Food

How to make apple cider vinegar

Making vinegar is easy: you take fruit, add water and wait. Three or four months later, you’ll have vinegar. Of course there are subtleties to this process, but the basic method is simple. Fill a Kilner jar, fermenting crock or plastic bucket (depending on the volume you want to make) three-quarters full with chopped fruit, top up with water, and use some sort of weight to keep the floaters down, otherwise they will rot. Cover, to keep fruit flies out, and leave well alone. The vinegar mother (the wobbly gelatinous thing that forms on top and introduces the bacteria necessary for fermentation) doesn’t like to be messed with, so don’t move the vessel about while the magic happens.

Wait until it smells like vinegar, and voilà, it is! Or, to be a little more scientific, dip a pH strip below the mother: you want a pH of between four and five. To preserve anything – vinegar pickles, for instance – make sure it is acidic enough not to cause botulism or other nasties. This isn’t so complicated, but it would take up the rest of this article and I have other things to say about vinegar, particularly the apple cider kind.

I make vats of apple cider vinegar: it’s cheap, delicious and, as any ACV fan knows, has many applications around the home. I use all the apples that won’t store well, cutting out bruises or rot (never use rotting apples). Once the vinegar has fermented to a flavour I like, I strain it into bottles. The fermented apples go on to the compost.

This year, inspired by Nigel Palmer’s excellent book The Regenerative Grower’s Guide To Garden Amendments, I branched out and used it to make mineral plant food with baked eggshells and a leftover chicken carcass. Bones and shells are rich in calcium and magnesium, both common deficiencies in tomatoes, for instance. You can also use cow bones (try your butcher), oyster, clam or snail shells. Add 15% shells/bones to 85% ACV by volume, leave a bit of space for it to fizz in the jar and after a few weeks you’ve got an extract; dilute 1:500 parts water and use it as a foliar spray to fertilise the leaves directly.

This extract is stable and will last for years. Palmer’s book is full of recipes using locally sourced material to create mineral and biological extracts to feed plants. It’s a step up from rotting comfrey in a bucket; brewing something from waste that will bring health to your garden and your food.

 

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