Leftovers from fruit that hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals can be fermented to make delicious treats. Peels and cores from apples, pears or other fruit also work well. The combination of the natural sugars in the discards, warmth and naturally occurring bacteria and yeast causes natural fermentation. This frothy mixture can be used as a sourdough starter, or left to ferment further to turn to vinegar.
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Homemade Vinegar: To make vinegar, mix and mash the discarded fruit peels and cores together. Strain through cheesecloth or a sieve. Add water if it is too thick. Pour into glass jars (dark-colored glass is the best) and cover with cheesecloth. Let jars sit in a dark place for a few months. The liquid should have a sweet and gradually vinegary smell as it turns to alcohol and then ferments into vinegar. (If it smells bad, throw it out and try again.) Taste after about two months. For stronger vinegar, let it sit for a while longer. When you’re happy with the flavor, strain and bottle. Solids settling to the bottom of the bottle are normal.
Scrappy Sourdough: To make a sourdough starter, put the fruit discards into a dark-colored crock or container and add an equal amount of water. (Use non-chlorinated water, as chlorine will kill the yeast.) Cover with a tea towel or cheesecloth and store in a warm, dark place. After a week, check to see if the mixture is getting frothy and sweet smelling. If it is, it is ready to use. If it smells bad, throw it away and try again.
Filter the mixture through cheesecloth or a sieve, and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Add one cup of flour to one cup of the mixture. Mix well, cover and leave in a warm spot for a day. If it is bubbling on the second day, it is ready. If it isn’t, move it to a warmer spot and check again in a few days. Once you get a nice, active starter, you can either use it in a recipe or put it in the refrigerator and feed it once a week the way you would a regular sourdough sponge. The rise times will probably be longer with this starter, because wild yeasts do not act as quickly as commercial yeast.
Here’s one of my favorite whole-wheat sourdough recipes. I always use whole-wheat ground from our homegrown wheat, so this bread is dense and doesn’t rise as much as a white wheat loaf would. This recipe will vary a little bit depending on your altitude and ingredients. Adjust flour and water amounts until you get the right consistency of dough.
- 1 cup of water
- 1 cup of sourdough starter
- 7 cups of flour
- 1 T. of oil
- 2 T. of honey
- 2 tsp. of salt
DIRECTIONS: Heat water to about 115 degrees Fahrenheit, or almost too hot to touch. Add starter and half of the flour. Mix well. Add oil, honey, salt and most of the rest of the flour. Mix thoroughly. If this is too sticky to work by hand or with a bread hook in a mixer, add more flour until it is easy to work but not too dry. (Whole-wheat doughs should be a little bit sticky.) Knead for about eight to 10 minutes by hand, and half of that with a mixer. Cover and set aside in a warm place for about two hours, or until it has almost doubled. Punch down, shape and put into two buttered loaf pans. Let loaves rise in a warm place for a few more hours, or until doubled.
Because it is wild yeast and whole wheat, the rise time will take longer than it does with conventional bread. You can tell if it has finished rising if you poke it with your finger and it doesn’t spring back. If it does, let it rise a little longer. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, or until done, when the center of the loaf should measure 200 degrees F. Your bake times and temperatures may be different based on humidity and altitude, so adjust accordingly.
This article was originally published in The NEW PIONEER™ Winter 2016 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.