No, wait; don’t leave. Hear me out. Vinegar can serve as an awesome gift, filling several different roles.
It’s cheap, easy, and super-fast to make, so it’s a fantastic last-minute hostess gift or stocking stuffer. You can make a whole bunch in very little time, so it’s simple to turn out lots as party favors or small gifts to give out at the office. It can be gussied up in a variety of ways, making it look Very Fancy Indeed and cementing your reputation as a skilled artisan (as opposed to somebody who shoves some herbs in a bottle and pours vinegar on ’em).
The most common use for vinegar is in cooking, and making flavored vinegar is, indeed, as easy as shoving some herbs in a bottle and pouring vinegar on ’em. Choose different combinations of herbs to create a whole galaxy of customized flavors. The basic method is to carefully rinse fresh herbs and pat dry, put them in a glass bottle or jar, and cover them with vinegar. (A caveat: Plain white vinegar has a harsh, rather flat taste, so for culinary uses it’s best to use a wine vinegar or cider vinegar.) There’s a good overview of process which goes into more detail here. I particularly like their suggestion of threading peeled garlic on bamboo skewers; there’s a “Vlad the Impaler” blend just waiting to happen.
The real fun in flavored vinegar is choosing the flavors, and if you google “how to make flavored vinegars” you will get a truly overwhelming number of suggestions. Some good basic combinations are:
Oregano, Rosemary, and Marjoram
Chili, Cilantro, and Garlic
Fennel, Orange Peel, and Star Anise
Raspberry and Thyme
Shallot, Tarragon, and Lemon Peel
The herbs should steep in the vinegar for at least 24 hours before being used, with the flavors growing stronger over time. However, if this is a make-something-before-you-run-out-the-door gift, warm the vinegar to a bare simmer (don’t boil) before pouring it over the herbs. That’ll give the infusion a little head-start.
But wait, there’s more! Vinegar has been much touted as a natural all-purpose cleaner, so step up your gift-giving game with scented cleaning vinegar. The 5% concentration sold in grocery stores is fine, but there are higher concentrations (including one that’s a whopping 20%) if you prefer; look for them in grocery-store cleaning aisles, hardware stores, or online.
The infusion method is pretty much the same as for culinary vinegar, but you’ll want to choose pleasant scents and don’t have to worry about the taste. Some ideas:
Citrus peels (orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit), one type or in combination
Strong-smelling herbs like sage, lavender, mint, or rosemary
Whole spices like cloves, cinnamon sticks, or allspice
Vanilla beans: Scrape the seeds out of the bean for use in cooking, and use the pod to scent vinegar
Fragrant rose petals
A few drops of essential oil
Cleaning vinegar is great for degreasing things like range hoods, brightening mirrors and windows, disinfecting surfaces, freshening laundry, and ironing. (It shouldn’t be used on marble surfaces or hardwood floors, since it can damage them.)
One final use for scented vinegar is as “Monster Spray.” To help ward off monsters, natch. Use calming scents such as lavender and put it in a little spray bottle (there are even labels you can use). Spritz a little around a child’s room to banish the thing under the bed, or to help them go back to sleep after a nightmare. The vinegar makes it smell like it means business, so you know it’s working.
Easy! Cheap! If you’re strapped for a fast holiday gift, help is as close as your grocery store.