Saturday, May 7, 2011


Mother's Day is here once again. This particular day of the year has taken on entirely new meaning since I became a mother. It seems incredible that this is my own personal 4th Mother's Day, and that the tiny, helpless babe that existed those 4 years ago is now already memorizing books, writing his name, and drawing numbers all over the driveway in sidewalk chalk. I never realized just how much sacrifice my own Mother gave for me, giving everything from sustenance to laundry her full attention, and even occasionally her finger-wagging that has made me what I am today. Mother's Day now not only reminds me of my amazing Mother, but of the endless circle of life, the ebb and flow of both the seen and unseen.

Mothers. Of Vinegar.

When Lizzy brought up a bucket full of vinegar mother from her basement for me, I flung myself at the mercy of this organism. Mother of vinegar is essentially a mixture of cellulose and acetic acid bacteria, a growing colony (not unlike the kombucha SCOBY) that does it's job day in and day out with very little human intervention. It's actually hard not to let this process start on it's own, unless you are beginning with a liquid that has some type of preventative, like the sulfites present in most wines. Given this no-brainer-type information, I felt that finding some solid instruction on how to make amazing vinegar would be easy. That wasn't really the case, and now I think I know why: it is shamefully easy, and you really just learn by doing.

One thing that certainly is a given, is that to make vinegar, you need an alcoholic medium. You may remember that Jeremy at Northern Brewer gave me 2 gallons of home-brew wine (which is coming along nicely, but it's going to be awhile yet due to the volume), and lots of advice on how to open ferment fruit juices using different strains of yeasts.

Around the time that I began the rhubarb-strawberry version, I also decided also to ferment some preservative-free blueberry juice my Parents' had brought me from a trip they made to Nova Scotia. That bottle was only 375 ml., so I added some homemade apple juice I made by blending some green apples with a little water in my Vitamix, then straining it. I emailed Jeremy to see if I could use the same yeast strain that I had used to ferment my strawberry-rhubarb juice, and he confirmed I could. (I would say that I need to learn more about yeast strains, but that is a topic for another day...)

I use unbleached cotton muslin in my kitchen a lot. I get it at the fabric store.

I split the fermented juice, which took about 2 days to finish, into two mason jars and added a small chunk of vinegar mother to each. Within a week, the mothers covered the surface of the jars.

Now would be a good time to add that if there is one thing I have noticed about Lizzy's house, it is that it has flies... even in Winter. To make vinegar efficiently, you need room temperature, not the cool depths of my basement. (Lizzy kept her cider vinegar in the basement, but it took more than a year to do it's conversion. I suspect she did not want to make room for a giant barrel in her kitchen.) The things I worried about on the drive home with a pail full of mother of vinegar were twofold: first that my husband is not fond of flies - especially indoors, and second that he doesn't like the smell of vinegar. He doesn't really know what I'm doing in my kitchen, spending countless hours tinkering around, but this I suspected, he may detect if I wasn't careful.

Leaving the mason jars, covered with muslin and sheltered from light, on my kitchen counter only worked for so long. A few weeks ago, I started noticing tiny 'vinegar flies' as far away as my bedroom. The growing scent of vinegar was actually even putting me off of drinking my daily kombucha - I just began to feel vinegared out. I have a shallow, dark pantry in my dining room, and moved the jars inside - warning my husband that if he went in there it would likely smell like vinegar. It seemed to take care of any tiny flies too; I haven't seen a trace of them since.

Meanwhile then, I noticed the mothers steadily growing in thickness and a small amount of sediment sinking to the bottom of the jars. This morning, I figured I'd stop procrastinating, and find a way to bottle it up. From miscellaneous reading, I knew that if I bottled it without heating it (left it completely raw) it would continue to develop and in time be extremely strong. From this link, I determined to heat it gently to 140 degrees, and then bottle in in sterilized glass jars.

As I mentioned earlier, there was a little sediment in the bottoms of the jars. As careful as I was not to disturb it, it really did make for cloudy vinegar. I strained it through more muslin, still concerned that my finished product was just going to be cloudy and there was nothing I could do about it. I loaded my glass jars (and some canning lids) into a pot of hot water and brought them to a boil for 10 minutes to sterilize, and at the same time, I brought the vinegar to 140 degrees.

As soon as it reached that magic temperature, all of the cloudiness parted, floated to the top. I poured the whole lot once more through some muslin, and had beautifully clear vinegar. Then I loaded the hot vinegar into the hot jars, suspecting they would seal. Even though it wasn't necessary, they did seal and I have a pretty tasty finished blueberry apple vinegar. I'm new to vinegar, and know that it must be aged to mellow out. I have no idea how long that will take, but I left one of my jars sealed only with a stopper so I can check up on it periodically.

I am happy with my plummy purple vinegar. I may not get to actually enjoy it for quite some time, but for very little investment I feel like I have learned a whole lot and will have a whole lot to show for it. I still have to bottle the strawberry rhubarb, which did smell even stronger than the blueberry apple, but now I have a better confidence on how to do it. I keep a curious eye on the 2 gallons of wine that appear to have grown a shag carpeting over the top. Why my blueberry apple mother looks completely different, gelatinous by comparison, I have no idea.

I assume the differences are par for the vinegar course, and the whole experience is not unlike human motherhood: it is ever changing and somewhat demanding, and probably some of the best of what can happen to me in my lifetime. While I only have one child, I suspect if I had many, each would be just a little different, requiring me to be as different as the mothers coating the tops of different-ingredient vinegars.

Backlit, you can see the true colors.

I could go on with the comparisons, how straining and clarifying relate to human experience, how depth and age improve the personality of both liquids and people but I'll spare you. I'll say instead that I am so privileged to be a mother, and one of a real live human being. It's a role I never imagined for myself, but one that has brought me the deepest pleasures in life to date. More likely than not, it is what has caused me to learn about such things as vinegar, and what keeps me learning on a daily basis! These are the very same things I know I learned from my own Mother, in her quiet way. I am thankful for her, and all she has inspired me to do and be in my life.


  1. Have you tasted it since you made it? Is it mellowing yet, or maybe it's too soon. I'm subbed to your blog with Google Reader, so I'll see if you post an update ^_^

  2. Just tasted it on a fingertip... I figure waiting longer is good. I think I learned this last year, when I made the Mostly Foodstuffs Rhubarb Liqueur. I thought it was good, but after 8 or 9 months it had changed completely, became super mellow. For some reason, I think the vinegar will act similarly, but I guess time will tell!


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