By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America
Homemade herbal vinegars have been in Melissa McClelland’s kitchen for as long as she can remember. Her mom, Lenore McClelland — a long-time member of the Western Reserve Herb Society unit of The Herb Society of America — made them every year.
“While she may not have been the best cook on the face of the earth, she could make a mean vinaigrette,” laughs Melissa, a photo stylist who lives in Cleveland Heights and has turned her entire front yard into raised herb beds. Because of her mother Melissa has become quite the expert at infusing various vinegars, something she often gifts to friends.
“I started out doing classic combinations like basil- or tarragon-infused white wine vinegar,” she says. “I love garlic so I always have a garlic vinegar on hand.”
“As I started doing them more I started thinking of the herb and spice mixtures that I love. I have a poultry seasoning combination that I love to do,” she says. “It’s great when making vinaigrette for a chicken salad. You have that built in flavor profile.” For poultry she uses 10 sprigs of thyme and four each of sage and rosemary per quart of white wine vinegar.
Another of her creations uses rinds from organic lemons and oranges with an herb or two. Her favorite combinations include basil or thyme with orange. “They have been such useful combinations. It makes a nice base for marinating chicken or pork.”
“The newest I’m starting to experiment with is a Chinese five spice mix in rice wine vinegar to use in Chinese cooking,” says Melissa. “I’m still working to get the ratios right.”
“Herbing” vinegar is relatively easy and has few health safety concerns, something Melissa appreciates.
She usually starts with a quart of vinegar – most often white wine or cider vinegar. She prefers organic cider vinegars for the health benefits. White vinegar, she says, can be harsh and red vinegars too strong.
“There are a couple of ways to make the herbal vinegar,” she say. “Some people pack the jars, strain then repackage with a decorate sprig. That gives them a super-saturated herbal flavor.”
“For me it’s been a balancing act. It’s easy when you love herbs and are enthusiastic to use too many. I like having it more subtle, I want to be able to use it freely.”
First, she sterilizes wide-mouth mason jars with boiling water. After placing herbs inside, she makes certain they’re fully immersed in vinegar. Then, she places the jar in a dark place for at least a week. While she will strain and repackage for a gift, she may just leave the “pickled” herb in the jar for home use.
Melissa keeps her home vinegars in a dark pantry. With vinegar’s preservative properties the infusions last a year and beyond.
When vinegars remain in mason jars with metal lids, the lids may rust. For gifting presentations consider Timbertops, eco-friendly bamboo storage lids for mason jars from masontops.com or their plastic lids or chalk tops. They make delightful presentations. Readers can get a 10 percent discount by entering the discount code HERBSOCIETY10. Discount expires August 11, 2017.