The big news on the tables this week was the arrival of not one but two favored stone fruits — Spring Snow white peaches from Boujikian Farms at the Hollywood market on Sunday and the first cherries from Murray Family Farms at the Wednesday Santa Monica market. The cherries will be here through June and we'll see a big curve of peach varieties though August. But it was the sight of the lush leaves of basil that brought the coming summer harvests into full focus. They'll be around well into fall.
The sweet basil at Tutti Frutti Farms is as fragrant as flowers, throwing off clovey perfume from large, juicy leaves. Keep that similarity in mind at home — pull a jar out, fill it with water, and keep the basil stems submerged, as you would a bouquet of flowers. They'll last longer, droop less and keep their flavor.
There are more than 20 different cultivars of Ocimum basilicum, some more commercially viable than others. But the more common sweet basil now is making way for Thai basils and heavy purple basils like Dark Opal and Red Rubin, both of which are finding admirers in the food-coloring industry as natural sources for red — a purple basil liqueur we made last year turned a surprisingly deep and rich red without a hint of any bluish purple tinting.
The Dark Opal basil at Tamai Farms was developed in the 1950s at the University of Connecticut, though there are unconfirmed rumors that it's based off a purple heirloom basil dating back to the late 1800s. You'll see it more now while the nights are still cool — it doesn't like blazing heat and sun, like other summer basils — and it'll make a return in the fall, growing hip-tall and lush well into November.
It's a striking herb on its own, but it gets better in a couple of weeks when it blooms. Normally that'd be a taste killer for an herb, but the slight edge the plant develops after it flowers almost creates another herb altogether — spicy, super fragrant, and even pretty as the flowers' light pink petals contrast with the dark burnished leaves. Still the window is short, one month tops. But the rest of the basil rainbow will be here for the next seven months.
And for those who missed the peaches, here you go. The Spring Snow is a white peach, but is more tart and crisp than other white peach varieties. It's early, so the expectation is that it's lackluster. But that would be a mistake — for an early variety, it's excellent, aromatic and juicy.