...if you have a backyard and a kitchen, this blog might be for you!

a chronicle of tips and recipes on everything from gardening to canning and baking your produce, even if you're planted in suburbia...in fact, especially if you are planted in suburbia.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Making Herb Vinegars

(subtitled: a whole lot of shakin' goin' on...)

By yesterday, I had gathered enough ripe tomatoes that I was ready to make a little tomato sauce to freeze. Of course, what decent tomato sauce isn't bubbling with fresh herbs? So, not only did I make sauce, I also put my attention on herbs in general.

I started by rummaging along the cookbook shelf for my favorite old cookbook on preserving. Published in 1977, it has the most delightfully dated photos--women in jeans and clogs and homemade sweaters shopping farmers' markets; wood plank breakfast tables scattered with jars of homemade marmalade, heavy, speckled stoneware and gleaming yellow porcelain so 70's chic. I just love that old preserving book. I tend to thumb all through it, even though most times I end up settling in the section on herbs.

After I had the tomato sauce simmering on the stove, I started making herb vinegars. One of the vinegars I made called for blueberries, basil and lemon zest. I crushed the blueberries in a cup of white wine vinegar, then bruised the basil and added it along with some lemon zest. Covered, the bowl is now sitting on a top shelf of a cabinet--my version of "a cool dark place" as the recipe requires. I'll stir it every couple of days for a month or so before straining it and putting it in a jar to use as a salad vinaigrette or very sparingly as a dressing for a fresh fruit salad.

Next I sterilized several jars in order to start a few other vinegars. I mentioned earlier that you can sterilize jars with the sanitizing setting on a dishwasher, but another way is to put them in the oven set to 250 degrees for about 30 minutes. Since my jars were already clean, I used this method this time. You'll find many recipes for many herbal combinations for these vinegars, and in time you might just decide to create your own. I made some using a dark, balsamic vinegar--floating tarragon, parsley, cracked peppercorns, chives and thyme in it.

Then with the lighter white wine vinegar I used rosemary, basil, bay leaf and cracked peppercorns again, with a little lemon zest here, too.

These will sit in the window for 3 to 4 weeks, steeping in the sunlight and reminding me by their presence to shake the jars every couple of days blending the flavors as they are gradually released into the vinegar.

They make a pretty display in my ever changing kitchen window, right along with the red peppers drying on a string. About the time the vinegars are ready to strain, the peppers should be dry enough to crush for use in hot pepper oil. That day will call for a second romp in the herb garden...for the sake of making various herbal oils.

Mid-way through working the herb vinegars, I returned to the tomatoes with a potato masher, turning them into more of a soupy mess, then left them simmering again. That soupy mess had now cooked down to that desired consistency of actual sauce, so I put it in freezer jars and let it cool a bit before storing it in the freezer. Not much sauce, but at least I will be able to make a couple of special "birthday" meals for those whose favorite is spaghetti or chili.
This week's blue plate special is, not surprisingly, spaghetti with homemade sauce. Bread on the sideboard is the family favorite out of all the store-bought varieties: Hawaiian sweet bread. I used some of the fresh herbs, some Italian seasoning and a chopped, fresh red pepper in olive oil for dipping. As a side dish, a well-stocked veggie tray full of garden produce is a snap to make this time of the summer. In fact, a perpetual veggie tray is almost necessary as you move through the season when your garden gives you more than you can eat your way through. Such diverse bounty only lasts for a few weeks, but during those weeks you can hardly help but wonder how you ever got so much food from the sparse scattering of seedlings that was your garden early in the season!

Even if you don't invest the time or money in water bath canning, remember: you can freeze most of the produce that goes beyond your immediate needs. My canning book includes a section on blanching times for the sake of freezing many types of garden produce. I know a lot of folks who don't even garden, but who buy extra, fresh veggies at farmers' markets this time of year to freeze them for later when winter produce shelves are meager pickings. Today's sign off: happy freezing!


  1. Well I am very excited to find your blog (through Taking Heart)! I too am a Master Gardener, and used to be very into doing fun things with herbs. I'm also a 70's girl! Live in Kokomo, but my sis lives in Noblesville, so I happen to go there a lot. Am looking forward to more posts and learning some stuff. I still love herbs, but something had to go because of lack of time. I hope to get back into them again. Cindy

  2. In discussing and investigating this topic with another friend on facebook, I came across a good link for choosing quality vinegars. Here it is: