This time of the year a woman’s fancy turns (at least mine does) to apples. The summer apple crop is in high gear, and the fall apple crop is ripening. Apples are one the the most productive fruits I know of (well, maybe blackberries produce more, but they take a lot more time to pick and that have those dad-blasted thorns). Apples are also high on the versatility list: eat ’em fresh, juice, cider, hard cider, vinegar, applesauce, apple butter, dried apples, apple pie filling, apple fritters, baked apples, apple turnovers and the list goes on. I’m in the middle of turning a bushel of apples into sauce, but I still have at least three more bushels to deal with. One of the easiest things to do with apples is to turn them first into juice, then into cider, then into hard cider and finally into vinegar. The nice thing about it is that once you do the juice part, the rest just happens naturally:
1. Juice the apples (someday when I have extra money I’m going to get one of those stainless steel cold-grind juicers — they don’t heat the juice, so it tastes better).
2. Refrigerate the juice for a few days and drink some of it.
3. Put some juice on the kitchen counter in a glass jar. Don’t fill the jar more than 3/4 full, as the fermenting juice may bubble out and make a mess. Cover the jar opening with a couple of thicknesses of cheesecloth. Let the jar sit at room temperature out of direct sunlight for a few days. Start tasting at two days. Somewhere between day two and day five, you’ll have a light, fizzy drink that has a faint alcoholic tang. Taste several times a day until it’s where you want it to be, then refrigerate. It should keep for about a month.
4. If you want vinegar, leave it on the counter for three or four weeks. If you have some unpasteurized vinegar around, you can hurry this step up a bit by adding a tablespoon or so of vinegar to the juice. Strain it through a coffee filter or several thickness of cheesecloth and pour into a mason jar. Then put a regular lid and ring on and store it in a cool dark place for several months. This vinegar is great for ginger water and similar drinks, salad dressings and fermenting things, but don’t use it for canning as you can’t be sure of the acidity level.
The other thing I really like about this is that the apples do almost all the work…