“How do you make apple cider vinegar?”

The Eight-Year-Old has adored pickles since she was a mere Four-Year-Old. In fact, long-time readers of this blog will not be terribly surprised at all to find that today’s question dates from the Before Times when The Eight-Year-Old was a mere Four-Year-Old. (Have I mentioned lately that I have a backlog of 226 unanswered questions? I really should get on that.) Fortunately for us today, I not only took time to jot down the question but also the context in which it was asked.

One fine summer day, The Four-Year-Old was appalled to find her self-serve jar of pickles contained only pickling juice and a few floaty pickling bits.

The Four-Year-Old, sloshing across the kitchen with her jar full of pickle juice: “Mommyo, can you make me some more pickles?”

Mommyo, rescuing the jar, but not the kitchen floor: “Not today, The Four-Year-Old. We’re out of apple cider vinegar.”

The Four-Year-Old: “Can you make some?”

Mommyo, decidedly: “No. Making vinegar takes months.”

The Four-Year-Old: “Why, Mommyo? How do you make vinegar?”

Making vinegar turns out to be one of those activities that sounds daunting, but is actually perfectly suited for the sort of benign neglect that characterizes my cooking.

Basically, you chop up some apples, let them turn brown on your counter, then dump the pieces — cores, peels, and all — into a wide-mouth mason jar. Pour enough water into the jar to cover the apple scraps, and cover it with a scrap of cheesecloth. Put the covered jar in some dark warm place and forget about it for one to six months, depending on how strong you want your vinegar to be and whether you started with just scraps (the peels and the core) or with whole fruit (whole fruit takes longer).

Now, here’s the icky bit. When you check on your vinegar, you’ll find a grey scum on top. While icky grey scum is not normally a good sign on food, in this case, it apparently means the fermenting is well underway. Taste the vinegar, and when you’re happy with its potency, strain it through a coffee filter and bottle it.

This is just an overview of the process. You can find more precise instructions for homemade vinegar almost anywhere else on the web. Here are two recipes that The Eight-Year-Old and I would like to try (one day):

Finally, I am embarrassed to admit that not only did I fail to answer The Four-Year-Old’s question until today, I also never made her pickles. But if I were to make her pickles one day, this is the recipe I’d try: Quick and Easy Pickles by Alex Guarnaschelli of Chopped fame (recipe via the Food Network website).

Related Links: 

About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book, Did Dinosaurs Have Belly Buttons?, is currently planned for release in 2018. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Ten-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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