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Savoring the Seasons: Get creative with vinegar

  • Try the tips in today’s column to make your own vinegars at home. METRO CREATIVE

  • From left to right: Peach vinegar, black cherry vinegar, and red bee balm flower vinegar. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/Marie Summerwood



For The Recorder
Tuesday, August 29, 2017

When I shared Diane Sievers’ pickled cherries recipe in my July 5 column, Marie Summerwood, Tinky Weisblat and I got into an email conversation about the many fruits, herbs and roots you can infuse in vinegar. Of course, I asked for recipes and information. Tinky shared her recipe for basil vinegar (see below) and Marie gave me lots of tips about making and enjoying infused vinegars.

Here’s Marie’s advice:

I make infused vinegars from just about anything I can think of. Of course, make sure the flowers, etc. you use are edible.

Why are infused vinegars so good for us? They contain mineral salts that the vinegar leaches out and makes available. Also, volatile oils give flavor.

How can you use these vinegars? Salad dressings, also marinades and other sauces. Mix with salt, honey, and water for a refreshing drink called switchel — an old-time drink for hay workers in the field. Mayhap an early version of Gatorade, electrolytically speaking. You can mix several plants together for an infused vinegar, but I like the single tastes, and can always mix them later.

Some vinegars I make and enjoy:

Roots, use fresh: Dandelion root, tastes earthy; Burdock root indescribably delicious.

Mushrooms: Fresh shiitake makes a truly lovely vinegar.

Leaves: Always use fresh. Peppermint leaf vinegar is bright and interesting. Fresh dandelion leaves taste salty in a very satisfying way.

Flowers: Always use fresh. Makes for beautifully colored vinegars. Dandelion flowers, tastes like sunshine! Red bee balm (Monarda didyma), yummy. Rose Petals. Lavender flowers. Bring beets, marinated with rose petal vinegar to a potluck.

Fruit vinegars taste divine. Try peach, nectarine, black cherry. Not so high on the mineral salts, but make up for it in delightful taste. Generally, make them in small jars because vinegar is not the greatest preservative and sometimes they mold no matter what, so better to lose a pint than a quart.

Truly, the vinegars you’ll make are limited only by the imagination.

This week we’re making ...

Infused vinegars: By Marie Summerwood, Syracuse, N.Y.

The basic technique is simple. Take a clean jar, fill it with the fresh plant material (chopped or not), then cover the plant material with apple cider vinegar. Make sure nothing is sticking up as it will go off or mold.

Put a non-metal cover on the jar. Label and date. Wait 8 weeks, remove plant materials and enjoy the delicious vinegars.

Do not use raw vinegar, which can really go off into uncharted moldy territories. Make sure your vinegar is pasteurized. If you want to buy raw vinegar, you can heat it to 165 degrees to pasteurize, cool to use.

Use the vinegars in a timely way as their taste can fade over time. Refrigerating helps.

My ruby vinegar (cold method): by Tinky Weisblat, Hawley (adapted from “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook”)

I gently washed 1 handful of purple basil and 1 of green. I let them dry on paper towels. Then, I placed them in a clean glass jar with a plastic top and covered them with distilled white vinegar. (I used about a pint of vinegar; feel free to use more leaves and more vinegar, if you like.)

I left the jar to steep in a warm, but dark, part of the kitchen; shaking it gently a couple of times a day. The purple basil started lending color to the vinegar almost immediately. Yesterday, the vinegar was a lovely reddish purple and tasted of fresh basil. (One has to monitor the basil; this process can take from 1 to 4 weeks.) So, I strained it through cheesecloth and put it in a fresh bottle. It will lend the taste of fresh basil to salads throughout the winter.

I make other herbal vinegars the same way, particularly tarragon and dill-garlic, although there I tend to use Apex Orchards’ cider vinegar.

Local food advocate and community organizer Mary McClintock lives in Conway and works as a freelance writer, editor, and book indexer. Send column suggestions and recipes to: mmcclinto@yahoo.com.