Cider vinegar (Recipe: dried cranberry and pear chutney)
- Cider vinegar is made from the fermented juice of apples, diluted with water to a uniform strength of 5% acidity.
- American farmers in the 18th and 19th centuries drank apple cider vinegar as a kind of Gatorade, for an energy boost. They would dilute it with fruit juice, and the "cocktail" was known as a switchel.
- Although cider vinegar is quite inexpensive now, because of its versatility it was highly valued as a unit of currency in the 19th century, when it sold for three times the price of apple cider.
- Artisanal vinegar is darker in color, but not always better in flavor, than supermarket cider vinegar. It is, however, always more expensive than the vinegar I buy in my local market.
- The vinegar is fermented in a long process that generates a "mother", a bacterial ooze that forms on the top of vinegar as it ferments. Commerial processing filters out the mother.
- Some people love the ooze and believe the bacteria found in it aid in the treatment of a variety of ailments from A to Z. Can it cure acid reflux or athlete's foot or zits? Maybe. Buy vinegar with its mother in health food stores.
- Or, you can make cider vinegar at home, but don't use it for canning; the acidity of homemade vinegars varies, and you need a reliably high acidity for safe food preservation. Use your homemade cider vinegar in salad dressings and to brighten up fruit-based sauces.
- Cider vinegar adds a mildly tangy fruitiness to chili and apple cider vinegar pork, cider roasted vegetables, bacon jam, vegan blueberry muffins, easy pickled carrots, and Moroccan-style chicken and lentils.
- Substitute rice vinegar (regular or seasoned) or brown rice vinegar for cider vinegar.
- Unopened, cider vinegar will last on your pantry shelf forever. Opened bottles of vinegar will keep for six months or more.
Dried cranberry and pear chutney
This year's cranberry harvest hasn't yet hit the markets, even here in southeastern New England where cranberry bogs are everywhere, so I used dried cranberries to make this batch of chutney. Chutney is a great substitute for cranberry sauce on the Thanksgiving table, so make it in the next few weeks, when pears are in season. It will keep until Thanksgiving, and beyond, or it will be delicious for Canadian Thanksgiving next weekend. Makes 2 quarts.
1 large onion, chopped
3 Tbsp minced fresh ginger, or 1 heaping Tbsp dried ginger
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
Scant 3/4 cup sugar (use a full 3/4 cup if you use fresh cranberries, less if you use dried)
3/4 cup orange juice
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 tsp each: cinnamon, ground coriander, pepper
1/4 tsp each: mace or nutmeg, ground cloves, salt
several drops of cayenne pepper, to taste
4 large pears, diced (do not peel)
2 bags (12 oz each) fresh cranberries, or 12 oz (total) dried cranberries
In a large nonreactive saucepan, combine all ingredients except the fruit. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes.
Add the pears, and cook until soft but not disintegrated, 5-8 minutes, depending on the firmness of the pears. Add the cranberries, and cook, stirring frequently, over low-medium heat until the mixture has the consistency of thick jam (at least another 20-30 minutes).
Let cool to room temperature, pack into jars with close-fitting caps, and refrigerate. Will keep for three months or more in the refrigerator.