East Iowa woman ‘obsessed with basil’ – Times Union | Directory Mayhem

HOPKINTON, Iowa (AP) — Alongside a sprig of fresh basil at her daughter’s Hopkinton home, Jill Wagener demonstrated how to properly harvest the delicate herb.

“You have to pick basil like you pick tea—pinch and drop because it bruises so easily,” she said, carefully holding up a handful of small green leaves.

Jill knows about basil. She has spent more than two decades growing the herb and perfecting a family recipe for “Basil Balls,” highly concentrated butter-based balls flavored with herbs that can be used to cook a variety of dishes.

That year, she and her adult daughters, Kayla Wagener and Samantha Koppes, founded Basil Street Creations and began selling the basil balls, fresh basil, and related produce at the Dubuque Farmers Market.

“Mom has been doing this for over 20 years, and we finally decided we’d give this a try and sell the basil balls for everyone else,” Samantha told the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.

Jill Wagener “has always been obsessed with basil,” according to her children, and many dishes in the Wagener household as Kayla and Samantha were growing up included fresh basil.

However, they missed the herb in winter and struggled to find a way to keep it fresh for longer periods after the growing season was over.

“You can’t freeze it because it will ruin it. You could dehydrate it, but it loses its freshness,” Kayla said. “[Making basil balls]was a way for us to keep basil to add to our meals year-round.”

Kayla and Jill grow the basil and other herbs, including garlic chives, rosemary, and sage, at their home. However, they must prepare the basil balls in a certified commercial kitchen to maintain proper food certification. Therefore, the trial takes place in the kitchen of the Hopkinton Fire Department, where Kayla volunteers as a paramedic.

One afternoon, when Kayla was laying a handful of basil leaves on the kitchen counter, Samantha and Jill pulled out colanders and a food processor from nearby cabinets.

“We pick off (the leaves) one by one, and then they have to be carefully cleaned,” Samantha said.

She explained that the basil leaves are gently rinsed with water in a colander two to three times before being mixed with the other ingredients, which vary depending on the flavor of the ball but always include butter, olive oil and lemon. The balls are then packed in double sealed bags and frozen.

The balls come in nine flavors, including Lemon Basil, Rosemary Sage, Garlic Chives, and Roasted Garlic Basil, which Kayla says is the company’s best-selling product.

Jill, Kayla, and Samantha said the basil balls can be used to flavor just about any type of food, from pasta and veggies to seafood and steaks. A ball serves about four to five people.

“Once you turn off the heat, put the ball of basil in,” Jill said. “You just roll it over and let the heat melt the butter in it.”

At the farmer’s market, the family also offered fresh basil and a variety of flavored breads baked with basil balls, as well as lemon and basil lemonade made with fresh basil.

As cooler temperatures arrive, the family prepares for the end of their growing season.

“We now have our final harvest because basil is a tropical plant,” Jill Wagener said in late September. “It can’t take much below 75 degrees. It bends a little.”

They plan to start selling Basil Street Creations products online this winter and have started selling the balls at TADA Meats in Maquoketa with hopes of expanding their sales to other stores in the area as well.

Tammy Adrian, co-owner of TADA Meats, said the basil balls go well with the products her company offers and give customers more options to cook their meat.

“The people who know what (the basil balls) are really like it and are happy that we have it available,” Adrian said. “It’s going down well. I think it’s good for local businesses to help each other.”

Basil Street Creations plans to return to the Dubuque Farmers Market next year as well. Kayla said the family found a supportive environment among other vendors in the market and enjoyed sharing their products with customers.

“Everyone from repeat offenders to people who are new every week have been very receptive to trying something new, and they all seem to like the idea,” Kayla said.

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