August 23, 2020
These days my morning meditation time is spent first in the garden and then in the kitchen. The basil hedge calls, “Nancy, it is time to make pesto.”
Before clipping enough basil for two batches of pesto, I run my palms through the leaves, filling the coolness of the morning air with the aroma that whispers, “green,” “fresh,” “delicious.” I smell my hands, telling myself to remember this day when the garden is bare and in hibernation.
I fill the gathering basket and promise I will harvest more the next day –and the day after that until both the basil and I, the harvester, are done.
On the way back into the house, my gathering basket on my arm, I pause and listen to the bees humming as they keep the allium company. I know this may sound silly, but they remind me of the llamas humming their own sweet songs when we lived at Sweetwater Farm. Stay in the present. You can write about the past in a minute, I tell myself.
Now it is time to transform basil into pesto.
Sprinkled clean, the basil leaves air dry–two cups of basil for each batch of pesto. One of my tricks is to cover the leaves with a towel and roll a rolling pin over the top, releasing and exploding the basil flavor. My food processor awaits–the basil, nuts and garlic first, followed by a mix of olive and vegetable oil. Then grated Romano and Parmesan cheese with salt and pepper to taste.
I spoon the, let’s be honest, messy mix into a freezer bag. Yes, I know the trick of storing the pesto in refrigerator trays and using it one cube at a time, and that is a good idea, but storing it in freezer bags means it lays flat, leaving more space.
Then on to batch number two.
And tomorrow batch three and four.
As I separate the leaves from the stems and later as I put away the needed ingredients and clean the kitchen, how easily I remember other pesto making days and even before that how I became enamored with using herbs in cooking and growing my own herbs.
One summer when our children were young, we took a family vacation in the Boston area. One of our stops was the Plymouth Plantation where I had a fascinating conversation with a woman who was tending an herb garden. She stayed in perfect character–a woman in early colonial days– as I asked her about the herbs she was growing. I wanted to know what her favorite herbs were for cooking and she was surprised by my question, for she used herbs for medicinal purposes. That brief encounter led me to a desire to know more–and, of course, I amassed a library of books about herbs.
That interest led to a small herb garden complete with a white picket fence in our small St Paul backyard, but later, when we lived at Sweetwater Farm in Ohio I had a chance –and the space–to more fully indulge my interest in herbs. Thyme, rosemary, sage, of course. Chives, cilantro, oregano, dill, tarragon, marjoram, a variety of mints. But I also loved lemon balm and lemon verbena for lemonade and other summer drinks. And lavender–perhaps my favorite. I grew lavender right outside the back door where I could enjoy the laundry fresh scent with each going out and coming in. I dried long stem bundles and later filled sachet bags to hang in closets and tuck in dresser drawers.
On pesto making days I moved from my tiny kitchen to the harvest table, spreading the bounty across the surface. I became a pesto making factory. Sometimes friends joined me for the process–each taking home a batch or two.
Oh, how I loved and am grateful for that time of my life.
I grew herbs mainly for food, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t healing. Walking in the Sweetwater Farm gardens the summer of my mother’s recurrence of colon cancer and my diagnosis of uterine cancer soothed me. I extended healing and loving blessings to spiritual direction clients when I offered a carefully tied bundle of lavender or fresh sprigs of rosemary and thyme. I gave thanks for the bounties of creation as I tended the earth. I thought about my grandmother, who loved to garden, and wished she had been able to visit us at Sweetwater Farm.
I am in a time of my life when memories rush like a waterfall. Everything seems to remind me of something. The present leads me gently into the past–not to be stuck there and not even to pretend those were the “good old days,” but more simply as a reminder of all the days I have been privileged to live. And to note growth where it has occurred, but also those darker, tighter spaces where more growth is needed.
Pesto over spaghetti is in the future. Cold winter nights when a reminder of summer is just what is needed. Meal times when I am tired of or bored with cooking. How jolly to open the freezer and pull out a bag of pesto. I make sure to never be without pasta in the pantry.
I know others who buy bushels of tomatoes or corn on the cob and spend hours in the kitchen preparing the bounty for later enjoyment. Or those who make strawberry or peach jam.
When we do this, we are not only preparing food for another day, but we are harvesting and storing memories.
And, taking in the smells and sights and tastes of the present moment, we are in the midst of spiritual practice.
What do you harvest from your garden–your internal or external garden? I would love to know.