Some of you will cry in dismay at the thought of turning good cider into vinegar, often spending your entire lifetime trying to STOP your homebrew beer/wine/cider from going sour. Why would we deliberately want to make our booze go bad? Others will be wondering what the fuss is about - alcohol will naturally turn to vinegar if exposed to the air.
However, to make the recipe truly foolproof, we need to take the element of chance out of the process and inoculate our lovely cider with 'The Mother', which is actually a liquid that already contains a large population of the essential vinegar making bacteria - a particular species of the genus Acetobacter.
So other than that we accidentally consume the ingredients, what can possibly go wrong? Well, there are probably hundreds if not thousands of bacteria that could infect the cider and turn it into all manner of weird and wonderful substances. If we take control of the process and inoculate it with a strain that is known to produce a nice taste then we are almost guaranteed success.
Step 1: Ingredients
The two ingredients:
The cider needs to be 'proper' cider which has not been treated with chemicals and that actually contains 100% apples - not the cheap 'Industrial' cider that is more commonly available. The vinegar must also be natural and not heat treated. I use the brand 'Ostlers' as it advertises that it is cloudy and contains 'The Mother'.
Step 2: Equipment and Procedure
- Glass jar
- pH (Litmus) paper
- Fine net or loose weave paper
- Rubber band
Any glass jar can be used to make vinegar and the contents need to be open to the air but protected against flies that will otherwise quite happily drink all the cider. The pH paper is used to check the acidity of our vinegar after the process has finished. To effectively preserve fruit/vegetables etc. the pH must be at least 4.4 or lower. Dip a piece of fresh pH paper into the vinegar and compare the colour produced to the chart on the packet. The pH of my vinegar came out somewhere between 2 and 3 - some 'narrow range' pH paper would get a more accurate result. Check out pHydrion paper.
The procedure is very simple - just add a small amount of the Ostlers vinegar to the apple cider - about 10ml per litre - and store in a warm place for about 6 weeks. The bacteria will continue to grow until it either runs out of alcohol to feed on or poisons itself by creating too much acidity. Either way, it can be topped up with a bit of extra cider at any time.
When it comes to using the vinegar for pickling there is no need to filter it as the Mother will blend in with all the other ingredients and be killed during the heating/cooking process. Be sure to keep a small part of the live Mother for the next batch in a sealed bottle in the fridge.
Step 3: Alien Lifeforms
As the Mother grow, she will produce clouds of cellulose that will entertain you for many hours at a time. Would probably make a great lava lamp! Don't get too attached to her though, as she will need to be killed during harvest.