Monday, June 27, 2011

Chive Blossom Vinegar

I've been so busy with garden shows and Farmers' Markets and trying to keep up with stuff at home.  I've been pretty good about taking pictures of the stuff I'm doing, but not so good about finding time to sit at the computer and blog about it.  This week I'm making an effort to try to get caught up and get back on a regular schedule.  It's just really hard in the summer to stay on much of a schedule!
One of the things that I love to do each spring is to make Chive Blossom vinegar.  If you have a clump of chives, you know that they are very hardy perennial plants and one of the first to break ground in the new year.  I generally see them start poking through the ground in February - although this year it was a little later since we were covered in 2 inches of ice in mid-February.
Around the first of May you will see plenty of bright pink blooms - which I always look forward to seeing.  They are one of the first things to bloom in the garden and the bees and butterflies are happy to see something with nectar and we are happy to see something with color!  The blooms are edible and I sometimes use them in salads and herb butters.  They have a very light, sweet onion flavor.  If you don't use the blooms, once they start to fade, they will produce lots of seeds.  If left on the plant, these seeds will drop and you will have chive plants coming up everywhere in your garden the following year.
I like to collect fading blooms and let them dry and then I will shake out the seeds to use the following year in the greenhouse.  I'll plant the seeds for my next batch of chive plants that I will sell at the shop, shows, and Farmer's Markets.

Chives in full bloom.  Beautiful color in the garden!
My dad has some chive plants in his garden.  He likes to get rid of the blooms so he doesn't have plants popping up all over his garden.  So each year he calls me and asks if I want his chive blooms.  I always say YES -- I never pass up free stuff!  He collects the blooms, or I go out there and collect them and then I bring them home and make vinegar.
Making herbal vinegars is VERY EASY!!!  Take your plant material (chive blossoms, or whatever you would like to flavor your vinegar) and simply add it to vinegar.  You can use almost any kind of vinegar, and I use a variety of vinegars, depending on what herb I plan to use.  With the chive blossoms, I like to use white wine vinegar.  It is almost clear, and the pink chive blossoms will color it up beautifully!  It also has a nice mild flavor which lets the light onion flavor of the chives come through.  You can use distilled vinegar, but I find the flavor of distilled vinegar to be VERY sharp, which I don't like.  And distilled vinegar is also made from by-products from the wood pulp industry, which I do not find appealling for food products. 
You can simply put the blossoms in a glass jar and add your vinegar.  Let it sit for 3 to 6 weeks and the vinegar will draw the flavor and color out of the blossoms and into the vinegar.  Or you can use the quick method and heat your vinegar before you pour it over your blossoms.  Once cooled, it is ready to bottle.
Chive blossoms in vinegar.
When working with vinegar, always use glass, stainless steel, ceramic or enamel coated items.  Vinegar can react with other metals.  And ALWAYS use a vinegar that is 5% acidity (it will list that somewhere on the label).  Bacteria cannot grow in acidity of 5% or more.  I used to use a rice vinegar that was 4.3% acidity. The last time I used rice vinegar and bottled it with a few stems of chives in the bottles -- after a month the chives had mold growing on their stems.  So 4.3% acidity is not high enough to prevent bacterial growth.
I like to use the quick method, but don't always get it bottled that same day.  For this batch of chive blossom vinegar I divided my blossoms into two quart glass jars (I use what I have on hand - don't feel the need to go buy new stuff just to make vinegar).  I also purchased 3 bottles of white wine vinegar.  I poured the 3 bottles of vinegar into a stainless steel pan and put it on the stove.  I heated it until just before boiling - there was a little steam coming off of the top and a few tiny bubbles starting to form in the bottom of the pan.  I poured the hot vinegar over the blossoms (splitting the vinegar between the 2 jars of blossoms).  Then I just let it set until cooled. 
Meanwhile, soak the empty vinegar bottles in some hot water to remove the labels.  Then put the bottles and caps into a pan of water (covering the bottles) and boil them for 5-10 minutes.  This will sterilize the bottles and you can use them for your vinegar.  (Like I said -- I use what I have on hand.)
Bottling this beautiful vinegar.
I put a coffee filter into a funnel and pour the vinegar back into the bottle.  If you don't have a coffee filter, use a plain white napkin or paper towel.  This will filter out any little plant particles.  I even dump the blossoms into the funnel and squeeze them out to get all of that delicious vinegar that I can back into the bottles.
Dump the blossoms right into the funnel.
Squeeze out as much vinegar as you can without tearing your filter.
If you cannot bottle your vinegar right away, put a lid on your jar and it will wait until you have time to bottle it later.  I put a piece of plastic wrap over the jar first, then put on the lid so the vinegar won't have a reaction with the metal lid.  This batch of vinegar waited another 2 weeks until I had time to wash the bottles and finish it up. 
Herbal vinegars can be used anywhere a recipe calls for vinegar, lemon juice, or wine.  I use my herbal vinegars to make viniagrette dressings, meat marinades, and I also use it as a splash of flavor for greens and other vegetables as well as cole slaw.  I use the chive blossom vinegar in a cucumber dill salad that I make (recipe follows) and I like to use either tarragon or thyme vinegar for cole slaw.  I usually make single herb vinegars, but you can mix several herbs together for many vinegar blends.  You can even use garlic, peppers, and fruits for vinegars!
My pretty, pretty chive blossom vinegar!
 Herbal vinegars should be stored in a cabinet or dark pantry to preserve their color and flavor.  (Unfortunately, the color of chive blossom vinegar will not last much beyond 6 or 8 months.  The flavor is still there, but the color fades.)  Vinegars will last indefinitely.  They may get cloudy, but that doesn't mean that they are spoiled.  You can always re-filter it if cloudy.  Another way to use up the vinegar if it gets past your comfort zone of shelf life is to add it to your bath.  Vinegar in the bath is very good for your skin and an herbal vinegar would be even better.  So add a cup of vinegar to your bath water and relax for a beneficial soak.
Here is the recipe for the cucumber salad:
Dilly Cucumber Salad
8 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar (I use my chive blossom vinegar)
¼ teaspoon coarse ground pepper
8 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons chopped fresh dill
¾ teaspoon grated lemon peel (optional)
Mix these together in a glass or stainless steel bowl.  Stir until the sugar dissolves.  Then add:
2 cucumbers sliced in ¼ inch slices
6 or 7 radishes, cut into match sticks
2 tomatoes, chopped
Toss well to combine flavors.  Refrigerate for ½ hour, stirring a few times to marinate well.
You may also add:
Onion slivers
Green peppers
Sliced button mushrooms

Feel free to add comment about what kind of herbs you like to use in your vinegar, or if you have any questions about making herbal vinegars.
Later this week we'll talk about medicinal gardens, fairy gardens and garlic scapes!

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