My Cider Vinegar Experiment:
The Remarkable Final Report

Dateline: 2 April 2006

Last October (about five months ago) I posted a story here about how my family made our own fresh-squeezed apple cider. And I’ve posted more recently about how, when I made the cider, I filled two widemouth gallon jars with the sweet elixir, tied some cheesecloth over the tops and set them up on a shelf in the back entryway of our house. Steve Lonsky, a homesteading friend of mine told me that was all you have to do to make vinegar.

Steve has made his own vinegar for years in a large crock. Back when my mom was sick with cancer, and she was trying natural methods of healing, she needed some “real” cider vinegar and Steve gave us a gallon jug of his “home-brew” vinegar. That was a real blessing.

Unlike the typical store-bought stuff, “real” apple cider vinegar has the “mother” in it. Mother is defined in my dictionary as ‘a stringy, gummy, slimy substance formed by bacteria in vinegar, or on the surface of fermenting liquids.” That’s a pretty good description. You could also describe it as “gelatinous.”

The way I understand it, a naturally-occurring bacteria in the air settles through the cheesecloth and turns the sugars in the cider into alcohol. Then another naturally-occurring bacteria works on the alcohol to make vinegar and, in the process, the mother forms.

We watched all of this take place on the top shelf over the last few months. It’s not a pretty sight—but it is fascinating. In time, the contents of each jar separated into a bottom layer of sediment about an inch deep, a gelatinous layer of mother around 1/4” thick on the top, and a clarified, golden-yellow liquid in between.

I asked my friend, Steve, how I would know when the vinegar was done? He told me to taste it. That mother stuff was a real turnoff so I just let the jars set awhile longer. But the longer it set, the more liquid evaporated away. I had originally filled the jars a little more than 3/4 full and, last weekend, they were only a little bit more than half full. Marlene was encouraging me to take the jars down and see what we had. She even volunteered to taste it.

And so it was last weekend that I carefully took the jars down off their shelf and set them on the kitchen table. I figured that the best way to get the vinegar out of each jar was to use a small syphon hose, and I had determined that I would filter the liquid too.

We had some unbleached coffee filters left over from one of my past “experiments” and they proved to be an excellent filter material. I used a few clothespins to hold a double layer of filters in a wide-mouth canning funnel, which I set into the top of a 1/2 gallon canning jar. I put the canning jar on a chair that was below the table.

I thought we had a small-diameter hose for syphoning but could not find it. I did, however, find a hard plastic “crazy straw” in one of the kitchen drawers. With the help of a heat gun, I was able to soften, unbend, and reshape the straw into a simple U-bend.

I put one end of the U-bend down into the vinegar jar, past the scummy mother, so it rested near-but-not-in the bottom layer of sediment. The other end of the U-bend hung outside the jar, below the edge of the table. I positioned the filter and empty jar underneath, put my mouth on the straw, and sucked in.

It’s a real trick to suck on one end of a syphon tube and not get a taste. Years ago I syphoned gasoline out of my car’s gas tank and got a mouthful. That was bad. Real bad. So, of course, I got the first taste of the vinegar experiment, but it wasn’t bad. Fact is, it tasted just like vinegar.

The vinegar flowed slowly but steadily out of the straw and dripped, nicely filtered, into the canning jar. The liquid was not brownish-colored, as is store-bought apple cider vinegar. It was a beautiful golden-yellow color. It was the same color as Steve Lonsky’s homemade vinegar.

Marlene filled a teaspoon under the stream and sampled it. With great delight, she declared it to be wonderfully smooth and flavorful. Then she offered me a spoonful (far more than the little syphon taste) and I swallowed it down. After the obligatory facial distortion and involuntary full-body spasm, I gasped out that it was, indeed, good vinegar. We filtered out a gallon of the beautiful liquid.

As soon as one jar was empty. Marlene reached in, pulled out the gelatinous mother, and started to examine it. That was disgusting. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Marlene is something of a vinegar enthusiast. She buys Braggs organic apple cider vinegar with the mother in it at the organic food store. Hardly a day goes by that she doesn’t put a couple tablespoons of Bragg’s vinegar in a tall glass of cold water and drink it. I think she actually does this two or three times a day. It is supposed to help balance your body’s ph. Because the vinegar contains live active cultures, it is also a probiotic. Marlene gives this vinegar-water to my son Robert to keep him healthy. He calls it miracle juice and chugs it down. And he is very healthy.

Yesterday morning I was feeling lousy. I was in the grip of a flu bug. My body ached. I felt chilled. I felt feverish. I was sitting at the kitchen table lamenting the fact that I had planned to do so much that day but all I wanted to do was take a hot bath and go to bed. Marlene filled a tall glass of cold water, added some of our homemade vinegar to it, and set it in front of me. “Here drink this,” she said. I asked her in my slow, feeble, sickly voice, “Tell me again what this is supposed to do for me.” She replied, “It just makes you feel good.”

So I drank it down. And it did make me feel good. In fact, that old James Brown song started playing in my head. I jumped up, gave a screeching yowl and launched into the song....”I feel good, I knew that I would, now. I feel good, I knew that I would, now. So good, so good.....”

I was gyrating around the kitchen floor (miraculously, I had rhythm too).... I felt strong. I felt healthy. I felt virile. Watch out Marlene.... “Whoa! I feel nice, like sugar and spice. I feel nice, like sugar and spice. So nice, so nice, I got you....”

It was an amazing sight to behold, especially from a quiet, mild-mannered, agrarian guy like me. But raw organic apple cider vinegar with the mother in it can do amazing things... “Whoa! I feel good, I knew that I would, now. I feel good, I knew that I would. So good, so good, I got you. So good, so good, I got you. HEY!!

Okay, I confess, that isn’t the way it went. Actually, I drank it (and took some herbal tinctures and some oil of oregano) and took a hot bath and went to bed.

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All kidding aside, I really do believe that “real” apple cider vinegar is good for a body. Before the advent of “industrialized” store-bought vinegar (which is nothing like the “real” stuff) people used to use the real stuff. And I think they tended to use it more often. A cruet of vinegar was as common as salt and pepper at the dinner table. The old Yankee haymaker’s drink, switchel, was, essentially, vinegar water with molasses and ginger. I think those old timers were on to something.

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In the end, my apple cider vinegar experiment was a resounding success! The beauty of it all was that I really didn’t have to do anything to make the vinegar. I just filled the jars with apple cider and let them set. The bacteria did all the work.

That said, we intend to make vinegar again this year. We’re enthused about this new homestead skill we’ve discovered.

Now I’m really looking forward to summer salads from the garden with oil & vinegar (our own homemade vinegar) dressing. And my mouth is watering at the thought of steamed beet greens with vinegar drizzled over them.

I think making apple cider vinegar is just another small example of what it means to live the good life.

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UPDATED INFORMATION....March 2009
Since this essay was written I have continued to make apple cider and apple cider vinegar (Click Here for a complete photo tutorial). I've also written the book, Anyone Can Build A Whizbang Apple Grinder And Cider Press. You can learn more at www.Whizbang Cider.com

18 comments:

TNfarmgirl said...

Well Herrick, I can see that you and Marlene are going to keep me busy this year! I have already been inspired by you to try growing garlic this fall...and Marlene has suggested some new scents for my soapmaking...and now apple cider vinegar! Good thing I am too far south to tap maple trees!

Patti said...

I have to agree with Farmgirl!! You make it wound so easy and yummy!!! I'll have to try it..essings... Patti

Emily said...

Thanks for posting the results of your experiment, Herrick. I have a recipe for a very potent medicinal tonic that uses raw cider vinegar as a base in which you steep equal portions of chopped or grated garlic, onions, horseradish, ginger, and hot peppers for a couple of weeks. Supposed to cure everything from A-Z. After a mouthful of that I think you really would be hoppin' and boppin' around the room like James Brown!

Herrick Kimball said...

TNFG.... I have to say that you are inspiring us!

Patti... It IS easy and good, but yummy? Well, maybe.

emily....That is a scary tonic! Just the thought of it is enough to cure most any ailment. :-)

Scott Holtzman said...

Herrick beyond the postulation that you might make an excellent candidate for that interview KS was speaking of the day before, I'd have to say that you make yet another good argument for producing a bit of cider vinegar here at the Holtzman Homestead.

With all this 'production' going on at home I might need a reduction in outside labor hours to accomplish it all. Not that that would be a bad thing.....

Time & patience I keep telling myself, times close but a bit more to accomplish and prepare for...in the mean time I think I need to visit KS's page and take that leap of faith to making some cheese this month......later this summer I'll thank you for the vinegar idea as I am harvesting some cold weather crop (lettuce) late October and looking at all the nice planted garlic for the coming year (2007)....Ikes!

TnFullQuiver said...

Herrick,
We can't wait to try this for ourselves with our newly planted apple trees. Thanks for the report.
Mike

Anonymous said...

Herrick,
Thank you so much for your blog! We are heavily entrenched in suburban life with hubby at a desk job. We know that if God is going to change things it is going to have to be in gradual slow steps at the beginning. Your blog has helped us recommit to and develop smaller, short-term plans and pray toward larger, long-term hopes. You continue to inspire and encourage! Thank you!

In the mean time we are doing what we can on our 1/2 acre in a "no farm animals allowed neighborhood."
So much to do and learn right here that will help move us the right direction either way.
SLS

Scott Holtzman said...

Herrick,

I was wandering back here to see the comments and noticed the above from SLS

...if I could toss my 10 cents in here (2 cents adjusted for inflation)

In a "no farm animals allowed" neighborhood, one might consider a "pet" chicken!

After all, most neighborhood laws do not 'outlaw' pets, though certainly some apartment and rental dwellings prohibit even these, but a pet bird, canary, parrot or otherwise is still just that "a pet".

Now some may say "it's a farm animal", but certainly there are fish farms, but none would claim the most exotic of tanks in a home or around a dwelling such as a Koi pond is none other than a pet project.

I would how ever embrace caution and get just one. (ok, m-a-y-b-e two, but that's pushing it!)

If someone was to look at thecitychicken.com they might gain some encouragement. Ok, that's my 10 cents, now I'll quietly sit back on my eggs.........

Leslie said...

A pet chicken is a good idea. If that idea doesn't fly (ugh), then maybe a hutch for rabbits.

Great post. The James Brown flight of fancy was most enjoyable.

Foolish question - you make the vinegar from apple cider, but how does one make apple cider? How does it differ from apple juice?

Herrick Kimball said...

SLS:
I appreciate your comment and encouragement. I think most chiristian agrarians are making life changes slowly— but surely. That is the case with me and my family. And I think we all would like to be further along in the agrarian journey than we are. Things like this take time— probably generations—to accomplish.

Leslie:
Apple cider is, technically, the juice from squeezed apples that has been fermented into an alcoholic beverage. But many people, myself included, call fresh apple "squeezin's" cider.

You make apple cider by grinding apples into a pulp and squeezing the pulp in a cider press of some sort. Storebought apple juice, the clear golden-colored stuff that is bottled or frozen as concentrate is homogenized and has additives.

Scott:
It's always nice to hear from you. Please drop me an e-mail. I'd like to ask you something "off the air." hckimball@bci.net

Abundant Blessings said...

Hi Herrick-

If you enjoyed drinking that little bit of raw apple cider vinegar you might also enjoy Kombucha which is easier and faster to make (it cultures for about 9-10 days), is sweeter and has the same great health benefits. It makes a new mother each time it cultures so you have plenty to share with friends. My husband drinks about 16 oz of it a day. On another note, we feed raw apple cider vinegar to our goats, chickens and dogs in their drinking water- its excellent for them too!!

Amy

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Amy_

Thanks for the Kombucha suggestion. I'll do some internet research on it!

Bigbear said...

we are not wanting for anything rental cabins . Our cars are very reliable, we live in a beautiful cabin in the woods and we take some spectacular trips. We are giving up a $50,000 SUV for a $20,000 (back in 2002) SUV. I do not have a Rolex or Tag like so many people in my field do. I only need to wear a suit a couple of times a year so I haven't spent money on a closet full of them.

Anonymous said...

Vinegar, Kombucha & other (bacteria) fermentables ...

The reason these make people feel so good is that they help replace & replicate the friendly probiotics in our digestive systems. Ancient diets focused more on vegetables, meats, insects, birds, etc, with occasional fruits, nuts and eggs during breeding seasons. Today's diet has access to all kinds of foods, 24/7, which are typically loaded with grains, sugars, fats, chemicals ... all of which our systems have not adapted to yet. These high-carb, sugar, etc foods make a better breeding ground in your digestive tract for the friendly yeast in your system, rather than the friendly bacteria, which usually "rule the roost" in your digestive tract, so to speak. The friendly yeast are normally kept in check by the bacteria in your digestive system producing lactic acid and other chemicals (some of which are vitamins your body needs, Thiamin, Vitamin K, PABA, Biotin, Choline, Inositol), and the bacteria even eat the yeast. However, when the digestive environment changes, and the yeast take off, they can release chemicals that interfere with your metabolism, with nutrient up-take, etc, etc. It can cause a whole host of problems. The yeast can even convert into fungus by putting down roots into your digestive tract, causing leaky gut syndrome (allowing food and other particles to penetrate your digestive tract without having to be absorbed by the cilli in the intestives). This can cause food allergies (foreign bodies, food, are introduced into your body in an unfamiliar way and attacked by your immune system), and yeast infections (vaginal yeast infection, jock itch, athlete's foot). Likewise, it can cause yeast allergies, so folks may be more prone to allergies from other yeasty sources, mushrooms, beer, cheese, and can even develop seabhorrheic (sp?) dermatitis, which is oily dandruff caused by irritation of the skin due to a normally non-harmful yeast on the skin. By introducing bacterially fermented foods, like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, vinegar, etc (as opposed to yeast-fermented foods, like wine, beer, spirits, cheese), you re-introduce more of the live, friendly probiotics into your system, in a substrate that they thrive in, which helps re-establish the balanced digestive system. Of course, cutting out a lot of processed grains, sugar, etc is good too. You'll have a hard time re-balancing your gut if you keep eating junk that feeds yeast. Also, the substrate most of these bacteria produce is lactic acid, which is an easily convertible energy source, and part of the Kreb's Energy Cycle your body uses (your muscles produce lactic acid when under anaerobic load deprived of oxygen ... the lactic acid is later used up when there is enough oxygen coming into the muscle.) The bacteria and substrate also produce/carry vitamins and amino acids which are good for you. Hence, some folks feel very good drinking such things, since it's a) providing a natural energy-supercharge, b) lots of nutrients, c) balancing the digestive system. It's recommended to eat some bacterially fermented food every day to maintain proper health. Likewise, if you're really run down, you should cut out the yeast-fermented foods, and grains, sugars, etc until you're feeling better. It's also a good idea to ramp up bacterially fermented foods and cut out wheat, dairy, etc during allergy periods. (Allergies are a good sign of digestive disorder and immune function overload.)

Anonymous said...

After reading your most enjoyable post a couple weeks ago, I decided to try my hand at making some ACV myself on a smaller scale. Four quarts of cider and ten days later, I am now the proud mother of four "mothers". The liquid is a lovely color and I look forward to trying it soon.

However, I have a question -- Did you stir the fermenting cider every day as is suggested on several sites I have visited? I am unsure of what to do next. I have not stirred them at all.

Mrs. Hall

Erica said...

Hi Herrick,

I pressed about 30 gallons of cider this year and decided to try my hand at making vinegar. I just put some cider in a half gallon mason jar. It's been about a week now. It looks like there is a little blue/green mold growing on top where the mother would form. I was curious if you saw the same phenomenon. Is this normal?

samantha said...

thank you for explaining how to do this without purchasing a mother and how do get the vinegar out without having a spout. thankyouthankyouthankyou.
happy holidays.
samantha

Anonymous said...

I had the inspiration to make my own acv too. I worked at a country store that pressed it's own cider, so when they were finished I took a 5 gallon bucket home of pressed apples leftovers. I had a bit (1/4 c) of Braggs left with the mother in a bottle, so I poured it into the mixture of sugar and water and then split into 2 buckets. I put it in our unused bathroom that was cooler than what is recommended. About 3 weeks later I thought I better check on it because it was starting to smell like vinegar in the bathroom. What I found on top was not what I expected, but I think it is the mother. There was a film that was yeasty looking. In color and texture. Like when your making bread and dissolve the yeast in warm water. It was one large film but not gelatinous as I expected. Does this sound like an under-formed mother due to cold or a fungus that is not supposed to be there? Also, should I take out the apple pressings now or wait?