Classic Basil Pesto

Classic Basil Pesto With an abundance of ripe heirloom tomatoes and Italian basil this month, the two flavors are naturals to be enjoyed together. Doesn't this pesto look like green gold? I started my basil from planted rows of basil seed tape. This was a new method, which looking back worked out well. It took a while for the seedlings to rev up, but with our recent heat, all the basil took off.

I had an abundance of vine-ripened Sun Gold and Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes from the garden. The vibrant color alone is so beautiful.  These tomatoes are  ripe, sweet and ready to eat. I halved the cherry tomatoes, and added a little coarse sea salt and pepper. I then set the tomatoes aside, until the pasta was cooked.

I made the Classic Basil Pesto recipe out of the new The Sunset Edible Garden Cookbook: Fresh, Healthy Cooking from the GardenSunset mentions that they originally published this recipe in 1959, and back them suggested serving it over sliced fresh mozzarella slices. When I made this recipe, I doubled it. I would not suggest doubling the garlic amount, when doubling the recipe.

I have really enjoyed this new edible cookbook, and would highly recommend it. It is a great natural step for the gardener, and how to best use one's harvest. I like the recipes, the format, and the photos. There are many more tempting pesto recipes to try, too. Parsley-Mint Pistachio Pesto, Swiss Chard Pesto Pasta, Arugula Pesto Farfalle anyone?

Please share  your favorite pesto recipe from the garden.


Herb Garden a la Wine Barrels

Herb Garden a la Wine Barrels This spring I created a small herb garden in a quiet, sunny, protected corner next to my barn using vintage wine barrels. I borrowed this concept, modifying it slightly, from Rosalind Creasy's, Edible Landscaping book. This is a terrific book for incorporating more edibles in your landscaping. Rosalind has a whole chapter on "Designing With Herbs."

An "herb garden a la wine barrels," was multi-dimensional for me. My husband, John, and I make wine, and have access to used wine barrels. We have a functional barn, with a trio of wine barrels already planted with blueberry bushes and strawberries on the right side, why not do something on the left with wine barrels, such as herbs. This particular spot is also close to my kitchen, a must for any herb garden.

I used a trio of half barrels from standard wine barrels, cut in half. You can find these types of barrels for sale at home improvement stores such as Home Depot and Dixieline, nurseries, and garden centers. For my second top row, I used a smaller 15 gallon wine barrel, cut in half and sanded along the edges. All wine barrels need to have spaced holes drilled for adequate drainage. I also placed my bottom wine barrels on top of carefully placed river rocks to save the barrels from rotting in the soil, and allowing further drainage.

Since the barrels are big, it is best to use a sterile filler or upside down one gallon size plastic plant containers. It will save you on filling the entire barrel with soil, mulch, etc. I simply placed my second row, and smaller wine barrels securely on the sides of the base half-barrels, using their weight to stabilize them.

Fill your barrels with clean potting soil, almost to the rim of each barrel. You can add an irrigation system if you like. I chose not to. Select your favorite herbs, and plant. I planted chives, winter savory, curly parsley, Italian parsley, tarragon, sorrel, Italian oregano, sage, cinnamon basil, and Italian basil. Choose herbs that you use frequently in your cooking, and a mixture of annual and perennial herbs. Choose some herbs that have a trailing habit, so as they grow and establish themselves, they will spill over the barrels. As time goes on, you can always switch out herbs for new ones when needed.

Add a layer of mulch on top of your soil, and around your herbs.  Newly planted herbs like to be kept moist initially, and water moderately once established.

Please share if you grow herbs to cook with. Please share how your herb garden is set up and designed.

Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula

It seems like the simplest recipes are the best, especially when it comes to tantalizing summer flavors. I recently found in my "recipe archives" a recipe I had saved from The New York Times, July 2008, by Martha Rose Shulman, Recipes for Health, Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula. This recipe is easy, simply delicious, and healthy for you.

If you have an abundance of cherry tomatoes in your garden and fresh basil, you must try this recipe. The secret to this recipe, is combining all of these fresh ingredients-- arugula, cherry tomatoes, basil, garlic, sea salt,and olive oil in a bowl, and let them meld and infuse for 15 minutes. Make your pasta, and then toss with your tomato-arugula mixture. Add your cheese. Heaven!

Cherry tomatoes grow well in my kitchen garden, and often times as volunteers out of the compost. One of my favorites is Sun Gold Cherry Tomato, so sweet, it is like candy.

Please share your favorite cherry tomatoes you like to grow. Please comment on how you like to use your fresh tomatoes in your summer cooking.

Hundreds of Herbs

Pearson's Gardens I want to share with you some of the exceptional places that I come across from time to time. These places are gems and not to be missed if you are in the area, or they could even be a destination. Most have a “garden thread” to them. “Places To Know” can be retail, restaurants, nurseries, and other. Whatever the place, expect the unusual.

Can't find Chocolate Mint, Dark Opal Basil, or Cat Mint at your local nursery. You can find them all at Pearson's Gardens, along with about 800 other herbs. Pearson's Gardens is a specialty nursery who grow potted herbs, potted heirloom vegetables, scented geraniums, unusual edibles, and ethnobotanical herbs. (Ethnobotanical, is an adjective describing the scientific study of traditional knowledge and customs of a people relating to their use of plants for medical, religious, and other uses.)

Tucked away in the hills of Vista, this nursery is a treat to visit. All of Pearson's Gardens plants are naturally grown in rich organic soil, and plain ol' Southern California sun. No chemicals or pesticides are used here. If you are not in the vicinity their herbs may be purchased online, too.

Whether you are new to incorporating herbs into your life, or a veteran in gardening and cooking with them, Pearson's Gardens will still surprise you at their vast selection and "herb niche" they have created. Thank you, Cindy and Mark, always kind and gracious when visiting them on site, were happy to respond to my e-mail interview questions about their business below. Pearson's Gardens, 1150 Beverly Drive, Vista, CA 92084. (tel) (760) 726-0717, Monday through Friday, 9am - 4pm.

1) How did you and Mark get started in the herb nursery business? Was it a hobby that blossomed? Your intention all along to grow herbs? Why herbs in particular?

We began growing herbs out of personal interest and as a sideline to our indoor & exotic plant business. Personally, I didn't think it would ever amount to much because herbs had such low regard in the gardening community. However, with better cultivation techniques herbs broke into the mainstream of both culinary and garden circles. As public demand grew, our herb selection grew from about 50 common varieties to over 800!

Why herbs? Both Mark and I are lifelong health nuts. We have always sought out natural, healthy, homegrown foodstuffs. Herbs were a pursuit waiting to happen....

2) With the popularity today of growing your own edibles, has this trend affected your business in any way?

The recent explosion of interest in growing edibles has encouraged us to expand our offerings to include a significant selection of gourmet vegetables, heirloom tomatoes, and more truly unusual edibles from around the world.

3) Is there anything that you would like to say about herbs, (growing, cooking, in the garden), that people might not know about? You can be general or specific.

In the realm of herbs exists the story of history itself. Herbs have been carried in ships by early explorers, by wind and birds, and in pockets of immigrants seeking a new homeland. In their travels they bring part of the culture from the place the journey began.

4) I think I heard you speak of culinary chefs seeking you out for certain harder to find herbs. Please name some of them, and what they might be used for.

Yerba Santa/Hoja Santa Piper sanctum is used in Mexican and Central American cuisine as a flavor infusing wrap, as well as to flavor sauces and entrees.

Mentuccia/ Nepitella Calamintha nepeta, native to Tuscany, might be thought of as a minty oregano flavor that is paired inseparably with mushrooms.

5) Who are your customers, local and online? Do you have specialty clients for certain herbs?

Since we grow an extensive selection of international culinary and ethnobotanical herbs, people from very continent walk through out gate!

6) You sell over 70 lavender varieties. Which is your favorite and why?

It's hard to narrow it down to just one. We favor Sweet Lavender for its year-round color. For fragrance and culinary use, it's a tie between Provence and Grosso.

7) If someone was new to growing herbs, and wanted to start using culinary herbs, what are your top ten basic recommendations?

The short answer is - the ones you use!

1. Basil 2. Parsley 3. Sage, Berggarten or Sage of Bath 4. Chives 5. Mint, Kentucky Colonel 6. Oregano, Greek 7. Rosemary 8. Tarragon, French 9. Dill 10. Cilantro

You are now growing heirloom vegetables and tomatoes besides herbs. Is this one of your new directions? Are there other directions you are going?

We are definitely continuing to expand our offerings of vegetables, tomatoes, as well as international and exotic edibles.

9) Are there any trends with selling herbs that you have noticed?

We are seeing more men, as well as young adults with a new found interest in herbs and edible gardening

10) Is there anything you would like to add, or mention? There is an exciting trend of edible landscaping and co-mingling herbs and vegetables within ornamental gardens. In doing so, gardeners should always remember to use food-safe products and practices.

Rows and Rows of Healthy Herbs

Please comment if you use herbs in your life now. Please share which herbs are your favorites.

If You Love Lavender...

Heading to Provence in Search of Lavender? Special guest writer, Julie Mautner, gives us an insider's view on lavender in Provence. If you  have never seen fields of Provence lavender bursting in bloom, a trip to Provence could be in your future.

Food and travel writer Julie Mautner has lived in St. Remy de Provence on and off for more than ten years. Prior to running off to the South of France, she was the executive editor of Food Arts Magazine in New York for ten years. Today she freelances for food and travel magazines, and sites in the US and UK. Julie's popular blog, The Provence Post is a written pulse on Provence. Her first book, The Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival Cookbook, will be published by Clarkson Potter in November 2010...VintageGardenGal

Driving or biking through Provence in mid-summer, you’ll see lavender fields of every size and hue. The main growing area is the triangle between Sault, Banon and Sederon, and another prominent area spreads out on the other side of Mont Ventoux, north of Nyons. But pretty much all of Provence is radiant with the famous Blue Gold, as lavender is known, throughout the month of July.

The first lavender distilleries began production in the 1880s, and by 1929 there were 47 stills around the town of Sault alone. Today, the tiny town of Sault is still considered the lavender capital of Provence and its three distilleries are open to the public. The Sault Tourist Office offers seven guided tours of the principal lavandicoles or growing sites. In the town of Coustellet, you'll find a small museum devoted to lavender production, complete with a collection of copper stills dating from the 16th century.

If you time your trip right, you may catch a village lavender festival, like the ones in Sault and Valreas, or the biggie, the four-day Corso de la Lavande, in the mountain spa town of Digne-les-Baines. Held the first weekend in August, the festival offers lavender for sale in every form imaginable, edible and otherwise, and a parade of large flower-decked floats. A municipal truck leads the parade, spraying the roads with lavender water and leaving the entire town awash in the distinctive summery scent.

Don’t feel like going it alone? A lavender-themed tour is a great way to get the experience. This year, for example, an Australian company called Aroma Tours has organized five different Provencal trips including a Lavender Tour to be held July 23rd to 30th. Provence Reservation and City Discovery both offer one-day lavender tours from Avignon while others book similar half and full day tours out of Aix-en-Provence. Whichever tour operator you choose, rest assured you’ll be knee deep in lavender before well before lunch.

Around Provence you'll find scores of edible lavender goodies being made and sold, in shops, open-air markets and even larger grocery stores. In St. Remy, the cookie and sweet shop called Au Petit Duc sells little tins of crystallized lavender seeds, to be nibbled after garlicky meals, and biscuits à la lavande. Next door to Petit Duc, patissier Joel Durand sells homemade chocolates flavored with lavender, rosemary and other botanicals.

Lavender tea is a soothing drink thought by many to have medicinal qualities. But if you want something with more kick, you can get that from lavender too. And for that you don’t even need a passport.

Lisa Averbuch says her favorite flavor of all time is—wait for it—lavender. So it makes sense that her company, Loft Organic Liqueurs in Emeryville, California, turns out a killer lavender liqueur called Lavender Cello. (The whole company was inspired, she says, by the famous lemony Italian digestif. They also produce liqueurs made from lemongrass, ginger, raspberry, blueberry and tangerine.) Available year round, the lavender liqueur has all the floral aromas and smooth flavors you’ld expect, without any additives, preservatives, artificial flavors “or other items you would find in a Twinkie,” Averbuch says.

If you’re heading for France and plan to hit the lavender trail, there are many resources that can help.

The French Tourism Development Agency, also known as Atout France, offers an online guide for lavender lovers. To download it, click here France Guide Brochures, and scroll down to the publication called “Rhone Alpes: Lavender Routes 2009.”

The Association Grande Traversée des Alpes, ( also offers useful info about lavender and “La Route de la Lavande.” On the site you’ll find suggestions for the best drives and hikes, plus distillieries, lavender-themed activities, hiking, workshops and more.

And you’ll find more great lavender info on these two sites:

Sources and Resources Hint: To call from the U.S., precede all phone numbers with 011-33, and drop the first 0.

*Tourist Office, Sault., 04-90-64-01-21

*Tourist Office, Valreas., 04-90-35-04-71

*Tourist Office, Digne-les-Bains., 04-92-31-50-02

*Musee de la Lavande. Route de Gordes, Cabrieres d'Avignon, 84220 Coustellet. 04-90-76-91-23. Fax 04-90-76-85-52.

*Au Petit Duc, St. Remy, 04-90-92-08-31,

*Joel Durand Chocolatier, 04-90-92-38-25,

*Lavender Cello is made by Loft Liqueurs,Emeryville, California,,

*Lavender Tours are available from many companies including:

City Discovery (

Provence Reservation (

Aroma Tours (

If You Love Lavender...concludes our "Encore Provence Series" with special guest writers Julie Mautner and James Clay. Many thanks for their delightful writing and armchair travel to charming Provence. Please share your comments.