As a chef, one of my favorite ways to capture the essence of each season is through vinegar infusions. The acidic nature of the vinegar acts as a solvent, breaking down and absorbing minerals and the flavors of any ingredient it encounters. Throughout any given year, we may use 25 gallons of vinegar to put toward our infusions. Spruce tips, nasturtium flowers, chili peppers, garlic, and dandelion roots are just a few of the ingredients we collect from the garden or the forest to infuse into vinegar.
If you've never heard of the term, an oxymel is simply a mixture of any proportion of vinegar and honey. Traditionally, strong tasting herbs were turned into oxymels to help make their flavor a bit more bearable when cutting with honey. While any vinegar is an option for making an infusion, I stick with unpasteurized apple cider vinegar, which I produce myself or purchase from nearby organic Sewell Orchard. The honey comes from my neighbor who is a 20+ natural beekeeper and works diligently with his bees to produce a really delicious, raw honey.
The most direct way to incorporate oxymels into your life is to simply take a dropper or two sublingually and allow your body to absorb them directly under the tongue. While that is most effective for direct delivery of medicine, we like to incorporate our oxymels in ways a little more interesting. Oxymels lend themselves naturally to cocktails or mocktails by adding the perfect amount of sweet and sour to help balance out the strong flavor of the alcohol. Also, a splash into a sauce or vinaigrette adds a nice complement of flavor. I wouldn't say it was uncommon to travel with a small dropper bottle of oxymel to add to a meal of oysters at some of our favorite restaurants.
Making an oxymel is quite easy and I recommend you work with your local landscape and start infusing fruits, roots, and shoots into vinegar. Depending on how much plant material I have to work with, I add them to a jar and double the amount of vinegar. So, 2 cups of blueberries are going to go in a quart jar and filled to the top with apple cider vinegar. I allow a minimum of 2 weeks to infuse, although I generally wait at least 1 month before I strain off the vinegar. If at any point you see a scoby forming in your vinegar, remove it immediately as it can kick in another fermentation and dilute your infusion.
Once the vinegar is infused and strained, I generally warm it up to around 90°F before adding the honey, stirring with a small whisk until its fully dissolved. Some producers will go 1:1 or even 2:1 vinegar to honey, although I find that any more than 4:1 is too sweet for my palette. If making your own is a goal, check out the Three Lily Provisions shop to purchase some of our seasonal offerings.