Both Cassandra and I try to put a hard limit on how much refined sugar we eat. I won’t get into how ridiculously addicted to the sweet crystal demon I am, but suffice it to say that we don’t generally keep much around the house, lest Cass wake up to me clinging to the ceiling and cackling like a goblin. So with no jam or honey immediately at hand, we’ve taken to using unsweetened apple sauce as tasty substitute.
Once we started the zero-waste project, this meant learning how to make apple sauce on our own – which is not hard at all, by the way… just chop up a bunch of apples and boil them until they break down, then buzz through them with an immersion blender… yum! This creates a steady supply of apple cores, so I decided that I’d try my hand at making apple cider vinegar. We already use vinegar to rinse our hair (right after the baking soda), and now that we’re looking at zero-wasting our cleaning products we’ll likely end up using it as a disinfectant around the house as well. I really like the idea of developing a kind of symbiotic relationship with the apple, and not letting any of it go to waste. There’s a kind of hunter-gatherer, everything has it’s purpose aesthetic to it that rings with my heartfeels.
So I did a little bit of research, and found out some stuff about simple home fermenting (but please let me say don’t take my word as gospel here. I’m very new to the subject and I’d hate for you to end up eating a pickle saturated with botulism on my say so).
Fermentation is probably the oldest method of food preservation known to humanity. Basically what you’re doing is creating the conditions to allow healthful (or at least non-harmful) bacteria to thrive, thus out-competing any other micro-organisms that you wouldn’t want to put in your mouth. In the case of apple cider vinegar, yeast (our little microbial buddy who is responsible for rising bread and itchy vaginas) eats all of the sugars in the apples and excretes alcohol. If we were to stop the process here, we would end up with plain old apple cider. Once the sugars have been consumed, the population of yeast drops and acetobacteria (that is bacteria that produce acid through their digestive process) take over and eat the alcohol that the yeast left behind. Both alcohol and acid create environments that are not conducive to the life-functions of harmful bacteria, so the resulting high-acid liquid (vinegar) is very unlikely to spoil.
Now if you, like me, were educated in the traditional school system you were probably indoctrinated with a lot of “germs are everywhere”, “wash your hands”, “milk is a time bomb that will explode on its best before date”, “your body is dirty and should not be trusted” sorts of messages. Like me, you might be a little leery about drinking something that’s been sitting tepid in a jar for three weeks. Most of the information I’ve found has assured me that home vinegar is pretty bulletproof, but I’m thinking about pasteurizing this first batch, just for my comfort zone’s sake. We’ll see. For now, I’ve got three old peanut butter jars sitting in the furnace room that need stirring.
Oh yeah! Here’s the method I used. And here’s a link to a site I really like that has a bunch of home vinegar recipes.
Zero-Waste Apple Cider Vinegar
1. Take your apple scraps (peels, cores, etc.) and put them in a wide mouth glass jar, about two thirds full. I had a couple of containers of frozen scraps from my last batches of apple sauce.
2. Put a glob of honey in each jar too, this will give the yeast lots of sugar to eat, and theoretically raise the acid content of the vinegar.
3. Cover with water by a couple of inches (some recipes say not to use chlorinated water, or to let your tap water stand overnight to allow the chlorine to evaporate… I didn’t do this, but I probably will next time).
4. Stir half a teaspoon of yeast per jar into some warm water and add an equal amount of the mixture to each jar. You could also add a couple of glugs of raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar to each jar. Make sure you get the kind that says “with the mother”, (the mother just means the colony of acetobacteria). Again I just did the yeast and not the vinegar, but I think it would likely help the process along to do both. (EDIT: Adding extra yeast turned out to be a bad idea in future batches. You’re probably best to stick with wild/naturally occourring yeast here).
5. Securely cover the opening of the jar with fine mesh cheesecloth – you don’t want to seal the jars because the acetobacteria create carbon dioxide and the resulting pressure could make your jars explode. I used an elastic salvaged from a head of broccoli, and two broken shoelaces to tie my cheesecloths in place. I commented to Cass how I was now officially living the dream.
6. Store somewhere warm and dry, and stir every day. Accounts differ as to how often you should stir. Some leave the jar on the counter and stir it multiple times a day. Some leave it next to the furnace and stir it less often.
Within a few days the concoction should start to bubble and smell boozy. Once the bubbliness has stopped, and the apples have sunk to the bottom of the jar (about three weeks) the vinegar should be ready!