Kitchen Garden

Apple Cider Vinegar Time

Setup for juicing apples for apple cider vinegar.

Turning two five-gallon buckets of EarliBlaze apples into juice for apple cider vinegar took about three hours including set up and clean up. Three half gallon mason jars are fermenting in the pantry, and a quart and a half of juice is in the ice box. I drank some of the juice with tacos for supper. It was a good day.

There was already plenty of cider vinegar in the pantry: seven liter bottles, two half gallon mason jars and a couple of smaller bottles in the cupboard near the stove. The goal is to make some vinegar with every apple crop because some years there is no crop. It has not been a problem because vinegar keeps and apples are abundant.

Apple Cider Vinegar

I’ve been making apple cider vinegar since a neighbor gave me some of the mother passed down through his family since at least the 19th Century. I call it “ultra local” because the apples were grown a few steps from the kitchen.

I spent a couple of hours on Wednesday delivering a “Drinking Water Health Advisory” to every home on our public water system. My shirt soaked through with sweat as I walked the two miles of roads. It was good exercise even though I didn’t enjoy some of the steeper hills.

About a dozen people were out in their yards, providing an opportunity to connect. While the news I delivered wasn’t the best, all but one of them had heard of the problem I posted via Facebook and email. Most were in good spirits and appreciated knowing what was going on regarding the water system. I met via conference call with our engineer and water system operator in the morning and laid out a simple plan to address the problem. Here’s hoping for a speedy resolution.

With Tuesday’s announcement that Christina Bohannan is running for congress in Iowa’s second congressional district, I’ve been reflecting on the congressional campaigns in which I’ve been involved. I began to get active when we lived in Indiana, helping Pete Visclosky get re-elected to a third term. He retired in January this year.

Rep. Jim Leach represented the area where I grew up from 1977 to 2003. He moved to Iowa City after redistricting for the 2002 election and was elected there twice. While he was Republican, the district wasn’t as partisan as it is now. When we lived in Indiana I saw Leach hold hearings on Whitewater in the House Banking Committee, which he chaired. After that I realized it was time for him to go. When he became my congressman in 2003, I began working toward that end. In 2006 we elected Dave Loebsack to the Congress where he served until this year.

The 2020 election was a disappointment because the congressional vote was evenly split. Democrat Rita Hart contested the results, but nothing came of it. Mariannette Miller-Meeks was sworn in to the 117th Congress. We are at the beginning of another campaign.

It is time to pass the baton to the next generation in congressional politics. With the isolation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, I did very little volunteer work in politics during the last cycle. Rita Hart made it to our precinct only during the last days before the election, with little enthusiasm for her candidacy. With the resurgence of the pandemic, I see that approach continuing. Besides, it is time to let younger, more engaged people manage campaigns. In the end I’d rather spend time politicking with my neighbors than get involved in the massive energy and expense of a district campaign.

Maybe it was the scent of the apples that evoked this political remembrance. That tasty sweetness which over time will be converted to vinegar. As I age, astringent flavor is more interesting than sweet. I crave it. I make it. I look forward to using the new batch of apple cider vinegar. I both know where it came from and the chef who makes it.

Making apple cider vinegar is part of a life worth living.

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.


Apple Tree Takes a Hit

Vroken Branch
Broken Branch

The Golden Delicious apple tree had been having trouble for a long time. Last night it took a hit as the combination of a fruit-laden branch attached to a disease weakened trunk broke off.

It was one of the last crop bearing limbs, so this winter the tree will have to come down.

It’s not a crisis. More a sign of what’s to come.

I planted six apple trees, including this one, after my mother-in-law’s funeral. The rest of the family drove to her home near Ames where I would join them once the bare root stock from Stark Brothers was in the ground. That was more than 20 years ago.

Since then, two more trees have been lost—this one makes three. The remaining trees produce enough fruit for our household which is loaded with cider vinegar, applesauce, apple butter and dried apples. We pick the best and leave or give away the rest. We’ll be fine.

Fallen Branch
Fallen Branch

After taking the photos, an hour in the kitchen produced juice for cider vinegar. I filled the two-quart jar that holds the mother for another season of fermentation.

We recently turned up a few old items of food. We have some vintage 2008 Duncan Hines cake mix, which I decided would be a reasonable vehicle to eat more apple butter. I made the lemon flavored one first. Squares of cake topped with vintage apple butter makes a delicious dessert. When I say “vintage apple butter” I mean the jars are labeled so the variety and circumstances from which the apples originated is known.

This morning I made a batch of tapioca. It’s not like pudding, but it is close enough that I plan to make more at least until the three boxes are used up. Not sure what prompted that purchase circa 2007, but the result, prepared according to instructions on the box was decent. If I can figure out the layers, it would be great to make a parfait. Perhaps to be served like ice cream.

The garden yielded a dozen cucumbers, the same number of Brandywine tomatoes, celery, green peppers and a few cherry and grape tomatoes. There is plenty of kale, but I’m letting the plants rest for a while before resuming regular harvest. No noticeable bugs have invaded… yet.

This report and its observations aside, it is a peculiar time.

The fallen apple tree branch is a reminder of the life’s brief span. Accepting the tree’s demise has long been avoided. Until this morning.

I accept it. Despite the downward curve of the arc, there is time to plant another tree. If not for me, then for whoever inhabits this plot of ground after we are gone. Looking forward to putting new stock in the ground.