Saturday, March 9, 2013

Juice that has gone BAD!

Who knows what to believe about health these days? Every website, health care provider, and medical research professional has a different claim about the safety, efficacy, and wisdom of taking various dietary supplements. When you start listening to the wives tales and suggestions of family members and elders in your community, the information overload can be altogether off-putting. Apple cider vinegar may be one of these so I’m not going to bother adding more “data”, “studies”, or “research”. I will say simply this, I take a shot of apple cider vinegar every morning and I love it. I have felt more evenly energetic and less hungry or interested in snacking since starting. Additionally, I know no better relief for a sore throat. From years of singing, I have developed a deep appreciation for hot water with a shot of apple cider vinegar and a table spoon of honey. Nurse it all day and keep that sore throat at bay. Everything else aside, if you are trying to bring more local and homemade foods into your diet, this is one of the easiest ways to start. 

After all, vinegar is nothing more than juice that has gone “bad”!

The more complex processes that go into making vinegar are fascinating, but I’m not going to go into them here. Suffice it to say that we’re working with yeast and bacteria. First the yeast ferments the juice and produces alcohol. When the environment becomes too forbidding for the yeast, the bacteria take over. Instead of making alcohol, the bacteria primarily produce acetic acid, which is what makes vinegar taste sour. As anyone who has tried making hard cider will know, there is a fine line between where the alcohol-creating yeast or the vinegar-creating acetobacteria hold dominance. Luckily for us, we’re trying to cross this line.

I have spent this winter creating a variety of vinegars for our home, but I must say the cider vinegar has gained top approval from chefs, cooks, friends, and family. It’s delicious! Making it at home, more of the good stuff stays in and you can stop the process when it tastes right to you. You can go for sweeter (and slightly alcoholic) vinegar or for very dry, crisp vinegar. I aim somewhere in the middle. I appreciate the cidery richness and it sports a creaminess that I love. We stuff the bottles with rosemary and/or garlic and use it in salad dressing with mellow grape seed oil or with a dash of walnut oil for a truly fabulous salad dressing. I will caution you that this is not to be used for canning or food preservation as it does contain live culture and may not be acidic enough to ensure the safety of pickled vegetables and other foods.

I just started another batch of cider vinegar the other day, and since it’s been far too long since I posted, I figured I’d give a run-down of the process. It’s super easy.

  1.  Find a container (glass or stainless work best) with a lid that is NOT airtight. In fact, a fermentation jug with an airlock works great. I use the vinegar pot sold by Williams Sonoma in their new Agrarian section. If you use another crock of some kind, be sure that the glaze is lead free. Many food safe pottery glazes still contain some lead which is stable for most foods, but the high acidity of vinegars can break the glaze down and release the lead into your vinegar. This is bad.
  2. Add ¼-1 cup of vinegar mother (see below for instructions on starting vinegar without an existing mother). Let this sit at room temperature for a couple days.
  3. Next add the same amount of cider as you originally added of vinegar mother and let sit for a week. After the week is up you should see bubbles or a thin film in the liquid. If you don’t, wait a few more days.
  4. Then fill the container 2/3 full of cider and let sit 2 more weeks. This last time-estimate is just that. Once it tastes vinegary, feel free to start using it. The longer it sits the drier and more acidic it will become. If you haven’t finished the vinegar off completely, it may be slightly fizzy, but I love this for the vinegar shot I take every morning with my vitamins. Delish!
  5. Optional: You can heat the finished vinegar to pasteurize it and stop the bacteria working, which simultaneously stabilizes the product and kills the probiotics that are so wonderful. This will also stop the fizzing, if you’re having trouble with exploding bottles. If you choose to bottle the fizzy stuff, make sure the cap is loose or your bottle will build up pressure and eventually explode. I blew the corks out of several bottles this winter before I learned this lesson.  Vinegar making is very forgiving, so play around with it until it tastes right to you.

Just remember: vinegar is juice that has ALREADY gone bad!

To make your own mother of vinegar, the process is the same as that listed above, except for step 2. Instead we will heat a quart of apple cider vinegar to boiling. It can be the super cheap stuff from the store. We’re really just creating an environment that is forbidding to the alcohol-creating yeast, and warm and cozy for the acetobacteria. Add this to your container and let sit for 4 or 5 days. Proceed with step 3.
This is about as thick and viscous as you want the mother to get. The mother will regenerate, so don't be shy about giving some away and letting your vinegar breathe a little.
  • Save some of your unpasteurized vinegar as a mother for your next batch.
  • If the mother becomes too think (it will create a film or crust on top of the liquid) pull some out and let the vinegar continue to do its thing.
  • Use your own apples or a local organic cider for best results.
  • Read about the pros and cons of apple cider vinegar as a health tonic before starting your own regime.
  • Things will happen faster in a warmer room or during the summer and slower in a cool space or during the winter. Be patient if things are taking longer than expected and keep your eyes on it.
  • Fill pretty bottles with your homemade vinegar and include in gift baskets at work or for friends.

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