Posted: July 27, 2012
Scald lids and caps. If using cork, use new pre-sterilized corks. Use high quality herbs. Wash gently and blot dry on paper towels. Herbs can be dipped in a sanitizing solution of 1 teaspoon unscented household chlorine bleach in 6 cups water, then rinsed and patted dry.
Although any vinegar may be flavored, many people prefer the clear color of distilled white vinegar and its versatility with many spices, herbs, and fruits. Its disadvantage is its astringent flavor. Apple cider vinegar has a milder flavor, but the amber color may not be as desirable with lighter colored herbs. If you choose to use wine or rice vinegar as a base, keep it refrigerated and use it quickly because these vinegars contain some protein that provides an excellent medium for bacterial growth.
Herbal vinegars: Use 3 to 4 sprigs per pint of vinegar. For best flavor select herbs picked before they blossom and picked soon after the morning dew has dried. Leaves may be “lightly bruised” to release the flavors and shorten the flavoring process. Dried herbs may be substituted if necessary; use 3 tablespoons dried herbs per pint of vinegar.
Fruit vinegars: Raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, peaches, pears and the peel of lemons and oranges are favorites for flavoring vinegars. Sometimes they are combined with herbs or spices such as mint or cinnamon. Thoroughly wash all fruits with clean water; peel, if necessary. Berries may be left whole or halved. Larger fruits, such as peaches, may need to be sliced or cubed. Allow 1 to 2 cups of fruit per pint of vinegar or the peel of one orange or lemon per pint of vinegar. Fruit may be crushed or “bruised” to assist in flavor development. When using orange or lemon peel, avoid using the thick white underside which is bitter.
Heat the vinegar to just below the boiling point, or at least to 190-195°F, and pour over the flavoring ingredients in jars leaving ¼-inch head space. (Heating the herbs in the vinegar causes them to wilt more.) Wipe and attach lids. Let sit in a cool, dark place undisturbed for 3 to 4 weeks to develop flavors—it takes at least 10 days for most flavors to develop and about 3 or 4 weeks for the greatest flavor to be extracted. Taste each week to determine the desired strength. Test the flavor by placing a few drops of the vinegar on plain white bread. Strain the vinegar through several layers of cheesecloth or through a coffee filter until clear. Discard the fruit and/or herbs. (If after tasting the flavors seem to strong, you can dilute the flavored vinegar with more of the base vinegar.) Pour the strained vinegar into clean sterilized jars and cap tightly. A few clean berries or a washed and sanitized sprig of fresh herb may be added to the jars before closing, if desired.
Store flavored vinegar in the refrigerator for best retention of flavor and freshness. Vinegar should keep for up to six to eight months in the refrigerator. If mold, bubbling, cloudiness, or sliminess develops, throw it away without using or tasting.
The Ball Blue Book includes processing directions for flavored vinegars. Processing would be desirable for shelf storage and gift giving. After straining the flavored vinegar, heat it to 180°F and ladle into hot mason pint jars leaving ¼ inch headspace. Apply two-piece caps and process 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath.
Clear or softly colored vinegars displayed in a pretty decanter with a sprig of herbs makes a lovely window decoration—but should be just that. Vinegars displayed on the windowsill or shelf for more than a few weeks should be considered a permanent decoration and not used in foods.
Some Herbal Vinegar Recipes are printed in Flavored Vinegars from the National Center for Home Food Preservation available at http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/uga/uga_flavored_vinegars.pdf