Our tarragon plant in the demo garden at Mountain Feed is thriving right now. It disappears every winter, and returns stronger than ever each spring, steadily expanding the territory it occupies in the herb patch. Lucky us. Classic French Tarragon can be temperamental to grow, requiring a period of winter dormancy that it does not always get here in the mild climes of the central coast. If the plant doesn’t get cold enough each winter, it grows weary of always growing without a break, and declines every year, or just plain refuse to put out new leaves in the spring. We get some hard cold down near the river, though, so our French tarragon gets enough winter dormancy to come back refreshed, each spring. A similar concoction might also be made with the Texas Tarragon, a marigold relative with a similar anise-like flavor.
Tarragon’s sweet, earthy flavor can be challenging to utilize, too; a whole leaf chewed alone in the mouth numbs the tongue, but it’s hard to keep any of that potent flavor when the leaves are dried. But if properly utilized, the flavor is magic, like anise crossed with artichoke, subtle and ephemeral. Tarragon’s delicate flavor complements white meats like fish and chicken, and it can be amazing minced finely with other fresh herbs in summer bean dishes, too.
Infusing fresh tarragon into vinegar now is perhaps the best way to ensure that you can enjoy the flavor of tarragon in the winter months when the plant should be resting roots below ground. This tarragon vinegar is a secret power ingredient in hot and sour soup; make some of this now to save, because it’s likely we’ll feature that recipe come winter. In the meanwhile, it’s great on summer salads, too, pairing easily with other vegetables, cheeses, and fruits. The fennel-like sweetness of tarragon softens the tang of acidity in the vinegar, mellowing and expanding its uses. The sweetness that lingers on the palate is balanced by the vinegar sharpness, a perfect food marriage.
Makes 1 1/2 cups. Yet another from The Herbalist’s Kitchen, by Brittany Wood Nickerson.
Rinse the tarragon in running water, and shake it dry. Remove the leaves from the woody central stem.
Coarsely chop the leaves, and pack them gently but firmly into a clean pint jar, until it is half full of leaves.
Pour the cider vinegar over the tarragon leaves, making sure the plant material is fully submerged. If necessary, push the herbs down with a spoon.
Cover the jar. Vinegar erodes metal, so use a plastic storage lid, or slip a torn sheet of wax or parchment paper between the metal lid and the ring.
Set the vinegar in a cool dark place to infuse for 2-3 weeks.
Strain out the herbs through a metal strainer or a cheesecloth.
Transfer the vinegar to a bottle, which will be easier to dispense from. Store the vinegar in the refrigerator or a cool dark place; it will keep well for 1 year.
Use this classic combination in salad dressings, roasts, or in a shrub to lend a leafy background sweetness to other flavors.
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