Last night, my kitchen was filled with the aroma of fresh basil. The whole house was, in fact, awash in the pungent, spicy, minty fragrance, and when we awoke this morning it still lingered, despite the fresh, cool air wafting in the windows all night off the river.
Douglas and I were up late — for us — preparing the fabulous and versatile Italian seasoning sauce known as pesto. We washed the dust off a big basketful of basil leaves harvested from our garden and used a food processor to grind it up fine in small batches, along with lots of peeled garlic, some pine nuts from the co-op, a slug of olive oil and handfuls of shredded Parmesan cheese. It’s a simple alchemy that results in a sublime concoction that freezes beautifully in small plastic tubs and can be used months later, in the dead of winter or the dreary leadup to spring, to season a savory soup or pasta dish with the evocative scent of high summer.
Summer is a short season here in Maine. This one is slipping past before we’ve managed to swap the barbeque grill for the snow blower at the front of the garage. Each morning, the sun shines in a little later through the bedroom window, a little further south along the eastern horizon. Dusk comes earlier; we gathered our basil last night by flashlight, and it wasn’t even 8 o’clock.
But late August is a demi-season all its own, with the best of summer mingling with early hints of fall. We can count on some beach days ahead, and time to enjoy the garden. But the little swamp maples are tinged with scarlet, and the kids in our neighborhood will be back in school next week. There’s time to both savor the lingering warmth of summer and anticipate the pleasures of autumn ahead.
Speaking of heading back to school, I had fun last week writing about the Maine Senior College network. At 17 campuses across the state, serving each of Maine’s 16 counties, Mainers 50 and older can enroll in courses for next to nothing and learn just about anything that piques their interest. Because the whole enterprise runs on volunteer power, you won’t earn college credits — but you’re also off the hook when it comes to term papers and exams.
Course offerings vary widely from campus to campus and include both academic and practical topics — the workings of the U.S. Supreme Court, DNA for Beginners, the history and craft of quiltmaking, astronomy, golf, the novels of Patrick O’Brian. Wouldn’t it be fun to wrap your mind around something new in the company of like-minded new friends?
Douglas and I could teach a (short) course on growing basil and making pesto, although we’re not exactly experts. We got some practice last night, stacking six small tubs of powerful, green, summer mojo in the cellar freezer. There’s plenty more basil in the garden, and more garlic drying in the barn; we know we’ve got at least one more fragrant evening of pesto-making ahead.
But not tonight. Tonight we’re headed to the Union Fair to watch the Open Steer and Ox Twitch, admire the 4-H kids in their white shirts and neckties, and get a taste of Maine’s sweet, early autumn. Maybe we’ll see you there.