Flavoured vinegars are expensive to buy but easy to make – at least, they are easy to make if you start with plain vinegar and simply infuse your chosen flavouring ingredient. Of course, if you really get a buzz out of ‘doing it yourself’ in the kitchen, and you take the phrase ‘from scratch’ very seriously, you can start by making your vinegar plant. The principle is exactly the same as that of using a sourdough starter for your bread. Here is one version:
Vinegar made with a Vinegar Plant.
The vinegar plant itself may be made thus produced: - Take a solution of quarter of a pound of sugar and half a pound of treacle in three quarts of water, simmer it, then pour it into a jar, cover it up, and keep it in a warm place for six weeks. The liquid will become vinegar, and on the top will form a scum-like fungus, which is the vinegar plant. By adding a piece of this to a similar solution, the process of conversion into vinegar will now take place in much less time. During the process, the plant thickens by the formation of a new layer on its under surface, and by peeling off this layer and using it on a fresh operation, the plant may be propagated indefinitely. The vinegar plant is a fungus somewhat resembling known by the name of mould. It forms a flocculent mass or web, which is tough and crust-like, or leathery. It is found on decaying bodies, and in fluids undergoing the acetouis fermentation, which it greatly promotes, and which, indeed, it very readily occasions – a small piece placed in sugar and water soon changing it into vinegar.
Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (London, 1870s).
Here are a couple more methods, from Godey’s Magazine (Philadelphia, 1840)
Household Vinegars.- Vinegar is an article perpetually wanted in a family, and to buy it is expensive. The good housekeeper should prepare her own.
Sugar Vinegar. -To every gallon of water put two pounds of coarse brown sugar. Boil and skim urn. Put it to cool in a clean tub; when about lukewarm, add a slice of bread soaked in fresh yeast. Barrel it in a week, and set it in the sun in summer or by the fire in winter, for six months, without stopping the bung-hole; but cover it with thin canvas or an inverted bottle to keep out the flies.
Cider Vinegar.- Put a pound of white sugar to a gallon of cider, and, shaking them well together, let them ferment for four months; a strong and well coloured vinegar will be the result.
Now you have your basic vinegar, you can flavour as you wish, and increase the variety of your salads and pickles. Also from Godey’s Magazine, here are a few ideas to inspire you:
Flavoured Vinegars.- These are cheap and agreeable additions to sauces, hashes, &c. Infuse a hundred red chilies, fresh gathered, into a quart of good vinegar; let them stand ten days, shaking the bottle every day. A half ounce of cayenne will answer the same purpose. This is good in melted butter for fish sauce, &c.
Celery Vinegar. - Pound a half ounce of celery seed, and steep it for ten days in a quart of vinegar; strain and bottle it.
Horse-radish Vinegar.- Pour a quart of strong vinegar, boiling hot, on three ounces of scraped horse-radish and a teaspoonful of pounded black Pepper, and half the quantity of cayenne. Let it stand four days, tightly covered, then strain, and put it in the cruet for use. It is good on cold roast beef, and excellent in the gravy for chops, steaks, &c.
Cucumber Vinegar.- Pare and slice ten large cucumbers, and steep them in three pints of the best vinegar for a few days. Strain and bottle it.
Previous Kitchen DIY posts:
Quotation for the Day.
Life is too short for self-hatred and celery sticks.
Off topic, but another long-established English cooking tradition gone. Maybe of interest.
I have been having a dialogue about vinegar on this post, In The Face of a Deluge of Red Wine:
Thanks Lapinbizarre: another sad tale of a small business producing a traditional product destroyed in the name of progress.
Thanks Marisa - I am still thinking of the wonderful fig vinegar at your place!
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