Herb vinegars delight both the palate and the eye and allow you to preserve the harvest in a mellow gourmet blend of flavor and herbs. These vinegars lend themselves to many uses in sauces, marinades, salad dressings, stews, and beverages, and they are as individual as their creator. The herbs enclosed in the bottle can be snipped and used through the winter months when garden herbs are dormant.
The best time to collect fresh herbs is in the morning, after the dew has dried from the foliage but before the hot sun has evaporated the essential oils from the leaves.
1 cup fresh, firmly packed herbs
3 ½ cups vinegar (5% acidity)
Yield: approximately 1 quart
Wash the herbs by swishing them gently in a basin of cool water, being careful not to bruise the leaves and prematurely releasing the oils. Remove any discolored or insect-damage leaves. (Herb stems can be used.) Pat the herbs dry or spin in a vegetable spinner to remove excess water. Allow to air-dry thoroughly because water will make the vinegar cloudy, although it will not affect the flavor.
Using a wooden spoon, pack the herbs in a dry, sterilized quart jar (due to a chemical reaction, vinegar should not come in contact with metal). Fill the jar with vinegar to within 1 inch from the top. With the wooden spoon, push down and bruise the herb leaves in the vinegar. Shake to remove any air bubbles. Cover first with plastic wrap when using a metal lid. Label and date each jar to indicate the herbs used.
Some people like to heat the vinegar to just below boiling point before pouring it over the herbs. The advantage to this is that the warmed vinegar releases the essential oils from the herbs more rapidly. The disadvantage is that some acidity will be destroyed if the vinegar becomes too warm, thereby changing its quality. Given the facts, you be the judge, but I have found that unheated vinegar saves time and yields an excellent product.
Store in a cool, dark place for 4-6 weeks, shaking the mixture every few days. If you’re impatient for the bouquet to develop, the jars may be put out in the sun. The warmed vinegar may become slightly cloudy. A taste test will determine the right strength for your individual needs. If the flavor is too strong, dilute with unflavored vinegar; if not “herbal” enough repeat the process with fresh herbs.
When you are satisfied with the flavor, strain through a plastic colander to remove and discard the herbs. Then strain through paper coffee filters until the paper is clean. Although it may take 4 to 5 times, this removes all herbal debris and the result is a crystal clear product.
Pour the vinegar into hot, dry bottles that have been sterilized or put through a hot wash and dry cycle of the dishwasher. Add a sprig or two of fresh, washed and dried herbs to the bottle. When using a variety of herbs in the blend include a sprig of each. (the most eye-appealing herb vinegar bottles contain many herb sprigs~) cap immediately.
Successful Gardening ~
Kali S. Winters