Making apple cider vinegar is an easy activity to begin your journey into the world of make-your-own staples. It’s basically fool-proof!
All you need is:
- a large container; glass is best – like a wide mouth jar but we’ve even used a 5-gallon food-grade bucket for large-scale production. Make sure it’s clean and sterilized.
- a cover: cheesecloth, coffee filter or flour sack towel
- a large rubber band that will fit over the opening of the container
- a mixture of apple varieties, coarsely chopped – stems and all! You could even freeze apple cores and scraps from anything you baked with (or ate!) over the course of the summer giving you “free” apples! Save the peels and scraps from making applesauce or pies. Feel free to use slightly bruised or brown apples; just skip the ones that are rotting or moldy.
- sugar. The ratio of sweetener to water should be 1:16. That is if you have 16 cups of water you will use 1 cup of sugar. Some advocate using raw sugar but we’ve even used regular white sugar. As the organisms will end up “eating” all or most of the sugar anyway, there will be little to none left in the final product. Honey can also be used, but I’ve heard it slows the process and the end result isn’t as strong.
- non-chlorinated water
The first time we made apple cider vinegar (sometimes abbreviated ACV), it was prompted by the fact that we had all these leftover scraps from our apple juicing. A lot became a feast for our chickens, but Papa felt it was worth trying to make vinegar with some of the scraps.
I wasn’t so convinced. I’ve never liked the smell of vinegar, so why would we want a whole BATCH of it? Nevertheless he proceeded (and his wife is SO GLAD he did…)
To make the vinegar:
- Place the apples into the container 1/2 to 3/4 full.
- Add the sugar or honey to the water and stir until dissolved.
- Pour enough water over the apples so they are completely covered and have at least 1-2″ of water above the apples.
- Then place the cheesecloth or towel over the top of the container and secure with a rubber band. Do not put a cover on the container! The gases that will be forming need to be able to escape.
- Let sit for a week at room temperature in a dark place, stirring gently once a day. Bubbles will begin to form as the fermentation process starts (sugar turning to alcohol).
- When the apple pieces are no longer floating, strain them out. At this point, we strained the liquid into separate sterilized container. Cover the liquid with a cloth again, securing with a rubber band.
- Let sit for another 3-6 weeks at room temperature to allow the alcohol to transform into acetic acid bacteria (these are the good guys!). There may be a small amount of sediment at the bottom – this is normal. Stir gently every once in a while (it’s very forgiving – you can forget for a couple weeks even!)
- During this time the “mother” – a cloudy, gelatinous blob, will form over the liquid. It’s full of the good bacteria we want in our ACV! (see the picture below).
- If you don’t care for the slight smell that can occur – as not everyone likes ACV (present company included!!), stick it in a pantry or basement. Just remember to stir daily and remember that cooler temperatures will slow the process down.
- After 3-4 weeks, taste-test to see if the vinegar is the right strength for you – it should have a distinctive tanginess and vinegar taste. Strain to remove the mother (if desired) and then it’s ready to use! If you let it sit, another mother may form and that’s ok. Saving the mother will help jump-start any future batches of ACV you wish to make.
The only way this might fail is if mold were to form instead of the mother. I’ve never seen that happen, but you’ll definitely be able to tell the difference. Mother is “white scum” – any other color such as green, blue, grey is not good. At this point it would be best just to discard the whole mess. Sorry.
If you start another batch processing as soon as the first is done and use the original mother, this is when you can alternate the sweetener types and use honey. In other words, the first time you would use sugar, the second could be honey, the third go back to sugar, etc.
It is recommended that you not use homemade ACV for canning unless you can accurately determine the acidity level (canning requires a level of 5%).
So how should you use it? Well, any other application for apple cider vinegar should be ok. Some people have been known to ingest it on a daily basis. Raw ACV (which you now have) is great for a chicken’s health too; add it to their water to be sure all your flock get some. Use it in salad dressings. I like it using it in our cole slaw recipe. There are also uses as homemade cleaners, a fruit fly trap, a no-poo rinse, mixed with honey and drink for a sore throat … the possibilities are endless. And as long as you now know how to make apple cider vinegar, your supply will be endless too!