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By now you know that I wax poetic about vinegar: It cleans windows, tenderizes meat, brightens salads, neutralizes odors and even softens your laundry.

And if you're still looking for creative ways to use up your summer harvest — because you just can't bear the sight of your pressure canner any longer — look no further. It's vinegar to the rescue again!

Infused vinegars are a superb way to capture the fresh and clean flavors of fruits, vegetables and herbs all winter long, when your taste buds are screaming for a diversion.

You may struggle to use up some of the things you've canned this season (40 jars of pickled watermelon rind? What were you thinking?). But you will never get bored with vinegar. Berry, peach and nectarine varieties are delicious drizzled over artisan salads. Herb vinegars also are nice for salads and for adding to pots of beans, soups and stews. The vinegar brightens and intensifies the flavor without adding more salt. Play around with the trend and work vinegar into elegant desserts. How about a dish of home-churned bittersweet chocolate ice cream drizzled with a berry-infused balsamic? Doesn't that just make your toes tingle?

Things get even more indulgent when you pair infused vinegars with flavorful oils. Just consider the flavor combinations in your favorite recipes and go wild. How about tangerine vinegar and Szechuan pepper oil over a cold salad of snow peas, carrots, bell peppers and rice noodles?

Or whisk up a zesty sandwich dressing by blending sun-dried tomato oil with basil vinegar. A lemon oil and oregano vinegar combo makes a savory and tenderizing marinade for chicken or a simple dressing for a fresh Greek salad. Heck, you could build an entire hors d'oeuvres spread around a stack of warm crostini, a log of goat cheese and an assortment of infused oils and vinegars.

Still not a believer? Go sear yourself a steak in garlic oil and deglaze the pan with Herbes de Provence vinegar. I rest my case.

The recipes I'm providing today are only guidelines — get creative and swap in different types of vinegars and your favorite herbs and fruits. A general rule of thumb is to use equal measures of fruit and vinegar, and a 1-to-2 ratio of loosely packed herb leaves and vinegar.

Using dried herbs? That's 1/2 cup leaves to 2 cups vinegar. Herbal vinegars are a cinch: Simply pour vinegar over the herbs to steep. For fruit vinegars, you'll want to heat all your ingredients together before steeping to extract every luscious bit of flavor.

A note on safety: Vinegar is too acidic for botulism to pose a threat. That being said, other pathogens that live on fresh produce can be an issue if you're not careful. Sterilize your jars beforehand, and wash produce thoroughly. Only use herbs and fruit that are free of blemishes and bruises, and keep finished vinegars in the refrigerator.

Don't forget to double or triple the recipe to make enough to share! Bottles of infused vinegar are downright decorative, so they make great hostess, housewarming or holiday gifts.

MaryJane Butters is the editor of MaryJanesFarm magazine. E-mail her at —

Elderberry vinegar

2ΒΌ cups elderberries or blueberries

2 tablespoons honey

2 cups red wine vinegar

Use a fork to lightly mash the berries. Place the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed, nonreactive saucepan over low heat. Once mixture has started to simmer, cook for an additional 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the fruit from burning. Pour mixture into a glass jar with a screw-on lid and store in a cool, dark place for three weeks.

Using a fine mesh sieve lined with a coffee filter, separate out berries. Use a wooden spoon to extract as much juice as possible. Pour into pretty bottles and garnish with a few whole berries, if desired.

Drizzle purple vinegar — along with a mild oil— over tender greens and edible flowers, like nasturtiums.

Servings • about 2 cups

Source: MaryJane Butters —

Rosemary vinegar

1 cup loosely packed rosemary sprigs (keep them on the stem for easier removal) or basil

2 cups white wine vinegar

Put the leaves into a screw-top jar.

Using a spoon, bruise them up a bit to release more of the essential oils. Pour vinegar over the herbs, seal the jar and let it steep for about three weeks in a cool, dark place.

Shake the jar once or twice weekly and check the flavor periodically for strength.

Once it tastes the way you like, strain out the herbs.

Pour the vinegar into decorative bottles and seal.

Makes a great dressing for chicken salad.

Servings • 2 cups

Source: MaryJane Butters