On our quest to prove that you can make basically everything in your own home, we discovered that it is deceptively simple to make your own fermented fruit vinegar. If you have used Braggs Apple Cider vinegar, you know the type of product we are going for here. (If you click through to that site, please note how awesome Patricia Bragg looks.) From start to finish, we used the instructions from Kate over at Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking. We thought, at first, about doing it with peach skins, once peach season comes around, but a friend who was staying with us for a few days bought a five pound bag of strawberry seconds from the Glenwood Sunday Market and left us quite a few of them. (I'm not the world's biggest strawberry fan, but I think I'm starting to come around to them this summer.) So, we had very many strawberries, which we made into all kinds of delicious desserts and snacks, and the scraps we saved for vinegar.
As you can see, if you look at the instructions, all you need to make fermented strawberry vinegar is strawberries, sugar, water, a splash of vinegar (with the mother), a vessel, some semipermiable vessel cover, and the patience to basically ignore this slow but profitable process.
The Cliff Notes version of the process is this:
1. Put the strawberries in the water with the sugar, cover, and stir every day for a week.
2. Strain out the strawberries, add a splash of vinegar (like Braggs) to get things started.
3. Let it sit on your counter for 2-3 weeks until a mother forms and the whole room/house smells like vinegar (it's not that bad).
4. Strain again, rinse the mother, and package it up because you just made vinegar (in about a month).
Here's what our process was like, in more detail.
The first thing to do, obviously, was to put the strawberries in the sugar water and let the natural yeasts in the air do their work. We had strawberry seconds, so they were not super fresh, and I did have to battle some mold in the first week. I solved the problem by keeping the strawberries submerged under a plate. Regardless, a straggler or two would float to the surface, succumb to the effects of oxygen, and start to decompose. Those bits were promptly discarded. Towards the end of the week, when I took the cloth off the top, I would be greeted with a view like the one below.
Delicious, right? Under that weird stuff is a plate and some strawberry bits. We had enough strawberries to have two bowls going at once. When we strained out the strawberry parts and put the substances back in the bowls, they were smelling pretty much like strawberry beer. I'm pretty sure it would not have been pleasant to drink, because it was wild yeast and the process was pretty crude. If you wanted to actually make strawberry beer, you would go about this in a very different manner. It was cool to walk by and catch a waft of beer-y berry scent. Every time I stirred them, also, a lot of vaguely alcoholic bubbles would rise to the surface. Oh, food science.
Anyway, we strained out the chunks, put the liquid back in the bowls, and added a splash of "starter" vinegar to each bowl. We did use Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar for one of the bowls, and for the other we used a locally made blueberry cherry vinegar from CO-Op Sauce. Then we swirled the bowls every 2-3 days, and largely left it alone. Within a week, the beer-y smell had turned to vinegar and a vinegar "mother" was starting to form on top of each bowl. What the heck am I talking about when I say "mother?" Well, the mother is where the bacteria live that turn the alcohol into the super acidic vinegar most of us love. So, a little vinegar mother is what you need to get that process started, just like yogurt needs a starter and kombucha needs a SCOBY. Vinegar will generally start to form its own mother eventually, but a splash of already established vinegar with mother-bacteria totally moves things along. I'm not going to lie, the mother is kind of a snotty, gelatinous goop that sits on/in your vinegar, and it could gross you out. Brace yourselves. However, homemade vinegar is worth touching one goopy thing, for us anyways.
You can see how dense the mother in the one bowl was in the pictures on the left. The other bowl's mother was more viscous and didn't drape across the hand quite so nicely. It was more snotty. Different starter, different mother, maybe.
After two weeks of sitting and being swirled on occasion, our vinegar was ready to be strained and bottled. Per Kate's instructions, we removed the mother from the top and rinsed it out. Then we poured the vinegar over a strainer with a thin cloth on top and strained out the sediment.
We put a little bit of mother back into each container and called it good. The vinegar has a pretty mild flavor, but it definitely tastes like strawberries. The bowl with the Braggs vinegar had the thinner mother and the vinegar was cloudier. Otherwise, there does not seem to be a discernible flavor difference. Basically, the point is, if you want to make your own vinegar, all you have to do is be willing to stir a bowl of water and fruit scraps semi-regularly for three weeks. Delicious!