There are two reasons why vinegar is going to be a process that I intend to embrace this year , firstly is that it makes great use of a waste product when making cider vinegar I use the cores and peel of the apples that are left over from my preserve making ,
The second is I’m learning fast how utterly fantastic a simple salad can be made with a drizzle of flavoured vinegar
My favourite so far being a gift of raspberry infused vinegar I received from a fellow wild food addict , I’ve been thinking that I have to strike now whilst it is ripe in my mind so along with collecting sap for syrup I’ve decided to make some birch vinegar along side my apple vinegar in view of adding wild flavours throughout the year it’s defiantly worth investing some effort and time into .
When you forage you find yourself making and eating a lot of salads some of them are fantastically bursting full of taste and others relatively bland and being that vinegar is so simple to make and can take on the flavours of so many wild foods and provide us with a way to preserve some of our gatherings to enjoy later in the year .
The good thing is that with some basic knowledge anyone with little effort can make there own batch and understanding the process is half the battle so here goes,
to start with to make vinegar you need a base this is anything that contains sugar so apples pears and berries really it is anything containing sugar I personally started with a simple cider apple vinegar and found it relatively easy .
You start with the basic ingredient ( in this case apples ) you can use scraps or whole fruits I simply over the course of a week collect the cores and peels from any apples used for other purposes .
Once I’ve collected a good amount I give them a good wash to remove any unwanted bacteria going into the pot then I give them a good bash about and leave them in a cool dark place for a few days to go brown ,
once they have turned I fill a jar about three quarters full leaving space for the water then top up with room temp water about an inch from full,
Then you need to top off your jar with something to stop bugs getting in but allowing air flow ideally some cheese cloth but a simple piece of kitchen towel tied around the rim is just as good the idea is that the wanted bacteria can form on top of the mix without fruit flies and bugs contaminating it with other unwanted bacteria.
Storing the batch is quite important it needs to be relatively warm and out of sunlight as ultra violet light will destroy the bacteria you are trying to grow ,traditionally airing cupboards were used but with today’s heating the back of any kitchen cupboard will do and within days the mix will start to bubble this means the process has begun and at about two weeks you need to strain off any of the apple that is left and this will leave you with a cloudy mix , just replace your cloth and leave again in the same place as before to continue the process .
If at any point any fury black mould occurs on the batch simply spoon it off and put in a cooler spot it means the temperature is to warm do not discard the batch just spoon it away and choose a more suitable place to store the mix
This part of the process is allowing the sugar naturally present in the apples to turn into alcohol and then using the natural bacteria (acetobacter) present in the air, the alcohol can be transformed into vinegar (acetic acid) .
The next noticeable change you will see is at about two weeks , a light grey too white gelatinous scum forming on the top of the water this is called the Mother and is a vinegar makers best friend , the mother is the bacteria that is turning the alcohol into acetic acid ie vinegar and once you have grown a good mother you will be able to use this next time to speed up the process of vinegar making .
In my limited experience the time it takes to change from alcohol to vinegar is between six to ten weeks and as far as I’m aware the only way of knowing when it’s done is by taste and smell ,
I personally wait one week after the smell indicates vinegar before I taste the batch and then just continue to taste it every three days or so until I’ve got the strength in taste I want .
I want to add that if you are intending to use your vinegar to make your own pickles you will need to know the strength and to do this you will need a hydrometer which you can get from most home brew shops or the internet will show thousands relatively cheep and is a useful bit of kit , simply follow the instructions ,
To use your vinegar to pickle you need a strength above 5 % bit in honesty to get good flavouring and infusion I like to use a 10% strength .
There is a myth that four convicted thieves, who attended the sick, survived by drinking large amounts of vinegar infused with garlic. Today vinegar steeped in garlic is sold as Four Thieves Vinegar.
There is always the chance that your vinegar isn’t going to taste good enough to use as a dressing this is due to the mother ( don’t worry use it as a pickling batch if strong enough ) so a mix of base ingredients is needed to find a mother you find makes the desired end product , and I’m going to warn you it becomes a bit obsessive in fact I ended up being more concerned with my mother than the actual vinegar I was making .
My pride and joy is now a mother made from a mix of three mothers being a true crab apple a pear and a medlar each on there own not nice but mixed gave me a great tasting dressing.
So you may be thinking other than edible uses is my vinegar useful for anything else well the answer is vast ,raw vinegar and mother have a massive amount of medicinal uses and they go back as far as Socrates , it has weight loss attributes as it has the ability to control and even lower cholesterol and blood pressure In Roman times, the “Posca” , a mixture of water and vinegar was part of every meal and was believed to increase strength and stamina it also is a very effective hair care treatment giving hair a lustre generally removed by modern day chemicals and has been proven effective in treating head lice .Vinegar can be used to treat sunburn referred to as “seasoning a tan “.
It also has great cleaning and due to its levels of acidity is a great natural antibacterial cleanser .
In short give it a go it’s relatively easy and low in cost with a great return .