This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
For some time past, the vinegar plant has been used abroad as a substitute for cider vinegar, to advantage. Frequent applications have been made to us to know what it is, and whether introduced here. We cannot discover that it has been. It is exhibited in a living state in the Kew Garden museum, and is called Mother of Vinegar. It floats upon a liquid mixture of sugar and water, and is a minute fungus, allied to the mucors, or moulds, Pencillium glaucum, of which the mycelium, or spawn, forms a tough leathery web. A bit of this thrown into the above liquid rapidly increases, induces acetous fermentation, and changes the sugar and water into good vinegar. The yeast plant, or " mother of yeast" - a substance not so easily preserved - is also considered a Pencillium, and to its action is due the formation of yeast.
It is a well-known fact, that much of the vinegar which is sold in the shops, is either malt vinegar reduced with water, and strengthened with sulphuric acid, or acetic acid, also diluted, neither of which is very acceptable or wholesome. Under these circumstances, it will be a comfort to know that one can make his own vinegar as well as yeast, and know what is in it Take one gallon of water, half a pound of sugar, half a pound of molasses, and boil them together for twenty minutes; when cool, add a quarter of an ounce of German yeast; put the whole into a jar, and lay the vinegar plant on the surface of the liquor. Cover the jar with paper, keeping it in a warm place, and it will produce very good and wholesome vinegar in about six weeks.
As it appears to be popular and useful in England, we have sent out to endeavor to procure it.
The hint thrown out in the December No. respecting this valuable plant, attracted considerable attention. It appears that what was considered a strange novelty, is known and employed by many persons in various parts of the Union; the circumstance is an evidence of the necessity we all are under of being taught, and will serve to show the utility of periodicals. Complaints were rife that good vinegar was not to be bought, especially after a bad apple year; notices of this substance occasionally struck us in English publications; and we remembered it at Kew, but what was it, and where was it?
We applied first to the head-quarters of Science, but the oracle, much interested, however, knew it not, but applied to others learned in that walk of botany; the first reply declared its faith small in the vinegar fungus. A second had no doubt it could be produced, but practically knew nothing of its value. Then came several letters from various points of the compass stating that the plant was in their neighborhood, but its practical use they could not describe. "I tasted," says one, "part of a barrel made by the plant yesterday, and it was certainly excellent; it was made by an Englishman, and he says it is the same as is used in England." Another says: "The plant can be obtained of * * * * Ann Street, New York." Another correspondent says: "I knew nothing about the vinegar plant till a few months past my wife procured one, and has ever since made her own vinegar with it, and the vinegar is the best I have tasted for years".
Then came a letter from Naperville, Illinois, saying: "The vinegar plant you described on page 570 (Dec. No.), Horticulturist, as 'exhibited at Kew Garden Museum,' we have and use. Tour description of the mode of making vinegar is much the same as ours, except that we do not always use the yeast. It is the least expensive mode of making good, wholesome, vinegar I know of. Most of the various kinds of patent vinegar are fit only to be 'cast out and trodden under foot,' being pernicious to health.
"I would advise all who have not cider vinegar, to use the vinegar plant, or the following receipt, in making their vinegar: To 16 gallons water put 16 pounds common brown sugar, add 1 gallon molasses; scald together, put into a cask, and when cooled to about blood-heat, put in 1 pound bread-dough, reused by hop yeast; place the cask in the sun or some other warm place. In two or three months (according to the temperature), it will form as good vinegar as that made from cider. Should you wish it, I will forward you,.by express, some of the plant; but you can produce it as above. Respectfully yours, "Lewis Ellsworth".
"In reply to your communication about the vinegar plant, first: It is curious and very tender; if frozen, turned over, or moved around, it dies; when dead, it sinks to the bottom at once. The value of it no family knows till they have had it. Money could not buy mine, if I could get no more. * A family, with one plant, can always have plenty. As to economy, the value of one pint of West India molasses, one gallon of water, six weeks of July weather, or by a warm stove, and you have as fine vinegar as ever was placed on table. It improves by standing, after the plant is taken off and the vinegar put into a keg. The plant floats on the top, and must not be disturbed after it is placed on the surface, and the same when taken off from, the mother plant. A small piece grows to cover the top of a bucket or jar, to half an inch, thick; when the vinegar is perfect, it begins to sink; it must then be removed and a new preparation made; you will find new leaves or folds on the under side, which most be put on the new preparation.
Yours very respectfully, H. H. Randall, New York".
We are indebted to William H. Williams, Esq., banker, of Pittsburg, for a vinegar plant, which we have set to work.
Mr. Glover, the naturalist of the Patent Office, who was sent South, for the purpose of investigating the nature and habits of the insects injurious and beneficial to vegetation, has returned. The Commissioner of Patents expressed himself as highly gratified with the report of Mr. G. in relation to the orange and scale or cocus insects, and the red bug and the caterpillar, which are said to be very destructive to the cotton plant.
Two of our correspondents say that the vinegar produced from the vinegar plant is as good for pickling, or any other purpose, as cider vinegar; to make it as sour as which it is only necessary to add a little more sugar, or, what is better, molasses.
The editor of the Rural Intelligencer gives his own treatment of the vinegar plant thus: -
"We spoke last April of a vinegar plant given us by a lady. We took it home, procured at an apothecary's store one of his largest glass jars, holding some two gallons, filled it with common sweetened water committed the plant to it, and there it has been ever since, spreading its folds upon the surface, till it was evident the vinegar had become strong enough almost for the death of the plant; whereupon, this week, we removed the original sweetened water, and supplied its place with new, for the plant to work upon. On drawing off the vinegar, it was found very strong indeed - almost as strong as lye, and, for ordinary table purposes, it will require to be diluted with fresh water. There is no mistake about it - this vinegar plant will keep our family in the purest vinegar as long as we shall need such an article".
[Our own experiments with the vinegar plant have also been entirely successful. - ED].