John Worlidge’s 1678 Recipe for ‘Currant Vinegar’

“Take the Juice of Red-Currants through Ripe, and add thereto an equal quantity of Water, and let it stand in the Sun about three or four weeks in a Barrel with the Bung-hole covered with a Tile Shard only : then draw it off its Lee, and you have a delicate red Vinegar, fit for most Culinary Uses ; you may make it of the Juice alone, without any addition of Water : but I have observed the mixt to be the sharpest. This also may you pass through the Rape, or a few Malaga-raisins old and rotten will serve, and doubtless it will be much the better.”

John Worlidge, Vinetum Britannicum: Or a Treatise of Cider and Other Wines and Drinks, Second Impression (1678)

Here’s another recipe for redcurrant season, this time from the pen of seventeenth century agricultural writer John Worlidge, via the “second impression, much enlarged” of his Vinetum Britannicum, a book that Worlidge wrote in the era of the Restoration of Charles II and during one of the periodic lulls in England’s wars with France.

Said wars with France had caused great difficulties in importing wine from the continent. Worlidge, and other writers, therefore put pen to paper and ink to printing press to recommend the that most readily available English drink, cider (or cyder) as a greatly desirable and infinitely preferable alternative. At least until, according to the dedicational introduction of Vinetum Britannicum, new English vineyards had been planted and successfully come to fruition.

In chapter VI of the book, on the profits and uses of fruit trees, Worlidge also discusses the ways in which other fruit can be put to good use, including by making vinegars from “unpalatable liquors”, such as overly-harsh cider or the juice of redcurrants.

The method he gives, described in the quote above, seems deceptively simple, but never having tried to make vinegar myself, I’m really not qualified to say whether it’s likely to succeed or not. I don’t think I’ll be giving it a go though. I don’t have a suitable barrel, for starters. Nor do I have any of the “Rape” that Worlidge suggests would doubtlessly improve the finished vinegar. I assumed Worlidge was referring here to the brassica crop oilseed rape, the one that’s grown these days at industrial scale for pressing into rapeseed oil. But apparently not, as this passage explains:

“The Rape our Vinegarists make use of, they have out of France, it being only the Husks of Grapes close pressed, which have contracted an acidity, and is of the nature of Leaven or Yest ; which used in an over-great quantity ferments even to an acidity. It is yet, I suppose, to be experimented whether our English Grapes, or some other Fruit, will not make a Rape equal in vertue to the French, which is somewhat difficult to obtain.”

I definitely don’t have any pressed grape husks handy, and neither do I fancy using “a few Malaga-raisins old and rotten” instead. Besides, the instruction to “let it stand in the Sun about three or four weeks” could be rather problematic, given the current state of our summer weather.

All in all, I think I’ll stick to buying safely pre-bottled cider vinegar from vinegarists who know what they’re doing, and keep my redcurrants for jelly instead, or perhaps a batch of Sir Kenelm Digby’s marmalute of red currants.

How about you? Have you ever made your own vinegar, redcurrant-based or otherwise? Do you feel the urge to give it a go now you’ve read Mr. Worlidge’s account of the process? Do please let me know, via the comments.

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