Mother Earth Living

“Basil to Thyme” excerpt

Book Excerpt:

Chapter 4

Container Gardening

Container gardening, is a phrase we have heard often. So what does this mean? Container gardening is for those who do not have enough yard space to create a garden and in this instance, for this cookbook, an herb garden. So if yard space is at a premium and you really want to have an herb garden, container gardening may be just what you need to consider.

Herbs certainly look handsome in containers, whether housed in pots of lively primary colors or for a more cottage-garden effect, housed in aged terra-cotta pots. Imagine a large terra-cotta pot filled with bright red and orange nasturtiums cascading down the side. Perhaps you could try your hand at sponging another terra-cotta pot a pretty soft blue, then fill it with a purple sage plant. This could really turn into an interesting project, choosing a variety of pastel colors to sponge on several different sizes of terracotta pots, then filling them with the herbs of your choice. Before you choose your herbs, gather the pots and coat both the inside and the outside with water-based, nontoxic-liquid waterproofing (which can be found at a wellstocked hardware store). Allow 24 hours for this to dry, then coat the interior of the pots with roofing compound or asphalt stopping two inches from the pot’s rim. (Again, go to the hardware or garden center to find this product.) It may seem like a lot of trouble, but if you will take the time to carry out this procedure, the pots will “do your herbs right” and last for a nice long time. Use acrylic paints when decorating the exteriors of the pots and allow your imagination to run wild. Group contrasting or complimentary pots, companioned with a variety of herbs and flowers to create colorful and artistic additions to your patio, porch, balcony or chosen outdoor area. Be as creative with your planting as you are with your cooking!

You will not need to limit yourself to terra-cotta pots to house your herbs. We always marvel at the variety of objects in which one can plant herbs. How about a pair of rain boots? Maybe an old roaster that is no longer fit for the kitchen. Anything you can plant in, and then pick up to move to another space or even indoors, allows you to be a container gardener. An advantage to container gardening is the portability of your plants, as you can change your arrangement with the ever-changing sun conditions of the season, or as the plants grow and change size. Gardening seems to be a “continual work in progress” and will need your tender attention throughout the season.

There are several important things to remember when you plant in containers. First, look for soil mixes that have been formulated specifically for containers. This is very important, as your typical garden soil tends to be a bad choice because it drains rather poorly when “trapped” in containers. Plus garden soil is all too often filled with weed seeds. So stick to packaged soil mixes that you can find at your local garden center.

Remember that you must have a drainage hole in the bottom of your container to prevent the plant from drowning. Since this is so necessary, at planting time, cover the hole with a piece of window screening or a small square of weed cloth before filling the container with soil. This serves to keep the dirt in, and the slugs and bugs out! Drainage is ever so important, because plant roots need to “breathe.” Remember this when using “found objects” and antique items as ulterior containers to traditional terra-cotta pots. These items might provide added interest to your groupings, but they need drainage holes to function well.

To avoid pale plants, fertilize frequently and evenly. We always feel that organic fertilizer yields the best results, so we recommend a biweekly dose of fish emulsion. Every six weeks or so, a dose of granulated fishmeal or a slow release fertilizer will bring added, pleasant results. Probably the most difficult aspect of container gardening is maintaining
correct moisture in the soil. Herbs such as basil and chervil are considered succulent herbs, yet will suffer if they do not receive enough moisture. However, sage and rosemary will suffer root rot if given too much water. Always feel the soil and if it is dry water it, if it is damp stay away from it. For the most part, any kind of container plant likes to be completely
dry before having another drink of water.

Please learn how to properly water your plants. All too often, even if rain has fallen on the plants, their foliage is too large to allow much water to get into the container. Therefore, water twice when watering! The first time to moisten the soil; the second time to actually give the plant a nice drink. (An option to consider is “planting the pots” into the ground, if possible, to keep watering to a minimum.)

Make sure you place the containers near the kitchen door as the whole purpose of growing herbs in containers is to allow you, dear reader to enjoy fresh herbs in your many cooking endeavors. When fall or winter closes in (timing will depend on where you live), bring the containers indoors after checking for insects that may have made a home on your plants.
Prune the plants back and bring them to a shady location. Leave them there for several transitional weeks to get them used to lower light levels.

Chapter 5


Basil lends itself to a spicy, mildly peppery flavor with just a trace of mint and clove. The best time to use basil is in its fresh state, but frozen or dried leaves are almost as good. Chop, mince, or crush the leaves before adding to your recipes, and don’t forget to eat the flowers as well.

Grow in full sun in a rich and moist soil. Shelter from cold and wind in colder weather, or move indoors as a potted plant. To extend useful plant life, pinch out flowering shoots, and root non-flowering side shoots in separate pots during summer for later use indoors.

Basil makes a great addition to the herb garden, so by all means grow some! The seeds can be sown outdoors after the ground temperature has reached 50 degrees. Place the seeds about 1/8 inch deep, thinning the plants one foot apart when the seedlings appear. Basil prefers a well drained rich soil, so planting with rotted manure or compost mixed in the soil is a good idea. Mulching after the seedlings have shot-up is beneficial and will be of great help in times of drought.

Creamy Bacon and Mushroom Sauce with Linguine
Serves 4

1/2 pound bacon
1 cup green onions (white part only), sliced
1/2 cup green onions (green part), minced
1 cup mushrooms (quartered)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons Essence (see below)
12 ounces linguine
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté bacon until soft brown, then remove from the pan. Save about 2 tablespoons of drippings to sauté the mushrooms and onions (white parts only) for about 2 to 3 minutes, then remove them from the pan.

Deglaze with white wine and reduce by half. Add chicken stock and reduce by half again. Add whipping cream and reduce until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Add remaining ingredients and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. If sauce is too thin, you may need to add some fresh lemon juice to tighten. Pour sauce over the cooked linguine. Garnish with green parts of onions. Serve and enjoy!

Herbal Italian Dressing
Serves 4

2 tablespoons Essence (see below)
1 tablespoon mustard
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup olive oil
Pepper to taste

To 2 tablespoons essence add mustard, pepper, and vinegar. While whisking this together, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until emulsified. Serve over a nice green salad.

Basil Lore

Rumor has it that the ancient Greek and Roman physicians believed that in order to achieve a good crop of basil, one had to shout and swear loudly. You can be the judge of that one!

Basil and Garlic Spread
Serves 8

2 tablespoons essence
1/2 cup unsalted butter

To softened butter add 2 tablespoons essence and mix together thoroughly. Spread over hard crusted bread and brown in the oven. You will love this one, I’m sure!


1 tablespoon dried or 2 tablespoons fresh basil
1 tablespoon dried or 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
3 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon sea salt

Work these ingredients together and use them in the recipes given or try in your own recipes. However you use this essence, I’m sure you will be pleased with the results.

Tropical Fru Frus
Serves 6

1 head iceberg lettuce
1 small carton cream cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 jar maraschino cherries
1 can crushed pineapple
1/2 cup pecans in broken pieces
1/3 cup coconut
1 teaspoon lemon basil leaves (optional)

Several hours before preparation time, mix the mayonnaise, cream cheese, and the basil (if available) together and chill. To prepare, wash the lettuce and tear off sections about the size of your hand.

Spread the cream cheese and mayonnaise mixture over the dried lettuce sections. Top with the remaining fruits and nuts. This makes a light dessert that would be easy to serve after a great pasta meal.

Basil Trivia

Known as the king of herbs, basil gets its name from the Greek word meaning royalty. With over 150 varieties, surely every household around the world has some use for it.

Grilled Marinated Chicken
Serves 4

4 boneless and skinned chicken breasts
1 recipe of Herbal Italian Dressing (see page 26)

In a gallon-size freezer bag place dressing and chicken and squeeze out all the air. Seal and place in refrigerator for 2 hours. Take out meat and place on a medium-high heat grill. Grill chicken 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Do not over cook as the chicken will dry out.

Grilled Marinated Beef
Serves 4

4 (6-ounce) favorite steaks
1 recipe of Herbal Italian Dressing (see page 26)

In a gallon size freezer bag place dressing and meat and squeeze out all the air. Seal and place in refrigerator for about 2 hours. Take out meat and place on a medium-high heat grill. Grill to desired doneness. Remember that if there is no give to the meat the more cooked it will be. To get a medium cooked steak touch the meat and if it gives a little it is cooked to perfection.

Italian Chicken
Serves 8

8 chicken breast halves
4 tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
1 cup Herbal Italian Dressing (see page 26)
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place chicken breasts, tomatoes and mushrooms in a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Combine dressing, green onion and oregano, and pour over chicken and vegetables. Bake 1 to 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Cooking Tip
If you check your pantry and you find that you have run out of basil do not despair, use oregano. If your recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of basil you should use 1 teaspoon of oregano as a replacement.

Tim and Jan’s Meatball Supreme
Serves 4

1 pound ground round
1/2 small onion, chopped
1/2 small green bell pepper, chopped
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/4 cup water
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 to 4 tablespoons cold pressed olive oil
2 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce
1 cup water
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
3 large potatoes, quartered
1 pound carrots, sliced in strips
2 large onions, quartered

Combine first 11 ingredients. Mix and form into 12 to 14 meatballs. Roll in flour. Brown in hot olive oil. Remove and set aside. Add tomato sauce, water and Worcestershire to pan drippings. Stir and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Layer meatballs and vegetables in a deep 4-quart casserole dish. Pour sauce over all and bake covered for about 1 hour in a 350-degree oven. Carrots should still be crisp. Serve and enjoy.

Tomato Bisque
Serves 4

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup minced onion
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup chicken stock
2 (14 1/2 -ounce) cans Italian plum tomatoes,
reserve juice
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 teaspoon dill weed
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in pan. Add onions and sauté until transparent. Lower heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly. Add milk and chicken stock. Whisk until smooth and thick. Puree tomatoes in blender.

Add puree, including juice, to sauce mixture and mix. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 45 minutes stirring frequently. Remember to remove bay leaf before serving.

Asian Grilled Chicken
Serves 4

4 boneless and skinned chicken breast
3 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons dried basil
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 cup teriyaki sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 cloves garlic minced
Black pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a gallon-size freezer bag. Add chicken and remove all the air from the bag and seal it up. Place in refrigerator for about 2 hours. Take out meat and place on mediumhigh heat grill. Grill 4 to 5 minutes on each side until done. Do not over cook as the chicken will become dried out.

  • Published on Feb 20, 2008
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