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Making Your Own Vinegar

People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, they should throw parties. And that is precisely what my Mother and Father did. Sam and Soph (affectionately tagged "Salmonloaf" by a malapropian five year old friend) designed and built the perfect communal style weekend house. It was a glass house, with three of the walls being some sixteen feet high of nearly uninterrupted floor to ceiling glass - to let in the stars. The fourth wall was the kitchen, open to the big living room. The house still sits on a wooded ridge with a great water view in west Marin County, California.

Being weekend party-fever sufferers, their only antidote was to invite about twenty to thirty guests to spend the whole, or part of the weekend with us. Friday afternoons Salmonloaf would pack us three kids, two Dalmatians, Dad's guitar, the vacuum cleaner, bedding, beach towels, clothes and food - for upwards of a hundred meals - all crammed into Mom's Pontiac Tempest compact station wagon for the hour and a half ride north. So tightly packed was that vehicle that no one and nothing could shift. It was our version of the pre-inflated air-bag.

We were in constant motion once we burst out of that clown car. A single weekend would include combinations of the following activities, all of them great passions of Sam's; ten games of full court basketball (full contact), three games of 'horses', two of volley ball (for the civilized), a hike to the beach, a possible mushrooming excursion, skeet shooting, horseshoes, definite multiple trips to the ocean beaches, a spin on the bay in the motor boat, some water-skiing, and maybe a sail, always darts and at least one very loud game of hearts or charades and lots of dancing culminating in a conga line.

Because there is only a master bedroom, the overnighters slept all over the floor on every conceivable contraption, cot, air mattress, couch, or just on some folded blankets. I grew up picking my way over slumbering guests, (readying me for my adolescent career in hippie living). Soph wanted to spend the most time possible with her guests and leave lots of time for her favorite fun - birding and dancing; therefore, all meals were prepared as far in advance as possible.

Breakfast was always hot, maybe Huevos Rancheros or perhaps Eggs Altamira, a version of Eggs Benedict. So prepared was she that a couple of days in advance, she would have poached say. three to four dozen eggs and suspended them in a gallon jar of acidulated water - a sight sure to frighten any guest who opened the refrigerator door! To assemble Eggs Altamira, she would fish out the eggs from the jar with a slotted spoon and carefully place each on Canadian bacon that was atop a toasted English muffin. She then placed a slice of ementhaler Swiss, at the last setting all under the broiler to melt. Amazingly, the yolks would ooze unctuously when broken.

Lunch most often consisted of local seafood; oysters from the bay, clams, mussels, or cold cracked crab with hunks of sourdough bread and an accompanying slab of Teleme jack cheese and a good glass of wine.

Dinners were simple and simply great. Sam always presided over the grill; barbecuing, oysters in the shell, a sirloin or a butterflied leg of lamb and sometimes employing the fire for a pan of paella. Soph invariably dealt with the veggies and always she made a huge tossed salad dressed with olive oil and our own red wine vinegar.

On a recent visit to the house, I noticed the five gallon ceramic bowl she used for the salads. Apparently it had met with an accident. My brother had repaired (?) it with a giant swath of duck tape. I laughed out loud. Realizing its utilitarian days were at an end, he obviously wanted to preserve it as a reliquary of fond family memories.

Back in the 50's our neighbor up the road had given us some mother of vinegar, the yeast necessary for the conversion of wine-to vinegar. Our vinegar barrel has been giving ever since. At the end of each weekend, Sam would take the dreg ends of each bottle of red wine and pour it into the keg made from American oak. Soph would put the empty bottles aside until they numbered several dozen and would then take them to a glass cutter who would halve them and round the rims, yielding an unending supply of drinking glasses for the house. Surplus glasses were given as gifts. Pretty complete recycling, que no?! As Martha would say, it's a good thing!

Our red wine vinegar has been a great source of family pride. My brother Peter reports that the cask is currently producing "sipin'" vinegar it is so mellow. Contact with the wood is what makes the red wine vinegar so delicious. If you're thinking of making your own red or white vinegar, summer is the best time to begin as the season's heat makes the initial conversion from wine to vinegar ideal.

Red, white and cider vinegars can easily be made in the home. One can use wooden barrels that are available in one to five gallon capacities. Enamel, crockery or even glass jars will do. Be advised that the percentage of acid may or may not be high enough to use for a canning & pickling or herb infused vinegar, so to be safe, just use it straight. To obtain the mother of vinegar, wooden kegs, spigots and a booklet on the do's and don'ts of vinegar making, contact Victor's Grape Arbor, they are very helpful and enthusiastic.

They are located at 2436 San Mateo Place NE, Albuquerque, NM 87110 (505) 883-0000. Monday-Friday 11 to 5.30, Saturday IO.-30 to 5.30. On the net it's www.victorsgrapearhor.com (mail order available).

SOPH'S RECIPE-LESS SALAD To Prep: Rinse romaine leaves and red leaf lettuces well, and place on lengths of paper toweling, roll up towels with the leaves inside and place in a pillow case and store in the crisper of the refrigerator. To Serve: Tear, do not cut lettuces, place in intact salad bowl with whatever else you want. Drizzle with Italian extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar. Add your favorite dried or fresh finely chopped herbs, whatever other ingredients may appeal, some salt, a grind of black pepper then toss and conga!
This article by Katharine Kagel first appeared in Local Flavor in the May/June 2000 issue.
This article by Katharine Kagel first appeared in Local Flavor in the May/June 2000 issue.
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