After a long day of chopping, brining, pickling, canning, freezing, and getting things ready for the dehydrator I was tired. What, pray tell, was I going to have for dinner? And, what did I feel like fixing? Nothing! I wasn't inspired to cook anything.
However, before me on the counter top was the answer to my dinner dilemma - the very things I'd harvested and been working to process but hadn't quite finished.
So, I simply grabbed a casserole dish, some olive oil, salt, pepper, and minced some fresh rosemary and sage. Then, I selected from the remaining produce sitting on the counter for color and flavor. I wanted it bright, colorful, and savory. I wanted it to cook while I took a sipped a glass of wine. And, simply sat.
Before me lay beets, carrots, potatoes, onions, some zucchini, green, yellow, and red tomatoes, red and green Italian sweet peppers. In other words - dinner!
I sliced everything about 1/4-inch thick and cut a green (unripe) tomato into thick wedges. The green tomato would emit less juice than a ripe one and add that "fried green tomato" flavor I love.
The veggies were added to the casserole dish, drizzled with olive oil, salted and peppered and tossed gently with the minced herbs, to mix well. Then, all was placed into a 450-degree oven and roasted for an hour, stirring every 20 minutes. I sipped my wine and enjoyed the aroma of the savory, roasting veggies.
Then, I realized I wanted something else on that plate. But what?
An egg! A fried egg. Effortless and fast. I was able to fry the egg before the veggies cooled. My simple supper was just that. Simple!
It was also tasty, satisfying, hearty, and wholesome. And, it was all from my garden and hen house!
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...for fermentation to slow to a stop. While the wine I just racked needs to ferment for months left to come, I have jugs of wine from Spring and Summer of 2011 that need re-racking and bottling. So, I can illustrate what needs to be done at the next stage of wine making.
Let's start with re-racking into clean jugs. When we first jugged our infant wine it was cloudy, murky, foamy, and actively fermenting.
After three rackings (siphoning into clean jugs) these wines are clearing beautifully.
After funneling your infant wine into its first jug it will ferment vigorously for several days and gradually begin to slow. Over several weeks and months visible fermentation may nearly cease. It's time to re-rack which means siphoning the wine into a new, clean jug leaving sludgy sediments behind for discarding into the garden or compost pile. There may be as much as an inch of sediment left after the first re-racking!
Re-racking new wine into a clean jug by siphoning. The 1/4-inch, flexible, plastic tubing was purchased from a pet store (for use in aquariums). It's also available from shops that sell wine making equipment. A footstool provides the proper height needed for wine to flow easily into a clean jug.
You'll want to insert one end of the tubing into the jug to be emptied. Suck on the other end to get flow started...this takes a little practice to know when flow has started. You don't want to suck the new wine into your mouth. You just want to suck long enough to get a good flow going and before it reaches your mouth you want to insert the other end of the tubing into the jug to be filled.
Fill the new jug leaving about 1/2- to one-inch of liquid in the jug you are emptying which will consist of lees and clouded liquid.
With each successive re-racking you'll leave lees behind and your wine will clarify. You can use commercial clarifying agents but in most cases re-racking wine off its lees will accomplish this without adding additional ingredients to your wine.
I like to do my racking and bottling at the kitchen sink to catch dribbles. I also put a towel on the floor to keep it from getting sticky from droplets or splashes of wine while I'm working.
Each racking takes place when fermentation slows. Re-racking will instigate increased fermentation for a short time until the final and last racking when the level of water in the fermentation locks stays the same.
After its fourth racking this wine is ready for bottling. No temporary increase in fermentation occured. The water level on both sides of the lock is even indicating that its now time to bottle this wine.
One of the pleasures of re-racking into clean jugs is that you get to taste the fruits of your labors. As the wine clears with successive rackings you can use a wine thief, or drinking straw to capture a bit of the wine to taste. The wine will taste better (hopefully) after aging but you can get an idea how things are going to go by tasting a bit of it during the re-racking process.
After tasting each batch rinse the glass and wine thief so its ready for the next wine. Also, between rackings rinse the tubing so one batch or variety of wine is not contaminated by flavor of another.
Now I'm tasting a bit of wine from the re-racking of a jug of Cynthiana wine from the Summer of 2011. This wine is almost, but not quite ready for bottling. There's still a bit of active fermentation after its fourth re-rack. I think it will be ready after its fifth re-racking. I also think this wine will be even better with aging because it's darn good right now!
A small jug of spiced meade and two large jugs of Muscat are ready for bottling from last year's harvest.
Presently, I prefer to use screw-top wine bottles for my wine. Generally, corks available for the hobby wine maker are not of the same quality as those used by the large vineyards. Low standard corks pop out more easily and allow air to enter the wine causing it to oxidize, ruining your wine and rendering useless and wasted all the time you've put into making and fermenting your wine. This can mean the loss of many months of work and hope.
When it's time to bottle a wine the jug is placed on a footstool on top of the kitchen counter to raise the height for easy siphoning. The drain cover is removed from the drain on one side of the sink. I put a clean cloth into the drain so that it will hold an empty bottle firmly against tipping or slippage.
When you begin bottling have four or five clean, ready bottles lined up. As each bottle is filled to the neck, bend the tubing to stop or slow the flow and insert it into the next bottle to be filled. Once all the bottles are filled you can insert corks or screw on a cap.
I find that I select for purchase wine that has screw on caps. In fact, in the wine world more and more vineyards are moving to screw on caps. It's possible now to find really good wines in screw on caps. These bottles and caps can be reused nearly indefinitely, again and again, for bottling your own homemade wines.
If you choose to use corks you'll need to order them from suppliers of wine making equipment. You'll also need a corking implement to insert the corks into your wine bottles. Simply save bottles from purchased wine for bottling your homemade wines.
Because I store my wine in the cellar below the Cottage I usually use a felt pen to write the type of wine and year bottled on the bottle because mice seem to like to chew the labels off leaving me with shelves and boxes full of "mystery" wine. Later, if you want to attach a label for gifting a bottle simply scrub your felt penned notations from the bottle with a damp sponge or cloth.
In addition to a wine label you can purchase wine capsules from suppliers that cover the bottle cap or cork for a nice finished look for your bottled wine. I usually only bother with capsules if I'm giving the wine as a gift.
Wine can also be bulk aged in a gallon jug after its final re-racking. I usually re-rack four or five times until the wine is clear and fermentation has ceased. Just be sure fermentation has ceased and store your jugs in a cool, dark spot. Jug-aging is great when you want to take some of your bottled wine to serve at a large party or family gathering.
By learning to make your own wine from the fruit you may be growing in your own gardens you will be able to supply yourself with something that is artful, organic, and enjoyable.
You will be participating in that age old magic...fermentation!
Here's the goal! From grapes to this! Infant wine in a state of becoming. This will eventually clarify into a crystal clear wine.
Last week I harvested grapes, crushed them, added yeast, and allowed the grapes to commune with their skins, seeds, and stems (must) to create a melange of complex flavors that make for a tasty wine.
The white grape juice sat with its skins, seeds, and stems for four days. The red grape juice mingled with its must for five days.
Now, it's time to separate out the fermenting juice. Here's how I do it.
To press remaining juice from the must I placed a pie plate on top of the must weighted with heavy containers of beans. I garnered about one-and-a-half cups of additional juice pressed from the must. You want the must to be fairly dry after pressing.
Now things get a bit trickier. I suspect that cold hardy wine grapes grown in short-season areas develop less sugar than traditional wine grapes growing in long season, hotter areas.
The wine from both types is excellent, but cold hardy grapes grown in short season areas, like mine, may need additional sugar added as they may not develop enough natural sugar on their own.
A basic rule of thumb would be to add at least two to three cups additional sugar per gallon.
While harvested grapes may taste wonderfully sweet, they may not contain enough natural sugar to make a decent wine of sufficient alcohol content to age well or taste good.
However, to really fine tune the sugar question you'll want to purchase a hydrometer to measure the sugar present in your grape juice.
Based upon the specific gravity of your juice the hydrometer will indicate that you'll need a gravity of:
1.140 to 1.160 to make a sweet wine
1.120 to 1.140 to make a medium sweet wine
1.085 to 1.100 for a dry wine
...and it will tell you how to make specific gravity corrections for room temperature. Although this sound complex it it isn't. As an example...
If you're making wine at a room temperature of 50-degrees, you'll subtract .05-degrees from your specific gravity number indicated on the hydrometer.
60-degrees, you'll neither add nor subtract
70-degrees you'll add 1
77-degrees you'll add 2
84-degrees add 3
95-degrees you'll add 5
105-degrees you'll add 7 to your hydrometer reading.
Say your room temperature is 69- or 70-degrees and your hydrometer reading is 1.121. You'll add:
1.122 This number will help you fine tune how much sugar you need to add.
For temperatures in between, pick the closest room temp and add that number to your reading. Sometimes I don't factor in the temperature correction and get perfectly delicious wines.
Hydrometers are inexpensive and found in stores, or on-line, that sell wine making equipment. I only use it for making grape wines. Other fruit wines follow more exact recipes with precise amounts of sugar. Only grape wines seem to vary in sugar content season to season requiring the use of a hydrometer.
Here's a simple scale to help you figure out how much sugar (by weight) to add in order to correct for lack of natural sugars in approximately one gallon of grape juice:
If specific gravity is:
1.020 add 26 oz sugar
1.025 add 24 oz. sugar
1.030 add 22 oz of sugar
1.035 add 20 oz of sugar
1.040 add 18 oz sugar
1.045 add 16 oz sugar
1.050 add 14 oz sugar
1.055 add 12 oz sugar
1.060 add 10 0z sugar
...and so on until you get to 1.085 which is the ideal sugar ratio in natural grape juice. At this amount you wouldn't add any sugar, simply relying instead on the sweetness of the grapes. You can experiment up or down with sugar. And, you can add more during the fermenting stage, if needed.
In my short season area peak sweetness of my grapes yields a specific gravity somewhere between 1.000 and 1.020. Thus, I end up adding three or more cups of sugar per gallon depending upon specific gravity.
A pound of sugar is approximately...roughly...2-1/4 cups of sugar. While this seems like a lot of sugar, you are feeding yeast, and your finished wine will not be as sweet as the amount of sugar you added would suggest. Yeast consumes sugar and supplants it with alcohol.
You can make excellent grape wines without a hydrometer. It'll be a process of trial and error and learning how much sugar to add to get a dry, medium, or sweet wine.
What do you do if your grapes don't yield enough juice to make a gallon of wine? You simply add enough commercial grape juice to equal one gallon. You can use either frozen juice concentrate reconstituted with water or what comes in a can or bottle. While this isn't ideal, it will work if you're short. Adding commercial juice will raise the specific gravity of your own juice. So measure your specific gravity after adding commercial juice.
Adding sugar will increase the volume of juice in your jug. If you start with a gallon of juice and add sugar you will end up with more than a gallon.
I usually use 3-1/2 quarts of juice, add about three cups of sugar dissolved in one or two cups of juice/water combination resulting in about one gallon of juice, or four liters.
Phew! Sounds complicated, but really it isn't.
With your full gallon of fermenting juice or juice and added sugar, you'll want a fermentation lock so gases caused by fermentation can escape the jug, and wine-destroying bacteria cannot get in. Water added to the lock allows gases to exit and precludes entry of bacteria.
Within a few minutes to an hour you'll notice bubbles percolating through the fermentation lock. You might even here them, too. Fermentation locks may be purchased where wine making equipment is sold. Some people stick a balloon over the neck of the bottle. You'll have to remove the balloon every so often to release the gases it collects. Others stuff cotton into the neck of the bottle to allow gases out and help prevent entry of dust...although I'm not sure if this keeps out bacteria or atmospheric yeasts.
Now your infant wine will ferment for days, weeks, months in its jug. At this stage the wine will be cloudy, but soon sediments (lees) will begin to settle to the bottom of the jug and fermentation will slow. What now?
In the next post, I'll cover racking, bottling, and aging of the wine. Remember, drink no wine before its time! But, tasting is okay and gives you a rough idea of what the finished wine may become. I usually taste the wine during racking, although at the early phase covered in this post, I don't. It's simply not very appetizing at this stage.
So, until the next post...
After picking grapes from four vines over the last couple of days, it was time to begin the processes of turning them into wine. I don't like to leave the grapes sitting about too long or they'll attract fruit flies which carry the bacteria on their feet that turns wine into vinegar. If I can't get to the grapes for a day or two I'll cover the harvesting buckets with a damp towel to keep out dust and flies and store them in the kitchen.
First, I rinsed the clusters to remove debris, dust, and any insects that were hiding among the grapes. After rinsing, the clusters were dropped into a large washtub used only for crushing grapes. The washtub sits on a clean towel to help keep the kitchen floor free of skins, juice, and seeds. A clean towel makes it possible to keep a clean surface between batches.
With the grapes ready to process it's time to scrub the processing equipment! Can you guess where I'm heading with this?
Now, now...feet (hopefully scrubbed ones) have been used for thousands of years - and still are - to crush grapes. I was put off by this idea at first, too. Besides, the resulting alcohol created by the digestion of sugars by yeast kills bacteria. So, with this knowledge on board...and clean feet...let's proceed.
Now, the socklets come off and the real work begins! I start with the white grapes first, finishing the reds last.
Sometimes the simplest methods prove to be the best. And crushing grapes by foot (or feet) is a time-honored tradition for making rustic, country wines. I tried a fruit press once but didn't have the weight or strength to crank the juice from the skins. It turned out to be simpler and much more successful to go low tech and it's less work, too.
Also, it feels really good on the feet. The smooth, slipperiness of the grape skins, the gentle massage provided by the stems and seeds is pleasant and relaxing. The natural grape oils condition the feet...
Don't worry about exfoliating into your pulp...yuck! There's not enough abrasive quality to the grape pulp for that! So, you will end up with only crushed grapes, juice, seeds, and stems. That all! I swear to it!
Light a candle, sip a glass of wine while you tread on the grapes! Make a celebration of it! Invite friends to help by taking turns crushing the grapes - only after everyone submits to the foot-washing ritual, of course!
This is how its still done in many small villages in Italy where huge civic vats are filled with harvested grapes and men, women and children foot-crush the grapes singing, laughing, and sometimes taking a face plant into the slippery grape must (pulp). I don't include the face plant as part of my technique, however.
I avoid slipping by putting the washtub in the corner created by the kitchen cabinets. I can hold myself steady by gripping the counter tops while I tread on the grapes. I don't actually stomp on them. Rather, it's a slow, rhythmic treading which takes several minutes to be sure all the grapes are entirely crushed. Un-crushed grapes ride upon the pulp and are easy to spot.
Each batch is poured into a primary fermenting vessel, the washtub is rinsed, a clean batch of grapes is added and crushing begins anew. I step out onto the clean towel between batches, wiping seeds, juice, and skins off my feet.
Today, I did two batches mixing the two red varieties of grapes into one batch and doing the same with the two white varieties. The grape harvest was a bit scanty this year creating the need to combine grapes to get sufficient juice to make a gallon each of red and white.
There's no discomfort or pokey, stickery events when crushing grapes. It feels really good!
Once all the batches of grapes are satisfactorily crushed I step out of the washtub onto the towel one last time. Using the hand towel I draped over a cupboard door, nearby, I wipe my feet and slip on the clean socklets. Back in the bathroom I rinse the juice from my feet, dry them, and am ready to continue that age-old magic of making grapes into wine.
As I finish each batch of grapes they're poured into "primary fermenting vessels"... a large stockpot, an old water bath canner, and in a good year a five-gallon vessel ordered from a wine-making equipment supplier just for this purpose. This year I'll be using the smaller "make-do" vessels.
Once the must is in its vessels, I add a quarter cup of my artisan bread yeast. One could - and most do - use special wine yeasts. But I like using less delicate bread yeast (not sourdough starter as it will add its taste to the finished wine) because bread yeast overwhelms the natural yeasts on grapes without the need to use sulphites to do this.
Sulphites, are a severe allergen to some people, and if not used correctly will also kill delicate wine yeasts, stopping fermentation. Besides, the old-time cottagers and country folk/farmers used their bread yeast to make delicious wines. The resulting wine is a bit more rustic but every bit as good. I like to call my country-made wines, Rusticas, because of the rustic processes I use.
I've experimented using the naturally-occurring yeasts on grapes and apples to make wine and cider but the resulting libations were bitter. Most naturally-occurring yeasts don't make very good wine! At least none of mine do.
After adding a quarter cup of my liquid artisan yeast starter (you could use a teaspoon of dry bakers yeast - such as Red Star or Fleishmann's - dissolved in a quarter cup of warm water) to each vessel, the lid goes on and the pulp is left to sit, covered, three to seven days. Stir the must back down into the juice once or twice a day to prevent mold from forming. In a few hours or overnight the yeast will begin working and the must will begin to foam and bubble, especially noticeable as you stir the must each day.
Leaving the skins, seeds, and stems in the juice for a few days adds complexity to the finished wine and keeps it from being insipid and flat tasting.
After the upcoming weekend I'll post the next processes of making homemade wine - separating solids from juice, using a hydrometer to check sugar content of the juice - you may or may not need to add sugar, siphoning into glass carboys (jugs), fermentation, re-racking and clarifying, and bottling, storing, and - the best part - drinking it!
Now, after the work of getting the grapes from fruit to must and into primary fermenting vessels and adding yeast, its time to pour a glass of last year's wine and relax!
The grape harvest at the Cottage highlights Summer's end. I grow four varieties of cold-hardy wine grapes - Cayuga and Muscat -both white wine grapes and Frontenac, and Cynthiana (aka Norton and Cabernet of the Ozarks) for making red wine.
I'm a little tardy this year picking the plump clusters but the sugar is high due to heat and drought and a few grapes have "raisined" on the clusters into concentrated sweetness. I'm anticipating some good wine with the need of little added sugar!
Last year's harvest of Frontenac made a delicious dessert wine I named "Frontenac Dulce". This year I'll go for a drier dinner wine.
So today, I gathered the Cayuga, Frontenac, and Muscat grapes. I'll pick the Cynthiana tomorrow. I'm pooped after harvesting three vines!
I had some help today, too! The Chicken Girls are very savvy about anything edible and showed up to taste the grapes for readiness. We all agreed. The grapes were sweet and ready for harvest!
The white grapes are translucent, like glowing light bulbs, and sweet with grapey flavor! An old water bath canner (below) is 2/3's filled with grape-goodness!
My white Muscat grapes taste, to me, exactly like white concord grapes. White muscat may be either the same as white concord or very closely related. More popular in Europe, Muscat grapes are used to make "Asti" and dessert wines. They also come in red varieties although I don't have any of those.
The Cayuga grapes put me in the mind of a Riesling - fruity, but less sweet and a bit drier. They also make a luscious canned juice.
Likely I'll combine the two reds after I harvest the Cynthiana and that will make four or five bottles of nice dinner wine, ready to enjoy after aging in the cellar for a season or two.
In the next few days I will share a few of the highlights of making wine at the Cottage!
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Summer is wrapping up. The corn harvest, for me, puts the seal on Summer's end. Squash are ballooning up in the garden and so are cantaloupes. My yearly hope is that they ripen before the first frost kills them. Sometimes they make it...some years the frost comes first.
Summer's end ushers in the end of the hollyhock blossoms. So the other day I ran out with my camera to record the last hollyhock blooms of the season.
This "purple passion" is located in the Back Garden.
While the Colcannon recipe (Dandelion Colcannon from my May 2, 2012 post) is mine, the sublime idea of stuffing it into Italian sweet peppers and baking it is all Mom! I like to call it "Comfort Colcannon" - creamy, hot, delicious! A perfect, one dish meal for a crisp almost-Autumn evening.
You can substitute whatever greens you have on hand for dandelion greens in the Colcannon. Collards are great! Kale and spinach work, too. You could use cabbage but I find it a bit too sweet and without the body of the darker green choices. The bit of creamy horseradish in my Colcannon recipe teams beautifully with the slightly bitter tang of dandelion, kale, collards, and spinach.
Recipe: Comfort Colcannon: (Serves 4)
Preheat oven to 350-degrees
Colcannon (from my May 2, 2012 post), recipe doubled, or your favorite recipe
2 large green Italian sweet peppers or green bell peppers, seeded and halved lengthwise
A sprinkling of paprika
A drizzle of olive oil
Prepare the Colcannon and set aside.
In a large sauce pot fitted with a steamer basket, or in a large skillet with an inch of water, steam or simmer the pepper halves, covered, for five minutes until slightly limp. Drain the pepper halves cut side down on a clean towel.
Stuff the pepper halves with the Colcannon and lay them in a lightly oiled casserole dish. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and a sprinkle of paprika.
Bake at 350-degrees for 20 to 30 minutes until the potatoes just begin to turn golden in spots.
While this is a one dish meal, a simple salad makes a nice addition.
The garbanzos and cheese in the Colcannon are a nice protein ingredient and the peppers and greens supply the vegetable requirement amply. Potatoes are the creamy, comfort factor!
Simply increase the recipe to serve more people. And, any leftover stuffed peppers heat up nicely for lunch the next day.
This meatless recipe makes a nice dish for a ladies luncheon or contribution to a potluck supper. To make the Colcannon a vegan option, omit cheese and for the butter, substitute olive oil.
Each year I grow Corno di Toro Italian peppers in the Kitchen Garden. They will ripen to red but for this dish I like to pick them in the green stage.
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