John and Mary Ellen Warchol cannot take a visitor on a tour of their display garden without urging smells and tastes.
“Lemon basil makes a fabulous pesto. Taste,” John says.
“Taste this. The smaller leaves are very flavorful,” Mary Ellen says.
“Mmmmm. Thai basil really is different. Spicy,” I agree.
I did not taste all 40 of the types of basil the Warchols grow but I gained a new appreciation for the variety of flavors that appear in just this one herb.
I was particularly taken with a purple basil, Alchemist, that is new to the Warchols this year. They explained that the dark basils have wonderful flavor but don’t look very pretty when they are cooked so they like to use them in salads. Or in herbal vinegar. Their Ruby Basil vinegar is not only savory, it is gorgeous, sparkling red, in its bottle.
For the past 25 years or so the Warchols, and Mary Ellen’s sister, Denise Lemay have operated Stockbridge Herbs, selling herbal products, giving workshops and cooking demonstrations. In fact, they will be cooking at the Greenfield Farmers Market today, September 5.
I can personally attest to their cooking skills. At the spring Master Gardeners Symposium I attended their presentation and enjoyed several garlic recipes. I was not surprised that they cooked and served roasted garlic and luscious garlic minestrone, but the garlic scape cheesecake and roasted garlic and apple spice cake were unexpected, and delicious. Mary Ellen said her sister Denise is ‘the garlic queen’.
John and Mary Ellen live in a house built by John’s grandfather, on land he began farming in 1903. In those days tobacco and asparagus were the main crops. John’s father added Holsteins. But when it was John’s turn to take over, the cows had to go. Dairy farming and John and Mary Ellen’s teaching schedules did not mesh.
The business began when Mary Ellen and Denise wanted to sell their counted cross stitch embroidery, but soon came to see that their sideline, herbs and herbal mixtures from John’s garden, were the way to make money. They didn’t completely give up the sewing aspects of their business, although there isn’t much in the way of embroidery. Lavender is an important part of their business in items like sachets and eye pillows as well as bridal items like a ring bearer’s pillow and a lavender filled bridal garter.
Several years ago Stockbridge Herbs joined with Sandra Cardinal of Johnson Hill Lavender Farm and Carol Doerphalz of Glenbrook Gardens to form Herban Learning Adventures. Once a teacher, always a teacher! On Saturday, September 19, they will be offering a workshop at Glenbrook Gardens in Greenfield devoted to making herbal culinary products. Participants will be able to make their own Ruby Basil vinegar, as well as herbal cordials and syrups, sugars, and salts. I use herbs in my cooking because they add such savor, but I haven’t thought much about the many ways other than drying or freezing they can be preserved and used all year long. Full information is on their website, www.stockbridgeherbs.com
John is an enthusiastic gardener, not satisfied with only herbs. He has 30 tomato plants, each one a different variety, as well as other vegetables. This year he planted a separate 8×10 foot plot with vegetables and herbs to show how very much could be grown in a tiny space: tomatoes, peppers, squash, pole beans, eggplant, beets, parsley, basil and cilantro – and then I lost track. There was only a plant or two of each item, but the experiment was persuasive. Even a very tiny garden can supply a couple with a many meals of delicious healthful vegetables. Well seasoned, too.
Since many of us have more than a single plant or two of squash or beans, I want to remind you all that any surplus you can’t handle can be donated to local food pantries around the county like the Salvation Army on Chapman Street, the Center for Self Reliance on Osgood Street and the Survival Center on Fourth Street in Turner’s Falls and the Orange Food Pantry on Main Street in Orange. A full listing of agencies accepting produce in any amount is online: www.plantarowwmass.blogspot.com. ###
I don’t often include recipes but Denise Lemay’s Garlic Minestrone is a perfect summer recipe when the harvest is at its height.
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
4 T. fresh marjoram leaves
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
4 large cloves garlic chopped
1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced in ¼ inch rounds
4 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1 medium red potato, cut in ½ inch pieces
2 carrots cut into ¼ inch half circles
2 large coarsely chopped ripe tomatoes (or 2 c. canned tomatoes)
1 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels
2 zucchini cut into ¼ inch quarter rounds
1 c. fresh or frozen cut green beans
¾ c. cooked Italian white beans
1 c. basil leaves, sliced into a chiffonade
Salt and pepper to taste.
Heat oil in havy stockpot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Saute til translucent, about 8 minutes. Add marjoram, fennel and carros. Cook until vegetables begin to soften (10-14 min) Stir frequently. Add stock and 1 t. salt, and pepper to taste. Add potatoes and tomatoes. Simmer 10 min. Add corn and beans. Cook til potatoes are tender. Raise heat to high and add white beans. Cook 2 more min. Remove from heat. Add zucchini and half the basil. Adjust seasoning and add a splash of lemon juice. Ladle into bowls and garnish with remaining basil. Serve with freshly grated parmesean cheese.