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Infusions of color: Decorative jars bring beauty - and sometimes flavor - to kitchens

They come in hulking, squat jars the shape of round moons. They come in elegant, tall jars with eye-pleasing curves. They come in jars mimicking the Eiffel Tower and some with whimsical spiral silhouettes.

They come in hulking, squat jars the shape of round moons. They come in elegant, tall jars with eye-pleasing curves. They come in jars mimicking the Eiffel Tower and some with whimsical spiral silhouettes. Rooster-shaped jars are especially popular.

They are vegetables, from peppers to olives to carrots, whose naturally vibrant colors are showcased through meticulous arrangements: multicolored layers, stripes, neatly lined stalks.

These aesthetically pleasing but often unfit-to-consume jars have been mushrooming in kitchen décor aisles for some time now.

But why are some of them edible and others not, and can you make them at home so they are pretty, suitable to munch on and safe? It's all about revisiting the largely harmonious relationship between vegetables and vinegar.

Store-bought beauty


Upon closer inspection, vegetable lovers will notice not all good-looking veggie jars are the same. Some are just meant to admire for their looks. Others you can safely consume. They generally look exactly alike and mingle freely on store shelves, so be sure to read the labels.

The decorative variety will feature labels that mark them for display only, and their brands often include the phrase "infused vinegar," as in "garlic- and chili-infused vinegar."

Complete with ingredient and nutritional value labels, the edible variety feature vegetables floating in vinegar that has been tinged with additives and reduced to 6-percent acidity by adding water.

"Basically what they have going on is a pickling process," says Julie Garden-Robinson, a food and nutrition specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service.

You should keep these products away from heat and direct sunlight and refrigerate after opening.

Store managers like Hobby Lobby's Dave Craft say most consumers buy them these products strictly for decoration. "I don't know of anybody who actually wants to eat them," Craft says. "Most people who are into canning and pickling do it themselves."

A tart art

You can in fact make pretty and delectable vegetable jars at home, say experts. The key to making sure you can safely grace your kitchen and then fill your plate with them is the hot water bath, says Cathy Joppa, a Fargo canning aficionado who sells her preserves and jellies at area farmer's markets. (See her recipe for a mixed vegetable pickle below.)


Joppa says the resulting jars can last anywhere from six months to a year out of the fridge. They need to be refrigerated after opening and consumed within the month.

At-home production that skips the preservatives found in commercial veggie jars doesn't mean you have to sacrifice good looks. Joppa says the hot water bath process does not affect the colors of the vegetables though, if you are shooting for eye-catching layered arrangements, you might want to pack the produce a little tighter into the jars before boiling.

"They are gorgeous," says Noreen Thomas, a nutrition book author in Moorhead who's been known to make gifts out of homemade vegetable jars. "It's hard to put jars away when you've made a beautiful salsa."

Veggie infusion

But what about the intriguing-sounding "infused vinegar" labels on the inedible vegetable jars out there? Is that something to try at home?

In recent years, mishaps involving home-made infused oils, especially those involving garlic cloves, have attracted considerable publicity, including a somber Food and Drug Administration warning. Apparently, amateur canning experimenters falsely assume that submerging produce in oil automatically preserves it.

In fact, says Garden-Robinson, oil creates an anaerobic environment perfectly hospitable to bacteria, including the microorganism that causes the deadliest food-born disease, botulism. Commercial vegetable-flavored oils undergo a process of acidification that makes them safe, but, says Garden-Robinson, "I don't personally recommend anyone try to make flavored oils at home."

Vinegar, however, is safe to flavor at home as long as you follow certain safety precautions. (See the University of Georgia instructions below.) "Vinegar has a low pH level," says Garden-Robinson. "Nothing grows too well in it."


Keep in mind, though, that these products come with a different set of handling rules than the hot-water bath pickles. Vegetable-infused vinegars, though as pretty as the pickled varieties of veggie jars, are best kept in a cool, dark place. They keep for about three months in cool storage, and refrigeration can more than double their lifespan.

You can show off these products on windowsills and shelves, but remember if you keep them there for more than a few weeks, they become permanent decorations.

Mixed vegetable pickle

3 cups cauliflower

4 quarts cucumbers, sliced

1 quart onions, sliced

1 green pepper, diced

3 cloves garlic


1/3 cup pickling salt

Ice cubes

5 cups sugar

2 tablespoons mustard seed

1/2 tablespoons celery seed

1 quart white vinegar

Combine the vegetables and garlic and add pickling salt. Cover with ice cubes, mix and let stand for three hours. Rinse and drain well. Place into clean canning jars.

Mix the other ingredients and bring to a boil in a kettle. Remove from heat. Pour over vegetables in jars, leaving half an inch of head space.


Wipe the jar openings and shut them tightly with a two-piece lid.

Place the jars into a hot water bath and boil for 15 minutes. (You can use a water bath canner, which comes with a rack inside, or you can make your own with a deep pot, making sure there are at least 3 inches of water over each jar.) Cool.

Recipe courtesy of Cathy Joppa of Fargo

Vegetable-flavored vinegar

Wash glass jars with warm soap water and rinse well. Immediately after that, sterilize them by completely immersing them in water, preferably in a hot-water canner, and boiling them for 10 minutes.

You will want to fill your jars with the vinegar when they are still warm.

Wash all vegetables thoroughly. Cube or slice if necessary. Allow 1 to 2 cups of produce per pint of vinegar. Place the vegetables in the sterilized jars. Avoid overpacking. Heat the vinegar to just below the boiling point, or at least 190-195 degrees. Pour over the ingredients in the jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rims of jars with a warm, damp cloth. Attach lids and let sit to cool undisturbed.

Store in a cool, dark place undisturbed for three to four weeks to develop flavor.


Recipe courtesy of University of Georgia Extension Service

For additional information, go to www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/uga/uga_flavored_vinegars.pdf and www.ag.ndsu.nodak.edu/storage.htm

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529

Vinegar types and flavoring

- Malt vinegar: The vinegar variety the British traditionally use to season fish and chips, this condiment is made by malting barley. It is especially popular for pickling.

- Wine vinegar: Made from either red or white wine, this vinegar is popular in Germany and other European countries. The delicate flavor of white wine and champagne vinegars makes them a good match for subtly-flavored fruits and herbs. Red wine vinegar tends to overpower the flavor of herbs unless they have the strong flavor of, say, rosemary.

- Apple vinegar: Made from apple cider, this vinegar is widely touted for its health benefits. It works well with fruit flavoring.

- White vinegar: Made by oxidizing distilled alcohol, this vinegar has a clear color and sharp acidic taste. It's best flavored with delicate herbs.

- Balsamic vinegar: This flavorful, aged vinegar is manufactured from white grapes grown in Modena, Italy and is widely used in salad dressings and sauces.

- Rice vinegar: The vinegar of choice of the Japanese, this vinegar is delicately flavored and slightly sweet. Handle flavoring with extra care as its protein content makes it a bacteria-friendly medium.

Sources: www.versatilevinegar.org , www.wikipedia.com and University of Georgia Extension Service

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