I killed my mother.

vinegar

I didn’t know how to tell you, so I’ve put off this post for some time. I killed my vinegar mother—the gelatinous substance that turns wine into vinegar. Over a year ago I acquired a mother from Jackie Dill, the self-sufficient, wise wildcrafter of Coyle, OK. And since I was so grateful that Jackie shared her mother with me, I’ve felt guilty about wasting it.

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My basic understanding of the vinegar-making process is this: a mother is the name for the bacteria that develops on fermented liquid. She eats up the alcohol and creates acid. This could happen just by ignoring an open container of wine for weeks or months, until the right wild bacteria finds the wine—same concept as sourdough yeasts and the open fermentation of beer. Maybe this bacteria is more prevalent in certain geographic areas? I’m not sure. Regardless, you can speed up the process by buying or acquiring a vinegar mother like I did. The mother is put in a glass or ceramic container or an oak barrel and is fed a diet of red or white wine. You need to pick which wine you’re going with and stick with only that type. You can keep her alive indefinitely by feeding her alcohol.

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There seems to be two main approaches to feeding the mother: 1) add a glug of wine to your mother every day or so or 2) add a bottle at once and let the mother do its thing. I chose the latter and ignored the mother to a fault. I have to admit—I was intimidated by this whole process, which is, I think, why I neglected/forgot about the hungry, vinegar-making blob at the back of my pantry. I basically starved her to death since she eventually ate all the alcohol and I didn’t give her any more. Although I killed the mother, I was still able to get some delicious red wine vinegar out of the experiment.
My first try at vinegar making has been an education I hope to build on once I get another mother.

vinegar mother
The vinegar mother that I got from Jackie Dill. It came in pear wine vinegar.
pear wine vinegarvinegar mother
I strained and reserved the pear wine vinegar so I could use the mother to start my red wine vinegar. I covered the container opening with cheesecloth and slid it to the back of the pantry. Instead of fearing and ignoring the vinegar for 9 months, I should have tasted the liquid every couple of weeks to check its progress.
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Out of sight, out of mind. Nine months later I finally strained the mother out and pasteurized the vinegar. In retrospect, it was hasty to assume the mother was dead. I should have tried to keep her going by adding more wine.
vinegar
My vinegar-loving friend Nicole and I had a taste test between my store-bought and homemade red wine vinegar. As you can see, the homemade vinegar is much deeper in color and body. Its taste is rich and mellow compared to the store-bought vinegar, which makes my eyes water and my mouth pucker.

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If you’re interested in learning more, these websites are helpful:
http://www.gangofpour.com/diversions/vinegar/vinegar1.html
http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/the-virtue-of-homemade-vinegar
http://chefsblade.monster.com/training/articles/782-making-vinegar-with-a-mothers-love
http://www.squidoo.com/Vinegar_Starter_Culture

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10 thoughts on “I killed my mother.

    • Hey Dana, because the internet told me to. =) As a complete newbie, I just followed the instructions I found online. Though, now it seems logical that pasteurization would kill the good stuff. Thanks for the tip.

  1. Tricia,

    OK, it now seems a good fall walk with a demonstration on wild wine and vinegar is in order, lol. I never pasteurize my vinegar. The pear trees out back are heavy this year as are the grapes. Both ripen about the same time. A thought would be to have a demonstration on wild grape and pear wine and then turning it into vinegar. I have one good mother left for the pear which we could use to start new vinegar from the wine. I have left my mother in the jar capped and sealed for up to three years and it was still living.. I never added more wine to it??? The mother you had was from a small bottle of pear vinegar that was two years old. Could this be that my pear wine was like 90 to 100 proof???? I have commented that the pear vinegar was a great cleaner, lol.

  2. We are making vinegar with leftover red wine- what do you think about using sulfite free wine versus not? Is it really necessary to use sulfite free wine because it might kill the mother?

    • That’s a good question, Diane. I have never heard of, or taken, this precaution and my vinegar mother only died because I threw her in the compost pile. I think it’s probably fine either way (sulfites or no), but I don’t have time to research the issue. Let’s hope someone more knowledgeable will respond.

  3. Thanks so much for your post. I’m at the stage where I was about to chuck my mother for sitting for 3 months a doing nothing in my attempt to make white wine vinegar. I’m going to add more wine and give her another chance.

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