16 August 2010

Family recipe Monday: let the canning begin: vinegars

Upland sandpiper on the move

Fall migration has started. The birds that were moving north in April are already moving south. People have been hearing shorebirds, like our upland sandpiper, flying over in the twilight and calling to each other on their long journey. The blast-furnace heat of the past weeks is subtly cooler, and the days are just perceptibly shorter. The fall semester is two weeks away, as is our grand opening of the new building. The birds are not alone: this is a time of moving and transition on all fronts up here.

And, just to add to the hectic pace of moving, it's time to start saving the summer magic for the cold months. The summer harvest is in full swing. It looks like another bumper-crop year for wild plums, apples and raspberries. We'll try to make a trip to the fair at the end of the month, where I will be checking out the canning and quilting shows. It's like going back in time 50 years. I'll be setting up a little canning expo of my own at home over the next couple of months.

One of the easiest canning techniques is the preparation of herb, fruit and vegetable vinegars. This is the right time to get these done so that they can mature nicely for holiday gift-giving. Start them now and let them sit for a few months while you look for the perfect gift bottles. Preserves are like casseroles: Make them so that you can keep some and share some. By December, these will have a lovely color and shine.

Basic herb vinegar

 Add 1 cup of fresh herb or spice or 1/3 cup of the dried version to each quart of cold vinegar. Leave for 5 to 6 weeks to develop flavor. Then strain the vinegar into clean bottles and add a fresh twig of herb for show. Cap tightly and store.

As the base you can use any of several vinegars--white, wine, cider or malt. The white vinegar will let the flavor of the herb or spice shine through. Other vinegars add their own characteristics to the end product.

If you want flavored vinegar in a hurry, simmer vinegar and spices for about 20 minutes. Pour into bottles and cap. It’s ready for use without waiting for it to mellow. Care should be taken so that the vinegar is not boiled or it will destroy the acetic acid in the vinegar that is essential to preserve the herb foliage.

  • Dill-garlic-black peppercorns (use on salads and fish)
  • Oregano-garlic-red chiles (meat marinade)
  • Tarragon-lemon peel-cloves (fish and green salads)
  • Bay leaves-juniper berries-allspice (beef marinade)
  • Mint-lemon-garlic (use to baste chicken and fish)
  • Mint-cider vinegar (great for fruit salads)
  • Thyme-red chiles-garlic (meat marinade)

Ten-herb vinegar
Lemon balm

Use 1 tsp. of each herb per quart of vinegar with the exception of rosemary and thyme. These herbs are very strong, so use in small amounts (a pinch).

Basic fruit vinegar
1 lb. fresh fruits or berries
1 quart distilled white vinegar

Sort fruit, rinse and drain in colander. Cut large varieties of stone fruits into ½” sections. Discard pits; peeling is unnecessary. It is not necessary to pit plums and sour cherries. Transfer fruit to a large glass container and, using a potato masher or hands, crush fruit to release juices. Blend in vinegar. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Store in a cool place for 3 to 4 weeks, stirring every day. Line large glass bowl with a pillowcase and pour in the fruit and vinegar. Gather up 4 corners of fabric and knot onto a broomstick handle. Hang mixture over a bowl overnight to allow vinegar to drain; do not squeeze fruit mixture. Preheat oven to 300* F. Discard drained fruit. Measure vinegar: 3 T sugar for every 2 cups of vinegar. Place sugar in a baking pan and warm it in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, pour vinegar into a large wide pot that is no more than 8” deep; vinegar should be no more than 4” deep. (Keeping vinegar shallow expedites boiling process, which preserves the color.) Place vinegar over high heat and warm. Stir in warmed sugar and quickly bring to a boil. Boil 3 minutes to prevent fermentation. Pour into a clean container and let stand overnight. Add appropriate garnish to sterilized bottles. Slowly and carefully decant vinegar into bottles. Discard sediment remaining in container. Cap or seal bottles. Store bottles in a cool dark area until ready to use.

  • Peach-ginger: 2 oz peeled ginger, cut into ¼ ” slices to basic peach cider mixture.
  • Blueberry-mint: 1 lb. of blueberries to 1 cup of fresh mint.

Onion vinegar
6 large Texas or Vidalia sweet onions, peeled, chopped
1 T salt
1 T sugar
4 cups white vinegar

Place onions, salt and sugar in a large clean crock or glass jar. Heat the vinegar in the microwave about 2 minutes on High (100%) and pour over onion mixture. Cool and seal. Store in a cool dark place for 1 to 3 months. Clarify by pouring through a coffee filter. Pour into decorative bottles and add fresh or green onion to each bottle. Seal and label. Yield: 4 cups.

Happy Monday. Save up the summer to light up the winter.

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