Revolutionary Joy…and basil.

Revolutionary Joy…and basil. July 30, 2011

I’m ridiculously happy about basil. It’s growing like mad, this basil that started out months ago as seeds started inside, and yesterday I pulsed cups and cups of it in the food processor, adding just enough olive oil to keep the processor running smoothly, poured that green stuff into a silicone muffin tin to freeze, then finally popped the little discs of green into freezer bags, to be deployed sometime this winter as pesto, in soups and maybe even in a winter ratatouille.

I love growing things from seeds. There’s an aspect of faith to it. You open the packet–which almost always has either beautiful photography of the mature plant OR an artist’s rendering thereof–and see the most unlikely looking little flecks. The distance between those flecks and a grown up plant is huge. Can one tiny black speck–a basil seed–produce anything at all? I confess that I never seem to believe that it will.

But, very slowly, with lots of patience and care, those seeds germinate. They sprout, opening tiny, tiny leaves and sending down tiny, almost invisible roots. If you pull one of these sprouts apart, it already smells like the basil it is, and will eventually be. It will get bigger and bigger until, finally, the almanac tells you the danger of frost is over, and then it will look tiny and vulnerable when you put it outside in the garden.

And then, when summer’s heat is growing more and more intense, you’ll look and suddenly that basil is not fragile but formidable, its stalk thick and strong, its semi-gloss leaves big and bold and pungent. It’s then that you can make Caprese salad, fresh pesto, and whatever else you fancy. You can put some aside, like I did, for the time when those plants are buried under snow. And you can let some go to seed and save those unlikely flecks for next spring. 

(You can read more about how to freeze basil here, and how to grow it here! I used heirloom seeds from Baker Creek.)

Is it silly to get so excited about basil? Maybe. But maybe that’s okay. Especially for someone who spent 10 years being afraid of enjoying food. Finding joy in basil grown from seed returns me to a place of joyful creativity that’s not (I imagine) unlike the Creator’s joy. It reassures me that even black specks of nothing can turn into something beautiful and delicious, something that brings three generations to the table and gives them delight. No money changes hands, nothing goes in the trash or even the recycling. It’s a gift from God. And I’m grateful!

“Joy, like worship itself, is revolutionary, liberating, dangerous and deeply counter-cultural, enabling us to resist the forces that would seek to enslave us, and to laugh at their absurdities…”

Richard Johnson

“Commentary – Acts 16:25-34” in Third Way Magazine (2006)

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