Make Your Own Apple Cider Vinegar
Back in the day, people planted orchards of seedling apple trees to make cider. I’m not talking about the sweet stuff we enjoy in the fall with an apple cider donut at the ‘pick your own’ orchard. I’m talking hard cider. Everyone drank hard cider because it didn’t make people sick (unless you drank too much, of course). This was back before bacteria were discovered. No one knew that you could boil water to make it safe, so they raised apples for hard cider…or they brewed beer. What a happy bunch they must have been! One of the results of making hard cider is that any extra turns into apple cider vinegar.
How To Make Apple Cider Vinegar
I remember foraging for wild apples with my family when I was a kid. Dad would hook the trailer to the tractor, load up all us kids, a bunch of burlap bags, and a jug of water, then off we’d go to the woods. There were a gazillion wild apple trees growing around the farm and we would have the trailer half full or better with big bags of apples. There was a guy down the road a piece who would squeeze all your apples into cider with a big press run by an old tractor. We took our glass jugs to fill up with all that liquid gold. Man that stuff tasted great! We sold some of our cider, drank a lot, and any that didn’t get used up was fermented into hard cider (nasty stuff, I thought, but Dad seemed to enjoy it) and then into apple cider vinegar. By the following spring or early summer we’d have all the vinegar we could possibly use for the year.
What You’ll Need
- Unpasteurized apple cider
- Raw cider vinegar or ‘mother,’ if you have it
- Non-reactive container
- Cheesecloth and string or rubber band
You can make your own apple cider vinegar from unpasteurized apple cider (fresh squeezed apple juice). For best results, press the sweetest apples and be sure they are free of bad spots and worms, as those may introduce ‘bad’ bacteria. Feed the leftover pulp to your chickens! Most any kind of apples will do, but apples with a higher sugar content will make a more acidic vinegar . The juice needs to be raw for the natural bacteria to work its magic, so don’t cook it up or can it. Put your raw apple cider into a clean, non-reactive container such as a ceramic crock, glass bowl or jug, or a stainless steel or enamel pan (make sure the enamel isn’t chipped). Leave some space for the liquid to expand. If you have some raw cider vinegar or ‘mother’ left from your last batch, add some as starter (a cup for each gallon of juice should do the trick). Cover the container with cheesecloth or a clean linen towel and secure it in place with a large rubber band or a piece of string. Don’t cover your container with a tight lid, it needs to breathe (it’s alive!) and the wild yeast present in the air needs to settle on your juice. Place your fermenting container in a dark place at a temperature of 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit to do its work. You’ll want to check on your cider/vinegar concoction and give it a stir every so often to make sure it is starting to smell like alcohol and then vinegar. There shouldn’t be any stinky, rotting smells coming from it. If so, you got the wrong kind of bacteria and that batch should be tossed in the compost pile. It’s not a bad idea to have several batches fermenting in different places.
It takes about a month to to ferment at temps of 60 to 80 degrees, longer in cooler temps. As the cider turns and begins to smell like vinegar, you’ll want to use a clean spoon to dip up a taste. When the scent and flavor are acceptable, the vinegar is ready to use. You’ll notice a floating mass in the vinegar that is called the ‘mother.’ Scoop the mother out and use to make your next batch of vinegar. It will speed up the process and provide the proper bacteria for fermentation. The mother can also be stored in a jar, covered with vinegar, in a cool, dark place for a while until you are ready to make your next batch. To store your homemade vinegar indefinitely, heat to 140 degrees Fahrenheit and pour into sterile jars.
Most home canning books will tell you that you can’t use homemade vinegar to can foods because you can’t be sure of the acid levels. Vinegar needs to be at least 4.5% acetic acid to safely use for pickles and other foods that will be processed in a hot water bath canner, rather than a pressure canner. Of course, you can just use a pressure canner to be on the safe side, but the longer processing and higher temperatures will make your pickles soft instead of crunchy. For more information about canning, check out our posts about canning without electricity, Tattler canning lids, and Mason Jar Meals.
Using Homemade Vinegar
If you wish to use your homemade vinegar for foods processed in your hot water bath canner, you will need to test the acidity first. To do so, purchase an acid titration kit from a wine maker’s catalog. The instructions included in the kit will be for testing wine, not vinegar, so you won’t be able to follow them. Instead, you will need the instructions shared on this website. The kit can be used to test quite a few batches, but you may want to stock up if you plan on using a lot of vinegar in your canned goods.
Your untested apple cider vinegar will work just fine for making fresh (not canned) pickles, salads and dressings that will be consumed quickly rather than being preserved for long term storage. Some people put a little cider vinegar in their drinking water for health purposes. You can also make a thirst quenching drink called Switchel that the Amish and our grandfolks used to drink since way back before sports drinks were invented. My Gram would make this stuff by the gallon during the summer and we’d drink it as fast as she could make it when we were baling hay. Nowadays most people want soda or sports drinks and Switchel might take a little getting used to. But it’s better for you (no artificial crap) and way cheaper to make, plus the ingredients can all be raised and processed at home, with some planning and elbow grease. (The ginger can be grown in a pot as a houseplant.)
- Water to fill a gallon jar
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup molasses
- 1 cup honey or maple syrup
- 1 Tbsp ground ginger
- Lemon slices (optional)
Put all ingredients, minus the water, into the gallon jar. Start out by adding 2 or 3 cups of warm water to dissolve the honey and molasses, and then fill the jar up with cold water. Stir or shake to combine ingredients. You can reduce the amount of ginger if the flavor is too strong for you. Pour over ice and enjoy.
Ok, I’ll admit it…as a kid I did not enjoy this drink. I drank a lot of it out on the hay wagon because that’s what I had, but I thought my Gram was crazy for making this stuff. I wanted fruit punch and junk like that. As an adult, I appreciate the fact that this drink is historical (it’s been around since before our colonial days), it replenishes your potassium levels when you’re working hard, and it’s not so sweet that it makes you thirstier than you were before you drank it. It really does quench your thirst!
Cleaning With Vinegar
Besides using vinegar in food and drink, you can clean a lot of things with it too. These days most people run to the store for cleaning supplies. Many of these store bought products create toxic fumes that can cause headaches and health issues. They also add a chemical soup to our waste water that is bad news for wildlife and our drinking water. The good news is that you can replace these cleaning products with vinegar and maybe a little baking soda. Be sure to ventilate when you use them together. Plain old vinegar works well and will remove hard water stains too.
Sweet And Sour
Making your own apple cider vinegar may not be a project high on your to do list, but it should be. When you think about all of the things that you wouldn’t be able to do without vinegar, you realize how valuable this product is, especially to those who preserve their own food and prep for the future. Almost everyone used to make their own vinegar for cleaning, pickling, and recipes. What would we ever do without it? So if things go sour in our future, you’ll be in a sweet spot if you know how to make vinegar for yourself!
* If you wish to use your homemade vinegar for hot water bath canning of pickles or other foods, you must test the acidity levels first. Hot water bath canning does not heat food to a high enough temperature to kill botulism spores that can survive in low acid foods.