Recently, I decided I wanted to learn to make my own vinegar. I happened to recall that Leslie, an online herbie friend of mine, had tried her hand at vinegar this past fall. After checking out her blog post on making vinegar, I also picked her brain clean, and she was kind enough to hold my hand over the several weeks it took to make my vinegar. A big “thank you”, Leslie! If you take a look at her post, you’ll notice that she was taught how to make vinegar by someone she knew. Unfortunately, Leslie’s friend’s blog with the step-by-step updates is no longer available. One of things I enjoy about the online herb community I’m involved with is the willingness to share knowledge.
What I love about this particular method of making vinegar is that it can be made in small batches, and utilizes apple scraps that would normally end up in my compost pile. I used the chopped up cores and peelings of some organic apples I used to make a batch of apple crisp.
I decided to use an half gallon glass jar for this project, instead of my crock, so that I would be able to watch the whole process and take pictures. In the future I will probably use one of my smaller crocks. On a side note, it’s very important to use a container made of a non-reactive material like glass, crockery, or stainless steel. Your finished vinegar is highly acidic and will react with a material like aluminum.
I placed the apple scraps in the jar and covered them with water. Next, I mixed in a nice dollop of raw local honey and about 1/4 cup of Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar that I picked up at the health food store.
The addition of honey helps get the first stage of fermentation going, where sugars are converted to alcohol. I didn’t have access to a vinegar “mother” for this first attempt, so I used the Bragg vinegar to provide Acetobacter. Acetobacter is an acetic acid bacteria required for the second stage of fermentation, where the alcohol is converted to vinegar. In the future I will be able to start batches from the mother that developed in this batch (more on that later).
Once I had given the whole thing a good stir , I covered the jar with a piece of butter muslin and set the jar aside to start doing it’s thing. It’s important for the mixture to get plenty of air while the fermentation process is taking place, thus the use of a cloth cover. If you don’t use a cover you might end up having problems with flies and such getting into your project.
Now, after the above warning to keep your project covered, I will admit to keeping my project uncovered for the first few days. I wanted to be able to provide a few good shots of the process, and it had been cool enough that flies weren’t a problem. I placed a little antique glass canning jar lid on top of the mixture to hold the apples down below the surface of the liquid, and still allow me to see what was going on.
Within 24 hours I saw the first bubbly signs that yeast were happily munching away, and fermentation was underway.
By the end of day 2 serious foaming was underway, and I could see the gaseous bubbles moving under the glass lid much like carbonation bubbling up in a glass of soda.
Once the primary fermentation activity had settled down, I covered the jar and set it aside for the next several weeks. When I checked it at week 3 I found a skim across the top of the liquid, which indicated the secondary fermentation was progressing along.
This substance that forms at the top of the vinegar is called a “mother”. It contains the acetic acid bacteria that convert the alcohol to vinegar, and can be saved to start future batches of vinegar. As time passes, this bacterial colony continues to multiply and increase in mass. By week 5, which was this morning, the mother had increased significantly, and my vinegar tasted sufficiently “vinegary”.
I removed the mother, setting it aside in a small dish, and strained the finished vinegar into a quart jar. After tasting the vinegar, I decided that I’d like it to be just a little more sour, so I placed a small piece of the mother in the jar and will take it out when the flavor is just a little stronger. The rest of the mother has gone into a small jar with a bit of the vinegar, and I will be using it soon to start a batch of white wine vinegar.