This is the second time that I have run a class on flavored vinegars. Last year's activity attracted a large crowd who loved all of the different flavors we were able to create. But with every new activity I need to add a twist to keep it interesting as I have a few repeat clients and don’t want to get stale. This year the extra spice to the activity is the addition of a herb garden at Ann's Place, which gives my clients a plethora of material to add; so much that I don't need to include any of the dried spices that I used last year. And with my discovery of "Mother" I had a variety of new directions I could take.
As the class entered, I placed the Mother in the middle of the table surrounded by finished vinegars made by the Brother. "While many of you may think that vinegar is a simple item, there are many different options and possibilities in the creation of vinegar," I started. "We will be making flavored vinegars later but I would like to challenge your tastes by sampling a group of artisanal vinegars that are made at a local monastery by a monk. I will also let you contrast these vinegars against a flavored vinegar I made here last year."
With that I laid out fresh bread and the vinegars: my home made, red wine, apple cider, sherry, apricot, white wine and raspberry. I poured a small sample of each into a glass bowel and left the bottle adjacent. "First smell the contents of the bottle and see if you can discern the different flavors by smell, then try a bit on a piece of bread or in a spoon." As the clients sampled the different mixtures, their eyes lit up by the subtle differences that each vinegar displayed.
"I can really taste the apricot."
"The sherry is too strong for me."
"Is this apple cider? It is wonderful."
As we went through all the samples many of the clients kept coming back to the vinegar that I made over a year ago. Many preferred it over the vinegars made with the Mother by the Brother. The recipe was a combination of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, what I called the Simon & Garfunkel recipe.
"So now that you have tasted the different types of vinegars, lets go outside to the herb garden and choose the herbs you would like to flavor your vinegars," I said. "I also have fresh cloves inside as well as Champagne grapes, blackberries and blueberries from my garden."
I have found the recent addition of a raised bed herb gardens has been one of the most therapeutic aspects about the garden at Ann's Place. The clients walk among the mints and other herbs scratching and sniffing for relief and solace. As the class stated to stuff their jars with different herbs to infuse, I noticed that one of the clients was choosing St. John's Wort from the medicinal raised bed, which also has sage, chamomile, and many other herbs.
"That may not be a good thing to include in your infusion as it is used to treat depression, insomnia and anxiety. Perhaps chamomile will be a better choice," I suggested.
She nodded and went on to other herbs.
After the group collected their herbs we went back inside and poured hot vinegar into each mason jar holding their choices. The pouring of vinegar into mason jars reminded me of when my wife and I would can tomato sauce, peaches and strawberry jam. But unlike those canning's there was no sweet smell coming from the pot tempting one to take a lick but rather a very sour one that was on the edge of burning your eyes. Many decided to add fresh red German garlic to the mix to add some spice. While some of the clients believed we were finished, it was now time to decorate the jars.
While my clients last year were more ascetic in their decorations opting for simple labels and a bow or two, this year they embraced bling. Every little tchotchke that I had purchased as a bit of a lark got sampled and used. Some of the jars became so covered with decorations, there was little space to see the coloration of the vinegar.
“You should let your vinegars infuse for between a month and two,” I said. “Take a taste every week or two to see the change in potency and when it is to your liking strain it a couple of times using a coffee filter and bottle it up.”
They nodded in acknowledgement and continued to cover their bottles with the unclaimed scraps of decoration that still littered the counter.