“It is better to be preserved in vinegar than to rot in honey.”
–E. Cobham Brewer
Although the fine folks in Roslyn, South Dakota hold an International Vinegar Festival in June, May is actually National Vinegar Month. However, if you do make it to Roslyn in time, you’ll see a mighty fine small-town parade consisting of the Roslyn marching band, children dressed as pickles, the Roslyn Firefighters (in my opinion — the best part), the guy who mows all of the municipal lawns (okay, he’s pretty swell too), horse drawn carriages, tractors, tractors and yet even more tractors and the Day County Veterans being pulled by — yes — a John Deere tractor. The festivities also include the crowning of the Royal Vinegar Court (a sour looking lot), cooking demonstrations and food at the nation’s only Vinegar Museum.
Vinegar, from the French translation meaning “sour wine,” can be produced from all kinds fruits, berries, melons, coconut, honey, beer, maple syrup, potatoes, beets, malt, grains and whey. But the fundamental process remains unchanged no matter what the initial ingredients may be — first a fermentation of sugar to alcohol, and then a second go-round to vinegar. Viola! Acetic acid (aka vinegar) is born.
Whether rice, red wine, distilled white, aged balsamic or apple cider, the overwhelming essence of vinegar, to most of us, is always the same — sharp, tart and biting. But compared one to another, the subtle and not-so-subtle flavors are very different and are as varied as fine and not-so-fine wines are.
Vinegar has been around for millennia, and every faith, it seems, parables references to it, whether it be Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism or Christianity. When and how their deity or followers responded to the tangy flavor of vinegar was then metaphorically used as a symbolic view of life and its situations.
The ancients stumbled upon the versatility of vinegar probably 10,000 years ago. The Babylonians used it as medicine, and also mixed it with herbs to flavor their meals. The Romans drank it as a beverage. Cleopatra dissolved pearls in it to prove she could devour a fortune in a single meal. (Ladies, please do not try this at home!) Biblical references show how it was used for its soothing and healing properties and yet as recent as World War I, vinegar was still being used to treat wounds in the battlefields.
Susan B. Anthony, referred to as the “vinegar” of the Female Suffrage movement was aggressive, ebullient, frisky, spunky, a fighter, and a no-nonsense kinda woman, who displayed all the classic traits of being full of “piss and vinegar.” The earliest citation of that term, however, is from 1938 in John Steinbeck’s, The Grapes of Wrath:
Vinegar? Why am I writing about vinegar? Well . . . not because it’s new-fangled, or is in any way ultra-modern. And it can’t be confused for something that’s state-of-the-art, or attempts to be up-to-the-minute or high-tech. But what it is, is a highly affordable and super-safe eco-cleaning staple we should all get familiar with. Distilled white vinegar easily neutralizes alkaline soaps, effortlessly breaks down stubborn urine odors, quickly polishes patent leather, instantly removes static cling from clothing, flawlessly cleans mirrors and glass, simply deodorizes the air, effortlessly polishes chrome, carefully removes soap scum and hard water spots, dependably cleans your automatic drip coffee maker and, in a pinch, even lifts accidentally spilled white glue. This 10,000 year-old elixir is a modern-day cleaning miracle!
It’s said, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” So be a sweetie and just simply clean with the sour stuff. Store it in a sealed container full strength, dilute it 50/50 with water in a recycled spray bottle for everyday use, or mix 1 tablespoon in 1 quart of water in another recycled sprayer for a great window cleaner. There is never a need for refrigeration. Vinegar’s shelf life is eternal.
Don’t find yourself in a pickle by letting Vinegar Month pass you by. There are 1,001 uses for it other than dressing a salad — so why not invent the 1,002nd eco-friendly way to celebrate vinegar for yourself.
©2009 Michael DeJong, author of Clean Body:The Humble Art of Zen-Cleansing Yourself
Michael DeJong, author of Clean Body:The Humble Art of Zen-Cleansing Yourself, is an environmentalist and eco-activist.
DeJong and Joost Elffers are generously donating all of the royalties from each of the books in the Clean Series to the OneCleanWorld Foundation. a philanthropic, not-for-profit organization that supports environmental projects worldwide with grants, technical assistance and/or microfinancing.