In an article meant for the Happy Family sections of its newspaper clients, the Associated Press dwelt on how to make vinegar. By the time I was into the second paragraph, I was well aware the writer knew little about vinegar and probably had never exposed herself (the article was signed) to the perils of same.
I said to myself, "This calls for another visit to John Mosho!" The children should be seven and four, thereabouts, and the Associated Press would, today, immediately "query" any irresponsible scribe who said John Mosho was over on the No Name Pond Road. ("Please correct road name.")
John and Kathryn were then seven and four. It was October and the Saturday bright and warm. While daddy took care of the cow and the milk, they chored the hens and ducks because it was a no-school day. Mother had an extra-good breakfast on the table because this was cider-mill day, and we would probably be late getting back.
The truck had been loaded the evening before. We had three 60-gallon barrels, already used for Barbados molasses and still coated inside with residual treacle, and we had three times 16 generous bushels of apples. Sixteen bushels will yield 60 gallons if we get a good juice. Mr. Mosho was noted for squeezing more drops than any other cider man.
Mr. Mosho's cider mill looked across the road at the pond, and it was just as fine a pond as it would be with a name. There was a platform for unloading, and then the press behind an open rollaway door. First, we saw the lower vat, holding cider until a customer barreled or bottled it, and then the upper vat, where cider being ground and pressed waited its turn. Next, the endless chain elevator that took apples aloft and let them fall into the grinder. But halfway up was Mrs. Mosho, in a huge rubber apron but still dripping cider that had splashed.
Her job was to spread the "pummy" as it came from the choppers, leveling it so the presscloths could be filled, and to build up the pile, alternating pummy cloths and pallets until the pile was right. When right, the pile went under the hydraulic press, and Mr. Mosho descended to handle that. Mrs. Mosho, thoroughly splashed, 'twas said, would yield about two barrels if they ever pressed her dry. She was, all the same, a bouncy dame and waved heartily at us as we backed in, puddling her paddle betimes and not missing a stroke.
Mr. Mosho waved, and held up two fingers, indicating he had two customers ahead of us. And by the lower storage vat, on the row of nails, hung tin bumpers with which customers and children could sample the juice. John and Kathryn remembered that in particular. Kathryn brought me a taste.
The plain truth is that vinegar is not made by the Associated Press. Mr. and Mrs. Mosho, symbols, begin the work. From that point on, the making of vinegar is a process that began with the creation and is still regulated by the Maker. Man merely looks on and helps. For one thing, a botanical routine handled by honeybees has given us umpty-dillion kinds of apples, and when the roadside stand has plastic jugs marked "Pure McIntosh Red Cider" you will do well to pass by on the other side. Mixed apples were provided long ago.
Our 16 bushels of apples might have been 16 kinds because we had that many, and more. Usually, we'd try for three bushels of Baldwins, two bushels of Northern Spies, two bushels of Norheads, two bushels of King Sweets, a bushel of King Tompkins, a bushel of Russets, a bushel of Rhode Island Greenings, a bushel of Seek No Further, a bushel of red Gravensteins, and two bushels of Transcendent Crab Apples. And, you can be sure, we had varieties that were never put into cider, since they lacked either flavor or ample juice. We never "squoze" a Delicious or a Fallawater. And we always had a rich juice ready to go into action.
Which it did. When the barrels were in place down cellar, bungs up and spigots ready, John and Kathryn would have all their friends in, and we'd have sody-fountain straws to pass around and each child was to remember his own. Taken from the open bung, sweet cider is great for a about a week, and then it has begun to "work," a process that pasteurizing can control. But we were making vinegar and we wanted the cider to work.
THE children lost interest as a tang developed, and in another day or so the working cider would cast its dregs up through the bunghole and begin to refine itself for the months ahead. I kept replacement cider in jugs, and would refill the barrels at the bungs so the impurities could rise and overflow. There would come a day when the working ceased and the liquid was clear.
It is true that acetification follows alcohol and there is no other logical way to make vinegar. Along in February there comes a day to arrest things and pound the bungs into the bungholes, done always with a wooden mallet handed down by generations for a long time, and left always on a hook in a cellar beam. Tests at intervals reveal the eventual acetic acid, and then when Marm wants vinegar for the pantry, the spigot is ready. And the stores will want some, and when pickle time comes, there is no end to jubilation and joy. Nothing is added to vinegar in the making, even if AP tells about herbs and whatnot.
Just be glad for vinegar, and be grateful to have it on a cucumber. Never give an apple cider vinegar an even break, for it is powerful and eager. And bosh when the AP says to sterilize bottles and stoppers. No witty-bitty boogie is going to hang around any real vinegar. And then, too, it's fun to see the tears run down Grampie's cheeks when he samples the new vinegar on his shredded cabbage.