A Culture of Giving
Homemade wine vinegar embodies care and thoughtfulness
Every fall, the moment the weather changes, I begin fantasizing about the version of myself who makes Christmas gifts for friends: jars or bottles carefully filled with homemade something, and charmingly labeled with chicken scratch. I’ve put a lot of thought into that perfect homemade gift. It’s planned weeks or months in advance, and it impresses with its thoughtfulness. It can’t be bought. It’s a gift that will be consumed—that disappears, so it doesn’t become an albatross, something the recipient is saddled with and unable to throw away out of guilt. It should be an edible gift that lasts a fairly long time to remind you of my friendship, but doesn’t oppress with its presence or expiration date, demanding you eat it, or filling you with shame when you notice it in the fridge and don’t. And it should be a gift that takes some measure of thoughtfulness and concentrated effort, that makes you think, Ah, Rachel thought about me while making this.
These criteria led me through a brief but intense phase of reading herbal encyclopedias and raiding herb bulk bins to make tinctures as gifts: a cinnamon tincture for a friend with prediabetes (cinnamon lowers blood sugar!), an insomnia tincture for my boyfriend (now husband), Eli, who has trouble sleeping. The tinctures took months to make; I shook the jars of herbs steeping in vodka and shook them diligently every few days to infuse. The tinctures satisfied my criteria for a good gift, but in practice, I could give them to only a handful of friends with specific ailments—namely, those two. Most years, I’m ashamed to say, despite my best intentions, I never make it past the conceptual phase of gift giving. Life gets hectic. The window of time it takes to make that homemade thing gets smaller and smaller until it disappears.
Recently, I was sitting in my kitchen, idly reading the back of a vinegar bottle, when something caught my eye. The label said the vinegar was brewed using the “Orleans method” of vinegar making. This was no ordinary bottle of vinegar; it was my favorite vinegar, made by a company called Katz. Based in Napa, California, Katz makes artisanal vinegars so delicious and