Archives for posts with tag: Vinegar

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Well, maybe you feel a little longing when you look at photos of lots of your friends in a city where you used to live. You see their beautiful children, and the making an event of a day pressing apples, fruit that they’ve grown in orchards they’ve planted with love.  Everybody’s pitching in and working toge ther and it’s a productive food-preparation idyll there in suburban Oxford.


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I’ve written about Fire Cider as a kind of folk medicine popularised in contemporary herbalism, and that a particular company is trying to trademark– in other words, to claim ownership of — the term. Now this company is suing herbalists for using the phrase Fire Cider, which is essentially a generic term, which is another way to say, common, or something that is held for common, mutual benefit, rather than private ownership. Here’s a site that is raising money to help the herbalists who are being sued. I’m going to give a little money.  And I’m going to write some emails to the addresses in the video linked above. If you are on Facebook, you can join this group to keep informed.

There’s a flu remedy I believe in. It’s pretty popular in the US and less well known in Britain, where the long spells of cold and damp certainly require some of the fire offered by this “cider” — really, Apple Cider Vinegar.  Fire Cider is a  nutritional supplement, really.

It’s considered “traditional”– of course it seems to take a multi-pronged approach to “tradition,” –but no worries — and has entered the DIY healing vernacular. I make it, and I take and give spoonfuls when extra immune boosting is needed, a cold or flu coming on,  or an infection rises somewhere in the body.  I often drink diluted vinegar anyway for a certain kidney-ish ache I seem to get if I eat too much cheese, and the discomfort slowly recedes. Fire Cider is extra powerful.

I prepare mine every year by finely chopping, in various relative quantities: onion, garlic, ginger, dried chills, horseradish if I have it (which is rarely), turmeric, maybe oregano– all the famous goodies. This article  has good variations and tells the story well,  with variations and possibilities.  They add honey– I never have, but what a good idea. There’s no need for strict rules.

Steep your concoction in ACV (as the hipsters call it) for as long as you wish (3 weeks or longer), then strain.  I tend to use what I’ve strained out as a marinade for spicy pork dishes.  You can be creative of course — make a soup– add it to anything really — marinate your tempeh, eat it plain if you’re feeling brave.

I’m writing now because there’s a campaign I support, to keep the name Fire Cider in the commons, belonging to all of us, at a time when a company in the US has trademarked it.  That means– taking something that belongs to all of us, claiming it for themselves, and profiting thereby.   For Goodness Sake!  (Or if I’m being English, “The bloody cheek!”  Here’s the petition– please sign it:

And if you are on Facebook, there’s a really fun action page called Tradition Not Trademark with photos people send in of their own homemade Fire Ciders and themselves toasting to the Fire Cider movement, and the plea to let local retailers know that the trademarked brand is stepping on our toes indeed!


New Lives for Your Christmas Tree, and Pine and Juniper Needles in General

The link above is a wonderful resource– great ideas for infusing oils, vinegars, fats, booze, spices, teas, syrups, and more.   Our Christmas tree happens to be plastic, something my husband found in a skip and eagerly rescued, and we’re all attached to setting it up and taking it down every year.   But we miss the scent and the naturalness and sacredness of a real tree.  So many things to do with conifer needles.  Looking forward to exploring the writings on this link in general.

Here’s another, if you are a high-end meat-eater, roast your lamb on a Christmas tree branch:


My first August in Britain, so long ago, I was awed by the late summer’s gift of blackberries arrayed on spiky bramble vines in wastelands near our home. Where we lived then, there was a culvert that collected extra water from the runoff of uphill rain, and a lot of scrub and nettles and some rubbish, broken glass and beer cans, and the blackberries (and dewberries) grew madly there, and in the adjacent field you could climb into over a farmer’s gate.  I never could believe there were people who didn’t spend their free time picking this delicious and free fruit.  Free.  An incredible gift.

My mother-in-law was a great and inspired picker in her day.  She’d picked blackberries, and currants, as a child in the 30s for local jam makers, and they all received a pittance which to them as rural kids was huge and exciting.  She taught me to set out with a stick or umbrella to push thorny canes out of the way.  Once I went picking with my long-lost friend Simon, who was 6’4′; he commented, “the best ones are always just that small bit out of reach,” which definitely set the idea of relative truth in my short-person’s mind!  Another summer I went picking with a friend who always wears white t-shirts; she remained completely clean, a purple stain nowhere.  That’s a mystery and a puzzle to me, how she does it!  Every late summer / early autumn, there’s no getting enough of brambling, especially in glorious years like this one.

Blackberries: you first eat the delicious ones with the big “bobs”  (as my husband calls them) because they are too luscious not to.  You pick and pick until you can pick no more, and maybe if you make apple-blackberry crumble (yesterday with chestnut flour and cinnamon in the topping mix), or pie, or maybe you put bags in the freezer, maybe you make wine, maybe you make smoothies.  Many a year I’ve made jam, and curd, and this year with the seedy leftovers in the sieve (having chosen to remove the gritty seeds) I’ve begun a blackberry scrap-vinegar that’s already bubbling on our counter, threatening to overflow like a volcano of messy purple lava…  [postscript: I prematurely bottled that blackberry seed vinegar, and when I opened the bottle to aerate, it fizzed messily everywhere– which is preferable to a glass explosion but the message is: even if vinegary don’t prematurely seal in glass…]

When I make jam, I feel glad to have learned my basic method from my 1975 The Joy of Cooking– it’s been so foolproof and so adaptable to my efforts to mix fruits, occasionally to add spices.  It’s a recipe based on volume not weight, so somehow the visual allows an understanding of amounts.  Joy says, for example, for “Raspberry, Blackberry, Gooseberry, Loganbery or Elderberry Jam” that you match 4 cups of fruit with 3 cups of sugar.  I always go a little scant with the sugar, though not much, for it’s necessary for preserving this way and creating, especially in relatively loose-set jams, a kind of syrupy compote quality that a friend once romanticised as “French.”   I never use the sugar with added pectin– those jams to me are tight and unappealing–though I like to grate apples and lemon juice and a quince (“the pectin fruit”) if I were lucky enough to have one.  Sometimes I can’t resist simmering blackberries with a cinnamon stick.  Sometimes berries need a little liquid to begin the basic collapse; lately I’ve been using the tiniest splash of a fruit vinegar to amplify flavours and because sour can offset sweet.  It seems to work as a technique (and has an implication for the chutneys I make).    And while sometimes I feel jams are an excuse for sugar, and not necessarily ideal, I also try to use them, through the winter, as a store-cupboard item to use with cakes and desserts; as they are a sweet, they can replace sugar I’d use otherwise, with added flavour and festivity.

Many summers I made Blackberry Curd from a tattered,  yellow-paged paperback copy of The Penguin Book of Jams, Pickles and Chutneys from 1975.  David and Rose Mabey are the authors of this resource of a volume!  But after we moved, and I misplaced this sliver of a book, my mind just imagined the recipe had come from a Mabey, from Richard Mabey’s classic Food for Free, and this error of memory meant I could not for years find that perfect recipe, now immortalised  in the photograph below.  Nothing I found on the internet ever matched perfectly enough.  I cannot stress how simple and wonderful Blackberry Curd is, spread on a pancake, between layers of a plain cake, on a spoon or off a finger.  I love the woman in the picture too.  She would be my friend, I’m sure.



Pickled Cascabellas

Grateful for the call: my husband found himself in Ridley Road Market in Dalston in Hackney in London, and did I want chilis, they were so cheap! Handfuls and handfuls for a quid. Of course I did! And how I wish I were there. I love city markets, that buzz of a globe’s worth of people in one place, the excitement of spices and cuisines and fresh and rot and fun conversations and always wondering , of course, about the journeys the food has taken (much of it kind of agribusiness off-cast) and the journeys and lives of sellers and customers too… Anyway, despite this blurry photo, which is a story in itself, I enjoyed slicing the peppers and putting them in a mix of my wild crafted rhubarb and pineapple vinegars, a little fresh marjoram (with flowers) as I’ve done jalapenos in the past. Yellow so pretty!  I did not enjoy the sting in my eyes having rubbed them, though I’d carefully washed my hands after chopping.   I’ve met someone who grows an array of gorgeous peppers in a polytunnel, in a nearby town, and I’m excited to learn all about what he does.  Local chilis!   These particular pickles I’m hoping to save for a pop-up Mexican feast coming your way — stay tuned…


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”.   🙂   ]

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