Monday, January 31, 2011

Vinegar has a mother?

By Laura Leasman

I was thinking about vinegar today and kept returning to two aspects of vinegar: its smell and its mother. Why? Because I had time on my hands while plucking big yellow feathers at work (I make Big Bird for stage shows). How do these three things, vinegar, mother, and work all fit together?

Vinegar’s strong aroma seems to be an affront to the senses of someone who is not accustomed to it. I have acclimated to the smell and when entering Dad’s Vinegary I feel much the same sensation as when walking outside on a below-zero day in a Minnesota winter. Your breath is stolen for a moment and it almost hurts to breath; but the body acclimates. I have come to, almost, enjoy the smell. It reminds me of home and the enjoyment the process of making vinegar brings my Dad. It may not be a great idea to cook a generous quantity of vinegar in a microwave at work however. The aroma may be found off- putting to the less vinegar-educated individual.

I, as well as my siblings, have learned a bit about how vinegar is made from our Dad. Through this process we have learned that the gelatinous mass that forms in some vinegar is called “mother.” It may start as a wispy cloud and, if left to form in a large quantity, it can form a thick slimy layer. The mother is not harmful and is a product of the process of making vinegar.

I work at the same company as my sister (she makes Ernie’s shoes)and one day her boss came up to me with a vinegar question.

“Laura, I have a bottle of vinegar that has a cloudy substance in it. Do you think it is still okay to use?”
I was able to respond with the knowledge I had learned about vinegar mother. It is fine to use vinegar that has mother in it. It does not negatively affect the quality of vinegar. Most people probably don’t eat the mother, but some believe it has health benefits and even look for vinegar that has mother in it.

I am slowly trying to educate people around me on the benefits of using herbal vinegars and a variety of its uses. The easiest way to incorporate vinegar, other than a daily undiluted dose on a spoon, would be to pour a small amount on fresh fruit. Cut up fresh fruit, such as strawberries, raspberries, blackberries or blueberries and drizzle with a fruit vinegar such as cherry or rhubarb. If you are feeling more adventurous, drizzle with an herb vinegar such as ros
emary or basil. The vinegar brings out the flavor of the berries and is surprisingly refreshing. It is also much healthier than dosing the fruit with sugar or cream.

Enjoy, and ALWAYS use as much vinegar as you like!!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Growing up with vinegar

by Laura Leasman

I think I was like many children growing up in that I never really thought much about vinegar. The extent of my vinegar knowledge extended to two things: my mom soaking the dish rag in white vinegar to clean it and Grandma’s canned dill pickles.

Mom would often soak the dish rag in white vinegar to clean it as well as eliminate any accumulated odors. She would mix a little vinegar with water in the kitchen sink and let the rag soak for a while. I remember running by the sink and catching that tell-tale whiff of the soaking rag and kept running. The vinegar smell was very distinctive and strong to my young nose. The vinegar did the job though, and eliminated the odors. As my dad says, cleaning is about all white vinegar is good for.

My Grandmother’s canned dill pickles are one of my favorite childhood memories. The whole family would pile into the van and go visit my grandparents on a Sunday afternoon. The kitchen table was set with Grandma’s rose dishes and a glass dish of pickles was always at the table’s center. The pickles were to accompany the meal of course, but the kids could never wait. We would all sneak a few pickles before the meal began. I know Grandma knew, but often she would let us get away with the minor thievery. Grandma’s pickles were just that good.

Now that I have grown up a little, I enjoy cooking and trying new recipes. The fond memories of my childhood sometimes influence my recipe choices, and I do still love pickles. This is my grandma’s pickle recipe, slightly updated to utilize my dad’s amazing vinegars. Some of the vinegars that I think would best compliment the recipe would include: Garlic, Cilantro, Jalapeno pepper, Serrano pepper or Habanero pepper. Enjoy!

Pasteurized Dill Pickles

1 cup salt                           6 cups vinegar
13 cups water                    sugar
dill and cucumbers

Combine salt, water, and vinegar and bring to a boil. Boil 15 minutes. Put a head of dill in the bottom of quart jar. Pack in washed cucumbers. Add a tablespoon of sugar to each jar and another head of dill. Pour the boiling brine over the cucumbers to within ½ inch of the top of the jar. Adjust covers and seal. Set the jars in a deep kettle. Cover with boiling water and allow to stand until cold. This recipe yields approximately 9 quarts. Allow at
 least 2 months for curing.

Friday, January 07, 2011

New year update, January 2011

I’m still breathing heavy from my trek out to the chicken coop. Ron said the trail would be open. He neglected to consider what the wind has been up to since he blew the snow out yesterday. He blows the snow out, and secretly enjoys either the process or the neatness of a cleared expanse, and the wind blows it back in. Oof da. My socks are wet. And my cheeks are red. And I’m enjoying that exhilarated feeling of braving 3.7 degree weather.

The hens are wintering over in the snuggest coop this side of the Mississippi. Ron spent some quality time last fall pouring concrete, pounding nails into stud walls, insulating and cladding the structure in steel siding. Lovely coop.

Ron’s also spending considerable quality time in the vinegary. He’s just recently bottled more mugwort. The last bottling sold out so quickly all we could do in the latter part of the year was to tell visitors about it. The ginger vinegar went nearly as fast. He started infusing a new batch yesterday.

Other vinegars that are back in stock include: anise hyssop, basil, dill, mint, and cilantro. Brand new on the shelf: lemon balm and Cuban oregano. We’ve been anticipating a lemon vinegar for some time. The lemon balm grew lush and thick this last summer. I harvested it at peak and froze it for later infusion. So, later is here and the lemon balm infused in rhubarb vinegar is ready.

Ron’s wine making classes have been well attended. “Students” make their wine here (some use their own fruit while others use canned fruit or kits), come back to rack off (drain the liquid from the mash) and later to bottle their finished product. It’s been a popular fall activity; some bestowed their new wine as Christmas gifts. Speaking of Christmas, we went to a holiday wine-tasting party with friends back in December. We had just over a dozen wines to sample and more than half of them were “domestic” wines, made by our friends. A home-grown raspberry was ranked number one. Just a reminder: if you are a wine maker in mid-Minnesota, consider getting your wine supplies here. We carry everything a hobby wine or beer maker could want.

See you soon.