Last year was my first try at making vinegar. Not only was it easy, but the vinegar beat anything I had ever tasted, including the organic raw apple cider vinegar from the health food store. So I am doubling my batch this year, 12 quarts.
What do I use all of this apple cider vinegar for? It does make a great gift, and of course it makes delicious salad dressing. I also use it to make a hot cider tea in the winter: 1 Tbsp cider vinegar, 1 Tbsp honey, dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom (use your tastebuds), fill the mug with steaming water. But I also have a few recipes that have become favorites. I call it Faux Kraut, but if anyone comes up with a better name, let me know...
4 lbs root vegetables grated (turnip, carrot, parsnip in any combination, or singly)
1 lb onion chopped
1 lb sweet potato diced (if available)
Heat in heavy bottomed pot with about 1/4 cup oil or butter
Sautee onions, then add vegetables, stir to dress evenly with oil or butter
Add 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp honey
1 cup Applesauce or diced apples or 1/4 cup dried apples chopped fine
1 tsp carraway seed, 1 tsp dill seed, 1 1/2 tsp mustard seed, salt and pepper to taste
optional: 2 Tbsp pumpkin seed (or other seed or nut)
Remove to low heat until cooked through
Serve with meatballs, dumplings or sausage.
For a simpler variation, I love julianned carrots (or other root veg), steamed in equal parts cider vinegar and water (enough to prevent burning), and honey to taste.
This is the last of 2007's apple cider vinegar, with the mother at the bottom. It may come in handy later in the vinegar making process.
For making cider, I don't bother to core or peel the apples. I cut out large bruises, and remove the stems because they clog my juicer. I simply cut the apples into a size that easily fits in my juicer. It is a great way to use up all of the small apples that would be tedious to core and peel. This is a second hand juicer I piced up for $2. So you don't need any kind of professional equipment to get the job done. A cider press would definately sqeeze more juice out of the pulp, but for small batch vinegar making it wouldn't make much sense to invest in a large press that would be used once a year. One pound of apples makes about one cup of juice. Half of the juice evaporates in the vinegar process, so 2 quarts of apple juice makes 1 quart cider vinegar. You can also make vinegar from purchased unpasturized apple juice (or any unpasturized juice for that matter).
These ceramic crocks work great, but any glass jar will do. The juice is covered with a clean towel and placed in a warm spot, a sunny window or near my wood stove, about 80F is ideal. 60-70F will do, just slows the process down. (The same principles apply for rising yeast breads).
The sugars are turning into alcohol with the help of yeast. I have plenty of wild yeast in my kitchen from bread baking, and the juice begins to ferment and bubble within 24 hours. Once a day for a few weeks I skim the surface. Mold will form on the scum if not removed and spoil the batch. The cider has a pleasant, slightly alcoholic aroma, and I usually sneak a taste of the hard cider before it becomes vinegar.
Within a few weeks there is no scum to remove, and no bubbles rise when stirred. At this point, the alcohol is turning to acetic acid (vinegar), with the help of another microscopic beastie. Some recipes recommend adding "mother of vinegar" to aid the fermentation. Mother is the cloudy precipitation at the bottom of raw vinegars, Braggs or Eden brands contain mother. But it may be that the store bought vinegar affects the flavor of my homemade vinegar. So last year, I waited to see if it would form it's own mother when left undisturbed. And slowly, a thin grey film formed on the surface, almost like an oil slick. I left it be for a few weeks, then began to taste it for strength. When it tasted right to me, I filtered it and stored it in bottles in my cool, dark pantry. I began to use it right away, but after a few months, the flavor mellowed and became more complex. Like a good wine it improved with age.
Can't wait to find out how this year's batch tastes. For more detailed instructions on vinegar making, and using vinegar, The Vinegar Man is my favorite site.