If 18th century housewives knew the sorts of things we buy in stores today, they'd be quite surprised. At one point or another, beer, jam, canned goods and dried fruits were all made at home, by hand. These convenience foods, now available in any store, were used as methods of preservation, before giant, double-door refrigerators were invented. A renewed interest in making these foods at home is certainly a welcome development, so let's throw yet another old-fashioned food onto the list: vinegar.
The History of Vin-Aigre
The English word vinegar comes from the French vin aigre, or sour wine. It should be no surprise where this condiment originally came from. A bottle of wine, left opened for too long, would sour and become this vin aigre, which was later used to flavor and preserve other foods. The mass production of vinegar means that white wine, red wine, cider and Champagne vinegar can now be purchased on store shelves, but if you've ever had to dump the last of a bottle of wine down the drain, you can make your own at home.
The Mother of Vinegar
Vinegar-making is simple, but it's not as simple as leaving a bottle of wine out to turn. You need a mother of vinegar, a slimy combination of acetic acid bacteria and cellulose. To make one, mix unpasteurized, unfiltered vinegar with wine, and put the mixture in the sun. When the slimy mother forms, you're ready to make vinegar.
Combine your mother of vinegar with the alcohol you would like to use to make vinegar. Use a wide glass container, and cover with cheesecloth. Leave your vinegar to sit for between 3 and 4 weeks, at which point your vinegar will have turned.
Making it a Habit
Making vinegar can and should become a habit. You can break off a piece of your mother of vinegar and combine it with any leftover alcohol -- from hard cider to wine to beer -- and continue making vinegar. You'll soon have no need for store-bought vinegar... and you'll have no wasted wine! Try different vinegars made with different wines and liquids, and sample different flavors in your favorite simple vinaigrette recipe, or just combined with olive oil, as a condiment for dipping bread.
Image: James G. Milles