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Whether you picked 'em from your backyard tree, lugged bushels home from a nearby orchard, plucked them enthusiastically from a supermarket bin or discovered a mountain of them in your CSA farm, you're inundated with apples right now.

And who could complain?

But after peeling, slicing and dicing, and pie making, do you ever wonder if there isn't some way to use the scraps? There is — make a batch of home-brewed apple cider vinegar. Fermenting will take about two months. But when you're done, it's as good as liquid gold.

Not only does apple cider vinegar kill viruses, fungi and bacteria, but it also contains most essential vitamins and nutrients, making it something of a supplement. Though apple cider vinegar starts out as acidic, it has an alkaline effect in the body, making it ideal for treating many acid-linked diseases that go hand-in-hand with the modern Western diet.

Many of its purported health benefits have been scientifically confirmed, and some are still anecdotal. Still, there are records of people as far back as Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, who have used it to treat arthritis, infections, obesity, gout, warts, allergies, leg cramps, high blood pressure and even diabetes.

Most people who take apple cider vinegar daily do so in tonic form: try drinking 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar blended with 1 tablespoon honey and 1 cup warm water.

Or use it as a beauty product. Diluted with water, it makes a hair rinse that removes buildup, enhances shine and soothes dandruff. Try it on your face, too. Use a 9:1 ratio of water to vinegar, and apply with a cotton ball to tone dull complexions. Got a sunburn? Mix 1 tablespoon into 1 cup of cool water and dab onto fried skin.

Why make it yourself? First, it's easy and inexpensive, with a better taste and higher potency than most store-bought brands. It's also the only way to know it's pure. Many commercial cider vinegars have been mixed with other vinegars or brewed with non-food ingredients, like wood shavings, to keep costs down.

But more to the point: you're already eating good food that's grown with care, so why waste even a bit? The humble pioneers who settled apple country would have been shocked and disappointed to see us toss out apple scraps like junk. They saved everything, stems included, and fed it to grateful animals or made vinegar. We could all stand to follow their practical good example.

And right now is the best time to start — ripe fall apples are so sweet, meaning more sugar is available for wild yeast fermentation. Super-sweet varieties, like Fujis, Galas and Jonafrees, are especially good choices. Just remember that conventional apples are heavily sprayed with pesticides, making them one of the most important crops to buy organic. Because vinegar makes use of peels, it's especially important to avoid chemicals to ensure proper fermentation.

Besides, when it comes to your health, the rules are a lot like vinegar. Keep it clean, keep it natural and wild is best!

MaryJane Butters is the editor of MaryJanesFarm magazine. E-mail her at —

Home-brewed apple cider vinegar

1 large wide-mouthed glass jar or jug, sterilized (do not use metal)

Apple peels, cores and stems

Filtered water


Let the apple scraps sit in the open air until they've turned brown. Pile them into the jar and cover with water. Keep the pile going for several days, if you like, adding scraps as they become available. Just keep adding water to cover everything. Cover the jar with cheesecloth, secure it with a rubber band, and place it in a warm, dark place. Choose a location that doesn't drop below 60 or get hotter than 80.

After a week, you'll notice that the mixture will become thicker, and a white-ish goop will form on top. Don't panic! This is called the vinegar "mother" and it's the sign of healthy, living vinegar that's happily fermenting. Don't add any new scraps after this point. Mark the date on your calendar. You'll want to check it in one month.

After a month, taste it once a day. When it's reached your desired level of strength, scoop or strain out the apple scraps and funnel the vinegar into clean, sterilized bottles. Don't worry about removing every bit of sediment — the vinegar mother is a nutritious and pleasant reminder that your vinegar is a natural, homemade product. Store it in a cool, dark place and it will keep indefinitely.

Alternatively, you can make the apple cider vinegar from whole apples that you've cut into quarters. Fermentation will take four times as long — but if you're using the vinegar for medicinal purposes, it may be more potent, and worth the wait.

Source: MaryJane Butters