Just as I was wondering what on earth I would do with all of the basil, oregano, and chives in my garden, here came a note from Ginny M. of Minnesota: “I love using flavored vinegars. How can I make my own?”
Her note reminded me that herb vinegars are so easy to make, but also that the holidays aren’t many months away. Flavor-infused vinegars make elegant gifts.
To get started, you’ll need fresh herbs (mint, basil, tarragon, dill, oregano, and chives), clean glass jars with lids, and plain white distilled vinegar. Eventually, you’ll also need decorative containers, such as bottles or jars, for your finished vinegar. Empty, cleaned wine bottles make great presentation containers for homemade infused vinegar.
Sterilize all of your glass containers by boiling them with the lids removed for 10 minutes. You want to inhibit the growth of microorganisms that can cloud vinegars.
Wash your fresh herbs well and pat dry. Insert about three sprigs of fresh herbs (or 3 tablespoons dried herbs) for each pint of vinegar into a sterilized glass jar. Pour the vinegar over the herbs, filling the jar. Distilled white and apple cider vinegar are most affordable. White wine vinegar is more expensive, but has a very smooth flavor.
The vinegar may be added either hot (just below the boiling point) or cold. Hot vinegar will produce a stronger flavor; cold vinegar will give a milder result.
Tightly cap the jar. Store your herb vinegar in a cool, dark place for several weeks. Don’t store it in the refrigerator. Once the desired flavor is reached, pour the vinegar through a coffee filter into sterilized smaller containers. Add a sprig of fresh herb for visual effect and to identify the flavors. Citrus rind, garlic, peppers, or peppercorns also can add unique flavors to herbal vinegars. Experiment by combining flavors such as lemon rind and pepper or basil and garlic. Cover or cork your containers tightly.
Combine 1/2 cup sugar with 1 cup fresh raspberries in a non-aluminum saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally until hot but not boiling. Pour into a glass bowl and gradually stir in 1 1/2 cups white vinegar. Stir raspberries into the vinegar. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a cool place for about a week. Strain through cheesecloth twice, or once through a coffee filter. Pour into a jar or bottle that has a tight-fitting lid or cork. Store in the refrigerator for up to six months.
In a large nonmetal bowl, pour 1 quart of white wine vinegar that has been heated just below the boiling point over 2 cups of fresh cranberries. Let the mixture steep covered on the counter for two to three days. Strain the brightly colored vinegar through a coffee filter and pour into a decorative glass bottle. Insert a cork or plastic cover. Store in the refrigerator.
As a general rule, plastic lids or corks are best for closing vinegars—not metal, which may rust.
Label your vinegar with the type of base vinegar used, the flavoring ingredient, whether it requires refrigeration, and the date. Suggest as well that it will be best when used within six months as an addition to salad dressings, sauces, meat dishes, and cooked vegetables.
Thanks, Ginny. Your question put me into holiday gift preparation mode!