I first thought about making vinegar back in the early 80s when reading Craig Claibornes column in the Sunday New York Times Magazine. It was an article about how he began using up old dribs and drabs of wine to make vinegar.
He’d kept one culture of vinegar mother going for years, which he swore made a superior vinegar. Unfortunately, one sad day a house sitter, while doing some well meaning tidying up, had tamped the ground-glass lid down on the vinegar vessel so tightly that “he smothered Mother”.
Then, last year in Cowichan I heard the story of a neighbour who had made delicious apple cider vinegar, and spoke with another who infused vinegar with blackberries, and boiling it into a thin syrup, created a superior vinaigrette.
In late summer our front yard apple tree began dropping more fruit than we could keep up on trimming for freezing and drying, and the piles of cores and peels started to look like something I could work with. Even though the bulk of the fruit was cut away, there was still a good amount of juice and flavour in what was left, which was expressed when water and a bit of sugar were added.
Topped with a bit of wine yeast, this fermented into a fairly nice tasting cider. Since cider wasn’t what I was after, this was followed by a few spoonfuls of cloudy vinegar mother from a purchased bottle of organic cider vinegar.
Fascinated by this process, I also began a batch of plum wine/vinegar but didn’t pay enough attention to this ferment. The yeast was old, and the ferment went sideways, making a sizeable addition to the compost. This was followed by more successful batches of blackberry and pear, and in the end, I made 2 – 3 gallons of apple cider vinegar, 1/2 gallon of blackberry (blue ribbon at the Cowichan Exhibition), and one gallon of pear.
The results were outstanding. Each has a unique character and I’ve enjoyed them so much that the year was nearly done before I realized that I haven’t even considered using anything else for months. Naturally, I’m making more this year and in larger quantities.
Most instructions for vinegar suggest that you are done in 5 weeks. It is true that there is at this point a definite vinegar formation, but it’s really not finished. You will be better off making double your needs in the first year, so that you can wait a full year before using it in the future, as there seems to be a significant maturation of the vinegar flavour between 6 and 12 months, at least in my observation.
You will want to aerate the vinegar as it develops, in order to prevent it from developing an acetone finish and other unpleasant aromas. Ideally have an empty vessel into which you can pour the vinegar, and then transfer it back to the original.
After aging last year’s batch for about 4 months, I decanted most of the clear elements of the vinegars from the original aging vessels into smaller jars, setting the filtered sediment aside in a new vessel to sit.
Over time, this sediment settled at the bottom, eventually developing into the mother, floating at the top until disturbed, whereupon it would drift to rest at the bottom; and a beautiful amber and powerfully pungent vinegar, floating above the remaining settled sediment and mother.
As this occurred, I decanted the pure vinegar, and set the remainder aside to see what would happen with the remaining sediment, then set the mother aside, collecting it into a separate jar with enough vinegar to keep it active, until time to use it in the next batch, where it now is, fermenting.
Currently fermenting into cider in 4 gallon containers are 16 gallons of apples (which will be about 8-10 gallons of cider), and one with about 2 gallons of tomatoes, and on the second stage fermentation to vinegar, are eight gallons of apple cider, three of plum, three of rice vinegar, two of blackberry and a gallon jar of mixed plum/Oregon grape (a berry which is not a grape, but grows in clusters, and tastes similar to currant, but with hideously bitter seeds).
Looking for a good supply of large food grade buckets? Stop by your local supermarket and ask at the deli/bread counter if they have any buckets with lids, and you’ll likely find them happy to help. This will also help keep some of our plastics from being discarded too soon.
The “recipe” for making vinegar is simple:
Fruit juice, sugar (optional depending on the sweetness of the fruit), yeast, time.
That’s essentially it.
Strictly speaking, the yeast and the vinegar culture can be obtained from the air, but that’s a trickier process, and at least with yeast, the flavours obtained from them can vary greatly from yeast to yeast. I use a good commercial wine yeast to begin.
Even though the recipe is simple, I’m providing it below with the “steps” showing how a rice vinegar I made this past summer aged over time.
It’s a bit different with rice vinegar, since you use a grain rather than fruit. Also in the making of rice vinegar, there are two methods for the first stage. In the simple method, the rice liquid is sweetened with the addition of sugar. The more complex method uses amylase, an enzyme, which converts the starches in the grain to sugar before the fermentation is begun.
I’ll do another batch in the next few months and will add that to this then, along with a comparison of results.
Here is a lovely video: Brewing Korea’s Hanega Vinegar for 35 Generationsfrom great Big Story & Korean Air
It’s a very short, pretty story, about traditional rice vinegar making in Korea, where they leave the rice in throughout the fermentation…another thing I mean to try in the next batch.
It used to be easier when living in Toronto where it was merely a quick walk to the local fruit market to buy a bag of raw olives. Now living in Cobble Hill, it’s more complicated, as raw olives aren’t available locally.
Fortunately for me, I was headed to Vancouver on family business last week. I called Bosa Foods, the only place I’ve found reasonably close (a mere 4 hours away by ferry and car) where one can buy them, and was told that they had just received their annual shipment of green olives (black ones will come a bit later in the season, sometime next month).
I made sure to pick up two 10k bags, as last year the single bag I’d bought had been barely enough for our own annual use, and didn’t allow for any gifts (or product for my farm stand). To be sure of maximum freshness and quality, I began to prepare them the minute I got home.
The first stage of curing involves leaching the tannins out to reduce the natural bitterness of the olive fruit, the second is brining them, either in a wet or dry cure. These instructions are for wet cure, I’ll try dry cure when I get the dark olives next month and write about that process as they progress.
There are several pages online with instructions for how to wet cure olives, some of which suggest using lye, a caustic solution, to soften the olives prior to bringing. There are also instructions for using merely water, which struck me as wiser and which in practice, yields excellent olives.
I’ve seen instructions for whacking them with a mallet, which I tried once, and shan’t be attempting again. Not only did the mallet recoil and almost hit me in the forehead at least twice, but the olives when cured, were bruised. Meh.
The Greek method, slicing them on either side lengthwise, is perfect…but have the water bath ready to pop them into immediately, or you will have badly oxidized slashes on either side, as this happens very quickly…as I learned last year. That would have been a bigger problem if I’d had enough to give away, so I guess it was just as well that I made fewer then.
So, all that said, this is easy peasy. Get olives, fill a jug with water (I use a party drinks dispenser with spigot, so that it’s easier to empty each day, as the water needs to be refreshed daily). Slice olives into water bath. Change water daily, after one week add brine and leave to age for a month in a loosely covered jar or crock, stirring daily if possible. Put a weight (like a plate) on the top to keep them submerged, or they will go mouldy and infect the batch.
Use a 1:10 (10%) salt:water ratio. If you have kids and want to amuse them with science, test the density of the solution by floating an egg on top. If it floats, you have enough salt. If not, add more.
It will be another few days before I am ready to brine the current batch, for which I’ll use seawater which has been evaporating to about 1:6 and boil it down to the required density…mainly because I live at the beach and a local salt company uses the same spot to draw from, so why not? I’ll report back when these are done to brag about how great they taste. I’ll report back when they’re ready. Maybe with a recipe for tapenade.
Article by Jadro Subic, photos by Jadro Subic and David Gollob
When you talk about olives in Sicily, it is more about the three thousand years of ‘olive culture’ than it is about just olive cultivation.
Though not everybody agrees on which part of Sicily has the best olive oil, the most prestigious DOP (denominazione di origine protetta) is the area of Monti Iblei, the mounts stretching from Catania to Siracusa and Ragusa.
The most favorable altitude is around 700 meters above the sea, though some trust that the closeness to the sea improves the olives antioxidant properties. There are several varieties used both for oil production and brine or oil-curing.
I’ve always enjoyed my olive oil, even as a kid, but here in Sicily, no matter how much one knows about it, there’s much more to learn. Especially at this time of year, it becomes the favourite subject of local conversation.
Wherever you go, people offer advice to strangers in stores, restaurants, or at the market, not to mention friends and neighbours. Your accountant, your realtor, even your doctor will have something to add or to suggest.
Once we found ourselves owners of a lovely property with six first-class olive trees, they were all eager to explain to us (Canadians) the worth of our newly-acquired fortune, a few even offered to guide us through the process. We are of course very appreciative of all their support
For olive oil pressing, it all must be done within 36 hours. The day of the harvest the special light-net sheets are spread around the tree, for no olive should touch the ground directly. We filled six large breathable sacks and left them in the shade.
The following day, David took the olives to one of the community presses in the neighbouring town and watched the whole process play out with a bunch of other (mostly) men doing the same. He noticed a clear difference in attitude between the locals and everyone else. There was a retired science teacher from northern Italy who got a bit more respect from the locals, but otherwise…
Every batch is done separately, so you stand there and follow your own olives being weight (we had 167kg), put in a special container, cleaned from branches and leaves, washed, and so on.. More or less 2 hours to get your very own olive oil. To quote David:The perfume of olive oil in the mill was intoxicating… people here take this incredibly seriously and there was an atmosphere of excitement among the crowd, mostly 60+ with olive-bellies…
We brought a 30 litre barrel and filled 4 cans, 5 litres each. there’s a bit more at the bottom of the barrel, perhaps enough to fill a 1 litre bottle.
It had to be decanted since there should be no air inside the containers while it sits and sediment the residue. I just tasted a spoon of it on a piece of bread. Both the smell and the taste are incredibly rich.
I typically make large quantities of pierogis, usually with a friend and while watching an old movie, but it would be easy to make these in small quantities as well whenever one has leftover mashed potatoes, or the opportunity to make extra for a meal..
It’s a simple matter of mixing sour cream and flour together in nearly equal amounts…about half again more flour than sour cream…so 2 Tbsp of sour cream to each 3 Tbsp of flour.
You should let the pierogis dry out a bit before cooking, as it is a pasta of sorts. I turn them over when the tops are dry to let the bottom air out. Be sure to lay them on cloth, not paper, as they will stick to anything but fabric.
My Ukrainian friend Shona says that at a pierogi party you would use a double bed to dry them on, and would not start cooking until the bed was full. Then, start cooking the first ones that were made. She also has suggested that when they are made and before they are frozen (if you are making enough to freeze, and you should) you should boil them all, she says and toss them in melted butter to coat them.
Nocino is a fabulous digestif, a traditional Italian bitter made from unripe walnuts (any type) that can be made into a lovely liqueur given the right treatment.
The articles I read before making last year’s batch suggested that it would be gone before the year of proper aging was complete and the authors were right. The first few tastes were much like Fernet Branca, but over time it mellowed nicely into something much more subtle and compelling.
Traditionally, the latest date to make Nocino is June 24. Thanks to a late winter in BC, we’re weeks behind, and in late June, the walnuts were still barely marble-sized. They’re nice and plump today however, and the shells have not yet begun to form, so it’s a perfect time to begin. From the look of the fruits there are still a few more days to go before it’s no longer possible.
This recipe will give wonderful results. You may not want to share. I didn’t. O:-)
One of the great assets of the Cowichan Valley is the Centennial Park Cob Kitchen. It’s a beautiful Cob pizza oven and cooktop available to the community.
The Cob Kitchen can be used by individuals for family use, community organizations who wish to host an event or program, or by local businesses. One local baker uses this kitchen to bake products to be delivered to her customers.
Requirements are: Completion of a 1 hour hands-on training, a registration form, a small insurance fee, and a donation.
As the time of this post, there are two Cob Kitchen trainings coming up!
Monday June 19, 2017, from 10 – 11 am: 3 spots open
Operated at five locations throughout the valley (including the Cob Kitchen), the Cowichan Community Kitchens provides valuable services to the community in the Cowichan Valley Regional District.
Cowichan Community Kitchens is sponsored by:St. John’s Anglican Church, Duncan, St. John’s Anglican Church, Cobble Hill, Lake Cowichan Community Hall, Warmland House, True Grain Bakery – Cowichan Bay, Valley Floors, Webtec, North Cowichan, Rotary. CVRD Area C, Cobble Hill, CVRD Area D, Cowichan Bay, CVRD Area F, Honeymoon Bay, City of Duncan, Jackson on the Moon, and an anonymous donor.