White vinegar (Recipe: half-sour dill pickles)
If rice vinegar comes from rice, and red wine vinegar comes from red wine, and cider vinegar comes from apples, where does white vinegar come from?
Inquiring minds want to know.
For more than 5,000 years, vinegar has been made the same way, by the fermentation of natural sugars to alcohol, and then further fermentation to vinegar. Almost anything that contains sugar can ferment into vinegar (beets, molasses, fruit); distilled alcohol is the "sugar" that ferments into the all-purpose white vinegar that we use for everything from washing windows, to killing weeds, to making volcanoes and pickles.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, vinegar sold at retail must contain a minimum of 4 percent acidity (the amount of acetic acid present). White vinegar is generally 5 percent, but can be as high as 7 percent.
It's especially important to check the acidity level (always printed on the label) if you're planning to use vinegar for pickling. To kill bacteria in a preserved food, the acidity should be at least 4 percent.
Distilled white vinegar is a self-preservative that does not need refrigeration; it will last for many years in your pantry. Because it is flavorless, it's a perfect addition to vegan chocolate cake, potato salad, quinoa salad with pickled onions, cranberry chutney, homemade chili garlic sauce, and spicy yellow mustard.
Half-sour dill pickles
This recipe makes the kind of mild, crunchy pickles you find on the tables of every deli in New York City. Proportions aren't terribly important, except that you need to have enough salt and vinegar to make the brine, and enough brine to cover the cucumbers while they sit on the countertop for a day or two. Adapted from The Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash.
12 small, firm Kirby cucumbers
1 large clove garlic, unpeeled
Big hunk of fresh dill, including seed heads, if available
1 generous tsp pickling spice
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup white vinegar
2-1/2 quarts water
Wash the cucumbers; be sure to cut away any blemishes, and trim off any stems. Place them in a large nonreactive (ceramic, glass, or stainless steel) bowl. Cut the unpeeled garlic in half, and add it to the bowl along with the dill and pickling spice.
In a pot, place kosher salt, white vinegar and water. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Pour the hot brine over the cucumbers, and weight down with a plate or two, or another bowl, to keep the cukes submerged. Leave on the counter for at least 24 hours, and up to 48 hours. The longer the cucumbers sit in the brine, the more sour they'll get.
Pack the cucumbers into any type of jars, and pour in enough brine to fill the jars. Cover tightly, and refrigerate. Because these pickles aren't processed in a water bath, they will last 3-4 weeks in the refrigerator; don't store them at room temperature.