The Bumper Crop

It’s a goal for some and a nightmare for others– the bumper crop of (insert produce here) that you have no idea what to do with. I mean, you can only eat so much of it fresh. Never fear, there are a couple of options that can save the day. Even if you’ve never put up preserves, there a few simple techniques that anyone can master– flavored oils, vinegars, butters, and dressings. Flavored oils can be made by either warm or cold infusion. Usually, you’ll heat your flavoring of choice (herbs, peppers, whatever it is) in the oil until it’s pretty well heated through, then strain and bottle the oil. Fresh oils made in this way are best when used within a week or so, but you can process them for longer shelf life. Flavored vinegars are usually made by steeping your flavoring in vinegar at cooler room temperatures for a period of time as determined by the intensity you’re looking for. These are optimally used in a couple of weeks fresh, but also can be processed. Speciality butters are quite simple– let butter/margarine come to room temperture so it’s spreadable, then work in herbs or other flavorings. Spoon it into ice cube trays or molds (or shape into bricks or balls) and it can be frozen for several months. Salad dressings can be combined by emulsifying (whisking together) your flavored oil and a complementary vinegar. For step-by-step instructions and some fantastic recipes, check out The Herbal Pantry by Emelie Tolley, Flavored Oils by Michael Chiarello, and of course Small Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard. And don’t forget, this stuff makes great gifts. Theme sets are fun– try a Southwestern basket with chili-infused oil, vinegar and even butter, or French featuring herbs de provence. Sure to please any taste, and use up that bumper crop to boot.