"Fruit-scrap vinegars take minutes to prepare and last for years; they also age well, much like a fine wine." Tom Hunt - The Guardian
I was very intrigued by this item in The Guardian newsletter. Make vinegar from fruit scraps - any old fruit scraps as long as it's not actually mouldy. Even banana skins were mentioned. Certainly squishy fruit that is really a bit past it. I guess you could even try with grapes - would that be a wine vinegar?
I knew you could make flavoured vinegars by infusing fruit or herbs in actual vinegar, and I have tried it with various herbs, without too much amazing success I have to say. And - word of caution here - it might be fun to make these things but are you going to use them? Are you going to give them as gifts to friends who will do the same as me and put them in the back of the pantry cupboard? To my shame I have three bottles of raspberry vinegar in there. So perhaps before you embark on this consider what you will do with the finished product, and also start small - as in the picture above. They say a minimum of 200g of fruit, which isn't a lot really.
There are, of course, heaps of things you can do with a flavoured vinegar. Glazes are the first thing that spring to my mind. Marinades, added to stews, just served with ice cream I believe is a good thing. The River Cottage people give a good sort of starting list:
"Flavoured vinegars can be used in dressings and mayonnaises, sauces, relishes, pickles and chutney. They can be trickled neat over a salad, grilled cheese or avocado; diluted with ice-cold water to maker a refreshing summer drink, or sipped in the winter to soothe for, sickly throats." Pam Corbin - River Cottage
I must say I like the notion of using something made from scraps to preserve something else near the end of its days in a pickle or chutney. Or you can simply use them as you would use any other vinegar - in England that means sprinkling them on Fish and chips. Or you can rinse your hair and clean your toilet.
There are other things you can do with fruit scraps too, other than putting them in the compost or the worm farm, from ice-cream and icy poles, to syrups and preserved and pickled rinds. But that's another story. Worth looking into though because:
"Fruit is on a constant journey from under-ripeness to over-the-topness and it's not going to wait around for you. If you don't have the right recipe - and the right time to eat it - it's easy to miss the fruit boat, as it were." Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
But back to the vinegar. The recipe given by Tom Hunt in his article was so simple that I just had to check whether it was actually a genuine thing you could do, or just one of those ideas you sometimes see, that really don't work when you try it yourself. But indeed there are several other very similar recipes out there so I am assuming it's does work. Certainly the enthusiastic bloggers who gave their own versions seemed to think so.
If you're going to try this go to the article, but basically you put your fruit bits in a bowl or a wide-mouthed jar, add a bit of sugar or honey or maple syrup, cover with water. Cover the whole lot with a cloth and leave to ferment - which will take a couple of weeks. Strain, ferment some more and when it's stopped doing that and tastes acidic bottle it. I am seriously going to give this a try. When I've closed the computer down for the night. We're only having leftover pizza for dinner and maybe a pear clafoutis.
There are other recipes out there that suggest adding a bit of vinegar to start the fermentation process, or more complicated things like champagne yeast (where do you get that?) or grain - even chick peas, but mostly they seem to think it's not necessary. And I think that they would probable affect the flavour of your finished product. The Zero-Waste Chef has a useful series of pictures to show you what it should be looking like at the various stages along the way, if you get at all worried.
Some dos and don'ts. Do not use metal. Do not cover your fermenting fruit with a lid - something airy like cheesecloth or a tea towel is the thing. If you seal it, it might explode. It needs air. Some people said not to use chlorinated water. Well I won't be able to do that - I assume there is chlorine in our water, and we do not have a water filter. Stir it every day in the initial fermentation period and every now and then in the second. I think I saw somewhere that if it goes mouldy throw it away.
I also have to say that the finished product sometimes - no let's be honest - mostly - looked cloudy. But then this shouldn't matter at all since it's probably going to be added to something else and it's murkiness will disappear. Think of it as creamy or some more flattering word and all is well. Those clear fruit vinegars that you buy are made by the other method of making a fruit vinegar - infusion in an already made vinegar. A different thing altogether it seems to me. Below are a couple of examples of the finished fruit scrap product. The second is from the 'professional' site The Spruce Eats, but even that is a little cloudy. Only a problem I think if you are giving it as a gift, but then you can pretty it up by putting it in a lovely bottle and making a pretty label.
Anyway I'm going to give it a go. I might make a pear clafoutis or tarte tatin tonight so I could use the peel and the core from that together with the squishier grapes and plums I have in the fridge. There might even be an oldish orange. Because you don't have to stick to just one fruit and you can add herbs and spices too. Fun idea for your kids and grandkids sometime when there is downtime. Get them to make their own combination, look after it by stirring it often and then get them to devise something wonderful with the results. Sounds daunting? You might be surprised at how inventive they are.