipped lid wand and a jar lifter. It's not much more expensive than a big bottle of aloe and way cheaper than a visit to the emergency room.