Did you know that you can make your own apple cider vinegar with just some apple peels and cores, sugar, water...and a bit of patience? I didn't know either until I started doing a bit of research.
We use lots of apple cider vinegar on our farm for its wide array of health benefits for us and for our chickens. I consider it one of the 'Holistic Trinity' of chicken keeping and vital to my and my husband's health, as well as a key ingredient in any good pie crust!
Adding apple cider vinegar to our chickens' water a few times a week not only makes the water more appealing to them, it also keeps the waterers cleaner and controls the bacteria both in the water and in the hens' digestive system. The vinegar boosts good bacteria and is thought to also even combat coccidia, which is present in most chicken runs, no matter how fastidiously they are cleaned.
Apple cider vinegar with the 'mother' in it, such as Bragg's, is raw and unpasteurized and has the most benefits. The mother is basically a yeast/live bacteria natural concoction that helps balance bacteria in the intestines of humans AND chickens. However, it's not cheap and we go through quite a lot of it, so I started researching how to make my own.
There are tons of blog posts and articles about making your own apple cider vinegar. I looked for the cheapest, easiest way I could find that seemed to yield good results on a consistent basis. Mother Earth News published an article that was the most straightforward of any I read (link below) and sure enough, it's not only easy, but you only need apples, sugar and water....and some canning jars and cheesecloth. No special kits or ingredients.
So the next time you bake an apple pie, save the peels and cores and make a batch of apple cider vinegar for yourself.
Here's how to do it:
Wash, peel and core 5-10 (preferably organic) apples. Another nice thing is that there's no set amount, you can make as much or as little as you want.
Place the peels and cores in a large glass or stoneware bowl and cover with water by an inch or so. Add 1/4 Cup of sugar for each quart of water you used and stir to mix thoroughly.
Cover the bowl with a heavy plate. The apple scraps need to be completely submersed in the water. Cover the whole thing with a clean kitchen towel and let sit for a week in a cool dark location. Between 65-85 degrees is a good fermentation temperature range, and be sure to keep it in a dark place, because UV light destroys the fermentation process.
The mixture will begin to bubble and foam as yeast forms. That's normal and in fact by Day 3, I had bubbling!
When the week is up, spoon off any black mold that has grown. That's also okay and will occur if the mixture isn't kept cool enough, but if you keep the bowl in a cool spot you shouldn't have any mold.
Strain out the apple solids and pour the liquid into sterilized canning jars, leaving about an inch of head room and discard the solids. Cover each canning jar with a square of doubled cheesecloth and screw just the ring part of the top on. (Hang onto the flat parts of the lids, you'll need them later) This allows the yeast to 'breathe' and prevents the metal from corroding.
Store the jars on a shelf in your pantry and wait about six weeks. A film should start forming on the top. The is the 'mother'. You can open up the jars and stir or swirl them so the mother settles on the bottom and more will grow on top.
After six weeks, replace the cheesecloth with the flat part of the lid and screw the ring back on. Stored in a cool, dark place, the apple cider vinegar will last indefinitely. By this point the yeast will have eaten all the available sugars and you will be left with a 'shelf-stable' vinegar. The flavor will develop and evolve over time.
Note: If you save some of the mother from each batch and add it to the next batch, the vinegar will be finished more quickly. It's been hard waiting the six weeks for my first batch, but I have several batches started now that will finish at the end of consecutive weeks, so I will always have a batch of homemade apple cider vinegar ready going forward.