July 31, 2014

Tony and I are in Japan visiting his family this week, so I left behind this previous column for you to enjoy. I’ll have lots to report when we return.

Dear friends:

The neighbor’s bushes are loaded with black raspberries. This week I have watched them plump up, turn a gorgeous purple-black, then slowly shrivel on the vines. I’ve been tempted to pick the neglected bounty and  turn it into black raspberry vinegar. So far, I have resisted.

One way or another, a few jars of homemade vinegar will grace my cupboard shelves by the end of summer. I love to use mellow fruit vinegars in salad dressings when I want a less assertive flavor than my usual French vinaigrette provides. I also like to splash herb vinegar in a sauté pan as a substitute for wine in reduction sauces. Tarragon vinegar reduced with the pan juices, enriched with a knob of butter and drizzled over sautéed chicken is a fast-food wonder.

Making fruit vinegar can be as easy as heating a couple of cups of distilled or white-wine vinegar in a saucepan, mashing in a cup of fruit, and letting it steep for a few days until the vinegar is flavored. The mixture is then strained, bottled and refrigerated.

Some books call for canning the vinegar in a boiling water bath after steeping, but the experts at the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service say the step is not necessary. Strict cleanliness must be observed, however, to prevent the introduction of bacteria.

The complete lowdown can be found here, but basically you should:

  • Use only glass containers to store homemade vinegar, and sterilize them in boiling water for 10 minutes before filling.
  • Wash lids in hot, soapy water and scald in boiling water.  Containers and lids should both be hot when filled.
  • Use unblemished herb sprigs and fruit, discarding wilted or discolored herbs  and blemished or rotten bits of fruit. Wash herbs and fruit thoroughly.

The basic formula is 3 sprigs of herbs or 1 to 2 cups of fruit (whole berries or diced peeled fruit such as peaches) per 2 cups of vinegar. For citrus flavored vinegar, use the zest (colored part of the rind) of one orange or lemon per two cups vinegar. Heat the vinegar but do not boil before adding the flavoring agents.

If you’re like me, it will take you forever to use up a pint of flavored vinegar. So I usually keep one cup for myself and  pour a cup into a pretty bottle to give as a gift to a foodie friend.

Black raspberry is my favorite flavored vinegar. I like it even better than the more popular red raspberry vinegar because it has a richer, more pronounced flavor. All I need now are the black raspberries, and I know just where to get them.

RASPBERRY VINEGAR

  • 2 cups white wine vinegar
  • 2 cups unblemished black raspberries
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

Heat vinegar in a medium saucepan to at least  190 to 195 degrees, but do not boil. Meanwhile, gently wash raspberries and blot dry with paper towels. Remove pan from heat, add raspberries and mash gently with a sterilized potato masher. Pour into a glass container, leaving some headspace. Wipe rim with a clean, damp cloth. Cover tightly and place in a cool, dark place for 3 to 4 weeks to develop the flavors.

Strain vinegar through a damp cheesecloth or coffee filter one or more times, until no cloudiness remains. Discard fruit.

Heat vinegar almost to a boil. Pour into sterilized glass containers and cap tightly with clean corks or sterilized lids. Store in the refrigerator or a cool, dry place. May be used immediately. Makes 2 cups.

TARRAGON VINEGAR

  • 2 cups white wine vinegar
  • 4 sprigs fresh tarragon

Wash vinegar in cool water, discarding any discolored or wilted leaves. Dry on clean paper towels. Place two sprigs in each of two 1-cup glass jars or containers.

Heat vinegar in a saucepan to 190 to 195 degrees. Pour over herbs in containers, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Tightly cap with clean lids. Let stand in a cool, dark place for 1 to 2 weeks, shaking jar occasionally. When desired strength is reached, discard herb sprigs and heat vinegar almost to a boil. Pour into sterilized glass containers and cap tightly with clean corks or sterilized lids. Store in the refrigerator or a cool, dry place.  Makes two cups.

HELP U COOK

Ever since my friend, Nancy, suggested I use a potato masher to break up ground beef in a skillet, I’ve been on the lookout for other ways to use the gadget.   As I peeled eggs for egg salad yesterday, I mentally yelled, “Eureka!”   I got out the potato masher and reduced a half-dozen  eggs to crumbles in about 10 seconds. It worked amazingly well – much better than the fork I used to use.

 

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