I made vinegar last year, and I believe that it saved my mental health.

When the pandemic hit in 2020 and we were all wondering “what’s next?” I started feeling weird and weirder. I guess you could call it anxiety. I had trouble regulating my breathing and I sometimes woke up in the middle of the night feeling (and knowing) something bad was going to happen.

I needed something to both anchor me and distract me–something that would take my mind off uncertainty, and let it just imagine goodness. It was summer and the pandemic wasn’t going away. I don’t know where the idea to make vinegar came from–but as soon as I thought it, it felt like the right thing to do.

Here’s how it works: Fruit + water + sugar turns into fermented juice which then turns into vinegar. The moment I realized that fruit is fruit is fruit, I was like “Hold the phone, Martha! I’m going to make vinegar from every fruit I can get my hands on this summer.”

And I did! Blackberries, plums, apples, pears, grapes. They all sat on my wire shelves, patiently fermenting, bubbling, gassing and morphing. It was the most beautiful, hopeful thing to see jars and buckets of jewel-toned fruit, bobbing in frothy liquid.

The fruits were changing, and they were giving me something to look forward to each day. (Remember the dreamy golden redness of the plum vinegar?) As I struggled to stay calm and hopeful in the midst of the 2020 chaos (um, stressful presidential election, too!), the vinegars were a project that saved me from self-destructing by binge watching crappy tv, feeling self pity, or just doing nothing.

And just recently (no joke!), I finally cracked into my stash of vinegars (why did it take me so long??) I made a vinaigrette this week to go with the kale salad from our garden, and then I preserved a batch of marinated sun-dried tomatoes to keep in our fridge. I also added the blackberry vinegar to some chickpea curry–and it 10x-ed the umami. I’m loving my sweet, dark blackberry vinegar. (P.S. I will always love you, blackberry vinegar, and i promise to make a new batch of you every year, i love you so much xoxo)

So, why go to the trouble of harvesting local fruits, learning how to make vinegar, then letting a bottle of fermenting fruit sit on your kitchen shelf for a month or more so you can strain it and set it on your shelf? Because when you can add one more item to your pantry shelf that you made yourself, it truly feels healing, miraculous, beautiful and wholesome.

Not a very sexy answer, but it’s 100% true.