23 October 2008

New batch of Apple Cider Vinegar

It is time to start this year's batch of apple cider vinegar. We used up the first harvest of early, unbruised apples for drying and preserving. By the second week of October, most of the apples had fallen to the ground, making for easy collecting in these unpruned wild trees. We went back to the abandoned apple orchard in the neighboring forest and collected the last of this year's apples. One of the trees produces small red apples with good flavor, these will be my cider apples. Late apples make good cider because of the high sugar content.

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.


Susy said...

I was just thinking before I read your post that I need to get started on my vinegar making. We buy unpasturized cider from a small local press. I've been buying vinegar by the case almost for all my chutneys this fall. I'm looking forward to making my own (I've even saved all my glass vinegar bottles from the health food store).

Chicago Mike said...

Hello Frieja,

Have you ever made applejack? (hard cider distilled to between 30 to 40%).

Chicago Mike


Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

Susy, good luck with your vinegar. Well, not much luck is needed, it's really quite fun. Just a thought, homemade vinegar can vary in acidity. Typically it is stronger than store bought 5% vinegar, but if it is less acidic you can run into problems using it in pickles and preserves. I have not used my own for this reason, but I am going to look around for an acid meter, I think they exist, to test my vinegar.

If anyone has tips on how to do this please share!

Chicago Mike, I'm not much of an alcohol drinker anymore, my yearly sip of fizzy cider is enough for me. I have no idea of the distilling process, although as I get more into medicinal herb preparations, I would like to learn some of those skills.

Tammy said...

Thanks for the website. After reading up on how to make vinegar, it's no wonder my first attempt went bad! I left it in the light, sealed it off from the air, yeah, well, the list goes on and on. UGH!

I won't give up. It's cider season here now and I might be able to convince my local orchard to give up some unpasteurized cider to me to get me going again. You're motivating me!!!!!


Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

Tammy, hope you get another chance to try making vinegar, once you understand the principles it's as easy as pie!

Tammy said...

Okay, I'm back and my next batch of cider vinegar is now going! I decided to be very frugal and saved off my apple cores and peels from several baking days in the freezer. I was making some apple filling today and decides to pull it all out along with todays peels and cores and simmer it all out for the juice. I simmered all of my stuff before straining and setting it into a 1/2 gal. canning jar with cloth tied over the top. I read that you can actually just set the peels and cores into water in your crock to ferment but it sounded less a'peeling'.
Like you, my bread baking means a kitchen full of wild yeast so I'm hoping they'll settle into my apple juice and get fermenting. I did NOT know about the mold skimming, though! I even reread my homesteading books and they didn't mention it. Thanks for that tip!
I'll be back to update. Thanks again for being such an inspiration!

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

Tammy, I've read about mold issues when fermenting cores and peels, so I think you did the right thing. It's possible that a really clear, strong juice will ferment so fast as to not need skimming. And perhaps your own method of simmering peelings will not need much skimming. My raw juice was relatively cloudy and produced a lot of froth when fermenting, and all of that had to go. So if no frothy skum forms on your bubbling juice, don't worry about it. Certainly, after fermentation, and the bubbles go, and the mother starts to form on the top, be sure not to skim that off. Let it form, and it will eventually sink to the bottom. At which time your cider is ready, you can pour off the pure cider, separating it from the "mother".