Make Your Own Vinegar
Vinegar is easy to make, from a variety of products. And you can
make your own mother of vinegar too, although you don't actually
need it. All you have to do is add already-made vinegar to apple
cider, in a proportion of 1:4. However, to make mother of vinegar,
expose a mixture of one-half vinegar and one-half cider to a
temperature of 80 degrees for a few days. The thin scum that forms
on the surface is mother of vinegar.
Vinegar can be made from apples (cider vinegar), grapes (wine
vinegar), berries, other fruits, or even from a 10 percent sugar
solution. Most homesteaders who make vinegar make cider vinegar.
The strength of the finished product is in direct proportion to the
amount of sugar in the original solution. For this reason sweet
apples usually make stronger vinegar than tart ones. Not always,
though: Some sour apples actually have a high proportion of sugar
which is masked by a high fruit acid content.
Use only fresh uncooked cider or grape juice without any
preservatives. Preservatives will prevent it from turning to
vinegar. Fill a
one gallon glass jug to the neck.
The jug will need an airlock. If you don't have one for winemaking
or don't care to purchase one in a winemaking supply store, make a
stopper from a dry corn cob. Insert a piece of grape vine, sumac, or
some similar material with a large pith, lengthwise through a piece
of the cob that will fit into the jug's neck. Punch or burn out the
pith with a hot wire. Fit one end of a piece of rubber or plastic
tubing over the grape or sumac, and put the other end in a jar of
With this setup, as the juice ferments the carbon dioxide passes
through the tube and bubbles up through the water, but no oxygen can
reach the juice. The first fermentation will take four to six weeks
at room temperature. It's not necessary to add yeast to start this
process, because the wild yeasts which are always present will do
the job. The grey foam that forms on the top is excess yeast, which
When the bubbling stops, the sugar has all changed to alcohol: you
have made hard cider! To make vinegar, you need a second
fermentation that will convert the alcohol into acetic acid.
Unlike the first fermentation, which occurs through the liquid, the
second takes place only on the surface. It is caused by an entirely
different organism. It requires oxygen, and the larger the surface
area in relation to the volume, the faster the vinegar will be
produced. To have more surface area, divide your brew between two
jugs, so the liquid will be below the narrow neck portion.
This is when you add the mother.
Actually, wild spores floating in the air will act as a starter, so
the only reason for using a mother is to get things going faster.
Put a bit on a piece of dry corn cob and float it on the liquid.
Tie cloth over the openings of the jugs to admit oxygen but to keep
out dust and bugs.
The time the second fermentation takes depends in part on the spores
present. All strains work best at a temperature of 70-80 degrees.
They become dormant at low temperatures, but high temperatures will
kill them. The time required also depends on the surface-to-volume
ratio, but ordinarily, you can figure on anywhere from three to nine
This homemade vinegar is much stronger than store-bought. Dilute it
with water to taste before using it. But naturally there are many
other ways of doing it. Here are a few of them.
Sweet apple cider
Use fully ripened apples, free of decay and bad spots. Wash
thoroughly and grind or crush, then place in cider press or juice
press and extract the juice.
Place juice in an open kettle (stainless steel or enamel) and boil
until volume is reduced by one-half, skimming often.
Pour at once into bottles or stone jugs and cork.
Apple cider vinegar
Let sweet cider stand in an open jug 4-6 weeks and it will turn to
Put cores and peelings (left over when apples are used for other
purposes) into a stone crock or wide mouth jar. Cover with cold
and set in a warm place, adding fresh peelings now and then. Keep
the jar covered. The scum (mother) that forms on top will gradually
When the vinegar tastes strong enough to suit you, strain it through
several thicknesses of cheesecloth.
Parings of peaches or pears, grape skins and cherries can be used
this way too.
Crush cut-up apples in a crock or tub. You can include windfalls and
Cover with warm water, then cover the top of the tub with several
thicknesses of cheesecloth, tied into place.
Keep this in a warm place 4-6 months. When it tastes strong enough,
strain, bottle and cork.
You can speed up the process by adding a lump of unbaked bread
dough, or two ounces of brown sugar or molasses, or one package or
cake of yeast dissolved in warm water, to each gallon of liquid.
If you make wine, it's easy (sometimes all too easy!) to make
vinegar. When the wine is made, just let it stand, covered but
exposed to the air. Exposed to summer sun it will take about two
weeks; in winter it will take a month or more.
White wine vinegar
Mash two pounds of raisins. Add to a gallon of soft
water in an uncorked two-gallon jug. (Old recipes called for rain
water, but today. . . Hey, come to think of it, some rain water is
as acid as weak vinegar already! So why are we going through all
Let it stand in a warm place and in about two months it will be
white wine vinegar.
If you think it's fun to be frugal, pour off the vinegar through a
cheesecloth strainer, leaving the raisins and sediment in the jug.
Add half a pound of raisins and a gallon of water and start over
Pour three pints of water over 11/2 pints of fresh raspberries. Let
stand for 24 hours.
Strain off the liquid, discard the berry pulp, clean the jar, put in
another 1-1/2 pints of fresh raspberries, and pour the liquid over
them. The next day, do it again.
On day four, strain the clear liquor through several layers of
cheesecloth, add one pound of sugar, stir until dissolved, and let
stand uncovered until it turns to vinegar. This takes about three
Pour one gallon of boiling water over 4-1/2 pounds of honey in a
clean crock. Stir to dissolve.
Make a paste of one cake or package of yeast and a small amount of
warm water. Spread this on a slice of toast, and float the toast on
the liquid. Cover with cloth and let stand 16 days.
Skim it, strain it, and let it stand another 4-6 weeks until it
tastes like vinegar. Then bottle.
In a crock pour one quart of molasses and nine quarts of boiling
water. Let stand until lukewarm. Add two quarts of clover blossoms
and a cake or package of yeast. Let stand two weeks, then strain and
Dissolve two cups of honey in three quarts of hot water. Cool and
add one quart of opened dandelion blossoms and one cake or package
of yeast dissolved in hot water. Cover with cheesecloth, but stir
once a day for 10 days. Strain and bottle.
Fancy vinegars in fancy stores bring fancy prices-but naturally,
these can be made on the homestead for a pittance. After you've made
your vinegar from one of the recipes above, spice up a small bottle
or two of it with one of these ideas:
Herb vinegars: Use one cup of herbs for each pint of cider vinegar.
Tarragon vinegar is common in stores, but you can use almost
anything from your herb garden: basil, dill, mint. . . even finely
chopped chives or celery leaves. Place in clear glass jars, cover,
and let stand in the sun (like making sun tea) for two weeks or
until flavor is as strong as you want it. Shake the bottles once or
twice a day.
Horseradish vinegar: mix 1-1/2 ounces grated horseradish, 1/2 ounce
minced shallot, and 1/2 ounce paprika. Add to one pint of vinegar.
Let stand 7-10 days. Strain and bottle. Chili vinegar: Finely chop
25 chili peppers and pour over them one pint of vinegar. Let stand
10-14 days. Strain and bottle.
Garlic vinegar: Put one ounce of finely chopped garlic in a bottle.
Pour one pint of strong vinegar over it. Let stand 10-14 days,
shaking frequently. Strain and bottle.
Mint vinegar: Fill a wide mouth jar with clean peppermint. Fill the
jar with vinegar. Cover tightly and let set 2-3 weeks. Pour the
vinegar into another bottle and keep well corked.
Tarragon vinegar: Gather the tarragon just before it blossoms. Strip
it from the larger stalks and bruise it, to release the flavor and
aroma. Fill a jar or bottle with the herb, and cover it with
vinegar. Let stand for two months. Strain and bottle.
Meat flavoring vinegar: mix two chopped onions, three chopped red
pepper pods, two tablespoons brown sugar, one tablespoon celery
seed, one tablespoon ground mustard, one teaspoon turmeric, one
teaspoon black pepper and one teaspoon salt. Put into a quart bottle
and fill the bottle with cider vinegar. A tablespoon of this mixed
in a stew or gravy will impart a fine flavor and rich color. You can
test the strength (acidity) of your homemade vinegar with a wine
acid testing kit, with slight modification.
Follow the directions that come with the kit, but of course using
your vinegar instead of wine. Then take the number you come up with
and multiply it by 0.8. That's the acetic acid strength of the
Vinegar is a lot more acid than wine, so this uses a testing kit up
fast. To make it last longer, dilute the vinegar at a ratio of one
part vinegar to nine parts water. (Use the measuring devices that
come with the testing kit.) Follow the directions to test the
mixture. But then, multiple the result by 8, (not 0.8, as before).
Diluting vinegar: To dilute tested homemade vinegar to the four or
five percent vinegar commonly sold in stores, use this formula. If
you want 5% vinegar, measure the strength of what you have made,
subtract five, divide the result by five, then add that fraction of
a gallon of water to each gallon of the homemade vinegar.
If you want 4% vinegar, subtract four, divide by four and proceed as
above. Back in 1978, COUNTRYSIDE'S Country Kitchen columnist Pat
Katz mentioned that homemade vinegar is not recommended for making
pickles because of the uncertain acid content, it can discolor
pickles, and it may look cloudier than store-bought vinegar.
Pat also said fermentation should start within a day or two. "Apple
cider is very dependable about fermenting and rarely needs help, as
anyone who likes hard cider knows. Other fruit juices or mixtures
may not ferment so easily. If their sugar content is low, adding
sugar or molasses will help. Sometimes the wild yeasts in the air
are not the right kind or strong enough, and adding a little yeast
"If the liquid still refuses to ferment there is no use going on
For canning, a too-weak vinegar can result in spoilage, and even
botulism. It should be five percent (or five grain).
Don't want to spend money on a wine testing kit? That's okay:
there's a "simple" way to test acidity without one-"simple," in the
homestead context of course, meaning it's a lot of work but all it
requires is a few small glasses and jars, an eyedropper, a little
baking soda, a small amount of store-bought vinegar and a head of
Then all you do is titrate your vinegar. Titration is the process of
determining the strength of a solution in terms of the smallest
amount of a reagent of known concentration required to bring about a
given effect in reaction with a known volume of the test solution. .
. but don't worry, you don't have to know all about that to do it.
Here's how it works:
In one small jar put a solution of baking soda in water. The amount
doesn't matter, but it should be enough so that a little undissolved
soda settles to the bottom of the jar after you mix it well.
In the other jar, put some water left from cooking red cabbage. You
want a strong purple: steam a head of cabbage in just a small amount
Next put a few ounces of water in the two glasses. The amount
doesn't matter, but make certain you have the same amount in both.
Use the eyedropper to put enough drops of the purple liquid into the
water in the glasses to give the water a definite color. Again, be
careful to put the same amount in each glass.
Rinse the eyedropper in water, then in the five grain store-bought
vinegar. Then put seven drops of the store-bought vinegar into one
of the glasses of colored water which, if you want to be scientific,
you can label" standard" or "control."
Rinse the eyedropper in water again, then in your homemade vinegar,
and add seven drops to the other glass. . . which you can label
Now rinse the eyedropper in water again, then in the baking soda
solution. Put 20 drops of the baking soda solution in the "standard"
glass. Stir it with a glass rod or plastic spoon.
The water will turn blue. The exact shade depends on the pH of your
water. Then add baking soda solution, one drop at a time-don't
forget to keep track of the drops-to the test glass. Stir after
adding each drop.
Do this until the color of the water in the test glass exactly
matches the color of the water in the standard glass.
If you add a drop too much, no problem. Just don't count that one.
When the colors match, the acid content of your homemade vinegar is
equal to the number of drops of baking soda solution you put in the
test glass divided by four.
Example: if you used 28 drops of solution, the acidity is 28 divided
by 4, or 7%.
But your recipe calls for, or more likely assumes, 5%. So what now?
Water it down. To make it 5%, subtract 5 from whatever your homemade
vinegar tested: in our example, 7-5=2. Multiply that times the
amount of vinegar (in ounces) you're going to dilute. Let's say you
have one quart, or 32 ounces. 32 x 2 = 64. Divide that by 5, and you
Add 12.8 ounces of water to dilute 32 ounces of 7% vinegar to 5%