I’m continuing my journey to consider some of the basics (beyond meat, eggs, dairy, grains, fruits, and vegetables) that I will want in my pantry in the event of TEOTWAWKI . Sure, if it is a matter of life and death, we will take what we have and make the most of it. However, like many others who have contributed to the wealth of information on SurvivalBlog, I am pursuing the idea of thriving rather than just surviving, and I know that knowledge and tools are far more valuable in a long-term crisis situation than having a finite supply of end product stored.
In considering what basics we use on almost a daily basis, there are quite a few that we will need to either be able to eventually produce on our homestead, find acceptable substitute for, or establish a local/regional source where we can purchase or trade to obtain them. Last week, I took a look at baking soda, which has so many uses in the kitchen, around the house, and for health care purposes also. This week, I will look at a product that is sometimes used as a companion to baking soda, at least for cleaning. Today, I’m writing about vinegar.
Like baking soda, vinegar is used in cooking, cleaning, and also for health care and hygiene purposes. It is a true basic. Fortunately for me, I know this product and have a little bit of experience producing it. I look forward to the opportunity to become more knowledgeable about its production in the future, as I hone my homesteading skills. To date, my experience has been limited to apple cider vinegar and plum vinegar. (We’ll not mention the unintentional vinegars that I’ve produced with neglected juices.)
Interestingly, the word “vinegar” comes from the French words for “sour wine”, but there are many vinegars made from sources other than wine. Vinegar is made when fresh, naturally sweet cider (whether grape, apple, grain, or another juice) is fermented into an alcoholic beverage called hard cider. Then, it is fermented once again to produce vinegar. According to The Vinegar Book  by Emily Thacker, apple cider vinegar contains more than thirty important nutrients, a dozen minerals, over half a dozen vitamins and essential amino acids, and several enzymes. It also provides a large dose of pectin for a healthy heart. In her book, Emily Thacker also shares an easy vinegar pie crust recipe and many other recipes and ideas, as well as some of the health benefits of using vinegar.
Cooking with Vinegar
In cooking, I use a variety of vinegars, which include:
- white vinegar– made primarily from corn,
- balsamic vinegar– made from grape pressings into syrup that is turned into vinegar under stringent conditions,
- red wine vinegar– made from wine,
- raw apple cider vinegar– made from apples,
- Japanese rice vinegar- made from rice, and
- homemade fruit vinegars– made from various fruits.
Many in our immediate and extended family enjoy Italian and vinaigrette salad dressings, and vinegar is a key component of these. We also use vinegar in pickling (which is a good means of preserving that garden produce), in barbecue, in making bone broths (which are so healthy and tasty), and in many recipes.
If you’ve followed my posts for awhile, you probably have a sense of our family’s fondness for homemade whole grain breads, as we have decided to adjust our diet to the fiber-rich diet we would need to follow in a TEOTWAWKI lifestyle now and enjoy the health (and taste) benefits of doing so. In fact, it is not uncommon to find young dandelion leaves and flowers as well as other “wild greens” in our spring salads along with our homemade breads and homegrown vegetables. As an accompaniment for our breads, we certainly enjoy our bread dips. One of our favorite dips contains balsamic vinegar. The basic recipe, which we adjust from time to time, based upon our spice and vegetable availability and preferences, is below:
Favorite Bread Dip Recipe
- 1/4 cup quality olive oil, divided
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 Tbsp dried oregano, crushed
- 1 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- In small saute or non-stick skillet, heat one tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat; add freshly minced garlic and saute, stirring occasionally. When garlic begins to turn golden brown and slightly crispy, immediately remove from heat and pour into a small dipping dish.
- To the dipping dish, add the remaining olive oil and other ingredients; stir gently and allow to sit for at least 30 minutes. (Dried, crushed sweet basil and/or finely diced fresh sweet red bell pepper or red onion may also be added, per your preferences; however, the addition of fresh ingredients, such as red bell pepper or onion require that it be served and utilized fairly promptly.)
- Serve with fresh bread or bread sticks, or use as a spread on sandwiches or pizza.
Vinegar for Cleaning
Vinegar’s acidic properties (especially the acetic acid) pass into cell membranes to kill bacteria. One report  in 2004 found that a mixture of equal parts of vinegar and lemon juice was even effective in reducing salmonella, though in this study it required a prolonged treatment of more than 30 minutes for maximum effect.
I keep a jug of vinegar under my sink for general cleaning. I haven’t found anything as good as vinegar for cleaning tea and coffee stains from pitchers, pots, mugs, and glasses, except possibly bleach, which I avoid pouring down our drains since we are on a septic system. Bleach kills vital septic organisms that keep our septic systems fluid and clearing properly. Protecting these organisms in a TEOTWAWKI situation will be more important than ever, as septic pumping services may not be available. Vinegar is septic friendly, and I don’t mind using it or breathing it. It’s cleaning benefits are further enhanced when the antibacterial properties and acid of vinegar are combined with the crystalline benefits of baking soda to produce a paste that scours mineral deposits.
A bit of vinegar poured onto cleaning sponges or cloths prevents odors and bacterial growth. I use vinegar water to wipe out my refrigerator and clean cutting boards.
It is also great in laundry to remove odors and to set colors dyed into fabrics. Anytime I buy a new bright or dark colored natural fiber clothing item or a piece of fabric, I first soak it in vinegar water and then launder it, for its first wash, in cold water to help set the dye and prevent future fading.
Vinegar for Health and Hygiene
Vinegar has been used for thousands of years as a medicine or antiseptic. As a weak acid, this home remedy delivers relief when you need it. In the year 400 B.C., Hippocrates– the father of medicine– used vinegar to treat his patients. So, this naturally occurring germ killer was one of the very first “modern” medicines.
Most of the remedies for health and hygiene point specifically to apple cider vinegar, and the raw, organic variety is the best. It is the “mother”, the unclear portion, that is beneficial. Clear, distilled vinegars have far less health/medicinal benefit. Even within apple cider vinegars and vinegar tablets, the amount of acetic acid in them ranges considerably, from the reports I read.
I have used apple cider vinegar on our family’s feet to manage odor and fungal infections and in arm pits and other sweaty areas for the same purpose. We have also used it as a gargle and to drink in warm water with honey for sore throats. It’s been used to cool sunburns and assist in reducing borderline cholesterol.
Even WebMD, an online presence that “provides valuable health information, tools for managing your health, and support to those who seek information” published an article about apple cider vinegar that quoted Carol Johnston, PhD, who directs Arizona State University’s nutrition program, as saying, “Apple cider vinegar’s anti-glycemic effect is very well documented.” The bulk of WebMD’s article  generally applauds the benefits of apple cider vinegar for diabetics as one means to help them control blood sugar. Their overview  of apple cider vinegar, states:
Apple cider vinegar is used alone or with honey for weak bones (osteoporosis), weight loss, leg cramps and pain, upset stomach, sore throats, sinus problems, high blood pressure, arthritis, to help rid the body of toxins, stimulate thinking, slow the aging process, regulate blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, and fight infection.
Some people apply apple cider vinegar to the skin for acne, as a skin toner, to soothe sunburn, for shingles, insect bites, and to prevent dandruff. It is also used in the bath for vaginal infections.
How Vinegar is Made
Most vinegars are produced quickly with the use of vinegar mothers, or starters, to propel the process along, but these are not necessary. Fruit or fruit scraps, sugar or honey, and filtered (un-chlorinated) water will do the trick, along with clean, food-grade, non-metal containers and clothe covers that allow air but not insects inside. In fact, I read that sugar or honey is optional, but it is my experience to use them.
The most popular Heinz brand of vinegar uses corn or apples to produce vinegar. As I’ve stated, I use apples most frequently but have also used other fruit, though not recently. With apple cider vinegar being the most beneficial for health purposes as well as being useful for cleaning and cooking and with the natural resources (apples) readily available to me, it makes sense that in a TEOTWAWKI situation, this will be the vinegar I will most likely manufacture in bulk and use as my staple. If I have time and resources, I may make other vinegars, but they won’t be as important to me. All vinegars are generally made in a similar manner. Let’s go over a basic process for making raw, apple cider vinegar:
- Clean, wash, and dry a wide-mouth half gallon glass Mason jar  (or other non-metal, food-grade container). I use half gallon jars because I find them easier to handle, but if you prefer gallon jars or quart jars, then adjust the remaining proportions accordingly. The processing time will remain the basically the same, regardless of the container used, as long as there is the ability for air to circulate inside the jar.
- Wash 3-4 large sweet and tart apples. It is best to use two sweet and one or two tart apples that are organic or at least have all pesticides thoroughly scrubbed off. (It is also possible to use just apple cores and peels, but it will take the peels and cores of many more apples to equate to three or four whole, large apples.)
- Dice the whole apples (skin and seeds) into pieces that are about 1/2 – 3/4 inch cubes; place them inside the clean Mason jar. (If using peels and cores, then be sure to chop them into pieces.)
- Fill the Mason jar a bit more than half way with apple pieces; wash and cut another apple, if needed.
- Fill the jar with lukewarm, filtered water (non-chlorinated) up to about three inches below the rim of the jar.
- Add 1/2 cup of raw honey or cane sugar; stir to mix well.
- Cover the top of the jar with two layers of ultra fine cheesecloth  and hold in place with either a strong rubber band or a jar ring without the flat lid. This cheesecloth allows necessary air to pass into the jar (and gasses out) while keeping bugs out of your “brew”.
- Store on your counter or in a cabinet out of direct sunlight and stir once or twice daily for one or two weeks. You will smell the changes and see bubbles form as the sugar ferments into alcohol.
- After at least a week, when all of the apple pieces sink to the bottom of the jar or not more than two weeks, the hard apple cider is ready to be strained. Strain through clean, dry cheesecloth over a mesh colander into a clean, wide mouth half gallon Mason jar.
- Cover with a clean piece of cheesecloth and secure with either a rubber band or a wide mouth jar ring, once again allowing air to pass but not bugs or dust.
- Place jar in the pantry or a generally dark place for an additional three or four weeks to allow the alcohol to transform into beneficial acetic acid. There will be some sediment in the bottom and a milky culture will form on the top, which is the mother culture.
- After three weeks, taste your vinegar. If it seems to have the right level of taste and strength, strain it another time and store in another clean Mason jar. If not, leave for up to two more weeks, testing weekly. If it becomes too strong, just strain it and then dilute with filtered water.
- Store your raw apple cider vinegar out of direct sunlight. If another mother culture forms on the top, just strain it again and dilute it with water as needed. It does not go bad.
Congratulations! If you have followed these instructions, for the cost of three or four apples, some honey or sugar, some cheesecloth (that can be washed and reused again and again), and glass jars (that can also be used repeatedly), plus a very little bit of attention over several weeks, you have made about $12 worth of apple cider vinegar in approximately four or five weeks. It probably cost you less than $12 to make and most of the supplies are reusable. If you make more than one jar at a time, think how much you will save in the future. Now, when you don’t have the option of buying it at the store, just think how much more valuable it will be that you know how to make it and have the experience of doing so.
So, get started making that apple cider vinegar. Practice makes better. There isn’t much better than having the things you need when you need them and knowing how to make more so that you won’t run out when your loved ones are in need!
Next week, we’ll take a look at another homestead basic.