Our great friends Marg and Jason Alexander from Hazeldean Forest Farm near Warragul have started making their own apple cider vinegar (aka ACV). Along with their apple juice, fermenting apple cider vinegar is a way they can add value to the 30 apple varieties growing on the farm. The apple cider is great and in a very nice bottle too Marg (definitely a keeper) but what excites me about apple cider is its history. As pantry essential backstories go you could not hope for richer….
Of course the Egyptians were using ACV medicinally and in their food 5000 or more years ago, and this could be an Ptolemaic urban myth, but apparently Cleopatra made a wager with Mark Anthony that she could consume a fortune in a single meal. Mark took her bet and Cleo won by dissolving precious pearls (not sure if they were hers or Mark Anthony’s) in vinegar which she later made into a dressing for a nice pomegranate and freekah salad (sorry I made that last bit up). Cleopatra by the way also swore by apple cider vinegar as a go to for weight loss – more on that later.
Meanwhile around 400 BC in ancient Greece, Hippocrates, the oath guy and father of modern medicine, prescribed apple cider vinegar mixed with honey for a variety of ills, including coughs and colds. And later in 218 BC when Carthaginian general Hannibal was crossing the Alps by elephant on his way to invade Italy, he used vinegar to shatter frozen boulders which were inconveniently blocking the mountain pass.
Fast forward a millennium and a half during the Black Plague and another urban legend has it that four thieves assigned to “bring out your dead” duty survived by drinking large amounts of apple cider vinegar infused with garlic. To this very day vinegar steeped in garlic is sold as Four Thieves Vinegar.
And later in 1820, mad, bad poet, Lord Byron, who was possibly anorexic, started the first modern celebrity diet by popularising drinking water mixed with apple cider vinegar as a weight loss method – not sure if he’d got the idea from Cleopatra.
Now the first time I saw apple cider vinegar, I was just a kid. It was a yellow and black bottle of Braggs with the fruity hatted, Patricia Bragg smiling out from the label like the fervently devout aunt you hope you’re never sent to live with. In the 1970’s Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar held a place in the counter-culture alongside Whole Earth Catalogues, bean spouting jars and a secret marijuana patch out back of the pottery studio.
Though it was a part of the 70’s alternative lifestyles, Braggs products had been around since 1920’s. Paul Bragg, Patricia’s father-in-law, built his health empire around the story of a miracle cure for his childhood TB which was followed by supernatural health and longevity. The Braggs, however, have been dogged by accusations around Paul’s fabricated birth dates, phoney Olympic and military service, questionable medical qualifications, familial betrayal and mysterious cause of death – Paul was either drowned by a monster wave off Hawaii or choked on a chicken bone in a Florida restaurant or possibly a combination of the two (whichever it was The Braggs would make a great TV series).
And finally sometime around 2011 apple cider vinegar was once again thrust into the global spotlight when celebrities Megan Fox and Miranda Kerr credited it for keeping them impossibly skinny. Scarlett Johannsen added that she used it to care for her skin which had been previously rated by internet polls as best-on-planet. Hardly surprisingly the web went crazy and ACV exploded off neighbourhood health food stores shelves and into our medical-miracle-hungry imaginations like garlic, colonic irrigation and cabbage soup had done before it.
And despite us being let down again and again (especially by cabbage soup) we wanted, just like Agent Mulder, to believe. And we desperately wanted to believe that apple cider vinegar could make us thin, energetic and smart and also remove our warts, cure cancer, regrow hair and fight our most intimate yeast infections as was promised on some websites.
And although apple cider didn’t save us and we’ve since begun moving on to our next saviour – gelatin (no really), apple cider vinegar is still just y’know good old apple cider vinegar. That tangy, hippie-ish vinegar that’s been around since Cleopatra made pearl salad dressing, that the second president of the United States, John Adams, drank every morning before his porridge, that one that Patricia Bragg and her fruity hat is still smiling out at us from all these years later. Bottoms up.