My first real memory of basil came when I was very young. I remember the day as if it were yesterday and every time I smell basil, I’m transported back in time.
We lived in Philadelphia, and in the summer we would pile into the family car and drive one and a half hours to my cousin’s home in Atlantic City, N.J. We would drive past farms filled with incredibly sweet Silver Queen corn, beefsteak tomatoes the size of softballs, peaches so fresh I could see the peach fuzz from the car, and rows and rows and rows of fragrant basil.
Cousin Jeannie’s apartment was filled with produce, fruit and herbs, all picked fresh from those farms. The scent of basil was everywhere and had a magical effect on me. The only basil I knew lived in a small jar cramped with other dried spices in a cabinet that rarely saw the light of day. Jeannie’s basil lived in colorful flowerpots that lined the windowsill in rooms with a sunny view. Jeannie would let me clip fresh basil and showed me how to gently tear the leaves by hand, and sprinkle the beautiful green pieces on just about everything we ate — like those Jersey beefsteak tomatoes, fresh pasta, homemade focaccia and those juicy, delicious peaches.