Make herb infusions now for holiday giving
by Ansell Hawkins
for Real Families, Real Fun
f you are like me and your children are like most other children, it will be December 20 before you can blink an eye and then there will be a mad rush for Christmas gifts. Herb-infused vinegars are something you can make right now. There is even an imperative if you live above the Mason Dixon line--beat the first frost. You'll have a stock of homemade gifts ready for the December holidays or as a take-along gift if you're invited to someone else's house for Thanksgiving.
Beth S. wrote, "It was a quick and easy activity and we enjoyed the creative aspects of choosing and labeling the bottles best." She added that her daughter Elissa (11) "thought she could give these to her teachers or to family members who like to cook and experiment with foods. I've got a couple of friends in mind, too."
Here's what you'll need:
- Small bottles (with caps or stoppers)
- Several bunches of herbs of everyone's choice: tarragon, basil, thyme, dill, mint, chives, rosemary, sage
- Enough good quality vinegar (especially wine vinegars) to fill the bottles
- A funnel that fits the bottle openings
- Color pens and paper
- String or twine
- Hole punch
Have the kids select bottles from the attic or basement, obviously nothing that has ever contained poisons or harmful liquids. "Ollie (4) chose a beautiful bottle that had previously held bubble bath solution. After two runs through the dishwasher I was sure it would be safe to use," commented New York mom, Barbara. Garage sales are a great place to find these, too. Wash with warm soapy water and rinse thoroughly. Of course, the easier way is to buy attractive bottles at a home goods store. I like the kind with rubber gaskets and the metal-trap tops.
For some bottle ideas, one Iowa mom suggests, "A bottle from hot sauce--with a neat wooden lid; bottles from steak sauce, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and some small salad dressings. The green glass of lime juice bottles looks really pretty with the herbs floating in it."
Proceed to your herb garden, the farmers' market or grocery store of your choice, and select your favorite herbs. I like basil, tarragon, thyme and dill. The children should gather the selected herb in bunches, pruning back all the dead or unsightly leaves. Usually, I have them use one herb per bottle but anything goes. As always, use your experience to guide them towards tasty combinations: oregano and thyme, sage and rosemary, or even basil and mint.
Gently, so as not to bruise the leaves, have them slide the herbs, stem end first, into the bottles. A few sprigs will do for each. The older children may use the funnel to fill them with vinegar until 1/2 inch below the neck. "It was interesting to watch my daughter gauge her pouring into the funnel. As the bottle got narrower at the top, her rate of pouring didn't slow down enough and a little vinegar spilled over," observed Beth.
Everyone can join in the labeling, noting what herbs are used and the date (vintage?) of bottling. It is a good idea to make gift cards, perhaps illustrating the front and printing the content information inside. Punch a hole in the upper left-hand corner, and tie the card to the neck of the bottle. Even 2-year-old Vivian K., whose mom let her doodle on the inside of the construction paper gift tags and then tied them to the bottles with festive ribbons, participated in the decoration process. Infusions are best stored in a cool dark place until used or wrapped.
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