Desiree Bell is inspired by botanicals and natural materials. She is a vegetarian who has a certificate in herbal studies and a certificate from Australasian College of Health Sciences in Aromatherapy. When she isn't in her suburban garden, hiking or crafting, she is teaching pre-k with an emphasis on nature and gardening. For more ideas on Simple Living With Nature you can visit her blogs at www.beyondagarden.blogspot.com.
Garden harvest or purchased herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables can easily be used to make flavored vinegars. Vinegar is a sour-tasting liquid consisting of impure dilute acetic acid, made by oxidation of the ethyl alcohol in beer, wine, or cider. It is used as a condiment or preservative.
The process for making flavored vinegars is easy and uses simple kitchen equipment. Any of the following vinegars from the market will work as the base; balsamic, cider, malt, rice, sherry and red or white wine. Before starting the process wash all the utensils, bottles and containers in hot soapy water and rinse. Make sure the items used are made of nonreactive materials, including the jars and lids that are going to be used for steeping the vinegar.
Herbs for making vinegar can include basils, bay, borage, burnet, chervil, chives, dill, fennel, garlic, lavender, lemon balm, lemongrass, lemon verbena, lovage, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rose geranium, rosemary, sage, savory, shallot, spearmint, sweet cicely, tarragon and thymes. Gently wash the herbs and dry with a towel. Strip leaves off the stems (small sprigs can also be used) and put in a clean jar and pour vinegar over the herbs to steep.
Spices used for making flavored vinegar can be any of the following: allspice, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, juniper, white, pink, black and green peppercorns, chili peppers, nutmeg and herb seeds of anise, dill, caraway, celery, coriander, cumin and mustard. Combine spices and vinegar in a sauce pan and heat to 110 degrees. (This releases the essential oils from the woody botanicals.) Then remove pan from heat and let cool before pouring in steeping container.
Let mixtures steep in a dark place at room temperature. Shake the jar every couple days and taste the vinegar after a week. If you would like the flavor stronger let it stand for another one to three weeks, checking the taste weekly. When the flavor is to your liking, strain the vinegar and pour into clean sterilized decorative bottles, cap tightly and label.
Fruits can also be added to homemade vinegars, which can include raspberry, cranberry, blueberry, black currant, apricots, blackberries, blueberries, boysenberries, cherries, cranberries, currants, dates, figs, gooseberries, huckleberries, kiwis, lemons, limes, loganberries, mangoes, marionberries, mulberries, nectarines, oranges, papayas, peaches, pears, persimmons, pineapples, plums, strawberries, tangerines and watermelons. Cut up the fruit and put into a steeping container. Pour enough vinegar to completely cover the fruit. Use the same steps for steeping as for the herbs and spices. When the taste is to your liking, strain the mixture and pour into a stainless steel pan and add 1/4 to 1 cup of sugar or 3 tablespoons to 3/4 cup honey to each 4 cups of vinegar. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently, and cook for 3 minutes. Do not let boil. Skim off any foam that develops, let the vinegar cool and funnel it into bottles.
Vegetables used for vinegars are usually cucumbers, onions and peppers. Use a single vegetable or combination. (Herbs and spices can also be added.) Prepare 1 to 2 cups of chopped vegetables for every 4 cups of vinegar. Steep and shake until desired taste, then strain into bottles.
Here are a few combinations of herbs, spices and fruit that compliment white wine vinegar;
Herbal Combination: parsley, sage, thyme and basil
Spice Combination: clove, allspice and cinnamon
Fruit Combination: blueberries with lavender flowers
Vegetable Combination: Cucumber with dill seed and leaves.
Photos by Desiree Bell
Collecting bottles can be part of the fun when deciding how you want the final product to look. Bottles can be purchased at specialty stores, thrift stores or recycled. Once the bottle is chosen and sterilized, pour the steeped vinegar in and add a fresh herb sprig, few spices, piece of fruit or vegetable for an extra decorative touch. Making flavored vinegars is a simple rewarding experience that brings new flavors to cooking and makes great gifts.
Read More: Herbal Vinegar by Maggie Oster (Story Publishing 1994)