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White vinegar and volcanoes (Recipe: pineapple-cucumber salad) {vegetarian}


Once upon a time -- okay, it was just a few weeks ago -- I found five (five) bottles of distilled white vinegar in my pantry.

I'm not a pickle fanatic.

I'm not a brine fanatic.

I'm most definitely not a window-cleaning fanatic.

I used to be able to keep inventory in my head of everything that I had in the pantry. For a few months, I kept forgetting that I have vinegar, and every time I passed it in the supermarket aisle, I'd buy more. And more. And more.

If you are not old, you might not recognize this for what it is: a cautionary tale, a heads-up, a peek into your future. When you are old like me, you will, I promise, develop a mental block against some item in your pantry, and you will buy it even when it is not on your grocery list. And each time, you'll place it on the shelf, next to the one you bought the week before. You'll mutter to yourself, oh phoo, I already have this.

Yes, the block passes -- but it passes to another item. Just when you finally stop buying one item, you find you've started stockpiling insane quantities of something else: cocoa powder, or frozen peas, or brown lentils or bamboo skewers or dried lasagna noodles or turmeric.

Or vinegar.

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: wine, of course, but also molasses, dates, sorghum, fruits, berries, melons, coconut, honey, beer, maple syrup, potatoes, beets, malt, grains -- and distilled alcohol, which is the base of white vinegar.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, vinegar sold at retail must contain a minimum of 4% acidity (the amount of acetic acid present). White vinegar is generally 5% but can be as high as 7%; the acidity is always printed somewhere on the label.

If you're planning to use vinegar for pickled vegetables, don't use homemade vinegar unless you test the acidity level. Vinegar is a self-preservative (it will last for many years in your pantry; no need to refrigerate), and low-acid vinegars are fine for salad dressings. But to kill bacteria in a preserved food, the acidity should be at least 4 percent.

Keep vinegar in your pantry for making mustard, red velvet cake, cole slaw, pie crust, chicken adobo, or hot sauce.

From The Vinegar Institute, here's a recipe of a different kind, guaranteed to add excitement in your kitchen (or, better yet, in the back yard):

How to build a volcano: First, make the cone of the volcano. Mix 6 cups flour, 2 cups salt, 4 Tbsp cooking oil and 2 cups of water. The resulting mixture should be smooth and firm (more water may be added if needed). Stand a soda bottle in a baking pan and mold the dough around it into a volcano shape. Do not cover the hole or drop dough into it. Fill the bottle most of the way full with warm water and a bit of red food color (can be done before sculpting if you work quickly so the water stays warm). Add 6 drops of detergent to the bottle contents. Add 2 Tbsp baking soda to the liquid. Slowly pour vinegar into the bottle. Watch out -- eruption time!

And remember: vinegar kills weeds in your garden.

Cantonese pineapple-cucumber salad

In the Asian market last week, I saw a jar of pickled shallots. Something about their pink-ness cried "Spring is here!", and I remembered this recipe, a family favorite from Brian Jung. Serves 6.


1 large English (seedless) cucumber, peeled and sliced paper-thin
2 small carrots, peeled, cut into 1-inch matchsticks
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup white vinegar
6 Tbsp sugar
12 pickled shallots, sliced paper-thin, + 1 Tbsp juice reserved from the jar
1 16-oz can pineapple in heavy syrup, drained, + 4 Tbsp syrup reserved from the can
1 Tbsp toasted white or black sesame seeds


Place cucumber and carrots in a colander over a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Weight down with a plate, and allow to sit 20 minutes. In the meantime, heat the vinegar and sugar in a small sauce pan, until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Rinse the cucumber and carrots under cold water and drain. Place in a bowl or large jar with shallots and reserved shallot juice, pineapple and reserved pineapple syrup, and the vinegar solution, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. To Serve garnished with sesame seeds.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

Also in The Perfect Pantry:

Tomato-nectarine chutney
Asian slaw
Carrot-beet salad
Hot and sour soup
Countertop dill pickles
Honey-tarragon mustard

Need more ideas for how to create salads with pizzazz? Get Dress Up Your Salad, my e-book packed with easy mix-and-match recipes, full-color photos and a few fun videos. Exciting salad recipes from everyday ingredients can be just one click away, on any computer, tablet or smart phone, with the FREE Kindle Reading app. Click here to learn more.

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


I don't know what part of this blog I enjoyed the most, overbuying certain staples (for me it is salad dressings and pasta)even when I write down NO MORE SALAD DRESSINGS AND PASTA, how to make a volcano which will excite Noah, or the yummy sounding cucumber/pineapple salad. Now how was this recipe invented do you think (did a pineapple fall in a cucumber patch and someone says hmmm let's throw in some picked shallots and vinegar)? I don't know where you get all this nifty information for your blog, but keep it coming!!! I'm always smarter after I read the Perfect Pantry.

Well, at least you were just getting the quart size jars. I once ended up with 4 one gallon while vinegar jugs!!

5 bottles it's a lot! I use white vinegar for cleaning my house (it's super active and free of chemicals).

FIVE bottles?! Gosh, that's quite a lot:P But the more the merrier! And you've found a good way of using them:)

What an interesting combination. I will have to try this out. I love making cucumber salad with rice wine vinegar, so this will be fun to try.

That is exactly how I ended up with 3 bottles of fish sauce in my cupboard... ugh.

Your salad sounds great and can you really have too much vinegar? It doesn't go bad... it just waits patiently for you to get to it. Yay vinegar!

Send some of that vinegar this way. I have many windows I need to clean (need to, didn't say I would get to them.) Perhaps with an overstock of vinegar on hand, I would have some extra motivation to do so!

(P.S. I'm guilty of accidentally stockpiling olive oil, onions and cheese. Weird combination I know.)

Ah, the famous volcano! I remember it well! I also have a similar block, which seems to manifest itself in enough rice and grains to feed a small country.

I love the volcano recipe! I've seen this done but never have made it myself...my si year old is going to be in for a very fun surprise!

As for the salad- it sounds quite yummy, a must try.

Arlo, I can just imagine the origin of this dish -- probably created by a painter who said, "Let's put all the pretty colors together and see what happens!"

MyKichen, Babeth, Stella, Sandie: I'm envisioning some sort of redistribution of vinegar here -- from those with too much vinegar, to those with many windows! I'll contribute!!

Jason, I'm also particularly fond of cucumbers in rice vinegar, especially with a few red pepper flakes tossed in.

Brilynn, three bottles of fish sauce would last for many years... I only use a few drops at a time. Want to trade for some vinegar?

Ann, apparently you cannot have too much vinegar, if my pantry is any indication.

TW, we're never too old to want to play with our food... I'm looking forward to making volcanoes with our grandsons.

Katia, one piece of advice -- make your volcano outside!

Time for a pickle-volcano party...I'll be there!

I'm laughing my head off! I have that same problem. Sometimes for me it's not that I don't know I have it, but it's on sale and I just can't resist buying it.

The volcano snippet reminded me of Myth Buster's episode on adding mentos into Coca-Cola! Wooo hoo...an eruption!

Thanks for pointing out about ornamental kale in my post. You answered my curiosity. Thks so much!

Lydia, I don't use vinegar as much. When making salad dressings, I tend to grab limes first. :)
I have never heard of pie crust with vinegar, I'm curious!

Callipygia, count me in!

Kalyn, glad to know it's not just me. Sometimes I feel completely foolish....

Tigerfish, I saw that Coca-Cola explosion, too. Impressive!

Patricia, as you know I don't bake much, so I can't tell you what, exactly, the vinegar does to tenderize the pie crust. But I have seen this in many old baking books.

Oh? pineapple cucumber salad? Nice sounding combination! I use the white vinegar in my regular cucumber salad as I know we have had many discussions about :)

Thanks for the weed killing tip for vinegar. Volcanos are the best.

I once did this with baking powder! I still have 2 big containers of it. Too bad it wasn't baking soda, I could make LOADS of volcanos (also a favorite at the Japanese restaurants).

Hillary, I'll have to start making lots more cucumber salad -- or I'll have to start washing windows -- to use up all of my vinegar!

Meg, it really works on weeds.

Sarah, what can you do with all of that baking powder? Does anyone have a great recipe that will help use it up?

how true about stockpiling insane swifting from one to another! That volcano sounds super cool!

Gattina, anything in the kitchen that you can blow up on purpose, instead of by accident, is pretty cool!

Three bottles of sesame seeds... two bottles of balsamic vinegar... two bottles of corn syrup...

Yeah. I think I can relate. ;)

true. true. true... i have 3 curry powder, 2 pepper seed flakes, 2 bottles of soy sauce, 1 can of olive oil that i forgot i have, so i still bought bottles because - just like you - everytime i walk past the aisle or go to an italian specialty store, i keep thinking that i'm low on the current one that i'm using, so i buy one... and among other things that have "clones" in my pantry. HAHAHA!

Michelle, this makes me feel better, really!

Hot Bananas, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. Olive oil was one of my repeats for a while -- I kept buying a bottle every time I went to Trader Joe's. Sometimes I'd buy two, one extra-virgin and one not so virginal. Eventually I used them all, but it took months.

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