Expressing plenty of affection for mothers, author Kirsten Shockey attests they’re not really necessary — when it comes to making vinegar.
It’s among the carefully observed and rigorously tested tenets of Shockey’s latest book, “Homebrewed Vinegar.” The step-by-step guide to this culinary staple advances the Applegate resident’s authority in the field of fermentation. The squishy, semisolid “mother” in some vinegars, says Shockey, is merely a byproduct of the microbial activity, rather than the medium that spawns beneficial microorganisms, as some people believe.
“It’s a nice visual confirmation,” says Shockey of a mother’s presence in a homebrewed vat of vinegar.
Visually, Shockey’s book pays homage to plenty of vinegar mothers in its numerous large-format, color photos, entirely styled and shot at Shockey’s 40-acre homestead. It’s the second book published by Storey that celebrates Shockey’s farm, owned and operated with her husband, Christopher Shockey. The couple co-wrote the bestselling “Fermented Vegetables,” followed by “Fiery Ferments,” “Miso, Tempeh, Natto” and most recently, “The Big Book of Cidermaking,” which depicts the Shockeys’ orchard of 150 apple trees.
“It felt very full-circle,” says Kirsten Shockey, 53.
Literally born from the 2020 cider book, “Homebrewed Vinegar” is Shockey’s first solo title, set for nationwide release Tuesday. “A natural part” of the cidermaking process, vinegar expanded under Shockey’s purview to almost one-fifth of the cider book. When Storey asked her to pare down the 15,000 words she had submitted on the subject, it was clear that vinegar could be its own book.
“They actually jumped on it,” says Shockey. “They loved that idea.”
No longer limited to apples, Shockey was free to explore vinegar fermented from any and all substances containing natural sugar. Within the 295 pages of “Homebrewed Vinegar” are recipes for 60 different types that begin as beets, carrots, corncobs, honey, syrup, pineapple, sweet potatoes and cacao nibs, not to mention apple cider. Shockey even surprised herself with a new favorite: grapefruit peel vinegar.
“I ended up making vinegar out of things I never would have thought to,” says Shockey. “Anything with sugar will naturally become vinegar.”
One of the most common and oldest methods for brewing vinegar starts with alcoholic beverages, namely beer and wine. The age-old process of fermenting sugary solutions into alcohol goes hand in hand with the progression to vinegar, often by accident, writes Shockey. Although somewhat mysterious for thousands of years, the transformation of a delicious beverage into sour seasoning is fairly easy for most modern cooks to comprehend, says Shockey.
“If you know that it’s just starting with a bottle of wine, it’s very approachable.”
Vinegar is so familiar, in fact, it became ubiquitous in kitchens the world over, says Shockey, while other fermented foods fell from favor or even were deemed unsafe outside of factory settings.
“We industrialized it and changed it, but we didn’t throw it out like our other fermented foods.”
Pantry staple status aside, the origins of store-bought vinegar still elude many people, says Shockey. White vinegar, she says, is an ideal cleaning agent but isn’t necessarily made from food ingredients, but rather wood pulp or anything that will produce ethyl alcohol.
Most often characterized as sour, many vinegars impart complexities that are unrivaled in cuisine, says Shockey. Vinegar brightens a dish in the absence of salt and enhances other flavors, she says. More specifically, vinegar’s acid cleanses the tongue and palate of fats that can build up and dull other taste sensations.
So it’s hardly surprising, says Shockey, that chefs are eager not only to use — but also to make — unique, fine-quality vinegars. The process is an ideal way to repurpose ingredients in both home and commercial kitchens and prevent food waste. When Shockey brews citrus peel vinegar, for example, she can curb her reliance on fresh citrus juice.
“For the chefs, it’s a very approachable thing to put in their fermentation programs,” she says. “It makes a lot of financial sense for them.”
Splash vinegar into carbonated water for Shockey’s preferred beverage that costs pennies compared with bottled, flavored sparkling waters. Skip expensive salon products and rinse hair with vinegar to restore shine, as Shockey does.
And stock the medicine cabinet with vinegar — a folk remedy for millennia, across diverse cultures, for disinfecting and aiding digestion, says Shockey. Enjoying almost cult status in the naturopathic realm, vinegar is a common base for infusing herbal tinctures and incorporating into other therapies. Modern medicine, she says, has begun to recognize vinegar’s role in regulating insulin and suppressing appetite.
Anyone hungry for fermentation’s science or alchemy — or both — will find plenty in “Homebrewed Vinegar” to ponder, then put into practice. With or without a mother, homemade vinegar, says Shockey, endears itself to thrifty, creative cooks.
“They do treat their ferments as members of the family.”
“Home-brewed Vinegar” can be purchased at storey.com/books/homebrewed-vinegar. Browse Shockey’s other titles and read her blog at https://ferment.works
Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at firstname.lastname@example.org.