RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—As I wrote about in yesterday's column, August is the perfect time of year to turn the gifts of your summer garden into gifts for the holidays. If canning and preserving fruits and vegetables aren't your thing, try turning your herbs into herbal butters or herb-flavored vinegars and oils. Or, consider pressing flowers and using them to decorate jars or greeting cards—or even as flavorings for sugars and vodka.
My mom used to make a delicious concoction of brown sugar flavored with rose petals, which she somewhat mysteriously buried in a sealed glass jar in the garden to age, but you can make flavored sugars, which are nice additions to tea or lemonade, as well as right on your kitchen counter.
Your botanicals: either 3 or 4 generous sprigs fresh, organic herbs (lavender, mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, and lemon balm are all nice); ½ cup rose petals; or the zest from an organic lemon or orange
2 cups organic sugar (white, raw, or brown; large crystals are especially attractive)
Bruise the herbs to help release their aroma (this isn’t necessary if you're using either petals or zest). Mix the herbs, petals, or zest with the sugar in a 1-quart, wide-mouth jar, and stir vigorously for a few minutes. Cover the jar tightly and put it on your counter out of direct sun. Stir vigorously every couple of days to encourage the transfer of flavor from your botanicals to the sugar as the herbs dry out. When they're finally dry and crumbly and thoroughly mixed with the sugar, which usually takes about 2 weeks, the sugar is done. Transfer to pretty jars, seal tightly, and store at room temperature.
Flavored vodkas are all the rage in some circles and super-easy to make as a special gift for the cocktail connoisseur on your list. You can infuse vodka with herbs, fruit, hot pepper, or garlic, and even cucumbers.
1 750 mL bottle (good, unflavored) vodka
6 cups chopped fruit or vegetables
6 chopped hot peppers or cloves of garlic, or 3 generous sprigs fresh, organic herbs
Place flavorings in a large glass jar, add the vodka, cover tightly, and shake a few times. Put the jar in a cool place out of direct sun. Taste-test once a day to see how much flavor has transferred to the vodka (most infusions take three to five days). When the flavor is perfect, strain the vodka through a coffee filter, return it to its original bottle or to a pretty presentation bottle, put the cap on tightly, label, and store at room temperature. Get creative with your flavors if you want: Try 2 sprigs of lavender plus 1 sprig of rosemary, apples plus a cinnamon stick, or peaches with a teaspoon of freshly grated ginger root.
Published on: August 5, 2010
Updated on: August 6, 2010