In the Garden:
Flavoring vinegar with herbs is easy and makes great presents. White wine vinegar is the most versatile kind to use, as in this combination of lemon balm and lemon basil.
Herbs and Herb Vinegars
As autumn approaches, my thoughts turn to the final preserving of the season. Although I've dried and frozen herbs throughout the summer, now is when I make sure I have enough put by for the winter months.
Freezing vs. Drying
Air drying is the easiest method for keeping herbs, using either the hanging method, the oven, or a dehydrator. Some herbs, however, especially basil, tarragon, and chervil, do not keep their flavor well when dried and are best frozen. Individual leaves can be put in freezer bags. Another method is to puree the herbs with a small amount of water in a blender, then freeze the puree in an ice-cube tray. Pop out the frozen cubes and store them in freezer bags. When cooking in winter, add one or two cubes to sauces or soups.
You can also use herbs to flavor vinegars, mustards, sugars, jellies, pickles, salsas, chutneys, and other preserved foods. All of these make excellent gifts, especially for the holidays ahead. One of the simplest and most versatile ways to use the flavor of herbs is to steep them in vinegar. Flavored vinegars can be used in salad dressings, soups and stews, and sauces to serve over meats and vegetables.
The Right Vinegar
The most versatile vinegars to use are those made from white wine or rice. They hold the flavor of the herbs best. Red wine vinegar can be used with strong-flavored herbs, such as garlic and oregano. Cider, malt, sherry, and balsamic vinegars can create some interesting concoctions. Clear distilled vinegar, however, is a bit harsh, and I'd avoid it.
Making Herb Vinegars
The key to making a successful herb vinegar is to use plenty of herbs. I like the proportions of 1 cup fresh or 1/2 cup dried herbs or herbal flowers to 2 cups vinegar. If you need to wash your fresh herbs, pat them dry before putting them into the vinegar. Use a glass jar or other nonreactive container. Cap tightly with a nonreactive covering. If using a metal lid, cover the jar mouth with plastic wrap first. Make sure all the herbs or flowers are submerged. Set in a dark place for one week. Open and taste. If the flavor is not as strong as you want, recap, and steep for up to another three weeks. When the flavor is to your liking, strain the vinegar and bottle it, adding sprigs of fresh herbs, if desired. Cap tightly, using a nonreactive material such as a plastic cap or cork.
I've found some of the best herb vinegars combine a number of different herbs. Experiment, using your favorite herbs, or try one of these:
--basil, parsley, fennel, and garlic
--Thai basil and hot red pepper
--lemongrass, lemon balm, lemon thyme, lemon basil, and lemon peel
--basil, chives, garlic chives, tarragon, borage, and burnet
--marjoram, cilantro, garlic, and hot red pepper
--orange mint and orange peel
--tarragon, hyssop, and lemon balm
--lemon thyme, rosemary, and black peppercorns
--sage, parsley, and shallots
--tarragon, chives, lemon balm, shallots, and garlic
Some of the best and easiest information on drying herbs and making herbal vinegars is on the Internet. Two good Web sites to check out are:
Recipes on Making Herb Vinegars
How to Dry Herbs
Care to share your gardening thoughts, insights, triumphs, or disappointments with your fellow gardening enthusiasts? Join the lively discussions on our FaceBook page and receive free daily tips!