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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Experiments with vinegar

Over the past few months I've produced several interesting vinegars by different methods, so I thought I'd tell you about them.


Several interesting vinegars

From right to left (OK, I know it's unconventional, but I didn't think to arrange them in the order I want to talk about them), we have fir cone, blackberry, rosehip, and cider vinegars.

Fir cone vinegar: This one isn't so much a produced vinegar, as an existing vinegar with flavour added. I had some clear pickling vinegar, previously used to pickle eggs, and some impulsively foraged fir cones. I put one in the other and left for several months. When first strained, it was a dramatic black colour, but after a few more months, all the black has settled out so I decanted the vinegar into another bottle and as you can see, it's an entirely not-dramatic shade of light brown. It's possible that some of the flavour settled out in the black, but there's still enough left to make a distinctively flavoured vinegar. I used some in a vinaigrette for a tuna and pasta salad I had for lunch today - it was pretty good.

Blackberry vinegar: Again, this includes an existing - cider - vinegar but also has quite a lot of acidity from the blackberry juice, so I consider this a bit more of a produced vinegar than the last one. I followed Atomic shrimp's method for making a balsamic-like vinegar. It's not exactly like, but quite similar and very nice.

Rosehip vinegar: This one was an accident. I'd made rosehip syrup and found out what a nice drink that makes when diluted, then Ian suggested that it might be even nicer if it was fizzy. I wondered whether I could make something similar to elderflower champagne, so I gave it a go, aiming for the same kind of light, sweet, fizzy drink. Unfortunately, I neglected it in the brewing bucket and it started to sour. That is, it got infected with acetobacter - vinegar making bacteria - and turned into vinegar. This is actual wild fermentation, albeit unintentional. Although I didn't actually want a gallon of rosehip vinegar, it's pretty good stuff and I'm using quite a lot of it in cooking. It isn't very strong, so I might reduce it at some point, but in the meantime I'm just using it in large quantities.

Cider vinegar: Finally, a vinegar I made deliberately. I don't have much use for cooking apples as Ian doesn't like stewed apple, and we got given quite a lot of them last autumn. I bottled a fair quantity of apple sauce (still not sure what I'm going to do with it) but decided to try juicing some for vinegar. I didn't bash the pieces of apple enough before pressing, so pressing was very hard work, but eventually I managed to extract about a pint of juice. I then added some yeast to ferment the sugar to alcohol, but I think I caught wild acetobacter again (I can't remember whether I dosed it with a little live vinegar or not). The result is a very good vinegar - strong and with a much more complex flavour than commercial vinegar, even the good stuff.

All in all, I'm very pleased with my selection of vinegars and I'm using them in cooking much more than I used to (and correspondingly less lemon juice and wine). Given the quantity of rosehip vinegar I have, I probably won't need to make any more of that for about a decade. On the other hand, the blackberry balsamic is definitely one I'll be making more of, and probably the cider vinegar, too.

5 comments:

  1. Oh my... you are so much braver than I am. My one foray into vinegar making ended up in a moldy disgusting disaster. I had to wear a mask to get close enough to it to remove it from the house! How can you be sure your concoctions are safe and that you're not gonna end up poisoning yourself?

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    1. Well, the stuff that requires a mask to get near (and I have a few of those), I don't eat. It depends how sure you want to be. I have quite a lot of faith in my sense of smell - I know what vinegar smells like, and if it doesn't smell like that, I'm fairly confident that it's not vinegar.

      I also poison myself from time to time, usually by eating meat that's been in the fridge too long, and I know that it's generally uncomfortable, but not fatal. There are some things that can be serious, like botulism (actually, that's the only one I can think of right now) and I educate myself about those. I like to think that I take my risk assessment to a level beyond 'safe' vs 'everything else'.

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    2. I should add that I had a few failed attempts at vinegar before this. One of them was definitely turning into vinegar... but then turned into something else. All the vinegar smell disappeared! Very disappointing. The others just smelled foul.

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  2. Interesting... so I do have a question though. When it works like it's supposed to is there any disgusting stuff on the top that you have to scrape off, or does it just turn out looking and smelling like vinegar?

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    Replies
    1. There is a thin white film that forms, and may sink, but it's not disgusting. I believe that over time this builds up into a jelly-like "mother" of vinegar, that can be taken out and used to start a new batch, but I haven't made enough vinegar to see that happen. I guess you need to keep feeding it fresh wine or cider for it to grow like that.

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