Bottle the season
Preserve the herbs of summer in special vinegars

By L.A. JACKSON, Correspondent

This is the season of the mature herb garden -- time to preserve the tastes
of this summer's special seasonings creatively in herb vinegars. Herbs are
hot commodities when it comes to adding distinctive flavors to infused
concoctions, and why not? Such herbal brews can become salad dressings,
marinades or secret ingredients to add zip to tired old recipes, making herb
vinegars as useful as they are tasty.
Tarragon vinegar is probably the best known herb vinegar, but other herbs --
dill, burnet, borage, mint, lemon thyme, lemon grass, fennel, basil,
rosemary, chives, sweet marjoram and even tangy nasturtiums -- can add their
own distinctive, tasty flavorings to vinegar. You can even let the mad
scientist in you come out and play by combining different herbs in
one-of-a-kind culinary concoctions.

While you are free to experiment with bottling various herbs, you should be
picky about the type of vinegar you use. Robustly flavored malt vinegars are
not suitable . Inexpensive cider and white vinegars will do. But the best
option for smooth flavor is either red or white wine vinegar.

In the garden, harvest herbs before they flower, when their oils are at
their flavor peak. Gather them early in the morning when their oils are more
concentrated.

After washing and patting the herbs dry, you can steep them in vinegar
slowly or quickly. The slow (and more traditional) method tends to create
fuller tasting vinegars. Add about 1/2 cup fresh herbs or 8 teaspoons dried
herbs to a quart of cold vinegar in a bottle. Close the bottle tightly,
place it in a warm location that is not in direct sunlight.

Allow the mixture to steep for two to three weeks, shaking the bottle
occasionally to stir the mix.

For the quick method, bring a quart of vinegar to a boil (using either a
porcelain or stainless steel pot) and add either 1/2 cup fresh herbs or 8
teaspoons dried herbs Allow the mix to cool before putting it into a bottle.

The bottle you choose is especially important if you are planning to give
bottles away to friends. Mason jars might be OK for jellies and backwoods
moonshine, but they won't do as gift jars for herb vinegars.

Make sure the bottles you pick are clean, made of clear or slightly tinted
glass and have an airtight cap. A cork stopper (especially with a wax seal)
really makes this home brew look snazzy.

When you are ready to bottle your vinegar, you can pour it in as is. But the
product will look better if you strain the herbs from the liquid with a
paper coffee filter. What remains is a vinegar free of particles, but it is
usually tinted by the herb.

For a decorative touch, add a few fresh herb sprigs to the vinegar. Cinnamon
sticks, garlic cloves, peppercorns, chive blossoms, hot peppers and even
citrus rinds can be dropped into the finished brew to add eye-catching
accents as well as their own unique flavor punches to the vinegar. It's also
not a bad idea to tag or label the bottle with the ingredients, especially
if the vinegar is a gift.

Herb vinegars should be used within a year, and more complex brews even
sooner. (Generally, the more ingredients you add to the finished product,
the less acidic the solution becomes, which diminishes its ability to
preserve the contents.)

Sprinkle the vinegar on salads, poultry, fish and meats to add a taste of
summer to recipes throughout fall and winter.

And pretty bottles of herb vinegar can also serve as attractive decorations.
They look great sitting on a window sill -- reminders of garden successes of
the past and the gardening glories to come.

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Marinated Shrimp

3/4 cup chive blossom white wine vinegar
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup shallots, minced
1/4 cup green bell pepper, cored, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons fresh chives, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon capers
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce
4 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined

In a large, nonreactive bowl, combine vinegar, oil, shallots, bell pepper,
chives, mustard, capers, garlic and pepper sauce. Whisk together.

Fill a large kettle 3/4 full of water and bring to a boil over high heat.
Add shrimp and cook 3 to 4 minutes until opaque in the center. Drain and add
shrimp to the marinade, stirring to coat.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 to 4 hours before serving.

Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: calories, 435; fats, 24 grams (52% of calories); cholesterol,
345 milligrams; carbohydrate, 3 grams; fiber, trace; protein, 46 grams;
sodium, 422 milligrams

'HERBAL VINEGAR' BY MAGGIE OSTER (STOREY PUBLISHING)

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Tomato and Basil Soup

1 pound tomatoes (about 3 medium), peeled, seeded and diced, for 1 1/2 cups
1 medium onion, chopped, for 1 1/2 cups
3/4 pound potatoes, peeled and diced, for about 3 cups
3 cups vegetable stock
2/3 cup basil or lemon basil white wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh basil or lemon basil, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a large, nonreactive (not aluminum) saucepan, combine tomatoes, onion,
potatoes, stock and vinegar. Cover and place over medium heat. Bring to a
boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until potatoes are
very soft. Pour the soup into a blender and puree. Stir in fresh basil, salt
and pepper.

Variation: Dill vinegar and fresh dill may be substituted for the basil
vinegar and fresh basil.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: calories, 149; fats, 1 gram (8% of calories); cholesterol, 0
milligrams; carbohydrate, 30 grams; fiber, 4 grams; protein, 4 grams;
sodium, 973 milligrams

'HERBAL VINEGAR' BY MAGGIE OSTER (STOREY PUBLISHING)

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Vinegar Pie

1 (9-inch) pie shell, unbaked
4 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup herb vinegar (see Note)
3 tablespoons unbleached flour
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line the chilled pie shell with parchment, then
put in pie weights. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove the weights and paper.
Return the pie shell to the oven and reduce heat to 350 degrees. Bake for 8
to 10 minutes or until just golden. Remove from oven and let cool.

In a bowl, beat eggs until smooth and lemon yellow. Add sugar, honey, herb
vinegar and flour. Beat well, then mix in the butter. Pour into baked pie
shell. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until the filling is set.

Let cool before serving. Serve with lightly sweetened, freshly whipped
cream, or, if using a fruit vinegar, with some fresh fruit cut into pieces
and lightly sweetened.

Note: Experiment with different vinegars, including those flavored with

spices, flowers, fruits and "sweet" herbs, such as angelica, sweet cicely
and mint.

Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: calories, 351; fats, 19 grams (49% of calories); cholesterol,
131 milligrams; carbohydrate, 40 grams; fiber, trace; protein, 5 grams;
sodium, 156 milligrams

'HERBAL VINEGAR' BY MAGGIE OSTER (STOREY PUBLISHING)

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classic combinations

* Rosemary and white wine vinegar look and taste great, but add a dozen
leaves of purple basil to tint the liquid a deep crimson and give the blend
a snappier flavor.

* Red also rules the culinary spectrum in a mix of red wine vinegar, basil
(any kind), oregano and thyme that makes a great salad dressing or marinade.

* Love lemons? Pucker up to a bottle of white wine vinegar loaded with lemon
basil, lemon balm, lemon thyme, lemon grass and even a few lemon peels.

* Is tang what your taste buds want? Warm up to fresh oregano, 2 peeled
cloves of garlic and 6 to 12 dried red chiles (depending on your desire for
high octane) in red wine vinegar.

L.A. JACKSON


what about herb wines?

To take herb preserving to the next level, consider trying your hand at herb
wines.

Cooking instructor Janice Therese Mancuso of Cary adds an assortment of
herbs, fruits and vegetables to the wines she cooks with. Her book,
"Herbed-Wine Cuisine" (Storey Publishing, 1997, $21.95), includes more than
50 recipes for creating and using herb wines.

She adds herbal helpers to a quart of wine and then lets the mix sit in a
cool, dark place for one to two weeks to allow the flavors to blend.

And what blends there can be: lemon dill Rhine wine, Thai pepper Chardonnay,
rosemary Chablis Blanc, thyme and marjoram Burgundy, parsley and savory
Merlot, chili pepper Cabernet Sauvignon, spiced cinnamon Pinot Noir and
double red pepper Rose.

Mancuso's favorite white wine combination is parsley and sage Chardonnay (to
which she occasionally adds garlic). She finds it to be a wonderful sauce
for chicken. As for a red wine choice, she likes an oregano and garlic
Burgundy mix (with a bit of basil, now and then) that she has found to be an
excellent addition to tomato sauces. Mancuso suggests using any mixes for
culinary purposes in three months time.

To order "Herbed-Wine Cuisine," call Mancuso at (919) 460-8836 or visit her
Web site (http://www.jtmancuso.com ).

L.A. JACKSON

L.A. Jackson, editor of Carolina Gardener magazine, can be reached at
lajack@lycos.com. Carolina Gardener is online at
http://www.carolinagardener.com.