Rebecca Stoner Kirts, Basil Becky, is a master gardener, whose interests include garden photography, traveling, and sharing these experiences through writing and speaking.
 

 
 

Various Vinegars
by Rebecca Stoner Kirts - posted 11/01/18

Top: Garlic chives make great vinegar.

Above: Dark basil is so beautiful in the garden and it is by far my favorite herb to use in vinegar.

Right: Prepped and ready to be put into my collection of jars.

Here it is winter and I am yearning for the taste of my favorite fresh herbs. I prepared for this moment by making a variety of herbal vinegars in the early fall. It is a great easy way to add a gourmet zip to so many recipes – from salads to meats. Additionally, herbal vinegars can be used for cosmetic uses, medical purposes, plus household uses. Who would have thought you could have herbal vinegars on hand to beat the heat, as well as to battle illnesses and insects.

Vinegar is one of the oldest foods known to man. It was discovered more than 10,000 years ago. Throughout history, vinegar is mentioned more often than wine in ancient books and writings. In fact, vinegar means sour wine or sharp wine. It is theorized that vinegar was discovered by winemakers when they messed up a batch of wine. Since this was a fairly common occurrence, new uses for vinegar were constantly being invented.

Four Thieves Vinegar

Ingredients
• 2 tablespoons chopped lavender flower
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
• 2 tablespoons chopped mint
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh marjoram
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh anise hyssop
• 4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
• 1 quart white wine vinegar or apple cider (preferably raw)

Directions
Toss the herbs and garlic together in a 1-quart Mason jar, cover with vinegar, and allow to marinate seven to 10 days. Then strain the vinegar through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean quart jar. Store as you would any herb vinegar. Good for vinaigrettes or for braising meats.

Recipe adapted from a recipe by Jean Vainet, a renowned herbalist of the 20th century.

For instance it is said that four robbers used a vinegar concoction to ward off the plague epidemic in Marseilles. Thieves supposedly rubbed vinegar on their arms and clothes and it allowed the men to walk among the dead and dying and steal from them, to this day we still have a vinegar called Four Thieves Vinegar.

It is possible to make your own vinegar, however, the most practical way to begin this adventure is using store-bought vinegar. The flavoring ingredients to be added in each mixture should be determined by the variety of vinegar used, however the vinegar used must have at least 5 percent acidity.

Many consider wine vinegar as the best for blending and balancing flavors. I find it is very good choice with an herb such as tarragon. Even though many think that regular distilled vinegar is too strong for blending delicate flavors, I love using it to make basil, dill, and chive vinegars. It is important to make sure that the vinegar does not overpower the herbs and spices and that it is a taste you enjoy.

Apple cider vinegar is regarded as a tonic because of its richness in potassium and other nutrients. These qualities make it a good complement for stronger herbs, such as an apple-scented mint or fruits.

I used sherry and champagne vinegars for special gifts. Their milder flavor pairs well with delicately flavored herbs. It is very good for making into a salad dressing. Rice vinegar is great to use for flavoring Oriental dishes. I make a very nice lemon vinegar using lemongrass and other lemony herbs.

I do not use malt vinegar, as it is very heavy and too bitter to blend and I leave balsamic vinegar with its beautiful flavors to be appreciated on its own.
 

Clockwise: Dill vinegar pairs great with cooked cabbage, or in potato or egg salad or coleslaw. • I use fresh red raspberries, blackberries, or blueberries and make tasty, as well as beautiful, fruit vinegars. • The leaves of opal basil turn the vinegar such an incredible color.

Becky's Faves
Here are some of my favorite herb vinegar recipes

Basil Chile Garlic Vinegar: Play around with different basils, but to your favorite, add two to three peeled cloves of garlic, plus six to 15 dried red chilies, to a jar about 3/4 full of basil. Cover with warm red wine vinegar. Suggested usages: Dressing for garden fresh tomatoes, salad dressing, beef, or chicken marinade or add a splash to your Bloody Mary!

Dark Opal Basil Vinegar: Fill a jar with dark basil, add white wine or distilled vinegar and watch the magic happen. Talk about an amazing hue. I love this as a dressing with olive oil on fresh veggies. It is a great marinade as well.

Lovely Lemon Vinegar: All lemon herbs in the jar – lemon verbena, lemon balm, lemon grass, lemon basil, then add some lemon peel. Cover with white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar. This is a wonderful marinade for fish or chicken or over fresh veggies.

Salad Burnet Vinegar: Fill the jar with salad burnet leaves and blossoms and then cover with white wine vinegar. Because this plant has such an amazing cucumber flavor, it is lovely over a fresh cucumber salad, in cucumber soup, or over fresh veggies. I love the pink hue!!

Chive Vinegar: So many options here. I love chive blossom vinegar, using the early pink blooms add zip to the vinegar and a beautiful hue. But the garlic chive blossom vinegar has a very subtle vinegar taste.

Tarragon Vinegar: The perfect fish marinade – fill the jar with sprigs of fresh tarragon (lightly crushed), and then cover with white wine vinegar.


Vinegar is a natural preservative, but it is imperative that you make sure everything is sterile. I often use different containers to cure the vinegar in, rather than the jars that I will put the final product into. I sterilize the containers as if I were canning. One easy way I discovered is to immerse the glass containers in boiling water for 10 minutes. Glass containers work the best but make sure the lids are non-corrodible metal, such as the two-piece canning jar lids. The lids go through a similar sterilization process. It is advisable to have the herbs and vinegar ready to put into the warm, newly sterilized jars.

To prepare the vinegar for the initial bottling, I heat it to just below the boiling point, or at least 190 F. I have the herbs already in the jars and then I pour the warm vinegar over the top. I use a funnel for this step. I fill the jars leaving just a little head room and then put on the lid. Let them sit undisturbed while cooling.


I can always use a good blossom picker when making chive blossom vinegar.


Always use fresh herbs picked before blossoming for the best flavor. Use only the best leaves or stems and discard any that are discolored, damaged, or excessively dried out. I gently wash the herbs, (remember you are trying to preserve the oils) blot dry, and spread on paper towels. As a general rule, I use about 1 cup of fresh herbs to 2 cups of vinegar.

Garlic chive vinegar adds a subtle taste that is great on egg salad or on steamed broccoli.

Find an area to allow the filled jars to sit for at least three to four weeks to develop the flavors. Be sure and find a good dark place, as sunlight will alter the flavors. Be patient the best is yet to come. Always label what the vinegar is. Things tend to look different after a month in a vinegar bath.

Once the vinegar has “cured,” it is time to strain it into a beautiful bottle. Repurposed antique bottles are a great idea. Nothing is prettier then a collection of herb vinegars in antique jars on a shelf. Since each vinegar develops its own unique hue, they present quite a display.

For the final bottling, prepare the jars and lids as before. I always add a decorative herb sprig or a few berries, or perhaps an herbal blossom. Then, using cheesecloth and a funnel, I strain the vinegar into the bottles. Do not allow any part of the decorative herb to stick out of the vinegar, as it could mold. Be sure to clean off the outside of the container. If this is a bottle that I am going to cork, I again will sterilize the cork put it into place and then dip it into some hot wax to seal it. Sometimes the wax drips down the bottleneck, creating a decorative look. For optimal flavor, use the vinegar within six to eight months and always store in a cool, dark place.

 

A version of this article appeared in a November/December 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Rebecca Stoner Kirts.

 

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