Friday, August 26, 2011

Marvellous vinegar

Vinegar—vinaigre in French(literally, 'sour wine') is one of my favourite things. I love tangy sharp tastes like citrus and sorrel anyway, but vinegar's even better because there's so many flavours and styles it comes in! I love trying out new ones in vinaigrettes to go with all sorts of different salads, and I love adding it to dishes—from a splash of balsamic vinegar near the end of cooking a rich Bolognaise sauce to the stewing of red cabbage in red wine, brown sugar and either red wine or cider vinegar, to the glorious chicken in vinegar sauce that's one of my favourite classic French bistro dishes(the pieces of chicken are first cooked in a little butter, moistened with stock and simmered, then a tablespoon of white wine vinegar or cider vinegar is added, about five minutes before cooking ends, and then a mixture of Dijon mustard, tomato paste and a little sour cream is stirred in and heated through. Absolutely delicious!) And of course we pickle all kinds of garden vegetables—beetroot, cauliflower, sweet corn, tomatoes and more—in a mixture of vinegar and water. Vinegar is also excellent to cut down salt if you've overdone it in a dish; or to moderate the reaction that cabbages and other brassicas can have on the digestion(I add a splash of vinegar to the water they cook in)and apparently, as I read recently in an article, it can even cut down on the starch and thus the calories in potatoes(also added to cooking water or sprinkled on baked dishes). Vinegar is also good for getting clothes completely clean—with a little added to the rinse cycle--and cider vinegar is renowned too for its glossing effect on hair a little added to the rinse water when you're washing your hair!
There are so many delicious vinegars available: from red and white wine vinegar to cider vinegar, herb-flavoured ones like tarragon vinegar(in white wine vinegar base); fruit-flavoured vinegars, like the lovely raspberry vinegar, all of which are very popular in France; classic Italian red balsamic vinegar but also the white balsamic(which I prefer to the red variety); Asian vinegars, such as the rice wine vinegars popular in Japan and China, and the cane sugar vinegar traditional to the Philippines. When my parents first arrived in Australia in the early 60's, they were horrified to discover that the only vinegars available were the brown and white malt vinegars, which they felt to have little character or taste. Cider vinegar was occasionally available, but rarely. These days though even our supermarket shelves are groaning with different varieties, though apart from the cider vinegars of Tasmania, and malt vinegars(which are made from beer), I don't think any of them are locally-produced.
But we have our own very locally produced vinegar to use in vinaigrettes and dishes this year, thanks to a brilliant fruiting season and the huge harvest of pears we had from our orchard. David made two big batches of perry(like apple cider, except made from pears, and a beautiful light flavourful drink, with an alcohol content pretty much like cider) and devoted one batch to turn into vinegar(the other batch was bottled for drinking—a great drop!)
Once that designated batch was ready as perry, he simply exposed it to the air to sour it. It made a nice pale yellow vinegar but it was a little weak so he followed a great tip in the classic household cookery book of the 'Russian Mrs Beeton', Elena Molokhovets, about leaving home-made vinegar in a container outside overnight in winter then bringing it inside in the morning, taking out the lump of ice that had formed at the top—and hey presto, underneath would be the concentrated liquid vinegar. Well, our winters are pretty cold but not quite as severe as in Russia, so instead we put our container in the freezer, took it out the next morning, and just as Elena had said, there was the lump of ice at the top,taking away all the water in the vinegar, and there underneath was the concentrated item, with a vastly improved strength and flavour.

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