August 17th to August 23rd, 2015
The Mustang Grape grows in abundance on our land in the Hill Country of Texas. It is native to the area, and we find it growing on tress and shrubs around the property. There is also a strong and healthy vine that has taken root just outside our vegetable garden, and grows upon the eight foot fence that surrounds it.
If you are ever lost and needing sustenance in the wilds of Texas, this vine is a pretty identifiable inhabitant of these lands, and the leaves are edible and will give you calories and essential minerals to keep you going. Check out Foraging Texas for more information and for other plants you might be bale to eat on your next camping trip. 🙂
It is not a very pleasant grape. It grows small and is somewhat bitter, but the fruits have been known to be used by the European settlers to the area to make mustang wine for a couple of centuries. This mustang wine is naturally fermented, but sugars are added in abundance, and it is sometimes fortified with a stronger liquor like whiskey. You might think of it as Texas Port.
I am somewhat interested in pursuing the traditional method of making this wine, but since we rarely consume alcohol in this household, and almost never add sugar to any of our food, I have so far stayed away from it. What we have done instead is produce a very nice and rich vinegar.
The very first year we lived here, we collected a strong harvest of the grapes which I juiced and fermented. Then we brought home a vinegar mother and set her to work on the concoction. Yeast had at first turned the sugars in the grape juice into alcohol, and then mother of vinegar turns those alcohols into acid. This process takes a couple of months to complete, but if the food for the mother is replenished, she will live on and continue to produce vinegar for quite some time.
Our mother has continued to produce vinegar since the beginning, and we are now on our ninth generation of vinegar. Since the first mustang grape infusion, however, we have continued to feed her with a delicious local wine from Becker Vineyards called Iconoclast. The result is a deep red wine vinegar with very complex flavors, which we very much enjoy in our salads and other cooking.
There is growing realization in our modern world, that bacteria is both a danger and a boon to human life. (even the Washington Post is talking about it, or at least they were in 2012) Our bodies are a vast ecosystem of bacterial life, and the bacteria which create the acetic acid of vinegar are an important part of that symbiotic relationship. Naturally fermented foods were a regular part of the human diet until recently when we devised new technologies for food preservation. The fermentation process breaks down the nutrients in food to make them more digestible to the human body at the same time rendering it less digestible to the nasty bugs which can cause disease and illness.
I am glad that we are able to bring naturally fermented foods back into our diet, and we are currently fermenting cucumbers into pickles, peppers into hot sauce, and growing cabbage which will someday go into a jar to become naturally fermented sauerkraut!