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Put Summer in a Bottle - Herb Vinegars

by Nellie Neal

Herb, herbe, ‘erb, or yarb, whatever you call them, gardeners grow more tasty plants each year. Sooner or later, everyone asks the question, "OK, now what do I do with all this harvest?" Make tasteful gifts of herbed vinegars and oils. Then help the kids bottle ‘em up as gifts for those special teachers, friends and relatives.

Herbed-infused oils are popular for appetizers with bread sticks, brushed on sandwich breads, and for stir frying. But to avoid possible contamination, herb oils should be blended in small amounts and used immediately. Create a gift package with these delicious ingredients for herbed oils. Make a cheesecloth or muslin bag to hold a mixture of rosemary, parsley, thyme, mustard and celery seed. Strongly flavored herbs hold up well in oils, so use anything you like to make a more flavorful blend, including clove of garlic and ginger. Let the kids decorate a small screwtop jar that will hold the bag of herbs. Put those in a box with a small bottle of a light vegetable oil. When you’re ready to cook, warm the oil, add the herbs, turn off the heat. It’s ready to use in about ten minutes. Do not store.

To make 3 or 4 bottles of vinegar, get a gallon jar with a nonreactive lid and sterilize it. Use wine, rice, or apple cider vinegar that is at least 5% acidic. Wash and dry herbs; use 1 cup of fresh herbs (1/2 cup dried) to make 2 cups of vinegar. Put herbs in jar and bruise them with a wooden spoon. Pour in the vinegar (do not heat!), cover tightly, and store in the dark for about three weeks. Taste and adjust; when tasty to you, strain the vinegar into bottles, and use a wooden chopstick to gently push fresh sprigs of the herbs you’ve used, red chili peppers, lemon peel, peppercorns into the vinegar for color. Use purple basils in white wine or rice vinegars for bold red color, and chive flowers for pretty pink. Cap the bottles and label them. If you use corks, seal them with wax. Vinegars do not have to be refrigerated, and should last about two years.

Try these herb blends for tasty vinegars:

rosemary, savory, saage, basil, bay leaf, and garlic
cilantro, hot red pepper, and garlic lemongrass, lemon verbena, lemon zest, and green peppercorns orange mint, coriander seeds, garlic, and orange zest basil, mint, tarragon, rosemary, sage, garlic, ginger root, bay, green onions, whole allspice, cloves, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, black peppercons, and cinnamon stick.

Debbie Porter owns Porters’ Creek Herb Farm and Nursery in Terry, MS, where herb vinegars don’t just sit on the shelf looking pretty. Include some of Debbie’s recipes with your gift, and use them yourself for great eating and inspiration:

Quick Herbed Vinaigrette

Into a jar with a lid pour 1/4 cup herb vinegar, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, plus garlic powder, salt, and pepper to taste. Shake well and serve over your choice of lettuces. Vinaigrette makes a great marinade for fresh vegetables; or add two teaspoons to the water when you steam veggies to add flavor, retain color, and vitamin content. And a splash or two really revs up canned vegetables. Marinate meats in herb wine vinegars to tenderize and flavor them, too.

Quick and Creamy Herbed Dip or Dressing

Stir together 1/4 cup sour cream with 1/4 cup mayonnaise. Add 2 teaspoons herb vinegar, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Add garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste; mix well. Toss in a pinch of chopped parsley or chives if desired. Eat it with chips, or do like Debbie’s husband Joe suggests: "We make a big salad with this dressing, pour a glass of wine, then take the whole thing on a tray to bed and watch tv while we devour it."

Homemade Herbed Mayonnaise using tarragon or mexican tarragon vinegars

Place 1/4 cup vegetable oil, 1 egg (room temp), 2 Tablespoons herb vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/ 2 teaspoon mustard powder, 1 clove minced garlic n a blender or food processor. On low speed, allow all ingredients to mix for about five seconds, then, without turning it off, add an additional 1/2 cup vegetable oil slowly in a thin stream. LIke magic, it turns to mayonnaise before your very eyes.

Tina’s Fresh Fruit Dressing

Mix together: 1/2 cup honey, 1/2 cup herb vinegar, the zest and juice of two limes. Great for a lemon herb blend, the tarragons, or mint vinegars. Pour over any fresh fruit and berries and toss gently. This is not only delicious, but it prevents the fruit from discoloring.


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