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desert gardening basics
November, 2012, Page 144
DESERT GARDENING 101
Herbal vinegars are simple and inexpensive to make, especially if you snip fresh herbs from your garden or patio containers. Pour your concoction into pretty bottles, and you’re ready with holiday gifts. (Include an ingredient label in case of food allergies.) Start now, as herbs need time steeping to develop intense flavors.
Find attractive bottles at kitchen supply or arts and crafts stores.
Choose glass or plastic containers and lids, or cork lids. Do not use metal containers or lids because the acidic vinegar will eat away at metal and ruin the vinegar. It is easiest to make a large batch in a wide-mouthed container; then strain and pour the finished product into bottles with narrow openings.
Rinse herbs thoroughly to remove all soil, dust and insects.
A good practice is to rinse and repeat two or three times until the discarded wash water is clean. Wet foliage contributes to cloudy vinegar, so blot excess water and allow herbs to dry completely before continuing.
Chop or tear herbs into pieces.
The more surface area, the more flavor is imparted to the vinegar. Put herbs in the container, and cover completely with vinegar. Seal tightly and store one to four weeks in a warm, dark place. Shake occasionally. Taste-test after one to two weeks to see if the flavor is suitable. If the flavor becomes too intense at the end of steeping, dilute with fresh vinegar as you bottle. Strain out the old herbs and pop a few fresh sprigs into the bottles before sealing.
—Choose cider, white, red wine or white wine vinegars with 5 percent or greater acidity.
—Select any amount and combination that appeals to you. Quantities vary widely depending on herbal intensity and your taste preferences. As a general guideline, use 1 cup of fresh herbs to 2 to 3 cups of vinegar. If measuring isn’t your thing, simply fill a jar almost to the top with loose herbs, then fill with vinegar, covering all of the herbs.
Commonly grown herbs in desert gardens that are well-suited for flavoring vinegars include: basil, bay, chervil, dill, fennel, lemon balm, lemon grass, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary and thyme. Optional additions include garlic cloves, chile peppers, fruits (raspberries, blueberries, lemon or orange peel) and even flowers (chives, lavender, nasturtium, rosemary).
EASY ONE-HERB VINEGARS
—Mix white or white-wine vinegars and purple basil for a vinegar with a pinkish-purple color. Steep four to six weeks to enhance color.
—Create a pinkish vinegar with chive blossoms steeped in white vinegar. Garlic chive blossoms lend a hint of garlic flavor.
—All rosemary is edible, so if it grows in a landscape, it is fine to use. Steep in your choice of vinegar.
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