Six organic pineapples have travelled long miles, no longer smell sweet, have soft brown spots, and are not going to sell at the shop where I sometimes work. I bring them home with the idea that i’ll make a wild-crafted vinegar for all of us who work there, to play with in our cooking – a fun and exotic ingredient.
Wild “scrap vinegars” are inspiring and incredibly easy. I’d always read that one needs to begin with a “mother,” those strange, gelatinous “creatures” that float and grow in vinegar– amalgamations of yeasts and bacteria that float and sink like jellyfish… My understanding now is that mothers represent a visible home for acetic acid to culture, but that actually you don’t NEED one (human beings a different story.) Through history we haven’t always invited acetic acid fermentation as much as we’ve sought to avoid it!
Basically, to make vinegar, and it is SO basic– you get fruit, or fruit scraps, raw or cooked– you place in water, add some sugar, make sure there is air, and wait. Stir when you walk to discourage baddies and to encourage oxygenation, which acetic acid bacteria like. This stage is represented by the photograph on the left, above. First your concoction turns a little alcoholic, then you wait some more. Then your “wine” begins to sour, vinegar-sour. It’s THIS easy. Keep stirring, to keep it airy and so that films of yeast don’t develop, nor moulds on any bits of solid that pop up out of the liquid. At some point, after it’s begun to sour, you strain and then bottle, as in the photo on the right, and then as time marches forth, your vinegar gets ever more vinegary, until eventually it reaches its highest acid level.
(These kind of vinegars are different from fruit vinegars in which the fruit is boiled in sugar then strained and steeped in a pre-made vinegar. These sweet vinegars – you might be familiar with blackberry vinegar made this way– are nice but to my mind too sweet, too boutique, and acutally less useful in a daily way. |And they are closer to “shrubs” and certain varieties of old-fashioned cordials that are really nice to drink mixed with water or bubbly-water and quite refreshing in hot weather. In that context the vinegar would have been a preservative for the sweetened fruit mixture.)
Last Thanksgiving (a festival of gratitude I celebrate with my England-born children) I saved the peels from all the apples that went into pies, and made a load of scrap vinegar. I also experimented with cooked scraps, fermenting the skins, seeds and cores that didn’t make it through the food mill of the apple sauce I simmered and jarred. And I bottled a similar batch made with the tough skins and cores of quinces. These vinegars have all been lovely in salad dressings, to brighten sauces and stews, in marinades, and sometimes just to drink in water for a little refreshment and alkalising… The pineapple vinegar was a wonderful brightening lemon-substitute in some guacamole I made…
And more: my husband brought home from a supermarket, a bag of reduced-for-clearance pears– they weren’t ripe and a month later, forgotten, they were still not ripe. I cut off a few bad bits and… chopped into water and sugar they went. This is the vinegar that now, on my kitchen counter, seems to be clouding with forms that I’m hoping, fingers crossed, are early “mother” formations. Annother, rhubarb: I’d chopped and simmered and intended to make a rather labour-intensive cordial for a friend. On that day, I was overcome by a migraine, lay down in the dark, allowing that huge pot to languish sadly. As it did the next day, and the next, until finally I put it in the fridge and … and….. and….. But all was not lost, and I’ve now several large bottles of Rhubarb Wild-Vinegar, a brightener that was the amazing secret ingredient in a spicy chickpea curry. Also: Plum Honey Vinegar, Blackberry Apple, and now, as I edit, I’m setting myself the experiment of making a winter-squash flavoured condiment with the pulp that surrounds the seeds I intend to roast.
Warning: we are advised NOT to make long-term preserves (chutneys say) with vinegar in which the acid level is not measured to be sufficient to counteract the growth of botulism spores– at least I’ve read this on the internet. (Though I am not convinced, in the case of many jarred chutneys, that sugar is not the main preservation agent and vinegar there to counteract the sweetness for a savour condiment– but what do I know?)
One reads about verjuice / verjus in historical European recipes. It’s a kind of sour juice made from unripened grapes and sometimes, crabapples. I’m sure there were infinite local and individual varieties. I’ve come to see my “scrap vinegars” — through the stages of a little sour through to the final, acidic vinegar — as a really interesting culinary twist on the continuum of juice-wine-vinegar and a citrus / sour element of modern global cooking styles. My vinegars allow me an amazing range and subtlety of flavours that are truly local and extremely economical, made as they are from what would otherwise be thrown out or composted.
Making scrap vinegar is addictive and fun. Rotting kiwis? Tried it– flavour not so nice though, and it became a great home-made cleanser to keep by the kitchen sink, deglazing grease and burn effectively from dinner pans. I’ve also made an effective cleaning product just fermenting peels and green off-cuts from potatoes– added sugar, air, time and…. voila, something very cheap and useful– definitely effective up-cycling.
[Postscript: Don’t prematurely bottle and cap– until all the sugar is finished fermenting, even these liquids need air. I just had a messy frothy soda-fizzzzzzzzzy experience that erupted all over my clean outfit. And that’s better than a glass explosion. Just remember: Vinegar wants air, so keep yours exposed while they are “maturing”. 🙂 ]