Janet Harron runs Wild Mother Provisions, a local company that sells heritage foods from Ireland and Britain. She sells traditional baked goods like; oatcakes, potato scones, tea cakes, and granola, along with her signature product Newfoundland Beer Vinegar.
“Food is one of the things we can experience in the same way people in the past experienced it. Some of the ingredients are slightly different but if you’re making a heritage food, you can still get the same taste. It’s sort of like a taste of the past, which is pretty cool, ” Harron said.
Harron and her husband, Liam McKenna, first had the idea to make a stout vinegar twenty years ago, when the couple were living in Dublin, Ireland. Their early experiments with beer vinegar produced delicious results but they were busy with a new baby and didn’t have time to begin producing the vinegar on a large scale.
Fast forward – they have re-located to St. John’s where Harron runs a successful stall at the St. John’s Farmer’s Market and McKenna is working as the founding brewmaster at Yellowbelly Brewery – for Harron now felt like the right time to give beer vinegar another go.
Like sour dough and kamboucha, making vinegar requires a starter, in vinegar the starter is called a wild mother. McKenna started a wild mother for Newfoundland Beer Vinegar in the Brewhouse at Yellowbelly.
“When the beer is exposed to the air all the natural yeasts are attracted to the alcohol in the beer and they start eating it. Over time it creates this gelatinous, ooey-gooey mass, that’s the wild mother,” Harron explained.
Harron had been struggling to name her company when she first heard the term ‘wild mother’ and it instantly struck her as the perfect fit. She could imagine herself being described as a ‘wild mother’ and she loved that the phrase evoked feminism and natural foods, two concepts that are important to her.
“You have to capture the wild mother. There’s all kinds of really interesting vocabulary around fermentation, they say things like ‘ if you take care of your mother she will take care of you’,” Harron said.
Harron and McKenna make Newfoundland Beer Vinegar from waste beer, meaning that they turn beer that would otherwise have ended up in the sewer into a sought -after seasoning. Newfoundland Beer Vinegar can be used in any recipe that calls for vinegar and it’s especially good when paired with a sweet taste.
“I like it in a honey mustard vignette, I like it sprinkled on fish, I’ve been using it in basically any recipes that uses vinegar. I’ve been using it to brighten up things like pasta sauce or for example tonight, I’m just making a broccoli tofu thing that calls for apple cider vinegar and I’m going to use the beer vinegar instead,” Harron said.
Harron has also been experimenting with using the beer vinegar to make a drink called haymaker’s punch. She explained that haymaker’s punch was brought to North America from the West Indies in the fifteenth or sixteenth century and was given to farmers when they were out making hay, hence the name.
“It’s delicious because once you mix something sweet with the vinegar and water you start to get all sorts of interesting notes and characteristics. Some people say it tastes kind of apple cider-y or that it tastes like lemonade,“ Harron said.
Harron plans to start giving out free samples of haymaker’s punch at the St. John’s Farmer’s Market this summer. She will make larger portions available by donation with all proceeds going to Planned Parenthood.
Newfoundland Beer Vinegar is available at Rocket Bakery, The Bee’s Knees, The Newfoundland Heritage Shop, and Good Water Sea Foods as well as at the Wild Mother Provisions stall at the St. John’s Farmer’s Market. Starting this summer it will be distributed to shops all over the Island.