Herbal Vinegars

Herbal vinegars are easy to make and totally worth that extra flavor they add to foods - not to mention they are gorgeous.

 

I make herbal vinegar by combining herbs with White Distilled Vinegar.   Some of my favorites are Oregano, Rosemary, and Basil.

Purple Basil 

I gather my herbs first thing in the morning.

When I bring them in I wash them thoroughly and allow them to sit on the towel for about 30 minutes - I typically turn them on the towel at least once so that most of the excess water is absorbed into the towel.  As I wash the leaves and stems (if I am using stems) and make sure I'm only keeping the healthiest of leaves and stems so I get maximum flavor.

While my herbs dry a little (I don't want them to wilt) I prep my garlic.  I use whole cloves in my herbal vinegars.  For every cup my jar will hold I use 2 cloves of garlic.  So, a pint jar has 4 cloves and a quart 8.

getting garlic ready - this garlic is from our garden also

When I put the herbs in the jar I do not pack them in.  I just fill the jar.  If I have to push it in to get more leaves in the jar I consider it full.

Lastly, I bring my vinegar to a boil.  I use enough vinegar to fill each jar of leaves I have.  I prefer Mason jars because it keeps the math easy, but any glass jar with a tight fitting lid will work just fine.

Once to the vinegar has come to a good solid boil I turn it off and let it cool a minute (I don't want to break the glass jars).  Using a funnel I pour the vinegar over the leaves and garlic just under the rim.  There is pressure that builds up in the jar so you need to be sure to leave room for it.

Vinegar ready to sit for 30 days

The vinegar needs to sit in a dark place for about 30 days so it can draw all the deliciousness out of the leaves.

After 30 days

Once it's done, pop the lid, strain it (cheesecloth is great - mine was dirty from some comfrey massage oil I made the other day), so I used a sieve instead.  I don't bother chopping up my leaves - some leaves release their flavor even better when crushed or serrated.  I get enough flavor without taking the extra step, but you always can.

strain

When you're all done make sure you keep in a jar with a lid that seals.  I store mine in the fridge, but it does have a nice shelf life in an air tight container. 6-8 months.

To cook with it you use it anywhere you would use vinegar that you are itching to have a little extra umpf of flavor!

Winters looking pretty tasty! 

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Drying herbs

A few weeks ago I brought in some herbs for drying.  I am always watching the herbs in the garden trying to catch the leaves at their peak time to bring them in for use in the winter.  There are few things more satisfying to me when I am in my kitchen than walking over to the herb shelf to retrieve oregano or basil I watched grow in our garden.

I like to cut my herbs first thing in the morning - and after a good rain the night before when possible.  Actually, I try to make a point of getting outside to pick herbs and vegetables on most mornings after rain.  I find that the plants look and feel healthier and alive - and when every drop of water they absorb is being pulled into the air during the summer they get tired and are less potent.  I try my best to cut stems just before they flower to help ensure I'm getting the maximum medicine or flavor out of them I can.  (I am human and I have a life so this is my disclaimer - I try my best to pick our herbs at the most opportune times - especially if I am going to dry them, but I don't always because life is not that seamless.  What I do is try - this is my ideal.)

When I cut herbs I seldom take the whole plant.  I try to take the oldest growth leaving new growth to keep growing and I continue to harvest this way for most of the summer.  With Lemon Balm this is super helpful since it grows everywhere easily.  By keeping it cut and drying or tincturing or in vases I keep it pretty well under control and it stays beautiful in the garden longer.  (Lemon Balm is one of my favorite herbs)

After I get my herbs cut I bring them inside and rinse them in COLD water and place them on  towel to drain off excess water.  Washing the herbs lets me get any insects off of them and ensures I'm only drying the best leaves for later.

Once they've drained a little I tie the herbs into small bundles.  I usually only put 7-10 stems in a bundle.  I find that the bigger bundles take longer to dry and they can get a little moldy in the middle of the bundle if I am not careful.  I also try to make sure the stems are all about the same length.  I put short stems with other short stems and long stems with long stems (when possible).  

We have a long dark hallway with a high ceiling and I hang my herbs on a piece of jute we've got tacked to the wall.  There's a lot of air movement in the hall and very little light.  After a couple of weeks of hanging I like to turn the bundles so the leaves that were closest to the wall get exposed to more air.  This also helps to ensure even drying.  It takes anywhere from three to six weeks for the bundles to dry.  I know they are dry when the leaves break off easily and they crumble in my hands.  

I take the bundles to the kitchen and remove the leaves from the stem straight into my food processor.  I grind them up and in the winter I have herbal teas, cooking herbs, and healing herbs. 

 

I store my herbs in clean glass jars in a dark cool place.

Sauce

Sauce:

I don't measure anything...

I cut up two or three onions and begin cooking them in olive oil (I use bacon or sausage grease if I have it).

Once the onions begin to look tender and soft I throw in the garlic and a handful of basil leaves.

When the basil leaves have wilted I begin adding the tomatoes - skin and all and I add about a teaspoon of salt and a table spoon of black pepper corns.  I let this simmer on medium low until it begins to thicken - stirring occasionally and crushing the tomatoes. (30 min - 40)

As it thickens I add about a 1/2 cup of homemade chicken broth and a second handful of basil leaves (though I usually cut these up).  (another 10 minutes or so - consistency is up to you)

When the sauce is to the consistency we like I take it off the stove and let it cool.

We eat what we're going to for the evening and pour the remainder into mason jars and freeze for winter.  (Remember anytime you freeze something in glass you have to make sure to leave room at the top of the jar for expansion while frozen or the glass will break)

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