Make herb vinegar

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Sometimes, anticipation is the best part of gardening. Right now I’m dreaming of herb vinegar. And I’m making a list of the supplies I’ll need to make my own. I have my herbs growing, of course, so I'll need to get some quart-size canning jars and different types of vinegar.

All during the year, I collect attractive bottles to pour the finished vinegar into, because often I end up giving them to friends. They make great thank-you gifts.

If you’ve never made herb vinegar before, you’ll find it couldn’t be simpler.

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While there are many methods, I learned from Jim Long of Long Creek Herbs in Missouri. He has a great little booklet, “Making Herb Vinegars,” which suggests some really good combinations (how about Dark Opal Verbena Vinegar?) and includes 55 tasty recipes, too.

What herbs make the best vinegar? They’re all fine; it just depends on which flavors you like best. Basil, bay, fennel, oregano, rosemary, lavender, tarragon, dill, chives, lemon balm, marjoram, sage, cardamom seeds, even mint – all make excellent vinegars that enliven salads and other dishes.

So you start with the herbs you like and use most. Then you choose a vinegar – or several. In my experience, white distilled vinegar doesn’t have the smooth taste I’m looking for. But I have tried almost every other kind.

The most versatile – and least expensive – is cider vinegar. I like rice vinegar, too. Buy a top-quality brand of whichever vinegar you decide on.

The day before you plan to make the vinegar, wash your Mason jars (or other wide-topped glass containers with lids) and let dry overnight.

The next morning, pick your herbs before the sun gets on the leaves, rinse them lightly with water, and spin them in your salad spinner to remove the excess water from the leaves. (You can also lightly dry them with paper towels.)

Then loosely add the combinations of herbs you’ve chosen till the jars are about three-fourths filled and pour in vinegar to within an inch of the top of the jar. Because you want to avoid metal around vinegarmaking, cover the opening with plastic wrap before screwing on the lid. Then place the jars in a dark spot for about two weeks.

Shake the jars every other day, and as you do, you’ll get a feeling for how strong the vinegar has become.

When it’s ready, pour the vinegar through a strainer into a clean bottle, adding a couple of sprigs of fresh herb, if you like. Cork and store away from strong light. Don’t forget to label it! It should keep at least a year.

And those you give it to – if your family will let any out of the house – will think you’ve done something really special. Only you know how easy it really was.

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