At the sweltering height of summer, when garden-party season is in full swing and you sometimes have more fresh produce than you know what to do with, the host or hostess's best friend is also one of the unlikeliest: a simple little bottle of good - wait for it - vinegar.
When a bowl or platter of just-picked cucumbers, fresh Boston bib or summer-ripe berries needs a little oomph, a sprinkle of white or balsamic vinegar often does the trick.
But white vinegar can be boring and balsamic is now old hat.
The hot new trend in sweet/sour condiments? Fruit vinegars.
These days, a visit to any specialty grocer reveals a dizzying array of the fruit-based stuff: apple, raspberry, pomegranate, fig.
Typically, it's created in one of three ways - by pressing the fruit, by creating it directly from a fruit wine or by infusing plain vinegar with fruit or fruit essence - but you can also channel some of that extra produce this summer and fall into your own handcrafted version.
To create a peach vinegar, for example, simply purée two ripe peaches in a food processor, pour into a mixing bowl and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup of Japanese rice vinegar and 3 tablespoons of sugar with ½ cup of water and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and let simmer for 4 to 5 minutes or until the mixture becomes syrupy.
Remove from heat, stir the warm syrup mixture into the puréed fruit and let cool.
Once it's cool, strain the vinegar mixture through a fine sieve into a sterilized bottle or mason jar, pressing the purée to maximize the juice coming out of it. Seal well and refrigerate.
Et voila - a pithy homemade addition to any summer salad, cheese plate, marinade.Talk about bearing fruit.
Sebastien Centner is the director of Eatertainment Special Events in Toronto ( www.eatertainment.com).
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