Red Wine Vinegar

Do you remember boredom? I can recall a time, so long ago, usually mid-summer-vacation, whining to my mother, “I’m boooooooooored. There’s nothing to dooooo.” (This was probably followed up with, “Take me to the liiiiiibrary.”) I think the last time I was bored was when I was ten. Sometimes I miss being bored. I hardly even get time to read any more. Most of my reading lately is done on the treadmill, although my brother recently caught me reading a book while brushing my teeth and found that hilarious for some reason. (Is that not normal?)

Anyway, I am TOO BUSY. Ironically, though I haven’t posted in a while, I have been cooking a lot, and even doing some experimenting, which should be perfect for post ideas, except most of my experimentation has been so experimental that I don’t remember what I did once the food is done (a lot of it has been fermented, so there are usually several days or more between putting it together and the final product). I need to remedy this because I’ve actually made some pretty good stuff that I’ll never be able to recreate. Shame on me.

One thing that takes a lot of waiting time (but about zilch active time), but is so simple I can’t possibly forget what I’ve done, is making vinegar. I love vinegar and am becoming a bit of an aficionado. Types of vinegar I keep constantly in stock are: apple cider, rice, malt, tarragon, sherry, Chinese black, balsamic, and of course distilled white. But perhaps my favorite is red wine vinegar, which I often use in salad dressings and various other dishes. We’ve converted almost exclusively to boxed wine these days so I no longer have leftover bottles of wine as I did when I started my crock of vinegar (at the time, Mark wasn’t yet a wine drinker so I had to drink the bottles by myself), but I’ll still sometimes pour myself an overly ambitious second glass of wine that I can’t finish before going to bed, and my reluctance to waste it (or gulp it down without savoring it) was part of the impetus to start making my own vinegar. The other part was just the dearth of high quality wine vinegars in the shops.

I don’t really have a recipe for the vinegar. All you need are wine and a “mother”. A vinegar mother is a strange-looking, slimy substance comprised of cellulose and beneficial bacteria that converts the alcohol in the wine to acetic acid. Some commercial vinegars (frequently apple cider but sometimes wine) contain some of the mother, which you can save and use to make your own vinegar. (You would want to make the same type of vinegar as what you found the mother in, however, so if you want to make red wine vinegar, you’d look for a red wine vinegar that had some mother.) You can also order a mother online, which is what I did. (Unfortunately, I don’t recall from which site.) Or if you know someone who makes vinegar, they can share with you. In fact, part of the reason I’m making this post is to offer my mother to you. (My mother of vinegar, that is…although you can make offers on the mother of Renae. JUST KIDDING, MOM.)

Other than wine and a mother, the only other thing you need is a gallon crock or jar. Because light is damaging to the bacteria, I suggest the crock. I had one with a spigot, which allowed me to have vinegar on draught, but first the spigot got clogged (presumably with mother), and then it leaked, so now I’m using a regular pickling crock, purchased from an antique store and sanitized in the dishwasher. It’s covered with a porous fabric (cheesecloth works great).

To start off, pour a bottle of wine into your crock. Add the mother. Cover with cheesecloth or something similar, securing it with a rubber band. Stow somewhere out of direct sunlight for about 3 months, occasionally tossing in a cup or so of wine. Every few weeks, check the growth of new mothers, removing any large, thick, old mothers and keeping maybe a quarter cup or so of young mother.

This is what my crock looked like today, maybe a month or so since I’ve last checked the mother. I just washed my hands thoroughly, reached in and removed the old mothers. Don’t forget to do this periodically: I once neglected my crock for so long that ALL of the wine had converted to mothers – layer after layer of mother and no vinegar. I had to save the youngest mother and start from scratch. Fermentation occurs faster in warmer months, so check more frequently in the summer.

I usually scoop out all but the youngest mother and put it in a strainer over a measuring cup for a few minutes, which catches the dripping vinegar, which I return to the crock or bottle. This picture gives you a better idea what a mother looks like. These aren’t too old: older ones are thicker pads (usually about 1/4″ thick) the same diameter as the crock.

What to do with the discarded mother? Share it if you can – as I mentioned, I’m willing to send mine (any time I have it available) to anyone the United States (sorry, international friends; it doesn’t seem like a Customs-friendly item). Otherwise, it’s great for your compost pile.

The vinegar is ready when it tastes ready. I know, I’m so precise. This is usually about 3 months. Once you have a crock going, all you have to do is periodically feed it more wine and you’ll have a constant supply of vinegar. When fishing out old mothers, I’ll generally remove a small bottle’s worth of vinegar, in which I’ll also include a little of the mother, and then I use that for cooking and salad dressings.

And that’s my “recipe” for red wine vinegar.

A couple of you asked me to keep you updated on my mangy fox, whom I’m planning to treat. I got the medicine he needs from a local rehabber, but I’m having a bit of a problem building a feeding routine with him. The problem is you need to dose the fox during the day, because if you put food out at night, the chances of the fox eating it are at best unknowable, and probably pretty slim. Around here, if I put out food after dusk, it’ll be scarfed down by raccoons within 5 minutes. The fox doesn’t stand a chance. So I need to establish a daytime feeding pattern with the fox. To do that, I need to put food out during the day and then watch to make sure the mangy fox is the animal that eats it. The problem is that I am almost never here during the day, and since it’s practically winter (lovely 70-degree temps this week notwithstanding), I don’t make it home before dark even on the best of days.

What is a girl to do? Install a surveillance camera, of course. (That’s normal, right?) Now, I didn’t buy the camera JUST for the fox. We have a lot of wildlife in our yard and Mark and I have been talking about getting a camera for a long time. I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with knowing who is in our yard at all times, but I can tell you that the wildlife and birds we have here (a surprising amount for our suburban home) bring me a ton of joy. So I should totally be spying on them…that’s my conclusion. And now that I need to monitor this fox, the time just seemed right to take that final step towards crazy animal person and buy a wildlife camera. I had to decide which kind to get; basically I had to decide between a wireless security cam I could monitor over the internet and on my phone, or a “trail cam” that I could leave outside and periodically cull pictures and videos from an SD card. I chose the latter because it just seemed a lot easier. Most wireless security cams aren’t meant to be set up outside and most require an external power source. And I can’t put an infrared camera inside to take pictures through glass for night photography. Unfortunately, the market for the type of camera I chose seems to be hunters and the instruction manual for the camera even assumes I’m planning to murder the animals I’m photographing. So between buying a hunter’s camera and actually purchasing chicken from Whole Foods (to feed the fox, not me! And yes, it was hard.), this week I’ve felt like someone is going to revoke my vegan card. But believe me, after this week I’m only more vegan than ever. (I am going to have to get more used to the whole dead – and living – animal as food thing though; our raccoons don’t usually eat anything too gross, but once I start working with raptors it’s going to be a whole other story…)

Anyway, the camera is all set up and I dealt with the whole chicken thing, and now I wait. This morning I managed to NOT TURN THE CAMERA ON when I left for work, like a big dummy. I guess it doesn’t matter since the chicken I put out was still there when I got home. So I’ll try again tomorrow. Once I see the fox eat the chicken for a couple of days in a row, I’ll inject his next serving with the first of three weekly doses of the medicine. And by then I should see his fur starting to fill out. So I don’t have much real news on the fox front, but I DID get some pictures last night I can show you.

There were really no surprises. THIS is definitely NOT a surprise!

We have tons of raccoons. If you live in North America, you probably do too!

This is an opossum. We have a lot of those too. Everyone always says they are ugly - it's like no one can mention the word opossum without the word ugly - but I like them anyway. (I'm actually permitted to rehab opossums as well as raccoons, although we didn't take any in this year.)

Skunks make me super happy! They are shyer than the raccoons and opossums, so I don’t see them as often, but when I do I’m thrilled, although I know they are out there every night prowling around. I intend to rehab skunks in the future.

THIS is a fox, but not the right fox. This is my healthy fox. He’s very pretty. I’m always glad to see him, of course, although I don’t want him eventually eating my mangy fox’s medicine. It won’t hurt him (if anything it will kill any worms or parasites he might have), but I want the mangy one to get it.

And guess who showed up at 5:14 a.m.? Mr Mange. COME BACK DURING THE DAY AND EAT THE STUPID CHICKEN, MANGY FOX.

More updates as they happen…and perhaps even recipes that are actually recipes and not “pour a bottle of wine in a crock, add some bacteria, and voila!”.

12 Comments »

  1. radioactivegan Said,

    December 5, 2012 @ 12:32 am

    I’m glad your right fox showed up again. Hopefully he’ll get the hint soon and start enjoying his lunch!

    I’d love to get some vinegar mother from you – I’m really interested in making some vinegar, and I had no idea it would be so easy! If you have any extra lying around, please keep me in mind :)

  2. renae Said,

    December 5, 2012 @ 10:00 am

    I’ll send you an email and get your address; you can have the mother pictured here if you’d like! :)

  3. susan Said,

    December 5, 2012 @ 10:41 am

    Poor little fox. I hope he gets his meds.

    I’m assuming you do but if not an AMAZING book (more of a read than cookbook) is The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. I have all sorts of things gurgling and fermenting around the house.

  4. kittee Said,

    December 5, 2012 @ 12:43 pm

    YOU ARE SO AWESOME.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    xo
    kittee

  5. Danielle Said,

    December 5, 2012 @ 5:16 pm

    Please add me to the list for some mother. I think I will end up with rose wine vinegar … sometimes I have leftover red, sometimes white.

  6. Mark Said,

    December 5, 2012 @ 5:26 pm

    Oh god, that thing looks disgusting. You did this in our kitchen? The fact it’s called a “Mother” makes it even more disgusting.

    VOMIT, VOMIT EVERYWHERE!

  7. Josiane Said,

    December 6, 2012 @ 12:23 am

    Mark’s comment is priceless! :)
    Vinegar is one of those things I want to start doing one day… Good to know about the troubles you’ve had with the spigot of the crock you used to use. I keep seeing vinegar crocks with spigots at the local artisan fair, and thinking that one day I’ll cave and get one, but now I now better. Also, it seems like a straight crock like the one you are using now (as opposed to those fancier ones, which have smaller openings) would make it easier to reach in to remove the old mother. That’s very useful to know! Now that I know more about the process of making vinegar, I know better what I’ll want to look for. Thanks for sharing, even though it seemed almost too simple to you!

  8. David Said,

    December 6, 2012 @ 2:39 am

    Mother… Yes please! Put me on the list.

    Red wine sounds like the vinegar for me. (I wonder what you use to make the Chinese Black Vinegar, black wine)?

    Have you found vinegar flies buzzing around your crock? I was told once that no matter how secure the location, vinegar flies find and hover over your cheesecloth when making vinegar.

    Thank you for the entertainment, animal and other photos, great recipes, and now the offer to give a whole new meaning to “Mothers Day”!

  9. renae Said,

    December 6, 2012 @ 11:59 am

    Danielle, I’ll email you for your address and send half of the mother I have now to you.

    David, I probably only have enough mother to fill the first two requests right now, but I’ll email you as well and send you some in a few weeks when I have more. As for vinegar flies, nope, never seen them near the crock. I usually store the crock somewhere other than kitchen, and even on the rare occasion I’ve had fruit flies in the kitchen hovering around something else, I’ve never seen them near the vinegar.

    Josiane, yeah, I get to hear Mark’s comment in person quite a bit. He’s definitely not the fermentation fan I am! I bought my original crock and the spigot separately – antique crock; modern plastic spigot – it’s possible the handcrafted ones you’ve seen would have fewer problems. I was shocked to find it leaking one recent morning, because I’d been using it for a couple of years with no sign of a leak. I’m thinking about trying another spigot because it IS handy, but it’s not that big a deal to just dunk a measuring cup in there to retrieve some vinegar periodically.

  10. Becky Said,

    December 7, 2012 @ 10:58 am

    Thank you for the super interesting post and all the animal pics! I never knew how vinegar was produced. I’m a little with Mark though, in that vinegar seems like one of those things, where if I had to make my own I might not want to eat it. So I need to buy it from the store and pretend it wasn’t full of slime before.I also need to get an animal cam!

    Becky

  11. Jes Said,

    December 11, 2012 @ 2:08 pm

    Vinegar is definitely one of those things that I know is *so* easy to make but is still really mystifying to me. I’m really wishing I had more energy to devote to fermenting & etc.

    As for the fox–what a great plan! That camera is fun too since you have all those animals :)

  12. dana Said,

    May 24, 2013 @ 12:10 am

    Holy Mother! :) Put me on the list?

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