July 13th-15th 2020 – Take a breath, Smell the summer

Summer is most definitely here. No doubt about it! And although this summer rolled in relatively gently, not bashing us full-force on the head, the air is still heavy and humid, temperatures are high, and we no longer enjoy the occasional respites of cooler days. At Chubeza, it’s work in the stifling heat, day in and day out.

Summer is also a time of goodbyes, and this week we bid farewell to Gadi and Tamir’s amazing blueberries that have been with us for the past few months. They will return next spring, and until then we will just have to crave them…

Summer exudes the aroma of the ocean, the swimming pool, and suntan lotion. It carries the fragrance of ripe fruit – melon, figs, grapes, overripe peaches, and more. In our packing house, summer has a very distinct aroma of basil. When the basil-laden boxes stand in the packing house, it is hard to ignore the heady scent in the air that spurs the taste buds to fantasize on pesto.

After some years in which we grew basil and were burned by vicious diseases that attacked and destroyed any green leaf in the vicinity, we took a break for several years. When we tried again, we failed repeatedly. But–this year we decided to try a new disease-resistant (or so we’re told) basil variety. At the start, we cautiously seeded it in smaller beds, which is why it was an infrequent guest in your boxes. Later, we expanded the planting. And now, the time has come to declare Basil as the aromatic star of this week’s Newsletter!

Basil

Basil is an annual plant. In wintertime, it wilts from the cold. Sometimes it can survive the winter if it happens to be a protected indoor plant (in a sunny corner). Basil is quite common in such warm areas of the world as Asia, Africa, Southern Europe, and California. It belongs to the prominent Labiatae family, but unlike some of its local celebrity cousins like hyssop, lavender, sage, thyme, mint and others, basil does not grow wild in Israel. It is very common as a cultured growth in nurseries, where it grows easily, so long as it receives at least six hours of sun daily.

Although it is a celebrated insect repellent (more on that later), growing basil is not an easy task due to its susceptibility to leaf diseases, specifically the Peronospora which attacks the leaves and causes them to blacken and wilt. Which is why most of our attempts at growing basil in the past involved a very small quantity of yield, and a major amount of disappointment. This year we were informed of a new species, Prospera, developed in Israel by researchers from Bar Ilan University and the Israeli seed company Genesis. So far, we have been satisfied by the results and hope this new variety allows us to go back to regularly growing summer basil and to return that heady fragrance to Chubeza’s summer boxes!

There are various explanations as to its name. Perhaps basil is named for the basilica, an elongated church structure where quantities of basil were grown in its nurseries. Perhaps it comes from the word Basilus, Greek for “king,” a title possibly earned by its plentiful medicinal properties. In Hebrew and Arabic, it is Rechan, to mark its powerful fragrance (“re-ach”). The word Rechan appears in Midrash Konen (Brayta d’Maase B’reshit): The third temple is constructed of silver and gold and all sorts of gems and jewels, and it is very large and all the goods of heaven and earth are there. And all varieties of sweet delicacies and varieties of fragrances and varieties of rechan are planted there.

Folklore attributes the name to a menacing dragon named Basilia. Anyone who set eyes on this creature died a strange death, prevented only by a magic basil potion. To this day, basil is known as a proven remedy against annoying pests (a tad smaller than dragons….), which is why in Italy and France it is grown on windowsills. An opposing belief held that basil attracts scorpions and their sting as well, which is why it was customary to apply a basil leaf compress to a poisonous insect sting in order to draw the venom. Basil is planted in combined vegetable gardens with the goal of attracting beneficial insects and repelling flies and mosquitos. Planting basil alongside tomatoes and asparagus actually improves their flavor!

Basil also acts as a secret partner in romance. When a Sicilian woman removes the basil plant from her windowsill, it is a sign to her lover that he may climb right up to her room. But it also assists Cupid in other ways: in Southern Italy, girls would don a garland of basil in their hair to signify their innocence and attract beaus. There, basil is actually called Bacia Nicola (Kiss me, Nicholas). A Romantic Italian man wishing to display his love would wear a sprig of basil in his lapel. In India, it is a talisman warding off evil from a couple’s fertility, which is why Indian women cultivate basil around their homes and temples.

The Jews of Morocco, Yemen, Algeria and Tunisia use basil plants (usually purple basil) for their fragrance in the blessing over spices at the Havdala ceremony at Sabbath’s end. Basil’s wide range of varieties include colors from deep green to deep purple, leaves both serrated and smooth, and varying tastes. The one trait all basil types share is its very distinctive fragrance… there is simply no doubt about it!

Basil Collection

In folk medicine, basil tea is used to treat stomach ailments, and basil abstract is beneficial for skin diseases. A blend of various herbs and basil is prescribed for insomnia sufferers, and eating basil seeds along with the leaves helps strengthen the heart. The etheric oil found in basil leaves boasts many antibacterial, antiseptic and antifungal virtues. It contains linalool, methyl chavicol, and eugenol which encourage perspiration and healthy abdominal function, treat respiratory diseases and encourage lactation for nursing mothers. Basil also contains vitamins A and C.

Basil tea (8 leaves to one cup of boiling water) eases a cough, soothes gassy intestines, relieves painful gums and menstrual cramps, and keeps blood pressure balanced. It also lulls to bed those who seek a good night’s sleep.

And lastly – how to store basil fresh:

As stated, basil loves warmth and suffers in the cold, which is why keeping it in the refrigerator under 12 degrees will make it turn black and rot. But since it is a gentle green leaf, it will wilt if simply left on your counter.

Which is why to elongate its life, cut off the bottom of the stems just as you would a flower bouquet, and place the garland in a vase or glass of water (3-5 cm). Place the vase in a well-lit space and cover the leaves in a plastic bag with holes for the first 24 hours. Within a few days the leaves will grow roots which will provide your basil with vitality and keep it fresh for a week or more.

So together with our lovely basil, we wish you all wonderful, fragrant, safe days of summer, full of love and good health.

Alon, Bat Ami, Dror, Orin and all of us at Chubeza

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WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?

Monday: Zucchini, lettuce, corn, melon/watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes, New Zealand spinach/basil/Swiss chard, okra/yellow string beans/lubia yard-long beans/slice of pumpkin, coriander, eggplant/bell peppers/potatoes, cherry tomatoes.

Large box, in addition: Scallions/onions, parsley, acorn squash/butternut squash/ Amoro pumpkin

FRUIT BOXES: Grapes, apples, mango. Large box, in addition: Peaches. Small box, in addition: Bananas

Wednesday: Zucchini, lettuce, corn, melon/watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes, acorn squash/butternut squash/Amoro pumpkin, coriander, eggplant/potatoes, cherry tomatoes. Small boxes only: New Zealand spinach/basil/Swiss chard

Large box, in addition: Scallions/onions, parsley, okra/yellow string beans/lubia yard-long beans, bell peppers/slice of pumpkin.

FRUIT BOXES: Grapes, apples, mango. Large box, in addition: Peaches. Small box, in addition: Bananas