We haven’t had the best of weather so far this month, here in central Scotland. Too much rain to be able to spend quality time outdoors, but it has been warmer, and we have had a few precious sunny hours. The lavender buds are just about to bloom, making them perfect for harvesting.
I have several lavender bushes all round the garden, ranging in colour from pale, pinky-lilac to deep, blueish-purple. Apart from looking delicate and pretty, the soothing scent that lavender brings to the garden is one of the true aromas of Summer.
One of the best ways to continue to enjoy this sensual memory, even when the gloomier months of the year set in, is to pop a few stems in a bottle of vinegar. In a few weeks, you’ll have the sweet smell of lavender and its delicate floral notes, preserved perfectly, in a bottle. It makes a lovely gift too.
For best results, choose lavender stems with buds that have swollen and are about to break flower. Lavender keeps fresh in water for 3 days after cutting, but keep out of sunlight in order to prevent the buds opening. Change the water and trim the stems a little each day.
To make sweet lavender vinegar:
- Wash and sterilise a sound, sealable glass bottle large enough to hold 250ml liquid.
- Trim down 12 stems of lavender to fit neatly inside your bottle and discard any leaves. Gently rinse and pat dry – dip lightly in a bowl of water and dry on absorbent kitchen paper.
- Gently crush the bud end of each stem between your fingers to release the aroma, and arrange in the bottle, buds downwards.
- Slightly warm 250ml white balsamic vinegar (agrodolce white condiment) – place on a sunny windowsill, just to take any chill out of the liquid – then pour into the bottle using a small funnel. I use white balsamic vinegar because it is naturally sweet and enhances floral and citrus notes in herbs and flowers. For a more traditional vinegar, choose a good quality white wine or cider vinegar.
- Seal with a non-corrosive, acid-proof lid or stopper. Label and leave on the kitchen work top for a couple of weeks, gently turning the bottle upside down and back each day.
- After 2 weeks, taste for flavour and either strain and rebottle ready for long-term storage, or continue to store as it is, allowing the flavour to slowly increase. For an intense flavour, strain the vinegar after 2 weeks, rebottle with more fresh lavender, and store until required. Stored correctly, in a cool, dark cupboard, your vinegar should last for up to 12 months.
You can use the same method with other fresh flowers and herbs. Rose and Calendula petals work well for flowery vinegars, whilst bay, fennel, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme are good choices for herbs to flavour vinegar.
For berry vinegars, just add small or alpine (wild) strawberries to vinegar, or small blueberries or blackberries. Gently wash and pat them dry before using.