Making Vinegar and Associated Memories
Blog # 2
Making Vinegar and Associated Memories
My husband is a wine collector. Therefore we have the remains of many a good red in the bottle … whether they be super Tuscans or California cabernets or merlots, you can be sure they will make good vinegar. Here are a few, so that you see can see that I am a discerning wine-drinker and an old hand at making vinegar! Mostly Felipe collects, while I on the other hand suggest we should drink the scrumptious Italian wines that shimmer in the bottle like liquid fire, the juices of rubies and garnets, and tasting of raspberries and cherries. Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Lupicaia, Solaia, and some others: Tignanello, but that doesn’t stop him from reading what Zachy’s and Wine Spectator have to say about interesting wines, and we therefore get to taste many Spanish, Washingtonian, Australian, Californian, Oregonian, and French wines as well.
I add leftover wines to my vinegar—mine, not bought in a store, and then leave it for about ten days. I’ve always made vinegar since the time when I lived in Rome, Italy, for twenty years. We moved there in 1970 and didn’t move back to the States till 1990, and I’m still making it. In those days, we didn’t always use super Tuscans, but we always had good table wines—even the cheap-o variety were excellent—wines delivered by truck in demijohns that I’d pour out into two liter or liter bottles and top myself.
To make vinegar one must leave the dregs to make the “mother”—sometimes from a “store bought” vinegar the mother will appear in the bottle. Save it! What is this mother? A slimy, viscous glob leftover that vinegar manufactures naturally—it looks like a miniature placenta.
White wines can make delightful vinegars also. In San Felice Circeo, about an hour or so south of Rome where we summered, I always had handy a lovely white Trebbiano—especially nice and crisp in hot weather—that we used to buy by the demijohn from a local vinaio—it was so inexpensive, unsophisticated and unadulterated! I think we used to pay something like the equivalent of fifty cents a liter! We used to put our straw-covered demijohn beneath an oak barriche—barrel—at the local cantina and watch the wine spill in and fill! It was homemade and excellent—no sulfites, never a headache after sloshing down a great quantity of it! Anyway, once upon a summer day I took wine from the previous year that had “soured,” not being a vino nobile! but a local lovely variety, but the past year’s wine had not produced the mother. I thought that was perhaps because the percentage of alcohol was not high enough, but for whatever reason—I decided to make the mother. You can too.
Here’s how: I took one fat uncooked perciatello—a long fat spaghetto, many call buccatino—literally, a little hole—for that’s what this pasta has—a hole as its center. I placed it in an uncovered (or lightly covered with cheesecloth—something that “breathes”) two-liter bottle with some dregs of real vinegar—and my wonderful Trebbiano filled to about to the half mark. The pasta then disintegrates but not totally and forms the afterbirth-looking gobbet. Sometimes I’d forget to check it after ten days, and two weeks or longer would go by. Then after swimming at Torre Paola on a stifling hot day, I’d remove the bottle from the little mahogany cabinet I’d restored when my son Nico was two years old, the one with the mottled gray marble top we gave away, sorry to say, when we moved back to the States.
From the darkness emerged the beginning of a good vinegar, the mother, floating like a sailor’s safeguard from drowning—a caul purchased from a strega (witch) with magical powers, in this case, to produce more vinegar. To this I’d add the remains of whatever wine we drank. We sound like a bunch of alcoholics, but remember, this was Italy in the 70’s, and wine was and is served at every meal, except breakfast—except of course in ancient Roman times, when it was diluted with a little water from the aqueducts. There was always plenty of the nectar of the gods, namely Bacchus, left in every bottle on the table! What happens when you get too much? You give some away to friends and family members—always making sure some of the mother goes in the gifted bottle.
The fact that the vinegar—if well “mothered” goes on for years and years, continuing for generations, reminds us that being a mother, while bitter at times also ensures the continuity of life. Making vinegar has varied and symbolic levels, emerging into a poetic mix. Some recipes, it seems to me, are just crying out to be made into poems. Making vinegar’s a prime example—hope to write the poem one day—the recipe’s a rough draft.