"Because I love you, and I'll do anything..." sang Stevie B. in an obscure 90's song. Anybody remember that gem? Sorry, I'm on an old song roll this Monday morning. More of you probably remember the song, "ABC" by the Jackson 5 that the title of this blog post is a twist on. As you can probably tell, I'm getting a little silly today. I'm trying to create more ritual in my life, partly to help me do things that might not be my favorite, like sitting behind a computer. So, I'm thinking of fun ways to make it more enjoyable, like listening to old music with a good of cup tea, after a nice walk in the woods.
Anyway, the because I love you reference is referring to my want to do what you folks are requesting, because that's why I do all this in the first place: to get much-needed knowledge out into the world. That's what community is all about, right? We support each other. In that vein, I'm committing to writing blogs more frequently and about things that you want to know. So let me know your thoughts on this one and what you want to learn about in the future, in the comments section. I can't promise to know it all, but I'll do my best to get some fun blog posts out on the ones I do know about.
In a great workshop I offered in Johnson City, TN (love ya, JC!) yesterday, my students wanted to know more about making their own apple cider vinegar. It's so simple and virtually free to make, I think this is something everyone should know how to do. Not only can you use the vinegar for all sorts of simple everyday things (I like to add a teaspoon to the oats I soak for breakfast every morning or soaking rice or beans, etc to help break down the phytic acid in those foods that can supposedly prevent us from absorbing minerals), you can also infuse herbs, wild or cultivated, into vinegar for an alcohol-free tincture or mineral-rich salad dressing.
Though making your own apple cider vinegar is a simple thing to do, there's a few little tricks that will make your end product more successful.
1. Get a bunch of apples, organic or low spray (if possible), and save the cores (and peels or pulp, if you're peeling them, making cider, etc). You can eat them or make them into something, like applesauce. This is an awesome super efficient way to use your apples because you get double duty from them: food and vinegar.
2. Leave the apple scraps out until they brown. Depending on the type and age of the apple, this could take one to a few hours.
3. Put all your scraps in a wide-mouth jar that will be big enough for all of them, plus plenty of water. Usually, I will fill the jar halfway with apple scraps and the other half with water. If you fill the jar with more apples than water, then you'll end up with very little vinegar in the end. Make sure to leave at least an inch of space at the top of the jar. If you're eating your apples one to a few at a time, just add the cores you have, when you have them, and make sure they're always covered with water, until half the jar is filled with cores and half with water.
4. *These are the most important things to remember! Add a few tablespoons of raw, unpasteurized vinegar to the mixture to get it started fermenting. Weigh down the scraps by putting a small plate, jar, fermentation weight, or plastic bag full of water on top. This ensures that the apples will always be under the surface of the water, preventing mold.
5. Cover with a cloth napkin or cheesecloth folded over several times (to prevent holes big enough for fruit flies to get in), and secure with a rubber band over the top.
6. Wait 2 to 4 weeks. It's normal and good to see a little floating culture starting to develop, but it shouldn't look fuzzy or smell bad.
7. Strain into bottles. It's a great idea to save old apple cider vinegar bottles for this purpose. Label with contents and date. Store and use in a bajillion different ways.
A little note: homemade vinegar will taste a little different, have less of a bite, and be lighter in color than store-bought vinegar because it will be less acidic. Be aware, this may not preserve some things as well, though I haven't had a problem yet.
Try this at home and let me know how it turns out and what you do with the finished product. Happy fermenting!
Founder of the WANDER (Wild Artemisia Nature Discovery, Empowerment, and Reconnection) School, Botanist, Herbalist, & Professional Forager, Abby Artemisia, lives in rural Appalachian North Carolina. She learned about plants playing in the Midwestern woods of Ohio, working on organic farms, an herbal apprenticeship, a bachelor's degree in Botany from Miami University, and running her own tea business. She teaches about plant identification, native plants, and working with plants for food and medicine throughout the country. Her mission is offering nature and herbal education to create healing through connection with the natural world and each other. She is the author of The Forager's Wild Edible and Herbal Plant Cards and The Herbal Handbook for Homesteaders. She is the host of the podcast Wander, Forage, and Wildcract, founder of The WANDER School, and co-founder of The Sassafras School of Appalachian Plantcraft.