One of my favorite things about summer is growing edible plants in the garden. For me, it is relaxing, and it also reminds me of my Dad. We always had some kind of a garden when I was growing up. Sometimes not such a big one because he was a busy man, but I think it brought back memories of growing up on a farm in New Mexico, and he would talk about truck-farmers with respect – folks whose lives revolved around growing food to support their families. Of course, my Mom’s Dad had the greenest thumb ever. He grew exotic orchids in his back yard in Southern California and sent them to us every year so that my mother could make spectacular corsages for my brothers’ prom dates. Of course, he grew lots of other things, though by the time I was old enough to participate, we would go pick boysenberries so that my Grandmother could make amazing boysenberry cobblers and all sorts of other delicious things. So, I guess I come from a wonderful tradition of people who love to grow (and cook) food for their families.
Living in northern Arizona (forget trying to grow anything in the valley of the sun!), it’s just wild enough and just hot enough that there are limits to what we can grow (oh, and that part about being a weekend-only gardener, among other things). So there are only a few things I grow. Sweet 100 tomatoes, and then a myriad of herbs. One of my favorites that I have found is cinnamon-basil. It has a beautiful aroma, and I just can’t get enough. Sure, there’s sweet basil, sometimes Thai basil, purple basil (when I can get it to grow), African purple basil – but it’s always a treat to find cinnamon basil and growing it in the garden.
About two ago, I made some peach-basil jam. I had found a recipe for nectarine-basil a few years ago, but of course I didn’t have time to do the whole process – and didn’t really want the texture it described. But when I made the peach-basil a couple of years ago, the version I made was great! One of my friends’ favorites. So, this year, I decided that I would take advantage of the bountiful basil I was growing – and thought why not go back to the original – OK, with a tweak!
I wanted to end up with some slices of nectarine, suspended in a fragrant, jewel-like jelly.
I have learned that basil, when left in the jam as it cooks gets brittle – so decided I would go with macerating the basil with the sugar and nectarines. I used 2-3 large branches of basil, and bruised the basil – leaving in the stems, since I’d be removing them and they would impart fairly strong flavor..
I used just over 4 cups of nectarines sliced very thinly, the basil, 1/3 c lemon juice and 7.5 cups of sugar. Usually I’m a fast canner (I can make a batch of jam in 30 minutes if I try – and that includes clean-up), since I most-often use pectin. This time, I decided to take others’ advice and let the fruit, herbs and sugar sit – infusing the sugar and juice with the cinnamon-basil flavor. (note: this is the process for liquid pectin – I don’t often use it for jams, but makes wonderful jelly – and allowed me to have the sugar, fruit and herbs sit and combine flavors)
As it turned out, this left me some time to run some errands and go pick up some corn and other vegetables from my favorite vegetable stand. So, this mixture sat for around 5 hours or so (this can be left for up to 8 hours, but after that, must be refrigerated). Before I could finish up my nectar, I had to remove the basil in the mix. Already it had started to toughen and get brittle. I took some time because there were some small pieces from getting this all mixed up. I strained the herbs as well.
Finally, ready to go – all of the jars, rings, lids simmering away. All of the other tools ready too – and a few fresh basil leaves – one for each jar, ready for the process. The packets of pectin, cut open and propped up, ready for the quick action of completing the recipe. One note: I always use the tip of adding just a 1/2 teaspoon of butter to keep the foam down from the pectin – and I also find that Ball brand creates less foam as well.
The process is easy – and I followed the directions on the box. The fruit mixture is heated to boiling (one that is hard enough that you can’t stir it down), then 2 packages of liquid pectin are added. The mixture is brought back to a full rolling boil for one minute. This is the trickiest part – it can boil over, and it can also bubble drops of molten sugar out of the pan – so just be forewarned. Stir the entire time – and I usually partially move the pan on and off of the high heat to maintain the boil, but keep it safe!
Finally, the jars are filled and capped off. As noted, I added one basil leaf to each jar (it’s pretty and reminds me that’s what’s in there until I get the labels on!). Process per the directions. This is easy/not dangerous canning – since there is so much sugar, and the acid from the lemon juice.
I ended up with a couple of extra jars – supposed to be 7 jars, I ended up with 9. A nice problem to have. I think the color is gorgeous, and what I tasted was delicious!
So, what will I use it for? I actually love this kind of thing on good toast, or a bagel. But what I really think is divine is to pair with cheese. This will pair so well with so many delicious options. Manchego, burratta, brie, a soft goat cheese… or even simple cream cheese. I also think it will be fabulous drizzled in lieu of honey over crostini with a soft gorgonzola. So many options! Of course, this would also make a wonderful glaze for grilled salmon or chicken.
Nectarine Cinnamon-Basil Nectar
4 – 1/4 cups thinly sliced nectarines
2 large bunches of cinnamon-basil (or any other basil – purple would be lovely)
1/3 c lemon juice
7 1/2 cups sugar
(1/2 teaspoon butter)
2 packets liquid pectin