I'm ripping off that title from somewhere. I don't care. You go look somewhere else while I rip things off.
You cannot rightly call yourself a foodie unless you're
a pretentious douche an expert on some obscure subdomain of the food kingdom. Someone out there knows how to make a fluffy pancake from pine needles and dried porcini mushrooms. Someone else can whisk a sullen puddle of egg white into a five foot replica of the World Trade Center (hold on, that's going to come back later). But I? I can make maple vinegar.
Because it's really easy if you have the recipe. Actually, if not for the presumed necessity of precision in the mixture, you'd have to be downright touched not to figure out how to do it. A couple of hints and it's off to the races, if you like the idea of racing with vinegar.
Making your own vinegar requires only a few ingredients: something sweet, something alcoholic, and vinegar. That's it. There's some finesse in the storage, and it helps to buy a glass jar big enough to hold your mixture (who would skip such a basic step and end up turning the kitchen inside out in search of a suitable container? Hmm), but that's pretty much it. Put those ingredients together and the fermentation process will grab hold of the sugars and hustle them into an alcohol and then into an acetic acid.
The only weird thing about making vinegar is that you need vinegar. Do not think about this for too long, or the abyss of infinite regress will open up and you will fall screaming its ever-multiplying void, Vertigo-style. How was the first vinegar created? In the same way that the origin of fire is a mystery,* no one knows how the first vinegar was made.** But I hear there's an Indiana Jones movie in the works about the mystic origins of the substance.***
For my maple vinegar, I used the recipe in Kamozawa & Talbot's book Ideas In Food, which is largely devoted to the chemical and physical reactions of ingredients when you mash them together and apply heat. The recipes in their book are more like signposts than destinations, but there's nothing to say you can't rest beneath these signs for a while and enjoy the shade they offer. But don't linger too long - there are bandits on those roads, and while the signposts are metaphorical, the bandits are real. Ever had your metaphorical wallet grabbed by a real bandit? It's confusing.
Here's what I used:
Canada no.1 Medium Organic Maple Syrup (3 cups)
Goslings Black Seal Bermuda Rum (1 1/3 cups)
Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar (2 1/2 cups)
Water (7/8 cup)
I used Goslings because I have fond memories of the stuff from a childhood spent partly in Bermuda (not that I drank rum as a child). You'll notice that the vinegar label proclaims 'with the mother,' which is not poorly translated French or anything (it's poorly translated Hippie). The vinegar 'mother' is what makes it 'live' and spurs the fermentation process. Don't bother using a bottle of plain white vinegar, which is often just acetic acid in solution.
Combine those ingredients in a glass bowl or jar, cover with cheesecloth - which you will also see in the photo above - and then cover with a loose-fitting lid. The idea is to let the mixture breathe, because it's alive and it needs oxygen to do its disgusting biological work.
There's a cat in the picture as well, but you don't need a cat in the recipe. In fact, you want to keep the cat the hell away from your mixing site, but these are headstrong cats and there's nothing I can do about them.
This part of the process is, quite frankly, not much fun. It's expensive, inexplicably more laborious than it should be, and it's over in minutes. Plus there's a cat. It's annoying and not long enough to justify the amount of irritation derived (see: the opening monologue from Annie Hall). I recommend you make some bread at the same time, just to muscle out your anger out on some innocent Globolink of dough.
Once all that is finished, store your proto-vinegar in a cool dark place. Test it out after four weeks. I made my batch today, so that means it should be ready on September 12, 2011, one day after the ten year anniversary of 9/11. Everyone is invited over for some commemorative maple vinegar.
*No it isn't.
**Yes they do.
***Not in the least.