“What is sweeter than honey? Free vinegar.” — old Turkish riddle
We’ve recently found ourselves with a surfeit of star fruit (Averrhoa carambola). Due to the benign neglect of some of our neighbors, scores of ripe fruits have fallen to the ground in three different yards along our regular walk-routes (some might say trade routes).
At first, we were delighted, eating sliced stars with yogurt for breakfast, or simply on their own, as a snack. But it’s not taken us long to discover an even better use for our bounty. We’ve written elsewhere about the pitcher of tea in the fridge. We enjoy our chilled tea throughout the day, and as we use various fruits like lemons, limes, and mangoes, we add their rinds, pits, and additional freshly brewed tea to the pitcher. The process is not unlike enriching the apocryphal stock pot, simmering on the back burner, with vegetable trimmings.
When we began adding cut-up pieces of star fruit to our tea, we noticed that the tea was rapidly infused with the fruit’s flavor. This caused us to consider using star fruit as a basis for vinegar…
Last night, we got a percussive suggestion that perhaps star fruit would be a good candidate for the vinegar jar. While sitting quietly in the living room, we heard a sharp pop from the kitchen. The source of the explosion was the recycled yogurt container we keep in the kitchen sink for compost material. We had cut up several star fruit earlier in the day, and the scraps in the covered plastic container had already produced enough CO2 to pop the top off. Might this be an enthanol alternative?
We’ve been making our own vinegar since we lived in Connecticut, when one of us concocted a batch from white zinfandel wine. We’ll never forget the words of the fellow at the liquor store when we bought the wine to start the project: “Oh, so there really is a use for Sutter Home White Zin?”
No matter what anyone thinks of the wine, it makes fabulous vinegar.
That first batch set the tone for all our subsequent vinegar-making endeavors. We take neither the vinegar, nor ourselves, too seriously and get great results. A couple of years ago, we found the Web site of a group of like-minded people who call themselves the Gang of Pour. They don’t take themselves too seriously either. In fact, one of their members wrote that she’d started making vinegar with a mayonnaise jar and some leftover wine. And that’s fine by us, because levity makes any seemingly arcane process much more approachable.
We began experimenting with vinegars from the fruit we grow in our back yard here in Sarasota. Our citrus trees are old yet extremely prolific. Each winter, we try hard to share our grapefruit with anyone we know, but in a county where half the population is on Lipitor® (for which grapefruit consumption is contraindicated), this is not easy and we end up with a lot of fruit. Our citrus are delicious, but the unnamed cultivars with which we are blessed are extremely seedy, so we juice most of our oranges and grapefruit. And because we end up with a lot of juice, we have experimented, turning out a serviceable orange vinegar as well as a terrific grapefruit vinegar.
It’s simple enough: we begin with a scrupulously clean, wide-mouthed jar, then add fruit juice and our “starter”—unfiltered and unpasteurized cider vinegar in proportions of about 6:1. We cover the mouth of the jar with cloth or a paper coffee filter (secured by a rubber band), stash the jar in a dark place, and check on it from time to time. We’re told that the optimum temperature for making vinegar is approximately 70° F. But since our house has an ambient temperature of about 80° F., the process doesn’t take quite as long. For us, the vinegar is usually ready in about two weeks.
It’s been a few months since our last grapefruit, so we were ready for a new undertaking. Heading out with a plastic bag and plying our neighborhood trade routes, we collected approximately 6 Lb. of fallen star fruit. We picked through our haul, saving the most pristine specimens for culinary uses, then sliced the rest to fill a one gallon jar, nearly to the top. We added just enough Brita-filtered water to top off the jar, and then added a ‘mother,’ a piece of the leathery starter that had grown and completed its mission in another project, a jar of red wine vinegar.
This latest vinegar venture is a departure for us, as it is both infusion (adding something aromatic to, say, white wine vinegar) and fermentation (adding a catalyst and letting Mother Nature do the work). We’re hoping that the combination of the fruit fermenting as it flavors the water and the mother eating up any alcohol and sugars will give us enough besotted fruit and liquid so that we’ll have sufficient pulp from which we can extract a liquid that we can strain as Star Fruit Vinegar.
Tucked away in a dark corner of our kitchen, our macerating fruit began audibly effervescing within an hour. We won’t do a lot of fussing with it while it is en repos, but we’ll certainly get back to you with an update when we have some news.