If my mom is reading this, she’s about to fall off her chair.
I believe you should always listen to your mother.
My mom is now about to be disappointed because I don’t mean her. I mean a vinegar mother.
The gooey substance (aka the glob) was really quite beautiful. It was the mother from an unpasteurized cider vinegar, that stayed suspended in the wine, like a jelly fish frozen in time. Despite its sedentary ways, it was meant to move my concoction along nicely from wine and rose hips to the fermentation finish line where it would become vinegar.
Three weeks passed — the minimum time my research led me to believe I’d have to wait for the mixture to go from boozy to biting — and I started to think my mother would need months to work her magic. The fruity liquid still tasted like wine, albeit really, really bad wine.
So I ignored her. Stopped peeking every few days into the dark, warm cupboard where I had set my mother to work with the wine and rose hips. And then, while going stir crazy while sick last week, I cracked the cupboard door and, shocked by what I saw, pulled it back all the way and stared at my experiment with a furrowed brow.
Was that something floating on top of my vinegar? Why yes, it was. And it was white, translucent. Slimy.
I was certain it was mold. My experiment was ruined. My furrowed brow turned to a pout and the vinegar vitae, I thought, would have no happy ending. There would be no fancy, schmancy salad dressing, no bragging rights and worse yet, no homemade gifts — prize possessions at this time of year — to give.
I pulled the mason jar down from its perch and scrutinized more closely. I sniffed. I shook the jar and that’s when I realized the skin that developed was rubbery rather than spore-filled. It didn’t break when gently poked. In fact, it kind of stretched. So with scrubbed hands, I reached in and pulled out the mystery matter. It jiggled like jelly and changed shape at my gentle tugging.
It turns out my mother had a friend — a new mom. It was like a mothers’ support group in my jar of vinegar and I was delighted. Didn’t know what it meant but I was still thrilled. Maybe my mother was calling in some help to make this rose hip vinegar happen. As a newbie to this homemade vinegar thing, I had no idea but I took it as a good sign.
So, I gently slide the slimy matriarch back in my jar and watched in horror as she sunk to the bottom of the jar. I feared I had just committed matricide and hid my secret by putting her back in the dark cupboard to deal with later. Forget the cat, I thought. Curiosity does more harm to vinegar mothers.
Two days later, I went back to check on her, to see if she recovered, and much to my surprise, I found a new mother floating on the surface of what was now a very astringent smelling liquid. It had that telltale caustic scent of vinegar.
Still, what was with all the mothers? I had done lots of reading about making your own mother but it sounded so complicated and time consuming. This was way too easy and unexpected to have them multiply like bunnies. Was this my vinegar mother’s way of telling me the Mayans were right? Was I growing a monster or zombie vinegar as my friend Suzanne dubbed it?
To the great Google gods I turned in search of an answer and after much reading and worry, I learned that when when a mother appears on top of your vinegar, it’s done fermenting and is fully vinegarized. That’s the sign to look out for, in addition to smell and taste.
My vinegar is pretty strong and I may need to dilute it when I use it, but it’s a beautiful, honey-coloured concoction that is not nearly as sweet as its appearance. I also have mothers to use and re-use, turning leftover vino into vinegar, if I so choose. And I do. My mothers are already working on some old Riesling and I’m anxiously awaiting the newest arrival in my mama menagerie.
What have I learned from it all? Aside from how to make homemade vinegar, I’m certain that mother really does know best.