Subtly scented or fully flavored, herb-infused vinegar splashes summer on fresh food all year long. Before the herbs that I grow in my courtyard garden wilt or bolt (meaning when they’re still in fine form), I harvest their lovely leaves and preserve them. This time, I’ll talk about preserving in vinegar. As I move through the garden, I will also post about preserving in salt and in ice. There are also oil and air-drying techniques. And sugar and jelly!
This weekend I decanted my first batch of herb vinegars and started a second. The first featured heads and fronds of dill, a small clove of garlic and a few sprigs of young lemon basil. I had looked around the garden for something lemony to pair with the dill and chose lemon basil over lemon thyme, lemon balm and lemon verbena because I thought the more tender greens of basil would subtly complement and not compete with the dominant dill.
There’s no real recipe here. I take herbs that have been cleaned of their brown parts (if any) and lightly rinsed and dried, and cram them into a quart jar. I pour good quality white wine vinegar to cover, screw on the lid and let the mixture cure for 3-4 weeks in a dark place (pantry cupboard). I then decant the liquid into a clean dry bottle, cork it and keep it out of the sunlight, moving the greens to the compost heap.
There’s an added bonus when you make tarragon vinegar. After you decant most of the vinegar, save the tarragon stems and their leaves in a separate jar, still covered in vinegar. Use the cured tarragon in place of fresh or dried, for example with a roasted chicken or fish, or in a potato dish. You can rinse it to eliminate some of the vinegar taste but honestly, that’s what brings out the flavor. Since I was harvesting tarragon from one of my pots, I decided not to cut the leaves before washing them in order to diminish the chance of bruising. Instead, I sprayed water on the leaves, still on the plant, and let them dry in the sun. I thought I was being clever. I gave the plant a haircut into the jar and poured on the vinegar. Out ran a little green bug! I placed him back in the tarragon patch in the garden where I imagine he regaled his friends with his drunken adventure. For those of you who will experience this tarragon later, rest assured that I drained the leaves and checked for more creatures. None aboard.