Most fruit-flavored vinegars that you can purchase in the grocery store are too sweet and fake tasting for me. So in the summertime, when fruit is abundant and cheap, I like to put up a bottle or two of fruit vinegar. Nothing could be easier or tastier. It's cherry season here on the west coast, so this week it was cherry vinegar!
I had a handful of leftover fresh cherries after last week's cherry roasting experiment, so I thought I would try making some cherry vinegar. I found a great recipe in Sally Schneider's The Improvisational Cook. (Side note: I love this book and highly recommend it. Sadly, it seems to be out of print right now, so if you see one in an used book store or sale bin, snatch it up. You won't be sorry!)
Sally explains that she had tossed a handful of smashed cherries in some cheap red wine vinegar, including the pits and stems in hopes of invoking the taste of cherrywood barrels. The initial results were so-so. But she stashed the bottle in the back of her cupboard and forgot about it for several years while it aged and mellowed. When she tested it again, she found a deliciously complex, smooth vinegar. She now uses balsamic vinegar in place of the regular wine vinegar to eliminate the long aging step.
For my experiment, I used dead ripe bing cherries and a bottle of Trader Joe's Balsamic Vinegar (you do not want to use a good balsamic.) I was a little concerned that the TJ brand was going to be too cheap tasting, but it was all I had on hand so I gave it a try.
2 cups (approximately) smashed ripe cherries, with pits and stems
1 bottle of inexpensive balsamic vinegar, enough to cover the cherries by a few inches
Sally says you can pulse the cherries in a food processor but I just smashed them in a bowl with a fork (their ripeness really helped here.) I then covered the cherries with the vinegar by several inches, as instructed, topped the bowl with a plate to keep the fruit flies at bay and set it aside.
Each day I dipped a finger in and tested the vinegar. It did start out a little harsh but after the first week, it had already begun to mellow and allow some of the cherry to come forward. After 10 days, I strained the cherries and decanted the vinegar into a clean jar. The 10 day mark is very random: I needed a hostess gift and decided the vinegar would do, so that determined the timing here. Before I screwed the top on, I plopped in three cherry pits. Why? I'm not sure except that it seemed like the right thing to do.
I'm going to try this again, only I'm going to not strain out the cherries. I'm curious to see if keeping the cherries in longer will encourage even more cherry/cherrywood flavors. We'll check back in a year or so and see what happened!
For more great tips about cooking and life in general, visit Sally Schneider's web page The Improvised Life.
(Images: Dana Velden)