I can’t remember what it was that motivated me to try making vinegar, but there are so many things I’d like to try doing for myself and it was probably just one of those questions that comes to mind from time to time – ‘How do you actually do that?’. Once a question has been asked, it frequently requires an answer, if only to silence it. Anyway, I like knowing how to do things so making my own vinegar would be a worthy project.
I work for people who have apple trees and they often have more fruit than they can use and don’t want to waste it, so in the autumn I get given a lot of apples. We’ve done various things with them – Karl made some excellent apple wine one year, others were cooked and frozen, some cooked and jarred and one year I made a lot of fruit leather to be snacked on when we remember about it.
Processing a lot of apples results in a large heap of cores and peel and whilst it could just go on the compost heap, I decided to do something with it first and put it on the compost heap afterwards, and having come across a page about fruit scrap vinegar, I decided to give apple cider vinegar a go. We use cider vinegar regularly – a couple of tablespoons adds a delicious richness to gravy, soups and stews. It’s supposed to be good for your joints as well.
The vinegar experiment
As an experiment, I started two batches of vinegar, one started in November 2013 using apple scraps and water and the other with the juice of freshly crushed apples, which was started in January 2014 . Both were treated the same way, apart from the business of having the skins and cores strained off.
After an apple-processing day in mid-December, 2013, I put as much of the apple material as would fit into my largest mixing bowl, covered it with water, sat a plate on top to keep everything submerged, draped a tea towel over it and let it sit. Every few days I stirred it and after a few days it started to ferment. The bowl is quite large but this house is tiny and I didn’t want the smell of fermenting apples drifting about the place, so put the bowl in the bathroom with the window open.
It fermented for a couple of weeks, bubbling away quietly and when it slowed down, I strained the liquid into a jar, covered the top with a cloth (vinegar needs oxygen to form), put it on top of a cupboard and left it to get on with it. At this point the apple scraps went onto the compost heap. For the vinegar started with juice, I put it into two jars and put them in a warm cupboard until fermentation was finished and then sat them on top of a cupboard next to the jar of apple scrap vinegar.
To start with the liquid remained very cloudy, but I’d seen pictures of other people’s vinegar which had cleared beautifully, so just waited to see what happened. I was especially curious to see if it developed a ‘mother’. To quote Wikipedia, a vinegar mother ‘is a substance composed of a form of cellulose and acetic acid bacteria that develops on fermenting alcoholic liquids, which turns alcohol into acetic acid with the help of oxygen from the air’. We already had some unpasteurised ‘live’ vinegar and it had grown a mother within a couple of weeks of going into the pot, so I decided to add a sliver to one jar of juice and let the other two take their course.
From time to time, I sniffed to see what was happening – to start with all jars just smelled like cider, but after a few weeks they started to smell vinegary and a layer of something rather scummy started to grow on the surface of the ones that hadn’t had mother added. It wasn’t mould so I left it. The jar that did have mother added started to grow one on the surface within a couple of weeks of the tiny piece being added. To my surprise, the scum on the liquid in the other jars grew into a mother very shortly afterwards.
Fast forward a year – the jars were still where they’d been placed on top of a cupboard 12 months earlier. By this time they had cleared, revealing beautiful amber-coloured vinegar, but there was a thick layer of sediment in the jars so it was time to strain them.
At this point it was time to do a taste test and I was surprised by what I found. Whilst all jars had formed mothers, the pure juice ones were surprisingly pale and weak tasting, as if they had been watered down. By contrast, the vinegar made from apple scraps was darker and had a strong, fruity vinegar flavour. My guess is that the liquid had longer sitting with the fruit in it so more flavour was extracted. This has been borne out by the second batch of apple scrap vinegar I started late last year, which is also rich and flavoursome. With the juice-based vinegar, I think I’ll just leave it be and see how it develops. Even if it’s weak, we can still use it.
So, there you have it – don’t waste those fruit scraps, make your own vinegar!