Monday, March 22, 2010

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From Pineapple Cups to Pineapple Vinegar

Drinks around our house mostly come in glass or ceramic vessels. But now and then, I catch a wild hare and end up carving out whole pineapples to make oversized cups for two-handed drinks that invariably contain a bucket of rum. Yeah, yeah, it’s all terribly fancy.

The problem is what to do with the pineapple mugs when you’re done with the drinks. Some throw them out. Some compost them. Me? I rinse mine out and cut them — skin and all — into small pieces so I can make a light, fruity vinegar for my pork marinades, salad dressings, and some sausages.

The idea came from Diana Kennedy’s opus on Mexican food, The Art of Traditional Mexican Cooking. Piloncillo, the sugar she calls for in her recipe below, is readily available in Mexican markets. The hard little pylons of dark brown sugar may be either grated or crushed. I crushed mine in a tea towel with a hammer. The vinegar takes several weeks to make, but it’s good to have around.

It's worth noting that the vinegar, as it ferments, becomes a nasty, vile little pot of scum that attracts fruit flies from the surrounding five counties. I keep it outside, loosely covered with a lid to keep out rain and critters, but not so tight that it excludes air. I also use a rubber band to secure a large square of cheesecloth over the opening to keep the fruit flies out. Can't stress enough how disgusting this looks as it develops. No worries. When it's done, you'll strain it — and maybe rack it — and it will clear into a limpid, amber vinegar.
Pineapple Vinegar

When you are using a pineapple for other purposes, save the peelings, along with a little of the flesh. Add:

4 heaped tablespoons crushed piloncillo or dark brown sugar
1 ½ quarts water

Mix well and set, uncovered, in a sunny, warm spot to ferment. In it should begin to ferment in about three days and keep on fermenting until the sugar has been converted and the liquid becomes acidy
[sic]. It may be cloudy to begin with, but as it sits it will clear and gradually turn to a dark a amber color. This may take three weeks or more. By this time a mother – a gelatinous white disc – should be just beginning to form. Leave until it is quite solid – up to another three weeks – then strain the liquid and cork, ready for use. Put the mother with more sugar and water – a little more pineapple if you have it, but it is not really necessary – and leave to form more vinegar.
Diana Kennedy (1989)
The Art of Traditional Mexican Cooking:
Traditional Mexican Cooking for Aficionados.

Bantam Books, New York.

Goes well with:
  • Tiare Olsen's tiki drink Pineapple Delight calls for using an entire pineapple as a cup. See her recipe at A Mountain of Crushed Ice.
  • For instructions on carving that pineapple cup, see Dr. Bamboo's clear illustration here.


Tiare said...

Matt, thanks for the link-up. I´m gonna try to make this pineapple vinegar when i hve a chance and a nice pineapple in my hands.So much you can do with it!

I also made a cousin to the Pinepple Delight that you might wanna try sometimes -

Another thing i`m gonna make when i have the time is tepache or pineapple beer.

I can`t forget that drink we got from Alan Walter at Iris with aperol, cognac, pineapple beer, local strawberry bitters aged in oak chips from ONO rum..i think i need to go back there just for that drink again.

That must be proof of a good bartender if someone comes back for a certain drink a year later.But of course, if i weren´t so damn far away from Nola i would have come back for that one long ago.

Matthew Rowley said...

Tiare ~ my pleasure. It occurs to me that we're so spoiled with temperate weather all year in San Diego that I didn't mention that cold will slow or even stop the fermentation. Fortunately, warmer weather is coming your way ;)

I'd completely forgotten Alan's drink. That was indeed outstanding. I'll go with you.

Tiare said...

Let`s do that! i`ll remind you. I plan to spend about 2 or 3 weeks in Nola this time and visiting Iris is one of my must do things.

Matthew Rowley said...

Hit me up before you go. Mr Taggart and I can supply suggestions. Can you bring andouille back to Sweden? Jacob's, out in Laplace, sells stellar sausage...

Tony Harion said...

This post intrigues me very much...
I´ve been meaning to prepare this because we go thru about 4 dozen pineapples a week at works, but never got to it.
Will the vinegar spoil? How do you usually strain yours?
This sounds like an amazing base for a shrub!

Matthew Rowley said...

Tony ~ Shrub would be a great use for this! Once it's strained, I keep the vinegar in 750ml bottles at room temperature (so...lower 70F in San Diego). I've never had it spoil. Of course, it's worth repeating: it really does look horrible as it ferments, then converts to acetic acid. It will be cloudy, murky, and attract fruit flies. But stay with it. Strain it through a wire mesh strainer, then cheese cloth or muslin. Let it sit a day or so for the particulates to settle out, then rack it into clean bottles. We use it a lot...

Tony Harion said...

First batch started yesterday... We´ll see how that turns out...

I’ll post a comment w/ the results here in a few weeks

We go thru at least 3 dozen pineapples a week at work so I’m really hopping I like this stuff…

Matthew Rowley said...

Good on you, Tony. It will take a few weeks anyway. Curious to know what you think.

TikiGeeki said...

Very interesting! I'm going to have to try this for sure. Couple technical questions:

1) What do you do about evaporation? Seems like a month and a half or so outside with cheese cloth won't leave much liquid left, but will adding more throw off the process?

2) Sunlight or shade outside? I'm assuming the wild yeast being collected won't like direct sunlight.

3) Other than time, is there a way to test acidity to know you are good to go?

Matthew Rowley said...

Hey Joby ~

1) For evaporation, I keep a lid loosely placed over the top ABOVE the cheesecloth that's held in place with a rubber band. The container I use is a clear 1-gallon Lexan food service tub. I can see through it and what's going on at any time. The loose-fitting lid seems to prevent much evaporation ~ but keep in mind that's outside in San Diego. I didn't have to add anything at all. Would be a totally different story in a drier, hotter place or a much cooler one. Maybe a basement would provide more temperature stability...

2) I kept mine in a spot that caught some afternoon shade, but was protected morning and noon. From my own experience, I'd say avoid strong sunlight.

3) You could, I suppose, use pH strips as a crude measure and stop the process when it hits 4-5% acetic acid. Otherwise, density meters might be the way to go. Me? I simply watched for the formation of the gelatinous vinegar mother in the bottom of the tub (which, I failed to mention in the main article, you should keep and transfer to the next batch of beer/wine to speed up the process. Use your nose, too. I know it sounds so low-tech, but you know what vinegar smells like. When your batch smells like that, you should be good to go.

If you come up with another way to test doneness, let me know. I'm all for making things easier, faster, and in fewer steps.

Malama pono!

Anonymous said...

Hello, I have been following a pineapple vinegar recipe that calls for the peel, 1L water and 1/4 cup of sugar. I mixed the ingredients together and let sit out covered with cheese cloth at room temp. The recipe calls for the liquid to sit for 1 week. After 4 days a white film has appeared on the surface. In a previous post you mentioned that this might be the 'mother' but you said that it forms on the bottom. The recipe calls for me to strain the mixture after a week. Will the mother sink to the bottom or am I dealing with mold/spoilage? Should I continue with the recipe and strain, wait for the mother film to disappear or start over?

Matthew Rowley said...

Hmmm...a week hardly seems enough time to form a mother, much less vinegar. The whiteness on the surface of your concoction is almost assuredly not a mother. Mothers do sometimes — not always — form spontaneously, but they resemble little gelatinous masses at the bottom of the vessel, almost like jellyfish without tentacles or even tiny silicone breast implants. Mothers more often occur over weeks or even months. That having been said, I did warn that this turns into a nasty little pot while it undergoes fermentation and then sours into an acidic solution. I, too, encountered a white film on the surface of the vinegar before it fully fermented and converted. My advice? Leave it alone: if anything, it'll grow nastier looking. Tuck it away if you have guests coming over. By all means, follow the recipe you've been using — if it makes great vinegar, then that's fantastic. My guess, based on the vinegars I've made from scratch, though, is that it'll need more time.

Telling when it's done is something of a trick, but not a hard one. Without any special tools or measuring devices, just smell it. Does it smell like vinegar? Then it's done.

You're fine. It sounds like it's going as it should. Remember, you're letting a bunch of fruit rot; it won't be pretty. But when it's done, strain it and rack it and it should be just fine.

Anonymous said...

I'm making a jar of pineapple vinegar and it seemed to be going well until about week 2 (recipe calls for 6 weeks) it started to smell a bit like smelly feet. Its not really strong but I have it in a cupboard above the fridge to keep it out of the light and I can smell it when standing within 10 feet of the fridge. Any ideas if this smell is normal or has it spoiled? It has a bit of a white growth all over the surface of the liquid which I'm guessing is a fungus of some kind.

Matthew Rowley said...

First ~ Congratulations on being brave enough to make pineapple vinegar at home.

Second ~ My apologies if this is the case, but perhaps I did not stress enough that this stuff, as it ferments, becomes a "nasty, vile little pot of scum." Although what you describe does indeed sound worrisome, that's exactly what mine has done every time I've made this, right down to the white film on top. Nasty. Vile. Pot of Scum. Don't worry — it gets better. Well, once you strain it. While keeping it out of direct sunlight seems a decent idea, there's certainly no need to keep it in the dark in your home. If you've got a secure place outside where dogs won't get to it or raccoons tumble it over, I'd say take it immediately outside, just making sure that it's lightly covered to keep out any rain/dust — and secure a bit of cheese cloth over the mouth of the container with a rubber band to stave off the inevitable fruit flies. Then, air out the kitchen and appease your family with a pie or a pizza. Stick with it. It will continue to look nasty and you'll smell the acetic acid, but once it's strained (and filtered), you'll have clear, amber pineapple vinegar.