Thursday, December 4, 2008

Following Up Some Experiments

I like experimenting. It's a good way for me to learn things directly and tangibly. Recently I posted about two experiments, and it's time to follow up with some preliminary results.

The first experiment was my hayframe, a small rudimentary coldframe made out of bales of hay and an old window. I planted arugula sylvetta in the hayframe, much later in the season than I should have done in my area. But arugula is a remarkably hardy plant. (Delicious too.) And I'm happy to report that despite very cold days and nights (daytime highs in the 30s, overnight lows in the high teens F), the arugula has germinated. I'm so tickled by this. We'll see if it can do more than germinate over the frigid months ahead.

Unfortunately, it also appears that the bales of hay have proven irresistible to some small members of the family rodentia. I suspect field mice. The first tip off was my cat crouching expectantly beside the hay bales. The more obvious hint though are the holes dug into the ground in the middle of the hayframe. At least they haven't nibbled the tiny sprouts yet. If I actually get something edible before March I will be ecstatic. I know that eventually the arugula will grow and flourish. I'm just eager to see whether it will produce a true wintertime crop.

The second experiment had to do with making apple cider vinegar from the spent apple pomace collected after our cider pressing. I collected about a gallon of apple pomace, put it in a large glass jar, filled it up with tap water, and then tied some cheese cloth around the mouth of the jar. The reading I've done on this said that the jar should be kept somewhere very dark and reasonably warm, with good air circulation. Unfortunately, we don't have any very dark place with good air circulation in our home that is also warm. So I stuck it in the basement, which hovers around 52 degrees or so. I also read that acetobacillus bacteria can produce vinegar directly, without the need for alcohol produced by yeast.

I can now say with certainty that something is happening in that jar. About three weeks ago there was a very powerful sweet apple scent coming from the jar. Ten days ago the sweetness was fading and a sharper smell was present. After we came back from our Thanksgiving travels, I found evidence of more activity: a ring and small dried puddle of liquid that had apparently overflowed the jar in a moment of bacterial exuberance. (That's my stash of homemade canned tomato sauce in the background of the picture.) The smell is now obviously that of vinegar. I plan to let it keep doing its thing for at least another month. But now that I know this works, I will definitely make more batches of homemade apple cider vinegar next year. I just need to find or buy more large jars.

The most exciting take away lesson here is that I could start a batch of free apple cider vinegar anytime I had a pile of apple trimmings. I don't have to wait on the annual apple pressing for a pile of pomace. So if I make a big apple pie, the cores and peels could be turned into a batch of vinegar with virtually no effort on my part. If you eat one apple a day, I suppose you could freeze the cores until you had a good sized stash and then try this when you're ready. A few caveats only: glass or ceramic jars are recommended. Metal and plastic containers are specifically not recommended. And also, if you ever press your own cider, never use containers or equipment for cider making which has had anything to do with any type of vinegar. You don't want to introduce acetobacillus into your cider. So keep your vinegar equipment and your cider equipment completely separate.

Related post:

Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar Report


Mountain Walker said...

I've always wanted to try to make ACV but never had the guts or a recipe I was comfortable with....but now I can't wait to try my own batch. I have the perfect place too.

kateS said...

I love apple cider vinegar. I never considered trying to make it, though it does sound like my kind of project. I like a tablespoon or two in a glass of water just to drink, it's such a refreshing taste. Good for you, too.
My husbasd Ken says I drink it to sweeten my disposition....

Kate said...

Elizabeth, go for it! I hope you'll post about whatever results you get too.

Kate, it sounds as though you might like a drink syrup called shrub. It's made with fruit and vinegar. I wrote about it here:

I found it quite addictive.

Unknown said...

Kate, I notice in your "progress on goals" column that you list harvesting burdock root. We have tons of burdock here and I wondered what you use it for.

I'm looking forward to trying to make my own apple cider vinegar now, encouraged by your post. Thanks.

Kate said...

KL, the burdock was an experiment. I know in Japan they have a few different kinds of cultivated burdock, quite different from our wild and weedy burdock here. But the Iroquois ate a lot of burdock and in fact it was a staple of their winter diet. We dug up one tap root, with a great deal of difficulty. After peeling the root, we tried it and found the taste unobjectionable, but mild. There was very little taste at all in fact. So we simply added it to some chicken and vegetable soup. Supposedly burdock is good for the liver and has anti-carcinogenic properties. I wouldn't say we'd go out of our way to dig another one up; it was a lot of work. But it's good to know the possibility is there if we ever get desperate.

Good luck with your vinegar production.