Making Your Own Vinegar
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!
Solarque Your Food
The very next day, Valerie arrived carrying the light weight boxes, a couple of mason jars and curious thermometers. The thermometers were narrow glass vials, each with a tiny white lump of lard inside. She had been purifying her own drinking water for years by inserting the vial in a jar of water and then putting the jar in her “cooker”. When the lard was no longer visible, since it had melted in the heat, she knew that in another ten minutes the water would reach 157 degrees F., high enough to pasteurize and make her water pure enough to drink! Drinking water under most conditions only has to be pasteurized, not sterilized. She said there is no reason to purchase water at all, or fuel for cooking.
Using the heat produced from the reflected heat of the sun we cooked; quesadillas, nachos, beans, soups, tomato sauce and chicken. We even reheated leftovers in the sun. Figuring that out cookers went to about 200 degrees F., it took about twice as long as a conventional stove, (each sort of cooker varies in the temperature it can achieve). We did not have to tend the food (except in the case of the chicken) as nothing can burn, since the heat is not coming from one point. We seldom stirred or fussed; in fact, we weren’t even home most of the time! Just like cooking with a crock pot, we could leave and we did. While we were roaming around the 10,000 year old ruins of Yagul, communing with the ancient Zapotecs, dinner was on its’ way back at the Casa.
The Internet information (start with www.solarcooking.org) is extensive, with directions on how to make your own solar cooker from plans that can be as simple as a cooker made from a cardboard pizza box lined with aluminum foil to a parabolic cooker, which is a concave disk that focuses the light and can reach temperatures up to 450 F. These often use a purchasable solar generated helio-tracker to stalk the sun. There are also sources for buying cookers on line. The Internet yields parameters for food safety, recipes, philosophy, impact, policies, and resolutions. Lists for solar events and demonstrations abound. One immediately perceives the meaningful surge (pardon the expression) of interest worldwide for renewable sources of energy. The sun as a fuel source is renewable, sustainable and free of charge. Elegant simplicity.
As the litany goes in the solar world, “The answer comes up every morning.”
People ask me why they should bother to cook with the sun, and really the answer is – why not? Living as we do in New Mexico, perhaps in our very own passive solar homes, with photovoltaic systems powered by three hundred days of sun, our high altitude with an attendant clear atmosphere and mostly smog free skies, gives us perfect conditions for solar technologies. For instance, New Mexico boasts the only solar powered radio station in the world, located in Taos – KTAOS at 101.9 FM, which serves Northern New Mexico. To see demonstrations of cookery and other sun technologies, The New Mexico Solar Energy Association holds its’ annual Solar Fiesta at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center September 22 and 23, off I-40 at 12th St. in Albuquerque.
Architect Mark Chalom of Santa Fe, who specializes in solar design for the home, offers that he and his family use their solar cooker not only for cooking food, but also for drying fruit, vegetables, and jerky, and have even dried the family’s laundry. He has cooked Christmas dinner in the giant cooker known as The Villager, that is available from SunOven brand. (www.sunoven.com). It can cook up to 6 turkeys at one time! A solar cooker works with as little as 20 minutes of sunlight per hour.
Chef Michael Gintert of the soon-to-open Blue Heron restaurant at (aptly named) Sunrise Springs Inn and Resort in La Cienega, is holding a solar cooking contest this summer. The challenge will be to “solarque” a 2 ½ pound chicken in the shortest time using only the energy of the sun. Contestants will bring their own solar cookers to the grounds for the one day event. “The sun is a blessing” says Chef Gintert, who has a passion for clean energy. He is currently working on his 4 foot parabolic dish cooker, complete with glass mosaic reflectors. He also asserts that he’s going to turn his 1966 Pontiac GTO into a hydrogen gas guzzler! (Hydrogen cells, and hydrogen cookery are another conversation.) For details, call him at 428-3600.
As my Pappy is fond of saying, “Intelligence is defined as the ability to adapt.”
How To Get Started:
Consult the Internet at; www.solarcooking.org/solarcooking-faq.htm This is the frequently asked questions section with prompts to many other solar cooking resources. To learn how to build a cooker, or to purchase one go to www.solarcooking.org.
To purchase a solar box cooker that will go to 400 degrees F. and is still portable order from www.aaasolar.com – Triple A Solar is located in Albuquerque and can be reached at 1 800 245- 0311
Purchase cookbooks on solar cooking – Such titles as; Solar Cooking A Primer Cookbook from The Book Publishing Company P.O. Box 99 Summertown, Tennessee 38483 Tel: (800) 695-2241 For a comprehensive book about the Q and A of solar cooking read; Heaven’s Flame, by Joseph Radabaugh it is excellent and is available from Home Power Magazine.com Bookstores stock books on solar cooking as well.