In the recent past, I have had food fantasies. These fantasies revolve around a certain self-reliance that I don’t feel I know in reality. There have been times in my life where I have grown food but it has never been on a scale that could sustain me. I currently grow herbs in pots. I grow a Meyer Lemon Tree. These things I grow add spice to my food but they cannot sustain me. I dream of raising animals who in turn feed me milk and eggs; I dream of sowing the seeds of many kinds of grains and fruits and vegetables; I dream of harvesting these things that I have nurtured to make into the food that will sustain me. But I am soft. I am weak. I grew up in a suburban neighborhood eating from plastic bags and glass jars. But, I still yearn for alchemy and so for now there is vinegar.
As you can mix water and flour and capture tiny creatures to leaven bread, you can leave fruit based alcoholic beverages out in a crock wide enough to provide contact with air to capture tiny creatures to make vinegar. A bacterium called acetobactor digests alcohol turning it into vinegar. Some people prefer to purchase an established colony of acetobactor called a “mother”. It you have time and patience, wine will eventually sour. I don’t often take the easy path so I decided to add wine to a jar and let it sit. After a couple of weeks, I could see a film form on the surface of the wine. This was the formation of a mother. I added fresh wine each week to “feed” the vinegar. Some wine was good stuff that we didn’t finish very quickly and so the flavors diminished. Some wine was not very tasty to begin with and ended up reserved for cooking or feeding this beast. Just don’t use wine that is “corked”. The path to good vinegar is drinkable wine not spoiled wine.
Although the mother never formed a thick clot, there was enough bacterial action that the wine soured into something delicious. Each time I fed the vinegar, I could see the liquid bubble and froth. It took roughly six months to become a wonderful elixir. I filtered and decanted a small bottle to use now and I left half a jar to continue to evolve. I’ll keep feeding this sour, smelly beast because the rewards for my care and nurturing are great. I feel a little more self-reliant knowing that I can care for something wild and create something that will sustain me, even if it is just in an emotional rather than physical way.