Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Off the Deep End

If you were to call me this morning and ask what I was up to, it's a good chance you would have been sorry you'd have asked.  I wouldn't have been too terribly surprised if you'd made an excuse and hung up quickly.
Why?  This morning, I baked egg shells and racked vinegar. 

And yes, I do realize how bizarre that sounds. 

To explain:  the egg shells were from the quiche cooking I did a little while ago, as well as from the number of eggs that were in the refrigerator during the bizarre Autumn storm we just had.  We lost power (what else is new) and there were 4 dozen eggs in the refrigerator.  I don't think they were too badly off, as it never got too terribly warm in the fridge, but I am a "better safe than sorry" kind of girl, and I instead cooked them all up and gave them back to the chickens.  They love scrambled eggs and the warm dinner was a nice change from the cold grains.  I was hoping that they would also keep the girls and boys warm on the inside, because the temps are dropping.  So four dozen eggs were fed to 34 chickens and 1 guinea hen.  They never had it so good.

It left me with many egg shells.  As I have written before, egg shells are good for chickens.  Free calcium.  Normally, I wash the egg shells thoroughly and dry them in the hot, hot sun for a few days, but the temps right now are not conducive to drying anything.  Into the oven they go.  Hence me baking egg shells.  The smell is interesting, I can say that.  Not overly strong (as the shells are really clean), but still there.

That brings me to explain the vinegar.  Back in June and July, I made a whole bunch of wonderful flavored vinegars to sell from our farmstead.  They almost all used either apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar.  Now apple cider vinegar is not horribly expensive, but have you priced white wine vinegar?  Ouch.  I vowed right after paying out the big bucks for it that I would find another way.  Enter the great vinegar experiments of 2011.

I started with white wine vinegar.  I got out my glass carboy from wine making, and put in a bottle of fairly cheap white wine.  The next step was to add either started white wine vinegar with Mother in it, or vinegar yeast.  I could find neither, and I didn't feel patient enough to wait for the wine to catch the yeast from the air.  My next best step was to use a bottle of Bragg's Cider Vinegar, because it comes with Mother in it.  Since it was the best I could do, I strained out a bit of the mother and plopped her in. 
This is when I started it.  I optimistically thought it would take two months.  Ha!  When I smelled the vinegar in the middle of September, it still smelled like wine, with a slight undertone of vinegar.  I left it alone.  And forgot about it, honestly.  Then I sniffed it a couple of days ago.  Done!

Unfiltered wine/apple cider hybrid vinegar.  I had filtered it once through 4 layers of cheesecloth here.

My fancy filtering apparatus--a jelly bag set up, sans jelly bag (I can't find it).  In it's place, a well washed, ultra clean muslin piece fastened by an ultra-clean rubber band.  We go all out here, let me tell you. 

The filtered stuff from the first jelly bag filtering, second overall filtering.  Lots of stuff.  I will do this jelly bag filtering a second time, but I don't expect clear vinegar.  I think no matter what I do, it will always be just a little cloudy. 

The Mother of the Vinegar.  It's hard to see here.  She's a nice jelly blob of a girl, but not as strong as I'd like.  I think I didn't feed her as often as I should have.  Some of the Mothers I've seen pictures of you could tire a car with!  I have saved her with a bit of the old vinegar and will give her a new bottle of wine, and she can start all over again.  However, appearances aside, she made a punchy vinegar with quite a kick.  And the fruity wine taste is definitely there in the background. 

All in all, it was a success.  I have next to see if my apple cider vinegar experiment will work, but that's months away yet.  If you want to do this yourself, here's what you should know:

1.  You can purchase vinegar with mother to start the vinegar with, you can purchase just mother from a wine making store, or you can hope your wine will catch the yeast in the air to start. 
2.  Use a crock or bucket or something with a large air opening (my problem here-the carboy's opening is really little).  You need to allow for air exchange.
3.  Vinegar likes the dark and warm.
4.  It's vinegaring when you see little fuzzy pieces of fuzzy stuff in the liquid.  It's kind of yucky, really.  Eventually, the little fuzzy pieces float downward in the liquid and join together.  That's the mother.  When the mother is at the bottom and you can see her there, it's probably done.
5.  It needs to be fed (wine vinegar, I mean.  I don't know about other types).  Give it a glass every once in a while.
6.  Fruit flies (vinegar flies?) LOVE this stuff.  Keep it well covered, or you'll be straining out little fly bodies.  Yuck.
7.  This stuff is alive, just like sourdough starter.  This is the part that weirds me out.  I am so used to grocery store vinegar, which is deader than dead.  Since it is alive, I would expect it to change over time, as all living things do.  Or you can pasteurize it.  I haven't decided if I will do that yet or not.

Between the roasting egg shells and the vinegar, the smell in the kitchen is interesting today.  I think I'll go outside for a while.  Enjoy your days!
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