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Flavored Vinegar & Oils

By: Nora M. Fraser

Flavored vinegar and oils add excitement to salad marinades and sauces. They also make special gifts, provided a few simple precautions are followed.

Select and prepare containers first. Use only glass jars or bottles that are free of cracks or nicks and can be sealed with a screw-band lid, cap or cork. Wash containers thoroughly, then sterilize them by immersing the jars in a pan of hot water and simmering for 10 minutes. Once the jars are sterilized remove from the simmering water and invert on a paper towel to dry. Fill while the jars are still warm.

Commercial companies that make herbal vinegars dip the herbs in anti-bacterial agents that are not readily available to consumers. As an alternative, briefly dip the fresh herbs in a sanitizing bleach solution of 1-teaspoon household bleach per 6 cups (1- quarts) of water. Rinse thoroughly under cold water and pat dry. For the best results use only the best leaves and flowers, eliminating any brown, discolored, trampled or nibbled parts of the herbs. Fresh herbs are best picked just after morning dew has dried. Allow three to four sprigs of fresh herbs or 3 tablespoons dried herbs per pint of vinegar.

Fruits often used to flavor vinegars include strawberries, pears, peaches and the peel of oranges or lemons. Allow the peel of one orange or lemon or 1 to 2 cups of fruit per pint of vinegar flavored. For a variation, try fruits in combination with herbs or spices. Vegetables, such as garlic cloves and jalapeno peppers, can also be used to add zest to vinegars. Thread these on thin bamboo skewers for easy insertion and removal. Thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables with clean water and peel, if necessary, before use. Small fruits and vegetables may be halved or left whole; large ones may need to be sliced or cubed.

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Use only high quality vinegars. Even the strongest herbs cannot diminish the sharp flavors of some vinegar. The type of vinegar to use as the base depends on what is being added. Fruit blends work well with apple cider vinegar. Distilled white vinegar is best with delicate herbs and wine vinegars works well with garlic and tarragon. Do be aware, however, that wine and rice vinegars contain protein that provides an excellent medium for bacteria growth, if not stored properly.

To make flavored vinegars, place the prepared herbs, fruits or spices in the sterilized jars, being careful to avoid over-packing the bottles. Use three to four springs of fresh herbs, 3 tablespoon of dried herbs or 1 to 2 cups of fruit or vegetable per pint of vinegar to be flavored. Heat vinegar to just below boiling (190F), then pour over the herbs and cap tightly. Allow to stand for three to four weeks for the flavor to develop fully. Then, strain the vinegar through a damp cheesecloth or coffees filter one or more times until the vinegar is no longer cloudy. Discard the fruit, vegetable and/or herbs. Pour the strained vinegar into a clean sterilized jar. Add a sprig or two of fresh herbs or berries that have been sanitized. Seal tightly. Store in the refrigerator for the freshest retention of flavor.

Fresh Dill Vinegar

8 sprigs fresh dill

4 cups (1 quart) white vinegar

Wash dill and dip in solution of 1-teaspoon household beach in 6 cups of water. Rinse thoroughly under cool running water. Place dill in sterilized quart jar. Heat vinegar to just below boiling point (190F); pour over dill. Cap tightly and allow to stand in cool, dark place for three to four weeks. Strain vinegar, discarding dill. Pour vinegar into clean sterilized bottles with tight fitting covers. Add a fresh sprig of cleaned and sanitized dill. Store in the refrigerator.

Nora Fraser is the Editor/Publisher of The Culinary Sleuth a food newsletter that The Washington Post called "one of the best culinary newsletters we’ve ever come across". Every two months we serve up heaping helpings of culinary curiosities, articles from the Sleuth’s food history archives, food lore, nutrition news, Kid’s Korner, Make Your Own Convenience Foods, publication (other food newsletters and cookbooks) reviews and of course, the proverbial more.

Write to The Culinary Sleuth, 1238 East 85 Street, Brooklyn, NY 11236.