Word to your mother

by Trinity Hart, Education Specialist at the Indiana State Museum

Several months ago, a neighbor gave me a red wine vinegar “start.” Before it was given to me, I didn’t realize that, like sour dough, one required a “start” to make vinegar. In vinegar-making, it is known as the “mother.” When it came time to brainstorm activities and demonstrations for the Hoosier Harvest this October, I shared my “mother” with my supervisor, who remembered her “mother” sitting in the back of her fridge.

And so I began to research vinegar and how to make it at home. Although I had my very own vinegar “start” at home, it was through this research that I acquired a burning curiosity which quickly turned into a desire to become an aspiring home vinegar maker.

The mother ... ick!

A “start” or “mother” is the bacterial culture that produces vinegar. Yes, it is as weird as it sounds. The “mother” is a dark red blob. The only real likeness I can compare it to is —watch out, it gets kind of graphic here — that it looks like placenta. How do I know what placenta looks like, you may ask? I grew up on a farm in Oregon with livestock, and I’ve watched many births.

Anyway, back to the “mother” ship … during my research, I learned that my measly attempts to make vinegar were misguided at best. Turning wine into vinegar is relatively easy; I was just misinformed, and never followed through in educating myself.

Vinegar has been used for centuries. Historians are led to believe that it was discovered by accident by different cultures throughout the world. While wine sealed in a bottle without air can remain stable for an indeterminate length of time, wine left exposed to air will inevitably turn to vinegar. Any one who has left an open bottle of wine on the counter overnight knows it has a noticeably different odor and taste. Multiply that short overnight by several weeks and bacteria will form and act as an acetobacter. The acetobacter uses oxygen to convert the alcohol into vinegar. While naturally-occurring bacteria will form in uncovered wine, it may not be the appropriate variety of bacteria, thus the need for a “mother.”

Once you have acquired a “mother,” you merely add red wine, place it in a cupboard or somewhere that maintains room temperature, cover it with a paper towel or cheesecloth, and wait. The process is fairly simple and few things can go wrong. You can’t poison yourself or your family and you will end up with vinegar that is stronger, more robust and more flavorful than anything you have ever tasted before — so I’m told. I’m hoping that now that I am proceeding with the correct process, I may have my own vinegar ready for Crocked, Sauced & Pickled on Oct. 9. During this festival, I will be demonstrating the steps of making your own vinegar and you may even get to try my homemade concoction! As for finding a “mother”? I’ll have some tips for that, too.

For more information about the Hoosier Harvest and other programming, please visit indianamuseum.org.

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13 Responses

  1. Really interesting and informative post! I never knew you needed a “mother” to make vinegar. Good luck!

  2. This is fantastic information!! I also hear apple cider vinegar is a great remedy for many things – wondering if irfan beade the same way?!?

    So glad I came upon this blog. Can’t wait to read the next one.

  3. I found the article “Word to your Mother” by Trinity Hart to be very informative and yet witty. I look forward to seeing this demonstration and attempting making vinegar at home. I look forward to more informative topics such as this in the near future.

  4. Totally awesome. I had no idea and will put this in the same catagory as home brewing. Need to find a mother.

  5. Wow! A great article idea and loved the chatty, “talking to my friend” , and humorous manner in which it was written. Had never heard about this making vinegar thing before. (and it does look like a placenta!)
    Looking forward to the next article. (I’m techno-tarded, do you call it an “article” when it’s on a blog?))

  6. I’m going to have to find a mother and see what happens! I’m wondering how it’s different for all the different vinegars…apple cider, white wine, etc….is it just what you add to it? Thanks for the info!

  7. What a great informative article, it’s amazing the things you can learn on line. I hope I have a neighbor that can lend me a mother. Hope your vinegar turns out for the festival.

  8. What happens when you add a “father” too? Does the vinegar multiply?

  9. Interesting and fun blog. The museum needs more posts like this!

  10. I enjoyed your article and found it very interesting. I use apple cider vinegar with the mother which has many health benefits, but have not tried to make it. We do have our own apples and after reading your article Ithink I may try to make my own this fall.

  11. Makes me want to try my hand at vinegar making. Looking forward to reading more.

  12. Had no idea that you make vinegar with a “mother’! (word!) What the heck! And now, knowing that it tastes better than store bought stuff, why NOT do a kitchen science experiment? Humorous info. . . . i feel like i’m reading something from Bill Nye the Science guy! Maybe post some picks of your pickeling.

  13. Hope your vinegar is coming along nicely! I too use apple cider vinegar with the mother. Guess I never thought about where it came from. I would love to attend the fest.. If I do I’ll look for you and your display

    Just another Mother

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