- how to make - herb vinegars
Afriend of mine asked me a couple of months ago where I found time to ‘do all these things’. By ‘all these things’ she was referring to a bottle of sage and rosemary vinegar that I had given her as a Christmas present.
I struggled for an answer because for me this has become a routine thing, a habit partly handed down from Mum who was a great believer in ‘making it yourself’. Every year around now, when plants start to go to seed, I start making vinegars from the flowering stalks, especially basil, coriander and dill. My friend’s question got me thinking about how perhaps other people would like to give a DIY gift, and so I felt compelled to suggest to anyone who feels that they just don’t have time to make home-made gifts that herb vinegars are a good place to start.
Why? Basically you pick a handful or two of herbal or floral material, pop it in a jar, cover it with vinegar and walk away, leaving it in a dark, cool spot to steep happily for 2-4 weeks. The acidity of the vinegar breaks through the cell walls of the infused matter, encouraging the release of the wonderful aromas and flavours into the jar. Then it’s a simple matter of straining off the liquid and bottling your now deliciously fragrant, tasty and attractively-coloured vinegar, labelling it, then giving it away.
Another reason I like them? It’s got to do with money. You know where it says in my bio at the end of this article, ‘she sidesteps the supermarket’ – this is a prime example, just in case you wondered what that actually means in real life.
You have probably seen herb vinegars in up-market boutique shops. They look amazing, packaged in glamorous bottles with waxed seals, with bright red chillies and garlic cloves floating serenely in the depths. Amazing until you see the price!
I’ll let you in on a little secret here: vinegar is cheap. I buy mine in 5-10 litre containers from wholesalers so the cost plummets to around $1- $2/litre. Bottles are easy to find and if you keep your recycling eyes open, you can build up a wee collection of interestingly-shaped ones in which to display your home-made vinegars. Herbal vinegars are also multi-talented. You can infuse herbs in vinegar for culinary, cosmetic and medicinal use, and even for household cleaning. My favourite ways to use herb vinegars are as key ingredients in winter crockpot stews, in salad dressings and as a remedy for sore throats. Herb vinegars add the most delightful flavours and provide the all-important ‘acidity regulator’ factor that you will see on many food labels. Most of the time, ‘acidity regulator’ refers to vinegar and if your stew or soup doesn’t taste quite right, try adding 1-2 tbsp of vinegar. It’s one of those tastes that really enhances the flavour of food and one that certain people crave, hence why we love salt and vinegar chips.
METHOD For one litre of vinegar, you will need two large handfuls of herbs and/or flowers, and a sterilised Agee or Mason jar with a plastic lid (or equivalent). Remove any dirt or unsightly debris and use only the best leaves and flowers. Pack the herbs and/or flowers into the jar, cover with vinegar and pop the lid on. Put in a dark cool place for 2-4 weeks. Invert the jar once or twice during that time to move the material around in the vinegar. Strain off the liquid, label it and it’s done – you’re all ready to package it up as gifts (if you don’t use it all up yourself!). Some folks say use the vinegar up within three months but I have found that in an airtight bottle, the flavours are still very much alive and kicking after a year, even two.