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Local Answers to Balsamic?

 
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Hey all you Permies chefs. There are 80 posts (so far) that include “Balsamic vinegar” as a flavor enhancement to homemade concoctions using local garden produce. Maybe there should be some vernacular alternatives to the imported stuff using home-grown ingredients.

The goal is to make a great quality local (wherever you live) Balsamic substitute with ingredients on the homestead. The condiment will hopefully be syrupy, complex, and good for drizzling over just about anything from salad to ice cream. For example, I’m aging some prickly pear juice in an oak barrel to make use of our local boon to make a vinegar-syrup condiment.

Today's attempt involves apples to create a boiled cider / apple cider vinegar reduction. The recipe so far: 2 gallons of apple cider and a taste-appropriate quantity of aged apple cider vinegar (2 cups so far) to give it the proper sweet-tart kick are now boiling in a glazed enamel kettle. Since I’ll be tethered to the stove most of the day, any ideas born of your experiences that might enhance this reduction are welcome. I’ll watch for your tips while I’m stirring the pot. Thank you for your encouragement and ideas.
 
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What about boiling the cider down first, then adding the vinegar and fermenting the whole thing? Or are you looking for a quick substitute?

My first "vinegar making" attempt was to take store bought vinegar, infuse it with elderberries, and boil it down with some sugar. I followed a recipe online I could probably find again. It was suggested that this would be a good balsamic vinegar substitute. I think it would have been better if the elderberries had been fermented to give it more of a winey taste. I did a batch with white vinegar and a batch with apple vinegar. The ACV batch was better to my tastes.
 
Jan White
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This is the infused elderberry vinegar I did the first time

https://gallowaywildfoods.com/elderberry-vinegar-recipe/
 
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I don't buy fancy ingredients so when I make something that calls for those ingredients I probably have no idea what the original dish is supposed to taste like.

Pretty sure I have made something before that called for Balsamic vinegar and I just used apple cider vinegar.

For a balsamic vinegar substitute these can be used:

Apple cider vinegar
Red Wine
Red Wine Vinegar
Red Wine vinegar and maple syrup
Grape jelly, red wine vinegar and soy sauce
Worcestershire sauce
Although white vinegar works perfectly, you may also experiment with rice vinegar, cane vinegar, or even Chinese black vinegar for that darker, richer appearance more reminiscent of balsamic vinegar.

All from Mr google




 
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I do believe I read somewhere that the original underlying ingredient of Balsamic vinegar was a wine that wasn't nice enough to drink as wine. Then of course, everyone wanted everything to taste the same year after year, and Big Food got involved, so now they make it based on a specific recipe rather than as a good improvement on something that wasn't so good to start with.

That said, my only suggestion is that I happen to have a dehydrate cycle on my oven. At the moment I've got some cooked and squished tomatoes in shallow glass pans (pie plates as an example) on dehydrate at 135F. They still benefit from the occasional stir, but I've never had it burn when something came up and I forgot the pot when using the stove-top.

I was really hoping to try making my own apple cider vinegar this year, but I haven't managed so far. I should think in those terms the next time there's a bumper crop of grapes - they won't be wine grapes, but for making a wine vinegar, that might not matter?
 
Amy Gardener
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Thank you Jan, Anne and Jay! Well near as I can tell from my reading on the internet, Balsamic is more of a reduced fruit syrup with mild strains of acid bacteria imbedded in the old casks. The unique critter culture in the vessels works on the fruit reduction but does not create a strong vinegar, rather, it is a sweet tart syrup. I’m not in a hurry: I’ll age at least some of the brew. But looking at what I buy in the US, it is not so much of a real aged vinegar but more of a vinegar flavored grape syrup with umami depth. I think that we have a lot of room to experiment with bottling something that is better than the industrial version and serves the wildly popular purposes of big food balsamic. So far my brew is tasty but thin....
 
Amy Gardener
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Jan, that infused elderberry vinegar recipe looks very good. The sweet apple cider reduction will hopefully replace the granulated industrial sugar. The intention behind boiling the apple cider vinegar is to prevent the consumption of sweetness. But maybe I should keep the ACV live to prevent accidental yeast fermentation of the syrup? Sweet and tart is the goal but maybe closing sealing the vessel will prevent wild yeasts from eating the sugar.

Jay, I like the dehydrate idea for reduction but the yeasts on my grapes survive dehydration and, as above, I want to keep the sugar for the humans. That said, the syrup from fermented raisin water used in baking is sweet and flavorful, so maybe my analysis of what will happen at a low temperature oven is off.
 
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For years we have made cider syrup, an 8:1 boiled reduction that we use as our sweetener. We make this is years when we have a glut of apples and can it, refrigerating after opening.  When we make salad dressing a little bit of the syrup added to homemade cider vinegar and olive oil gives a nice result. Sometimes we also add in a raspberry reduction made from cooked down raspberry juice that was extracted in a steam juicer.  My undersyanding of balsamic is that the vinegar is aged in wood casks, a different wood species each year, and the vinegar evaporates over time becoming thicker and more syrup-like. The wood casks add their unique flavors to the vinegar.
 
Jan White
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I didn't like all the sugar in the elderberry vinegar either. That's why I haven't made it again. If you're worried about yeasts if the syrup, you could always just store it in the fridge.
 
Amy Gardener
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Larisa, your experience is so helpful! Yes, from all that I’ve read, the aging of true Balsamic in casks creates the unique depth of flavor. Like you, I am making the boiled cider and 8:1 sounds like a good reduction target. I could bottle the pure syrup and refrigerate upon breaking the seal as you have described.

However, due to lack of cold storage space (and general curiosity), I am wondering if I could keep the cider syrup without refrigeration as you and Jan suggested, if I add ACV as a preservative and flavor enhancement? I would like to keep the acidified cider syrup in bottles or small flavor-enhancing wooden casks without the sterile canning step.
 
Jan White
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For a while I've been thinking of making elderberry vinegar with an elderberry reduction. I hadn't picked my elderberries yet this year, and you inspired me to get going on it. So I went out and picked a bucket full. I was just poking through my various vinegars to figure out which one to use as a starter and found a big, unopened bottle of elderberry syrup from five years ago! So I dumped it in a jar with some strawberry vinegar and I'll report back. Guess I'll just make normal elderberry vinegar with the berries I picked😁
 
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I wonder if a mulled oxymel (=@honey/raw acv) thinned with a bit of a more savory vinegar - say... rosemary, thyme, sage, or other herb(s) could fill the bill?
 
Amy Gardener
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Hey Carla! I just read a few articles about Oxymel and it sounds like a flavor blast that could "do the trick" as a Balsamic substitute. Great idea!
My neighbor keeps bees and I will talk with him about this. Thanks for the new-for-me taste adventure.

Update about the boiled cider: the 2 gallons has become 1 quart after 7 hours. Heat is off. Too hot to taste but I see that the color is now caramel brown.
 
Amy Gardener
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So the taste of this boiled fresh cider and ACV (16:1) is sweet and sour syrup. Nothing like Balsamic, of course. Not unusable but a little disappointing. Lacks complexity. At this point, I am going to add some live aged ACV and let it mellow in a bottle sanitized with the ACV. I learned a lot but need to keep studying. Maybe time will help. Patience.
 
Carla Burke
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Amy Gardener wrote:So the taste of this fresh cider and ACV (1:16) is sweet and sour. Nothing like Balsamic, of course. Not unusable but a little disappointing. Lacks complexity. At this point, I am going to add some live aged ACV and let it mellow in a bottle sanitized with the ACV. I learned a lot but need to keep studying. Maybe time will help. Patience.



The umami you're looking for, in the oxymel, some roasted garlic might do it...
 
Jay Angler
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Amy Gardener wrote:

But looking at what I buy in the US, it is not so much of a real aged vinegar but more of a vinegar flavored grape syrup with umami depth.

There are plenty of sauces out there that were originally local recipes that preserved nutrients and often added important micronutrients to diets of the poor. Many of those sauces are now mostly artificially generated and I'm suspicious that the sugar content has increased in particular.  This discussion came up elsewhere on permies and I was surprised when I went label reading, just how much sugar there was in a brand name Worcestershire sauce which had been a cupboard staple since childhood. That certainly suggests to me that permies could make a much better product using old-fashioned to down-right ancient techniques with a bit of research and patience. We might not end up with exactly the same product, but I suspect it would be nutritionally superior. If to get an end-product that appealed to modern tastes which tend to tolerate a lot of sugar, adding a little organic sugar or honey seems an acceptable trade-off.

and wrote:

Jay, I like the dehydrate idea for reduction but the yeasts on my grapes survive dehydration and, as above, I want to keep the sugar for the humans.

I do bring the juice to boiling before putting it in my oven on a 135F dehydrate cycle (convection oven), so if you were doing that with grapes, the boiling would kill the yeast. It's a balance - one of the things that generates that umami flavour you're looking for is the yeast. Does that flavour survive boiling? If you made a simple wine out of the grapes and then boiled it, would it retain the yeast generating flavour while loosing the alcohol? If you mixed that with a condensed juice that had not been fermented (which as you point out, uses up the sugar you're looking for) would you end up with a product that had both sweetness and depth? If you focused on developing depth, is it possible that you'd discover that you just don't really need that much sugar? I'm getting highly suspicious that the reason "jam" has so much sugar added is that at the moment, sugar is the cheapest ingredient, and the fruit the most expensive part!
 
Carla Burke
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Another option might be a version of a fruity firecider, sweetened a tad, with honey. Maybe something with raisins, pomegranate, cinnamon, ginger, and a hint of onion &/or garlic. It probably sounds odd, but you might be surprised at how those flavors come together, if you get the balance right.
 
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Jay Angler wrote:just how much sugar there was in a brand name Worcestershire sauce which had been a cupboard staple since childhood. That certainly suggests to me that permies could make a much better product using old-fashioned to down-right ancient techniques with a bit of research and patience. We might not end up with exactly the same product, but I suspect it would be nutritionally superior. If to get an end-product that appealed to modern tastes which tend to tolerate a lot of sugar, adding a little organic sugar or honey seems an acceptable trade-off.



The recipe for Worcestershire sauce is 200 years old, just because something has sugar in it doesn't mean it is modern or edited for modern pallets.  Besides the 19% sugar both acts as a preservative and is negligable when you think how little of the sauce one uses in a recipe.

Pomegranate molasses could just be a straight substitute if you can grow them.
 
Amy Gardener
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Jay, you really summarized the issues perfectly!

...I was surprised when I went label reading, just how much sugar there was in a brand name Worcestershire sauce which had been a cupboard staple since childhood. That certainly suggests to me that permies could make a much better product using old-fashioned to down-right ancient techniques with a bit of research and patience.



It's a balance - one of the things that generates that umami flavour you're looking for is the yeast. Does that flavour survive boiling? If you made a simple wine out of the grapes and then boiled it, would it retain the yeast generating flavour while loosing the alcohol? If you mixed that with a condensed juice that had not been fermented (which as you point out, uses up the sugar you're looking for) would you end up with a product that had both sweetness and depth?



We can always add sugar later, and hopefully wean our families off the current industrial addiction. When I say, "keep the sugar for the humans," I mean the natural fructose in the home grown fruit. I use reduced fruits, sprouted and dried grains (malted) for sweetness. Apple sauce is a great sugar replacement in baking. You are right that the yeasts add flavor and eat the sugar so balance is important. That balance is the artistry and challenge of great cooking.

What I got out of my experience making the boiled syrup is that time (patience) is essential to great ferments. I was seduced by the idea of a quick solution to dealing with the "windfall of apples" but I realize so clearly that aging is the secret to outstanding flavor. I'm humbled by the craftsmanship of true Balsamic (wood casks, time, patience, grapes only, no added sugar!). For me, this pursuit of using locally grown produce and natural aging processes to create outstanding flavor is a perfect way to enrich a permaculture lifestyle.

 
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To me balsamic always tastes like grape musk and whatever wood it is aged in. I suspect you could make a decent substitute with some wine grapes.  I often use balsamic as a substitute for wine when cooking pasta sauce, since I don't drink wine or keep a bottle open. I sometimes use red wine as a substitute for balsamic if I do have a bottle around.

Here's a discussion of the process.

https://www.simplyrecipes.com/a_guide_to_balsamic_vinegar/

I might try making something with my dad's grapes next year if be has a good crop.
 
Amy Gardener
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Thanks for that link, Catie. So near as I can tell, a grape (or an apple version), not Balsamic of course, would have no more than 10% wine vinegar (or apple cider wine vinegar) and the boiled grape must (or boiled fresh cider) only needs to be reduced by 1/2 instead of 8x (much easier!). Plus year(s) in an aromatic wooden cask(s). I've got things started in oak. Since I don't have a battery of casks, I'll have to get some wood shavings and add them to samples of the boiled-cider-and-vinegar syrup and see what the various woods do to the brew over time. Sounds like I'm going to have an interesting winter... years of interesting winters.
 
Jay Angler
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Yes, Catie - excellent link. Thank you. I liked the line:
Traditional:

that is boiled to a concentrate, fermented and acidified, and aged for 12 to 25 years or longer in wood barrels.

VS
Modern:

This vinegar is typically aged from 2 months to 3 years in large oak barrels.


That certainly backs up my comment about how production approaches have changed for many products! The process of moving it through different casks made of different wood would certainly affect the final flavor. However, I'm afraid I'm not prepared to wait 25 years for my next Balsamic Vinegar fix, so if I'm going to make my own, I will have to do a certain amount of faking it!
 
Jay Angler
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Skandi Rogers wrote:

The recipe for Worcestershire sauce is 200 years old, just because something has sugar in it doesn't mean it is modern or edited for modern pallets.  Besides the 19% sugar both acts as a preservative and is negligible when you think how little of the sauce one uses in a recipe.

My bottle does claim it is the original recipe.

However, the more I've been reading about and experimenting with preserving food, the more that I'm wondering just how much sugar is a preservative in situations like this as opposed to the salt and acid. Many people express concern about homemade jam using modern cultivars that tend to be higher in sugar, but lower in acid.
A quick search found this article that I found interesting: https://www.cookingforgeeks.com/blog/posts/preservatives/
It's interesting how the acid, salt and sugar seem to work in different and complementary ways to keep food safe.

There's a reason I used to refer to it as "kitchen chemistry" when teaching my kids!
 
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I sometimes replace it with cider vinegar and a dash of coconut aminos... Not local, but could be substituted for other fermented stuff instead if you can get a local/homemade miso or soy sauce. Adding honey to vinegar might be a good substitute as well.
 
Anne Miller
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This thread has been amazing.  I have learned a lot.

Years ago I was a member of a product sampling group where they send a product or two each month.  I miss getting to try new products.

One time it was Balsamic vinegar.  I probably used it them most of it sat in the cabinet until we moved and it got thrown away.

I had assumed "Balsamic" had something to do with the region where it originated. Though I found the name comes from "Balm" or aromatic resin.

I also read that Balsamic vinegar is made from the juice of white Trebbiano grapes and sometimes mixed with other grapes, like Lambrusco grapes (a favorite wine, that I like). Knowing which grapes are used it is understandable that the best place that makes Balsamic Vinegar is Italy.

Do you have local grapes that might be similar to those grapes? Or maybe use those wines?



 
Amy Gardener
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Hey Anne! I was hoping someone else would reply to your question and, with any luck, someone with grape knowledge will. To keep this thread going, I'll say something about grapes. Though I have made wine with grapes from the local area, I only grow American table grapes (Thompson’s, Concord), not Lambrusco or Trebbiano or other wine grapes. If there is a bumper crop, I dry them and use them for baking. Edward Espe Brown, author of The Tassajara Bread Book, has a recipe for Fermented Raisins and Raisin Water:

"Place 1/2 cup of raisins in 2 cups of water. Cover and let sit for 3 to 4 days, unrefrigerated. Stir daily." p 83.

Espe uses this delicious bubbly liquid in a sourdough raisin bread instead of water.  The bread, sweetened only with the raisin water (fructose), is unusual and outstanding. A jar of these fermenting raisins sits on my counter right now.
For a table condiment as explored in this thread, I could take this sweet fermented grape / raisin liquid and let it naturally become vinegar by exposure to the air. The liquid is a little like naturally sweet stewed prune juice with flavor depth from the short fermentation. Putting this liquid into an aromatic cask and allowing evaporation and acidification to naturally occur could lead to something interesting over time.
Do you Anne, or anyone else, have ideas about working with grapes (or raisins or plums or prunes)?
 
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Amy Gardener wrote:Hey Anne! I was hoping someone else would reply to your question and, with any luck, someone with grape knowledge will. To keep this thread going, I'll say something about grapes. Though I have made wine with grapes from the local area, I only grow American table grapes (Thompson’s, Concord), not Lambrusco or Trebbiano or other wine grapes. If there is a bumper crop, I dry them and use them for baking. Edward Espe Brown, author of The Tassajara Bread Book, has a recipe for Fermented Raisins and Raisin Water:

"Place 1/2 cup of raisins in 2 cups of water. Cover and let sit for 3 to 4 days, unrefrigerated. Stir daily." p 83.

Espe uses this delicious bubbly liquid in a sourdough raisin bread instead of water.  The bread, sweetened only with the raisin water (fructose), is unusual and outstanding. A jar of these fermenting raisins sits on my counter right now.
For a table condiment as explored in this thread, I could take this sweet fermented grape / raisin liquid and let it naturally become vinegar by exposure to the air. The liquid is a little like naturally sweet stewed prune juice with flavor depth from the short fermentation. Putting this liquid into an aromatic cask and allowing evaporation and acidification to naturally occur could lead to something interesting over time.
Do you Anne, or anyone else, have ideas about working with grapes (or raisins or plums or prunes)?



Interesting, do you have more detail on the recipe?  In my 1970 edition p.83 is the chapter illustration for sourdough breads and this recipe is not included. :(

Edited to add:  Does this give you a fruit fly problem?  It sounds really tasty but I worry...
 
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To try and approximate balsamic vinegar in taste and color, it serves to understand how it is made "the right way".  It sounds like very concentrated grape juice, later acidified with wine vinegar and aged in casks of various woods that impart their own flavor to the condiment.
https://www.simplyrecipes.com/a_guide_to_balsamic_vinegar/
Armed with that knowledge, we can start working in the kitchen and the cellar to make something that is ... approximate.
If you want it darker, you can add a little caramel, but more for the color than the taste.
It is indeed possible, as was mentioned higher in the thread that those grapes were sub par and someone tried to make something out of it that turned out pretty good.
After all, the famous French Toast that we eat at Perkins all covered in whipped cream, caramel, strawberries used to be made with "pain perdu", literally, "lost bread", that had dried out [before the use of plastic bags] and  was too hard for consumption. Adding warm milk was good for a farmer's breakfast. Then an egg or two were added and since it started tasting pretty good, especially with maple syrup, [which is not very common in France], then any fruit/ fruit syrup, whipped cream were piled on it to make the delicious dessert we all know today.
So if you have an abundance of Concord grapes, that we could not call "table grape" with a straight face, you might want to boil the p*** out of it until it is well reduced.
Then, since it *still* would not be all that exciting, add some wine vinegar, a little caramel for the color and you should be good to go. The "aging in casks", I could not duplicate. Continuing on my theory of trying to improve something that didn't turn out, I know what has happened to my rhubarb jam: It too has been "aging" down the basement, waiting for me to dare to open it. who knows? Maybe it will be OK and I will be credited with a brand new jam.
(PS: I don't really think so).
 
Amy Gardener
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Hi Morfydd. You are correct: the recipe in the Tassajara Bread Book is in my 2009 edition. The 1970 edition is VERY different (no sourdough raisin rolls) and I should have been more specific. Here is the link to the Shambhala Publications, Inc. 2009 edition:

https://www.shambhala.com/the-tassajara-bread-book-1495.html

Espe's recipe is called, "Sourdough Raisin Rolls" p 82-83 of the 2009 Tassajara Bread Book. I make the dough as he indicates but form it into a loaf of bread instead of the rolls. If you'd like me to type it out, let me know.

Regarding fruit flies, I cover all my fruits and ferments with clean cotton fabric: no fruit fly problems. I have a special way of doing this called "Einstein's cap" after the way he shaped a 2D piece of fabric to demonstrate the curvature of space-time. You just tie a knot in each of the 4 corners of the square piece of cloth and it forms a perfect cap for a Mason jar, a bowl, or anything else (I actually have a 2 meter x 2 meter square piece of canvas tied like this to cover my outdoor adobe horno).
 
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Amy Gardener wrote: Balsamic is more of a reduced fruit syrup with mild strains of acid bacteria imbedded in the old casks. The unique critter culture in the vessels works on the fruit reduction but does not create a strong vinegar, rather, it is a sweet tart syrup...



You've got me really thinking. I've made Jerusalem Artichoke (Sunchoke) wine from both the flower and the tuber broth. I use just a sprinkle of raisins for their natural yeast and lacto-bacteria plus sugar of course. The ferment is a two stage deal with a fairly rapid first stage bubbling. I use 1/4" tubing in a jar of water for an air trap. Then there's a longer, slower second bubbling stage. The tuber broth contains around 15% Inulin fiber which has to be fermented by bacteria. The wine is not fruity of course. It has a great hearty earthy tone. I like it by itself, my wife doesn't - more for me! It blends very well with fruity wines giving them that earthy tone.
I've never made vinegar from the wine. After looking this thread over, I just might make a batch this fall. I'm wondering what it'll taste like and how it might be for working into a mock balsamic with some of the other ingredients that have been mentioned.
I'm also thinking about possibly back-sweetening the vinegar and reducing it for a while on the stove, but that'll depend on the taste of the 'choke vinegar to begin with. I'd also have to be careful not to restart any fermentation since I don't use camden to kill the ferment. I go natural the whole way. My wife is sensitive to sulfites.
When it comes to coloring, I always think back to a cousin of my dad. He was a moonshiner and his finishing recipe was simple; if it's too pale add some Weyman's tobacco. If it's too dark toss in some sliced raw potato. If it didn't have enough 'bite', he'd toss in a few grains of calcium carbide. Any wonder some of the old soaks went blind?!
 
Amy Gardener
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Wow, Blaine, you really have the spirit of experimentation here! Your “brand” is fabulous: Blaine’s All Natural ‘Choke Vinegar. Your comment about Campden tablets and sulfites is important: lots of wine and vinegar products put yeast and other critter killers in them. Artisans nurturing cultures have to watch out for preservatives. I have great respect for the daring nature of the mysterious Moonshiner: I use high strength native or desert tobacco as an insecticide in the garden.
 
Amy Gardener
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Earlier in this thread, I mentioned adding wood shavings to flavor the vinegar instead of buying a battery of Balsamic type casks. If this interests you, please read this fascinating study about using wood chips conducted by author Somesh Sharma in the Western Himalayan region of India. Specifically, he examines the impact of various local tree trimmings on wild apricot wine vinegar. The 2nd link includes a spider chart that helps describe the flavor characteristics of the brews with different types of wood:
https://www.scitechnol.com/proceedings/wood-chips-an-alternative-to-wooden-barrels-for-maturation-of-wild-apricot-vinegar-6974.html
https://www.scitechnol.com/conference-abstracts-files/2380-9477-C5-016-006.pdf
Really helpful if you want to add flavor depth using your local wood shavings without buying expensive barrels.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Amy Gardener wrote:Earlier in this thread, I mentioned adding wood shavings to flavor the vinegar instead of buying a battery of Balsamic type casks. If this interests you, please read this fascinating study about using wood chips conducted by author Somesh Sharma in the Western Himalayan region of India. Specifically, he examines the impact of various local tree trimmings on wild apricot wine vinegar. The 2nd link includes a spider chart that helps describe the flavor characteristics of the brews with different types of wood:
https://www.scitechnol.com/proceedings/wood-chips-an-alternative-to-wooden-barrels-for-maturation-of-wild-apricot-vinegar-6974.html
https://www.scitechnol.com/conference-abstracts-files/2380-9477-C5-016-006.pdf
Really helpful if you want to add flavor depth using your local wood shavings without buying expensive barrels.




Great threads and when you think logically about it, it is obvious: wood in chips form can offer much more contact surface with the liquid, multiplying the effect of a change in the flavor, perhaps hastening the change[?]
That spider chart also shows why folks have been using oak barrels to mellow the flavors of the various brews that are kept in them: they were getting better results with this usually more expensive hardwood that is also a bit harder to mill to specs, rather than easier, softer, cheaper woods.
As long as the chips are clean, one would only need to filter the chips out at the end of the process.
 
Morfydd St. Clair
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Amy Gardener wrote:Hi Morfydd. You are correct: the recipe in the Tassajara Bread Book is in my 2009 edition. The 1970 edition is VERY different (no sourdough raisin rolls) and I should have been more specific. Here is the link to the Shambhala Publications, Inc. 2009 edition:

https://www.shambhala.com/the-tassajara-bread-book-1495.html

Espe's recipe is called, "Sourdough Raisin Rolls" p 82-83 of the 2009 Tassajara Bread Book. I make the dough as he indicates but form it into a loaf of bread instead of the rolls. If you'd like me to type it out, let me know.

Regarding fruit flies, I cover all my fruits and ferments with clean cotton fabric: no fruit fly problems. I have a special way of doing this called "Einstein's cap" after the way he shaped a 2D piece of fabric to demonstrate the curvature of space-time. You just tie a knot in each of the 4 corners of the square piece of cloth and it forms a perfect cap for a Mason jar, a bowl, or anything else (I actually have a 2 meter x 2 meter square piece of canvas tied like this to cover my outdoor adobe horno).



That's very kind of you to offer, but I've broken down and bought the new version.  (Bonus:  I'll worry less about damaging the older book!)

And thank you for the Einstein's cap idea - that's brilliant!
 
Amy Gardener
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Cécile, you summarized the articles so well, thank you. In case you want to try the chips toasted, here is one more great link by a brewer who is passionate about wood flavor, Matt Del Fiacco:
https://www.homebrewfinds.com/2015/03/guest-post-toasting-your-own-wood-chips-by-matt-del-fiacco.html
Morfydd, you will love Edward Espe Brown's updated book, especially the index. Thanks for trying out Einstein's cap!
 
Blaine Clark
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Cécile Stelzer Johnson wrote:

Amy Gardener wrote:
Really helpful if you want to add flavor depth using your local wood shavings without buying expensive barrels.




I have to throw this in.  Along with different types of wood and different sizes  of chips we could also consider this method; Has anyone cut Willow twigs about the size of pencils and encased them in a resealable tin or tightly wrapped inside of several layers of foil and tossed the package into a small open fire or into an oven at at least 325°F? This produces very fine charcoal pencils for artist's purposes. I don't remember how long it takes, but I remember the incredible flash of aroma when the package is cooled and opened. Trapping and concentrating the wood chemicals around the chips seems to me like it would enhance the flavors quite a bit.

 
Larisa Walk
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Amy Gardener wrote:Larisa, your experience is so helpful! Yes, from all that I’ve read, the aging of true Balsamic in casks creates the unique depth of flavor. Like you, I am making the boiled cider and 8:1 sounds like a good reduction target. I could bottle the pure syrup and refrigerate upon breaking the seal as you have described.

However, due to lack of cold storage space (and general curiosity), I am wondering if I could keep the cider syrup without refrigeration as you and Jan suggested, if I add ACV as a preservative and flavor enhancement? I would like to keep the acidified cider syrup in bottles or small flavor-enhancing wooden casks without the sterile canning step.



We "can" the cider syrup by putting the hot syrup directly into pint canning jars, filling almost to the rim, then putting a hot lid on and tightening the band. We don't sterilize the jars or lids before doing this. The syrup is shelf stable until opened. This is the same process for maple syrup except that the cider syrup is too thick to go into bottles (unless you don't want to get it back out - we learned this the hard way). We only add vinegar when making a dressing. The syrup can be used in baking or as a spread and is more versatile that way.
 
Morfydd St. Clair
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I just found this in Alan Carter's book "A Food Forest in Your Garden", came over to post it, and saw that he's answering questions this week!  But a quick quote that might be of interest:


Forager-herbalist Mandy Oliver takes a different route to elderberry vinegar.  She steeps 350 g (12 oz) of fruit in 500 ml (17 fl.oz.) of white wine vinegar for 3-5 days, stirring occasionally, and then strains.  She adds 350 g (12 oz) of sugar per 260 ml (9 fl.oz.) liquid, boils for 10 minutes and bottles.  She regards it as a better alternative to balsamic vinegar.

 
Amy Gardener
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Terrific find, Morfydd! Sounds like we're back to factory-sourced-white-vinegar plus local foraged fruit boiled into a refined-sugar, equals sweet-tart syrup. Similar to elderberry jelly (without the pectin) plus vinegar, which mirror the grape jelly in vinegar substitute found by Anne Miller above. Days of soaking the elderberries seems peculiar to me: why not just boil the berries with the sugar and vinegar? Won't the vinegar kill the yeast anyway? Won't boiling, sterilization, kill everything? I'm very curious about adding days to this otherwise super-short cut. We're back to those strange ingredients: time and microbial life. What do time and living critters do to flavor and nutritionally enrich our ferments and foraging bounty? I wonder if Alan Carter knows about the edible microscopic bounty in our gardens?
Thank you for your sleuthing Morfydd!
 
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Amy, I haven't had a chance to read that link yet, but when I make my elderberry vinegar, I use a gallon size just off organic, raw acv, with the mother, and pour a pint into a nonreactive pot, and another point into a jar. I add a cup of dried elderberries (and mulling spices, if I'm up for it), and simmer on low them for about an hour, allowing it to reduce by about half, watching closely, to ensure it doesn't dry out. Once it's completely cooled, I pour all of the pot contents into the gallon jug,  and top of as needed, with the pint in the jar, cap, shake, and leave on the counter for a few weeks(or months, as the case may be, lol), shaking whenever I think about it. Eventually, I'll strain it, and this becomes our elderberry syrup, for health (and pancakes, waffles, etc), when I turn it into an oxymel, by adding raw, local honey - usually 1:1, but sometimes, I want it sweeter, other times not so much. If I'm in need of the health benefits, but not wanting to go off diet, I'll just sweeten it with stevia or monkfruit.
And yes, I'd have to agree, this would probably get you much closer to that balsamic flavor/ texture profile.
 
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