Mint and Cranberry Vinegar
1 1/2 lb fresh or frozen cranberries
2 1/2 pints red wine vinegar
12-14 fresh mint leaves
Save about a dozen of the best berries and put to one side. Chop the remaining fruit and place in a bowl. Boil the vinegar and pour over the berries. Cover and leave to infuse for 24 hours. Strain the vinegar though a kitchen sieve lined with muslin and press all the juice from the cranberries. Bring the juice to the boil and then allow to cool slightly. Pour into warm, clean bottles. Thread the reserved berries on to small bamboo skewers or satay sticks, with some mint leaves skewered in between them. Place a skewer in each bottle and seal with a lid or press in a cork. The vinegar will keep for abut four months.
Parsley and Lemon Oil
1 pint virgin olive oil
1 small lemon, scrubbed
3 large sprigs parsley
Cut the lemon into quarters and slide the pieces on to a bamboo skewer or satay stick. Place in a jar, add the parsley and cover with oil. Leave to infuse for between one and two weeks in a warm place, shaking the jar daily.
Herb Garden Vinegar
2 pints white wine vinegar
6 sprays each of thyme, rosemary, mint and summer savory
4 large sprigs parsley
a good handful of tarragon
2 tbsp coriander seeds
6 sticks celery, chopped
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
12 crushed green or black peppercorns
Place all the ingredients in a large jar or bowl, cover and leave for two to three weeks in a warm place. Stir or shake from time to time. Then strain off the vinegar and bottle.
Old-Fashioned Herb Sauce
1 stick horseradish, washed and scraped
2 small onions, peeled and chopped
4 sprigs each of winter savory, basil, marjoram, thyme and tarragon
rind and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 pint red wine vinegar
1 pint water
Remove all the stalks from the herbs. Put all the ingredients in a pan and simmer gently for approximately 20 minutes. Then strain and when cool pour into small bottles. Cork securely. This sauce is useful for flavoring stews and heavier dishes.
Rose Petal Vinegar
Fill a jar with the petals from a dark red or pink scented rose bush. Press down well and cover with white wine vinegar. Leave in a moderately warm place for a month, then strain and bottle.
This very popular vinegar is very simple to make and features in many current recipes. It is delicious in salad dressings or even in fruit salads.
3 lb raspberries
3 pints white wine vinegar
Put the raspberries and vinegar in a large jar or bowl. Leave to infuse for ten days, stirring daily. Strain off the vinegar and add 2 oz of sugar to each pint of vinegar. Place in a saucepan and boil well. When cool, bottle and seal.
Olive Oil with Oregano
1 pint olive oil
5 sprigs fresh oregano
2 garlic cloves, peeled
8 whole green peppercorns
2 bay leaves
Either pour the oil into a jar with a tightly fitting cork lid or leave it in its bottle and add the herbs. It will take several days for the herby flavor to develop. The oil can then be left as it is or strained and poured back into the container, with a fresh piece of oregano, in order to identify the oil.
The same process can be used for most herbs, but particularly successful oils are made from basil, fennel, rosemary, marjoram, thyme, tarragon and dill.
Drinks and Syrups
In this section, I have given two of my favorite recipes. The elderflower champagne definitely rates far higher than any French creations, and the rosehip syrup is delicious on ice cream or as a base for fruit salads.
Elderflower (Elderberry) Champagne
8 pints water
1 large lemon, scrubbed
5 elderflower heads
1 1/2 lb granulated sugar
2 tsp white vinegar
Heat a little water and dissolve the sugar in it, then allow to cool. Squeeze the lemon, then place the juice and the skins with the elderflowers in an immaculately clean bucket. Add the vinegar and the rest of the cold water. Leave for about four to five days, then strain and pour into sterilized bottles. It is important that the bottles are screw-topped, not corked. (Corks might pop out of the bottles during fermentation.) The champagne will be ready to drink after a week and does not improve with lengthy keeping.
2 lb rosehips, finely chopped
5 pints water
1 lb granulated sugar
Place 3 1/2 pints of water in a large saucepan and add the rosehips. Bring to the boil then remove from the heat and leave for 15 minutes. Ladle the mixture into a jelly bag or double thickness of muslin and leave to drain for several hours. Return the pulp to the saucepan with the remaining water and boil. Leave as before and then strain through the jelly bag or muslin. Pour the liquor into a saucepan and simmer until it reduces to approximately 1 1/2 to 2 pints and add the sugar. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and then boil for five minutes. Allow to cool a little and then pour into clean, warm bottles and cork securely.
Packaging the Gifts
Both these ideas can be packaged attractively with some custom-made labels. You could stencil a design on to the label if you don't trust your freehand drawing, or you could just rely on neat lettering. The elderflower champagne could be packaged with a pretty set of glasses or perhaps a good bookmy idea of heaven is a glass of chilled elderflower champagne and a fascinating book! The rosehip syrup could be part of a rose-themed basket of goodies, containing rose petal jelly, rose vinegar, damson and rose jam and a couple of beautiful pink roses for the finishing touch.
A collection of herbal cheeses, with some home-made breads and biscuits, would be well received by many friends or relatives and they are easily made and not overly expensive. They are best when freshly made, rather than frozen, and if they are rushed off to the recipient, they might even arrive still warm! If you do have to freeze these recipes you should cover them well with foil and label them. Allow them to thaw for at least two or three hours at room temperature, depending on the size of container used.
Making your own cheese is a fairly lengthy process, so I would suggest you cheat and use bought cheeses as your base.
Soft Cheese with Herbs
4 oz soft full-fat or half-fat cheese
2 oz butter
1 1/2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 tbsp mixed fresh herbs including marjoram, thyme and dill
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Mix all the ingredients in a food processor, then turn out into a small bowl and keep in the fridge. This cheese can either be served in a small pot or ramekin, or molded into a shape and wrapped in a large leaf.
Curd Cheese with Mint and Orange
8 oz curd cheese
zest of 1 orange
1 tsp finely chopped fresh mint
curls of orange peel
small mint leaves
Mix all the ingredients thoroughly and turn into small ramekin dishes. Smooth the tops and decorate each one with a curl of orange peel and a small mint leaf.
Cream Cheese with Basil and Garlic
8 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp finely chopped sweet basil
1 clove garlic, minced
Mix all the ingredients well and pack into small containers. This cheese is excellent stuffed in small tomatoes and eaten with warm French bread.
Herby Cheese Marbles
8 oz full-fat cream cheese
various herbs and spices, including chives, dill, parsley, mint, poppy seeds
sesame seeds, caraway seeds and oregano
Make sure the herbs are very finely chopped, then place in separate plates. Roll small amounts of the cream cheese into balls and then roll in one of the herbs or spices to give an even coating. Choose a reasonable variety of herbs and spices as this adds to the visual effect. Pile on to a flat dish or wooden platter and decorate with a bundle of fresh herbs.
Presenting Your Cheeses
All these cheeses look attractive in small white or terracotta pots. You could also wrap the pots in a large circle of gingham or spotted cotton. Several pots wrapped in coordinating or matching cotton bundles with a bundle of fresh herbs and a fresh loaf of garlic or hereby bread would be very welcome indeed.
Bread is delicious when given the careful addition of a few herbs. Garlic bread is well-known and well-loved, but these breads are a little bit different. They will prove equally popular with your family and friends.
Mixed Fresh Herb Bread
1 French loaf
1/2 tsp salt and pepper
3 oz butter
2 tbsp fresh mixed herbs, finely chopped
Mix the herbs, salt and pepper with the butter until it is smooth. make diagonal cuts roughly every inch along the loaf, cutting deep but not completely through the loaf. Spread the herb butter on each slice until you have used it all up. Wrap well in foil and store the loaf in the fridge until needed. To serve, heat it in a hot oven at 400ºF for 5-10 minutes.
Other possible combinations for herb breads include lemon, parsley and dill (add the zest and juice of half a lemon and change the herbs); rosemary, chervil and orange (add the zest and juice of half an orange and change the herbs).
Strawberry and Mint Soda Bread
8 oz wholemeal flour
8 oz plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 oz butter
6 oz carton strawberry yogurt
1/4 pint milk
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
Sift the flours, salt and soda into a bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the yogurt, mint and enough milk to make a fairly stiff dough. Shape the dough into a ball, place on a greased baking sheet, flatten it slightly and score with a sharp knife. Sprinkle with flour and bake in a moderately hot oven400ºF for 30 minutes. Leave to cool on a cake rack.
Cheese and Herb Scones
These are delicious eaten with soup or cheese and are made very quickly.
1 1/2 oz butter
8 oz plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
3 oz hard cheese, grated
1/4 pint milk
1 tbsp fresh herbs, finely chopped
Sift the baking powder, cayenne pepper, salt and flour into a bowl. Chop the butter and mix with the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the cheese, milk and herbs and stir with a knife to form a soft dough.
Form a ball and divide into eight pieces. Pat each piece into a circle 1/2 in thick. Place the scones on a greased baking sheet with plenty of space between them. Bake for 10-15 minutes in a very hot oven450ºFuntil they are risen and golden. Either serve immediately or cool on a wire rack. These are best eaten as soon as possible (this is never a problem!)
To find out how to grow and use herbs, visit the authors blog.
Photo Credit: Godric Godricson | Morguefile.com
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