“The LORD will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest.” - Psalm 85:12
During our Thursday evening group sessions at New Beginnings, we explore a variety of topics to expand our residents’ life skills. These sessions have been presented by staff, a local church or community member, or a Wisconsin Lutheran College student. We have learned about fire safety from a Milwaukee Fire Department firefighter, self-breast exams and women’s health from a senior WLC nursing student, how to submit a FAFSA form and scholarship essays from TEAM UP Milwaukee, discussed religious topics with a WLC campus pastor, held game nights and much more!
On a beautiful evening in June, we held a group session outside our home to beautify the landscaping and learn a little about gardening. At the time, we only had one resident, who had never planted anything before. She learned a lot that night and I think she might have even liked it a little bit. She helped plant geraniums and impatiens to add some color, and we also planted bell peppers, tomatoes, basil seeds and cilantro to enjoy later in the season.
After a summer of faithfully watering our plants and giving them lots of love, we had a bountiful harvest of basil and tomatoes. The peppers and cilantro did not do as well, but we are still learning!
As our tomatoes ripened and we watched as our basil leaves got bigger and bigger, we knew it was time to do something with all of it. We were very thankful for our amazing crop, but didn’t want to see it go to waste. We were able to make use of our earlier planting efforts for another educational group session: How to Use Basil. If you haven’t used basil for much before, there are countless possibilities! You can dry it to use throughout the winter months in pasta, dressings, sauces, soups, and more. You can make and freeze pesto to thaw later and enjoy on sandwiches or pasta. You can make Margherita pizza, caprese salad, fruit salads, flavor your water, basil-infused olive oil, basil butter, and the list goes on… Okay, so maybe there aren’t a “basil-ion” ways to use basil as the title suggests, but I would reckon at least 100!
We decided to focus on two uses of basil for our group session: making bruschetta and drying basil. Some residents had never had bruschetta before, while others had eaten it, but had never made it, so it was a great experience for all! Residents helped with cutting up the tomatoes, basil, and bread, and adding seasonings. It was smelling delicious in our kitchen! We let the flavors mingle together for a bit while we headed to our dining room table to dry the basil.
Drying the basil was a new process for most of us, but it went fast with five sets of hands working on it! It made me look forward to the day when my girls are all old enough that I can set up an assembly line at home to do this – it would go much faster than me doing it by myself!
After drying, bunching, and hanging the basil in our kitchen, our bruschetta was ready. We scooped it up onto some warm toast and indulged. It always tastes better when it’s homegrown, right? Everyone enjoyed this fresh, tasty treat and we hope that the residents are now confident to make it on their own sometime.
Our hanging basil is getting nice and dry now and will be ready to crush in a couple days. I think some empty baby food jars will be the perfect containers to hold the basil for each resident to enjoy in the coming months.
Growing your own herbs and vegetables is a truly rewarding experience, and we look forward to doing it again next year. Maybe then we can try the other 98 ways to use basil! We hope you are able to enjoy our bruschetta recipe and method of drying basil. We want to know: What’s your favorite way to use basil? Please tell us and we might try out your recipe next!
Garden Fresh Bruschetta
(Recipe adapted from tasteofhome.com)
* 2 garlic cloves, minced
* 4 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
* 1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
* 4 T. olive oil, divided
* 3-4 T. fresh basil, chopped
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1/8 teaspoon pepper
* 14 slices French bread (3/4 inch thick)
** In a small skillet, heat 2 T. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and fry about one minute, just until lightly browned.
** In a large bowl, combine the garlic, tomatoes, onion, 2 T. olive oil, basil, salt and pepper. Let stand for 20-30 minutes.
** Drizzle French bread slices with olive oil; sprinkle lightly with additional salt and pepper. Broil in oven for about 1-2 minutes until lightly browned – watch carefully!
** Spoon about 2 tablespoons of bruschetta onto each piece of toast.
Yield: 14 servings.
Drying Fresh Basil
(Method from preservingyourharvest.com)
1. Gather your basil harvest in the morning hours after the sun has dried away the dew of the night. Cut approximately 1/4” down the stem on each leaf.
2. Gather the sprigs into loose bundles and secure the stems with rubber bands to assure that the bundles stay together as they dry.
3. Hang upside down in a warm, dry place such as an attic or porch until the leaves are brittle to the touch, approximately 2 weeks.
5. Gather the dried bundles and place on a sheet of wax paper.
6. Crumble the dried leaves and separate out all of the tough stems onto the wax paper.
7. Store in an air tight container in the pantry for use in cooking.
These air tight jars can be stored in a dry, dark place such as your pantry or cupboard, or even your freezer, with proper care.
Dried basil can be used in sauces, gravies, dressings and many other recipes that require fresh basil.