I am fully in the throes of starting the restocking of my urban larder. There are pickled: garlic scapes, carrots, spring garlic bulbs and watermelon radishes hibernating in the back of my refrigerator until they get stirred by the first frost. They are the first briny residents of the back wall – an Italian style garden mix and a spicy turnip are still to come plus I am sure a few surprises. Desiccating herbs are wafting through salts and sugars diverted from a summer picnic.
Though today I am preparing vinegar. Right now, as I walk through the market every fruit vendor have a basket filled with over-ripe, too-bruised-to-sell fruits waiting to be taken back home and thrown into the compost heap. These peaches, plums, cherries, blueberries are potent possibilities that cannot go to waste. There was a slew of last of the season sour cherries at my favorite orchard farmer’s stall that where too long gone to even pretend they could squeeze into a Black Forrest Cake, and that is where I came in. I saw two clear options: put up my Cherry/Ginger Cordial or make vinegar. Currently, I don’t have any pure grain alcohol in the house (I need to go to New Jersey or Connecticut for its an illegal sale in New York) so the choice was inevitable.
For this particular vinegar I am going with white distilled vinegar and infusing it with a jubilee of cherries. All that wonderful cherry juice will mellow and inform the otherwise harsh distilled vinegar. Though when I am making herb infused vinegars I start with remnants of wine – do keep reds with the reds and whites with the whites. I seek the most over-grown, woodiest herbs hoping that the bacterium that facilitates the conversion to vinegar is present. Stuffed into a sterilized jar covered with a cloth it sits for a few months transforming before being strained. One hopes that yeast drops in and that the bacteria, Acetobacter, feasts on the sugars in the wine turning it sour. These home cured vinegars are great for dressings and cooking but I would never use them for my pickles for I cannot be sure if its acidity is high enough (4%) to safely preserve.
At a minimum take some good vinegar and slide in your favorite herbs, and return it to the cupboard – within a few weeks you’ll have a designer fragrance. Don’t be limited to the usual let your imagination and nature co-mingle.
Cherry Vinegar - yields approx. 2 quarts
1 pound cherries
1 quart white distilled vinegar
Wash the cherries well and. Place the cherries into a 3 or 4 quart glass jar (pits and all), and gently crush them with a ladle. Pour the vinegar over the cherries and seal tightly. Place in a cool, dark spot for a month. During the second week open up the vinegar and with a large clean spoon push down on the cherries - this helps release a bit more of the their flavor. Reseal and let sit for the additional two weeks. Strain the vinegar through a clean coffee filter or a few layers of cheese cloth into clean glass jar and store in the refrigerator. It will last months.