Equipment and Supplies
Making your own vinegar at home is a simple, useful, practical skill that is applicable to TEOTWAWKI. If you can crush apples and save the apple juice, you can make apple cider vinegar (ACV). In addition to apple, there are many different types of vinegars you can make depending upon your needs and desires. I have been making ACV for many years. I have gallons put away in my basement, and I always have a bottle in the fridge that I use on a continual basis. Stocking up on some basic supplies ahead of time will ensure you have the potential of making your own supply of vinegar for years. One of the most important items you would want is an apple or fruit cider press. Farms with apple orchards have used these elementary presses for decades to make apple cider. Growing up in rural New England, I first saw one in use when I was a child when my mother took me to the local town apple orchard where they made apple cider. These types of presses can be purchased online for between $100-$500, depending on the quality and brand of the press, and may even be found at estate sales for much less. Just like when you shopped for your grain mill and purchased a Country Living hand grain mill with a lifetime warranty, it would be wise to purchase a juice press of the same caliber. I have a Macintosh apple cider press with the stainless steel basket. I purchased mine online from PleasantHillGrain.com, but there are several companies that offer cider presses at a fair price. My local apple orchard, in addition to a large industrial press, has a few of these Macintosh presses on hand that were many years old and still in proper working order. This was one of the reasons I bought one, as well as the machine’s design being very basic and tough to break because there is only one moving part. An electric juicer is also a great tool for juicing your apples, but of course using it will depend on having access to electricity, so having a electricity-free manual fruit press for long-term vinegar making is a must.
Regrettably, like many grain mills, this juice press is also powered by human muscle. So just like when you have to grind your corn down for corn meal, your arms will also be getting a workout when you have to use your juice press. Hopefully, you have your own little fruit orchard on your property. If not, locating the fruit orchards that are in relatively close proximity to your property ahead of time is a wise idea. Often during the fall season, there is an ample amount of fruit that ends up on the ground that farmers will not use and may be collected with permission from the landowners. This fallen fruit is still perfect for making vinegar. Frequently farmers will not even charge a penny for the fallen fruit so you will be able to get the principle ingredient of your vinegar for free! Of course, this is also another splendid reason to plant some fruit trees of your own on your property so that no travel is required when it’s harvest season.
Having all these essential supplies to make ACV would not only enable you to make vinegar for you and your loved ones but would also position you to have a seasonal job where you could provide both vinegar and apple juice to the local community when the grid is down, provided you have easy access to an plentiful supply of apples. You will also need containers in which to ferment your vinegar. Ideally, these containers should be glass, ceramic, stainless steel, or sanitary wood barrels. I have found the best containers to use if you’re making a larger batch of vinegar to be glass carboys commonly used in beer and wine making. These come in 5- and 6-gallon sizes and will usually last a lifetime. For making smaller batches, you can use 1-gallon glass wine fermenter bottles. You will also need cheesecloth or even some old clean cotton t-shirts that you longer wear can also be used to cover the fruit juice after you put it in the containers. Lastly, you will want to have some plastic food grade tubing that you will use to siphon the vinegar into smaller containers for convenient storage and use. As you can see the amount of equipment needed is minimal and the press is the most expensive item.
Procedure For Making Vinegar
To make ACV, rinse your apples in water to rid them of debris, then commence juicing/pressing. There is no need to cut them up when using a press, as presses are designed to work with whole fruit. Just fill the press with your fruit and began working the wheel until the apples begin to crush. Make sure you have set up a sanitized bucket below the press to catch all your apple juice. The excess mushed fruit scraps can be used to feed your chickens, if you’re lucky enough to have some. You can then begin to fill the containers using your food grade tubing as a siphon or by pouring the juice into the containers with the help of a funnel. When filling your containers with juice, make sure to leave space for adequate surface area for proper gas exchange. If you use a large glass carboy, leave some space at the top of the container as opposed to adding juice all the way to the narrowing neck of the bottle; this will maximize surface area in the container. Make sure to cover containers with either cheesecloth or a cotton shirt so no insects or dust gets in, while the juice is still allowed to “breathe” for proper gas exchange.
The juice will now go through two stages of fermentation. The time it takes for both stages will vary depending on the room temperature of the juice; the warmer the room, the faster the process. The first stage will take about a week; all the sugars in the juice will start to covert to alcohol. This is when the fun comes, not because you can then get tipsy by drinking some of your newly produced alcoholic libation but because you get to watch the fermentation process take place. Using glass containers adds the benefit of being able to watch the fermentation process happen. This ends up becoming a type of science experiment, which is great if you have kids in the house and get them involved in vinegar making. Your container of juice temporarily takes on the appearance of a lava lamp. For those of you old enough to remember lava lamps, which had wax in a container of liquid that melted from the heat of a light bulb causing balls of liquid wax to float up and down in the lamp, the yeast cake that forms on the bottom of the container acts in a similar fashion as it rises from the bottom to purge its excess CO2.
During the fermentation process, bubbles of CO2 gas will rise up from the bottom and slowly accumulate at the top of the container underneath a floating mat of beneficial bacteria, known as the “mother”. This mother bacteria will continue to grow and slowly convert the alcohol into acetic acid, which is the second stage of the fermentation process and gives vinegar its distinctive bite when it hits your taste buds. Strands of the mother will eventually fall back to the bottom of the container, while some may reach throughout the cylinder causing all the liquid to take on a cloudy appearance, which is exactly what you want. It may take a month to several months for all the alcohol to be converted over to acetic acid. When the process is finished, you will know by taste testing the flavor, or you could also get that acid titration test kit to see if your vinegar has reached the preferred level of acid between 3-5% acetic acid.
After the second stage of fermentation is finished, you can bottle your vinegar into smaller containers for long-term storage or even give some away to family and friends after you educate them about the many benefits of vinegar. Just like saving yeast when baking bread or brewing beer, saving some mother bacteria from one batch of vinegar can be used to jump start the fermentation process of your next batch of vinegar. The mother bacteria that concentrates as a thin floating mat on the surface of the vinegar will stay living for an extended period of time in a sealed bottle with just a little vinegar. Whenever you happen to make another batch of ACV, even if it’s a year or two later, just add in some of your saved vinegar that contains the mother immediately after you juice your apples. This will dramatically speed up the fermentation process and will also give the vinegar a similar flavor to your previous batch of vinegar because you are using the same bacteria culture to initiate the fermentation process.
With such a wide variety of uses, coupled with its affordability and simple method of production, we owe it to ourselves to store an ample supply of vinegar to enjoy now and during uncertain times. Hopefully you and your family will enjoy the process and uses of vinegar as my family and I have. Happy fermenting!