vacation in Wales, our little car skimming between the low, stone walls that line the winding roads and my lively stepchildren singing at the top of their lungs, “Fish and chips and vinegar, vinegar, vinegar, fish and chips and vinegar; pepper, pepper, pepper, salt!” Who could resist stopping immediately for a newspaper folded into a cone and filled with crisp cod doused with a generous shot of barley vinegar?
Vinegars have become so varied that I want them all: vinegars fragrant with raspberries and blackberries, pungent mint vinegars for meats and fruit salads, herb vinegars for chicken, fish and vegetables and even a rose vinegar, just for the name. Since most exotic vinegars are rather expensive, why not make your own?
Using a cider or your own wine vinegar as a base, you add garlic, shallots, herbs or fruits to make the infusion that takes about a week to develop. Strain, and pour into one of the many bottles sold in Rome’s open markets, or you might want to browse in antique shops for unusual glass containers for an even more personal gift. Keep in mind while making vinegar to use 1-quart sterilized jars or bottles with glass lids or corks; vinegar and metal don’t get along well.
All you need are fresh herbs, unspoiled fruit and your imagination.
Raspberry or blackberry vinegar — Crush 2 pounds of berries in a glass bowl and pour 1 quart of your homemade vinegar or cider vinegar over them. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a cool place for 24 hours. Strain the vinegar through double cheesecloth into an enamel saucepan, and add 1/2 cup of sugar for each pint of vinegar. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Skim and strain into sterilized containers. Store in cool dark place.
Herb vinegar — Fill a 1 1/2 quart, wide-mouthed container loosely with bruised rosemary, tarragon, chervil, sage, basil, mint or thyme leaves. If you have flavored basil, mint or thyme, use that. Lemon grass makes wonderful vinegar and can be found in markets that sell Philippine or Indonesian products. Pour 2 pints homemade vinegar over the herbs, and press them down under the liquid. Cover and let stand in a cool place for a week. Strain into containers and store in a cool dark place. The addition of a split garlic clove, a few slices of shallot or a small piece of lemon or orange peel will liven up herb vinegar.
Rose vinegar — Chop enough unsprayed rose petals to make 2 cups. Very fragrant roses are best. In an enamel pot, simmer 1-cup homemade vinegar, the rose petals and 1-cup sugar for 10 minutes. Strain, bottle and store in a cool dark place.
The word mustard is from mustum, grape juice, and ardens, burning. The Romans mixed grape juice or wine with mustard powder, ground from seeds, to make a condiment for meat, while my mother, taking her cue from Hippocrates, slapped pungent mustard plasters on my wheezing chest as a cure-all for bronchitis. I think it worked, but I prefer my mustard on thin slices of cold lamb or spread on pieces of a plump chicken ready for the grill. You may simply want to buy a good Dijon mustard and experiment by adding flavors to it, but it is quite easy to make your own. As with vinegar, a unique container will make your gift even more personal. Etched glass mustard jars are often found in antique stores, and there are many crockery pots sold in china shops that are perfect for mustard. Try some of your new vinegar in the recipes that follow.
Basic mustard with eggs — Combine 1/3-cup dry English mustard (sold in supermarkets in the spice section), 1/4-teaspoon salt and 1-tablespoon sugar or honey in a heavy saucepan. Beat 2 eggs with 2/3-cup white wine vinegar and add slowly in a stream, stirring with a whisk. Cook over low to moderate heat until the mustard is thickened and smooth. Let cool. This makes about 1 cup.
Without eggs — Marinate 1 cup sliced shallots and 3 cloves minced garlic in l quart white wine vinegar for 3 hours. Use the shallots and garlic in another recipe, and mix the vinegar with 8 ounces of dry English mustard, 1 teaspoon of salt, 3 tablespoons honey, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, a pinch of white pepper and a pinch of cayenne pepper to make a paste. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for 5 to 7 minutes. When cool, whisk in 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
Things to try
- Substitute lime or lemon juice for the vinegar.
- Add a spoon of capers or rich tomato paste.
- Stir in 4 well mashed anchovies and a tablespoon of heavy cream.
- Add 3 tablespoons of grated onion.
Mushroom mustard — Cook 1 cup minced mushrooms in 4 tablespoons olive oil until very soft. Add 1 tablespoon sherry and cook until wine evaporates. Puree in a food processor and add 3/4-cup dry English mustard. Add 1/3-cup olive oil and 3 tablespoons heavy cream in a stream, then add 6 tablespoons lemon juice and salt to taste.
Apricot mustard — Cook 1 cup dried apricots in 1 cup white wine and 1 cup water until very soft, about 15 minutes. Put them in a food processor and puree them with 3 tablespoons dry English mustard, 3 tablespoons sherry and 3 tablespoons honey. Cook 1 teaspoon of curry powder, 1/2-teaspoon of ground ginger and a pinch of cardamom in 1 tablespoon of oil for 1 minute to “roast” the spices. Add them to the puree and blend until smooth.
And if your kid has bronchitis, lock up the mustard.