You’ve picked the last tomato and pulled up the last of your carrots. But what about your herbs? If you’re anything like me, harvesting herbs is an ongoing process — you just clip off whatever you’re planning to cook with each day. But now that Old Jack Frost is about to make a return appearance, you need to harvest what’s left of your treasures, pronto.
Herbs deliver their best flavor and aroma when you rush them straight from the garden to the kitchen. Most of them will last for up to two weeks in your refrigerator’s crisper drawers. Just rinse them well, wrap loosely in paper towels (one type of herb per bundle), and put them into individual ziplock plastic bags.
If you want them to last longer than a few weeks, you can coarsely chop your herbs, put them in marked plastic containers with tight-fitting lids, and freeze them. Or you can dry them by spreading the stalks out on screens and leaving them in a dark room.
But this year, why not try your hand at one of my favorite homemade gifts: herbal vinegar. It packs a flavor punch you’ll never find in store-bought vinegars, and it’s as easy to make as a pot of tea. Why, in just a few hours, you can whip up a year’s worth of Christmas, birthday, and hostess gifts. For each bottle, you’ll need six to eight fresh herb sprigs and 1 quart of good-quality vinegar. Here are the simple how-tos:
STEP 1. Wash and dry the herbs, then pack them into clean quart-sized canning jars.
STEP 2. Heat the vinegar until it’s warm (don’t let it boil!), pour it over the herbs, and close the lid. Note: If you’re using jars with metal lids, cover the jar openings with plastic wrap or waxed paper before you screw the lids on. The inner wrap will keep the metal from reacting with the vinegar.
STEP 3. Put your filled jars in a dark place at normal room temperature, and let them sit for a couple of weeks.
STEP 4. Open the lid and sniff. If you detect a rich herbal aroma, it’s ready. Otherwise, close the jar and check again every week.
STEP 5. When the scent is just right, strain out the solids, pour the flavored vinegar into a pretty bottle, and tuck in a fresh herb sprig or two. Then, get ready for lots of oohs and aahs!