Thursday, May 19, 2011

Preserving Floyd: Herbal Vinegars and Maple Vinegar

It's been raining pretty steadily for a month now.  Every once in awhile the sun will deign to peek through, a patch of blue might appear.  But mostly it's gray and drizzling if not downright pouring.  Everyone's behind.  You can't plow, till, seed, or transplant because the ground is just too wet.  Water gushes up along the edges of my wellies just walking across the lawn.  The earth is saturated.  People are getting grumpy.

I think this is affecting the local strawberry crop.  For two days now I've been searching my usual sources and there's none to be had.  I'm hoping the berries have just slowed down until the sun returns.  I'm praying they're not rotting in the fields.

On the other hand, the perennial herbs are flourishing!  They need to be cut back now!  In order to use up a good bit of them I'm going to start steeping jugs of herbal vinegars.  It's just way too easy and takes no time at all.  And it will keep me busy until the strawberries return.
You can use either your home made vinegars (here's how) or store bought vinegars.  You'll need some clean jars, a funnel, herbs and spices of your choice, and your imagination.  You don't need to make these in the quantities I did.  Make a pint or a quart, whatever you're comfortable with.  I hand out a lot of vinegars for Christmas and hostess gifts so I tend to make large batches.

First up is chive flower vinegar.  You can also do this with old-fashioned sweet scented violets.  Of course you get oniony, spicy vinegar from the chive flowers.  The violet vinegar is delicate.
Sometimes you can find chive flowers at the farmers market.  Some vendors will sell the flowers alone or bunched with the chives.  If you can't find the flowers you can do it with straight chives.  If you grow your own chives you may have an abundance of flowers right now.  Just clip them off below the head.
Chives are a composite flower.  One flower made up of many smaller ones.
Go over your flowers carefully.  Ants and other bugs are fond of them and while pickled insects may be a delicacy in other cultures, in ours, not so much.  Once you are assured they are clean fill your jar with the flowers.

Next, fill the jar, covering the flowers with vinegar.  I recommend a white wine or a distilled white vinegar for this because the chive flowers will bleed into the vinegar.  Later when you decant and filter it the vinegar will be a pale lavender color.  Cap the jar, label and date it, and store in a dark cupboard for several months.
Too pretty to store out of sight, but do it!
The second vinegar today is a red wine vinegar with herbs commonly used in Italian cooking.
Left to right are oregano, chives, sage (front), thyme (back), french tarragon, and shallot scapes.  Normally I would also add flat leaf parsley and basil but those weren't ready to cut yet.  So maybe this is actually more Greek in profile.  Whatever it is, it'll be good.  There are no measurements for this.  I want more of an oregano and garlic flavor to dominate and so I went heavy on the oregano, chives and shallot scapes, and dropped in a few cloves of garlic.  I used smaller amounts of the others with the least being the tarragon.  They're the back up singers.  This is where your imagination comes in.  Think about what you want your vinegar to taste like.  What flavor you want to be dominant.  What flavors will accent that?  Are there any spices that will work here?  I could have thrown in a couple of hot red peppers and some peppercorns for heat and bite.  Some dried tomatoes might have been interesting.  This is the fun of herbal vinegars.  You get to play with flavor profiles and it's really very difficult to steep a bad batch.  So get an idea of where you're going and start stuffing your herbs and spices into a jar.

In keeping with the robust Italian/Greek theme I covered these with my own aged red wine vinegar.  Commercial red wine vinegar is fine too and cider vinegar would work.

Cap, label, date, and store away in a dark place for a few months to steep.  I'll probably let these jugs go until late November and then I'll filter and decant them into smaller bottles for gifts.  But they will definitely be ready for use in 2 months minimum.  They'll just taste stronger the longer you let them steep.

Try other herb combinations like Herbes de Provence. Or go Asian with ginger, garlic, red pepper and lemon grass or lemon balm.  Cilantro, lime zest, onion, dried tomato, and bell and jalepeno peppers for a Southwest feel.  Single herb vinegars are great too; basil, dill, fennel to name a few.  Go wild!  Have fun!

A few months back I came across a recipe for Maple Vinegar.  I have the luxury of having a good bit of local maple syrup on hand so I thought I'd give it a try.  Today I tasted the maple vinegar for the first time and it gave me goose bumps, it's that good!  Tart/sweet and a little bit smokey.  Nice and complex.  Oh yeah, I'm making more of this!

Maple Vinegar
3 1/3 cups raw vinegar (like your home made or Braggs)
3 cups maple syrup
1 1/3 cups dark rum
7/8 cups water

Combine the ingredients in a glass jar.  Cover the mouth of the jar with several layers of cheesecloth held in place with a rubber band.  Label, date and store away in a cool, dark place for a minimum of 4 weeks.  The vinegar may take more than 4 weeks to work properly but when it tastes smooth and tart/sweet with no trace of alcohol it's ready.  Filter it through several layers of cheese cloth in a funnel into smaller jars.  Cap, label and store in a cool, dark place.
I collect these nifty bottles throughout the year at yard sales, second hand/thrift shops, and "antique" stores.  The usual price I pay is 50 cents to maybe $1 at most.  With a little colorful sealing wax and a ribbon or raffia tie added they become a great gift.  The labels are standard Avery mailing labels set up on a template in Illustrator but you could do it just as easily in MSWord.  The nice thing about the mailing labels is they come off easily when washing the bottles without leaving a lot of gunk behind.


  1. Maybe you need to come see ME! 83 and sunny. I'll be working on my tan tomorrow for the end of the world.

  2. 75 and sunny today! Scored 12 quarts of strawberries. Hopin' we're on a roll...

  3. Do you have any recipes you'd suggest for using your maple vinegar?

    1. Yes! It makes a great simple vinaigrette- 1 part vinegar to 2 parts oil, a little s&p, some minced shallot, and just a touch of prepared mustard to help it emulsify.
      Excellent as the acid in marinades for pork,chicken, and tofu or as the acid in pan sauces.
      Combine it with sweet chili sauce for a glaze.
      Reduce it until it becomes slightly syrupy, allow to cool, then drizzle over fresh or grilled peaches sprinkled with a basil chiffonade, ice cream or baked or poached fruits come winter.