Monday, February 3, 2014

DIY Fruit Scrap Vinegar

I'm making apple & cactus pear vinegar
Vinegar is so cheap, why make it, right? True. But if you like flavored vinegars like apple or raspberry, it is less expensive to make it at home. You just need fruit scraps, water, sugar, and patience.

You can vary the amount you make by modifying my recipe, which will make about 1 gallon of fruit vinegar.

As with any food preparation, clean and sterilize all the equipment that you are going to use.

  • Clean, gallon glass container
  • 1-2 lbs of fruit scraps - it's okay if the fruit is bruised or "old"
  • A sugar solution of 1/8 cup of sugar to 2 cups or water; or 1/4 cup sugar to 1 quart of water, enough to cover the fruit

Chop your fruit. Place the fruit inside your container.

Mix up your sugar solution. I warm up the water a bit to help the sugar dissolve. Warming the water - boiling it is even better - helps to remove dissolved gasses like chlorine which will inhibit the fermentation process.

Pour the solution over the fruit. Make sure there's enough solution to completely cover the fruit. The fruit should not be exposed to air otherwise it will mold. You can use a clean weight - like a cup or a stone - to keep the fruit submerged if you want. I wrap it in plastic because I'm not sure of any reaction that the forming vinegar will have with the stone.

Using a stone
wrapped with plastic, bread tie
keeps the fruit submerged.

Cover with a cloth to keep out flies but let in oxygen. I use the canning ring to create a nice tight cover.
That's my husband's old golf shirt. Don't worry. He knows.

Put the bottle or container in a darkened area for about two weeks to ferment. I used a black marker to put dates on the outside of the glass to keep track of the process. The marker can be scrubbed off when I am ready for my next project.

Fermentation is there when you see bubbles. If you choose a cool place (like my garage) or it's cold weather, the fermentation process will take a lot longer. It's taken anywhere from a few days to nearly a month to show any bubbles, depending on the fruit and the temperature. I've made vinegar out of apples, cactus pears, pears, peaches, and just plain honey. It appears to me that apples are the quickest to make bubbles and peaches the slowest, with tiny, nearly imperceptible bubbles.

There may be a distinct "wine" or "beer" smell emanating from your container after awhile. When the bubbling stops, the fermentation has stopped.  Now, where it is nearly like fruit wine (but it's not - don't drink it with dinner!), you are going to "age" that "fruit wine" into vinegar. The word "vinegar" actually comes from the French term "sour wine".

Strain the fruit out of the liquid. You can strain your liquid a several times to clarify it. You can use a cheesecloth or an clean, old, cotton t-shirt. Re-cover the bottled liquid with your cloth. You can compost the fruit.

Let the liquid age on your counter top for several weeks.  A good number is six weeks. Taste it (I know! yuck! but it's safe!) until it reaches the tartness you prefer. A thin scum may form on the top of the liquid. It may appear at first like a "cloudy liquid layer". This is the "mother" of vinegar. It is basically a bacteria raft that helps your liquid turn into vinegar. Don't remove it; it's doing its job. You can even let it age up to several months. Several internet pictures of "mother of vinegar" will show you images of a dark, scary thing that looks a little like a piece of bulging cow liver. So far, my red wine vinegar making process does create nearly the same thing - even after nearly eight months of aging. In all the other vinegars I've made, the mother really just looks like a thin, almost shiny layer atop the liquid.

If any black, white or hairy scum appears - usually on the fruit exposed to air - remove that right away, because that's just mold. If you smell anything other than a familiar vinegar smell, then you should toss that batch right into the compost pile. A properly fermenting vinegar will smell like vinegar or hardly have a smell at all. Foul odors are obviously a bad sign. So far, in my experience, I've not had any foul odors.

You can "can" the vinegar like you would homemade jelly or jam for long-term shelf storage. I'm not an expert canner, so I can't detail the process for you here.

You can pasteurize the vinegar.  Removed any "mother" from the vinegar. Some people keep the mother alive in a little vinegar and keep it in the refrigerator to make more vinegar. You don't have to but you might. The vinegar is sterilized it by heating it to 150* for thirty minutes in a clean pot. This pasteurization process will kill the vinegar-making bacteria which is still in it.  You can then bottle it or put in a mason jar and keep it safely in the refrigerator. If you don't pasteurize the vinegar there is the possibility that you will have your vinegar turn more sour, as the bacteria are "still alive" and will continue to propagate.

Your fruit scraps can come from almost any source. I have used the cores of apples from my kids' lunches, for example, or the skin from peeled apples. I rinse my fruit scraps in water and then toss them into a container, then into the freezer. When I have about a couple of pounds worth of fruit stuff, I can turn them into fruit vinegar.

I've am currently making banana vinegar, which I understand is very popular in Mexico. The process is a little different as it involved me boiling banana peels (and one old banana) to create a brown liquid, which I strained fruit bit out, and then added sugar solution. I threw the remains into our garden as bananas are famous for being great fertilizer.

If you end up making quite a lot of vinegar over time, you can make them into gifts for friends and family. There are pretty bottles you can purchase from shops like World Market Imports or CostPlus which are inexpensive. I actually save interesting bottles from various dressings and sauces for this purpose and it's a great way to recycle. It's smart to clean and sterilize all bottles you are going to use - both new and recycled - by cleaning them with very hot water and soap, boiling or running them through a dishwasher cycle.
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