Last night, I embarked on a science experiment. I started making a fruit-infused vinegar.
I’ve been thinking about fruit infusions for a long time. I first encountered the concept years ago–an artist whom I had a brief crush on being quite the connoisseur of infused liquors. (There’s nothing quite like a basil-and-cucumber vodka to add spice to a hot-tub party.)
But back to fruit and back to vinegar. Ever since my reintroduction to canning with Leni Sorensen last summer gave me the taste of fresh tomatoes in my soups and stews and salsa until the end of January, I’ve been pondering how to improve on that performance.
Should I try jam? I wondered. Ehh, perhaps not since there are so many truly superior local jams and jam makers around. What about a chutney–something savory to serve over meat? … But I’m trying to cut down on meat. How about a syrup? Or would that lead to binges on things like ice cream and pound cake…?
You get the picture–for a simple decision, I was getting a tad angsty.
Then the inspiration came to me. Fruit vinegar! Sure! Something a little tart, a little sweet that would allow my favorite spring flavors to linger on my lips just a bit (maybe more than a bit) longer! Something I could use to jazz up a boring salad dressing, or find a hundred other uses in my cooking repertoire.
What follows is the recipe from the test batch I whipped up. I adapted it from a recipe for raspberry vinegar in my food preservation bible, the Ball Complete Book of Home Canning. According to the recipe, this amount would make about three pint jars. (And if that doesn’t seem like much, remember this is a test batch and would likely be paired with another experiment, a syrup or a chutney, to fill out the seven-quart quota in my home canner).
- 2 cups strawberries
- 2 1/2 cups vinegar, divided
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- handful fresh fennel leaves
The first steps:
- Wash the berries and quarter if large.
- In a large glass bowl, pour 1 cup of vinegar and sugar over strawberries.
- Using a potato masher or a pestle, lightly crush and add the rest of the vinegar.
- Cover tightly with plastic wrap and store in a cool dark place for 1 to 4 week.
- Stir every 2 or 3 days. Once a week, taste it, and when the mixture achieves the desired strength, remove and process in a water bath canner.
And that’s it, for a while at least.
Now I took a few liberties with the original recipe. First of all, I chose to use a canning jar with a lid rather than a plastic-covered glass bowl–it just seemed more convenient. Next, I added sugar, because the berries were quite tart and because, frankly, I thought the end product would taste better.
I tinkered with the vinegar as well–I used a mild wine vinegar, locally made, instead of the white stuff. (Not that I have anything against the white stuff–I just wanted a robust strawberry flavor).
Lastly, I added fresh fennel to the mixture. There’s nothing, to my taste, that’s brighter and more aromatic in an early season salad than fennel–and though I’m not quite sure how the combination will turn out (basil would have been a much surer bet), I have a sense the flavors will marry beautifully.
We’ll find out. This whole thing is, after all, in the nature of a science experiment.
An experiment with a narrow window to completion, too. Strawberry season is getting under way quite late this year, but it is June, so there’s probably only one week left at most to obtain bulk fruit at the local pick-your-own. The test batch is pretty spectacular to look at–the chemical reaction with the vinegar has really intensified the already-brilliant red of the berries. Plus, I’ve thought of a few different herb combinations to try out.
… And let’s not forget, the blueberries are coming! The blueberries are coming!
(Note: instructions on the actual canning process for vinegar in a few weeks).