Kitchen Garden

Vinegar Time


With the apple harvest comes an opportunity to make apple cider vinegar.

Since 2012, when I began to wake up to local food, I’ve posted about vinegar twice: Bottling Apple Cider Vinegar in 2013, and Making Vinegar in 2014.

Without a home apple crop, this year’s batch is a little different.

The continuum of vinegar making goes back a long time: it’s the mother. Mine was procured from a neighbor and has been present since I began home fermentation of apples. His mother of vinegar had been in the family since the 19th century when Iowa was first settled. Traces of vinegar have been found in Egyptian urns dated the third millennium BCE.

The recipe for vinegar is simple. Keep a container of vinegar with the mother in the pantry and add apple juice from time to time. Cover with a cotton cloth for ventilation and let it ferment. After the bacteria have converted sugars to alcohol, then alcohol to vinegar, it’s ready to bottle and use. Currently there is a gallon ready to use and a gallon just started this year. At least one jar never goes empty to preserve the mother.

My production is small compared to the orchard where I work on weekends. We both use the same mother, although he uses brewer’s yeast to hasten production of alcohol. My method, using apples from my back yard and no yeast, works as well but takes more time. Making vinegar is about time more than anything.

This year I stopped at a shop that caters to people who ferment their own beer and wine to ask about brewer’s yeast. The proprietor said I was the first customer to arrive asking about making vinegar. Not a lot of people make their own.

After studying a few things on the internet he recommended a yeast made by a major company that would produce about 14 percent alcohol. He said too much alcohol may kill the vinegar bacteria. Both of us thought the low end of alcohol production would not. The $0.99 packet I bought will ferment a lot of apple cider.

Without a crop at home, I’m using cider from where I work. It is flash pasteurized, which will allow my bacteria to drive the process. I hope it is a better result. I bought half-gallon Mason jars  for the project and have two started about 3 weeks apart.

I trimmed the mother with a pair of kitchen scissors and put part in the jar. I added a scant half gallon of cider and let it warm to room temperature. I added a 16th teaspoon of yeast which began producing alcohol within a couple of days. The liquid tastes more like hard cider today with hints of vinegar. The process appears to be working.

I organized and bottled last year’s production and am ready for winter. I’ll keep making it and making pickles and dressings with it.

Making apple cider vinegar is one way we emulate an agrarian life in a modern kitchen. It’s also how we sustain our lives in a turbulent world.