Vinegar is vinegar is vinegar . . . or is it?
Well, according to Beatrice Trum Hunter in her Natural Foods Cookbook, there are many varieties of this easily made, tangy, fermented liquid and — within rather wide limits — homemade vinegar can be just what you want it to be.
The most common variation is probably cider vinegar... made from sound, tart apples. You can "do it yourself" by washing and cutting such apples into small pieces . . . skins, cores, stems and all. Make a mush of the whole business by hand or with an electric juicer and strain it through a muslin bag (you can also hand press the pulp in a potato ricer lined with cloth).
Pour the juice you collect into clean, dark, glass jugs and cover their tops with several thicknesses of cheesecloth, held in place with string or rubber bands. Let the brew work in a cool, dark place for about six months . . . then strain, bottle and cork.
If you don't want to bother with apples, just allow some sweet cider to stand in a warm place in an open jug for a few weeks. It'll gradually turn to vinegar.
The tangy liquid can also be made from apple wastes, should you be baking a lot of pies or canning peeled apples. Simply put the peelings, cores and bruised fruit into a widemouthed jar or crock and cover with cold water. Store — covered — in a warm place and add fresh peelings, cores and bruised apples from time to time. When the batch tastes sufficiently strong . . . strain, bottle and cork.
The substance that gradually thickens on top during this process is the "mother". You can save it as starter for another batch, add it to mead to make honey vinegar or use it to magically transform homemade berry, fruit or vegetable wines into wine vinegar.
Nor does the fun end once you've brewed up a few tubfulls of the plain cider, honey or wine product! All you need to make endless variations on the cider variety is a selection of dried herbs. It's easy.
Wash and strip basil, tarragon, mint, dill and/or other herb leaves from the plant stems. Spread the leaves on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper and dry them in the sun or a very low oven until they begin to curl. If that's too much trouble, just hang small bunches of herbs to dry in a warm, clean attic.
Dump one packed cupful of the dried herbs (mix 'em and match 'em . . . try different combinations till you find your own special blend) into each pint of your experimental cider vinegar and pour into clear glass bottles or jars. Cover and let stand for two weeks in a sunny window. Shake the bottles once or twice a day and — when the liquid tastes sufficiently strong — strain, bottle and cap.
Herb vinegar can also be made with finely-chopped fresh chives, celery leaves or cloves of garlic (remove the garlic after 24 hours).