Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Adventures in Cider Making

At primary school one of the stories in our Wide Range Readers was Johnny Appleseed. As I remember, Johnny was presented as a jolly hobo who wandered the length and breadth of America with bags of apple seeds which he planted everywhere for no reason other than benevolence. And this is how Johnny Appleseed is generally known. I never gave him another thought until I read The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan.

Pollan's work shows how people and domesticated plants have formed mutually beneficial relationships. His chosen plants are the apple – our desire for sweetness, the tulip – for its beauty, marijuana – which intoxicates us and the potato which nourishes us. Each of these plants has thrived through selective breeding and genetic engineering. It was a fascinating read which I'd recommend to anyone who takes pleasure in growing – anything!

The section I enjoyed the most was the one on our desire for sweetness and apples. Pollan had a lot to say about Johnny Appleseed or, to give him his true name, John Chapman. The tale I had from school was over simplified. John Chapman was a fascinating man. But he didn't just wander around the United States planting seeds willy-nilly. He planted nurseries of apple saplings and sold them to farmers. When a nursery was established he left it in the hands of a manager and moved on, planted another nursery and continued in this pattern. He made a decent living. Now an interesting fact about apples is that they don't grow true from seed. Indeed, if you were to take an apple and plant the several seeds that it contained, each seedling would be entirely different from the others. And most would be sour. Apple trees that produce sweet fruit may only be propagated by grafting. So the vast majority of John Chapman's trees would have produced sour fruit. So why did people buy them in such large numbers? Because sour apples are just what is needed to produce hard cider and applejack. Our reading book never mentioned that.

Which brings me to my own recent experiment. I've been wanting Bert to make a cider press for ages but he has yet to get round to it. So I was rather pleased when a friend sent me a link to a method of producing cider without using a press. I gathered my apples, a mixture of Bramleys, crabs and dessert apples. Mostly Bramleys as they are what I have at hand. They are not ideal for cider but it is just an experiment.

The recipe uses a juicer instead of a press and we happen to have a sturdy masticating juicer which makes it easier still.

Hard Cider From Whole Apples

What You’ll Need:
  • Apples, pears, or crab apples (to be mixed with sweet apples.)  About 15 lbs. of fruit gets us about a gallon of juice.  Must be fresh and organic.  Try to include some crab apples or tart apples with your sweet ones for a better, more balanced flavour.
  • A juicer. 
  • A chopping knife and cutting board.
  • A large sieve and a clean kitchen towel.
  • Demijohns, a funnel, a siphon hose, rubber bungs and airlocks.
  • Sugar
  • Swing-top bottles
  1. Wash your fruit well with plain water. 
  2. Cut your apples into quarters.  This is mostly just to check for bugs or other issues with the apples.  Discard or cut around any that have an infested core, and cut out major bruises. You don’t need to worry about coring or taking stems out– the juicer will do that for you.
  3. Start juicing!  As your juicer pitcher gets full, pour it through a funnel into a sterilized demijohn.
  4. Once you have juiced all of your fruit, taste the juice and add sugar.  At least a cup of sugar to a gallon of juice, more if you like sweet cider.  During the fermentation process, the yeast will eat the sugar (both the fructose from the fruit and the added sugar) and turn it into alcohol– so this step is both for flavour and alcohol level.  Those of you in the USA may not really need to add much sugar, as most of the apples there tend to be really sweet.  You can add more sugar later if the brew is turning out too dry or tart for your taste.
  5. Put a rubber stopper and an airlock on your demijohn, and let it sit for a week.
  6. Rack your cider– siphon it into another sterilized demijohn, leaving the yeasty sediment in the bottom of the first one, so you have a much cleaner cider in the new demijohn.  Taste it and see how it’s doing.  If it’s already tasting pretty dry, you can add some more sugar before you put the airlock back on.
  7. For a sweet cider, bottle after a week. Three weeks or more makes a drier end product. Fermenting it this long means that it won’t be very fizzy in the end– but you can also add a little sugar just before bottling to regain some carbonation.  The next step is to bottle your hard cider.  Use the siphon hose to fill swing-top bottles. The type of bottle is really important, since it lets out small amounts of the pressure that builds up, so you don’t burst any bottles.

For those of you in Northern Ireland all the specialist equipment needed can be purchased at Hillstown Farm Shop near Ahoghill (and Randalstown) or Nature's Way in Belfast.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Carrot and Orange Wine

It's been ages since I've blogged about my wine making activities. The truth is I've been too busy growing fruit and vegetables to have time for making wine and, like last summer, I've rather neglected the wines already started. Five months and nothing racked, nothing progressed. I'm beginning to realise that. for me,  wine making is going to be an autumn and winter pastime.

Carrot & Orange10/05/1329/05/1320/10/1323/11/1326/01/2014 & 7/04/2014
03/09/142nd R -heavy sediment/3rd R: Heavy albumin bloom decanted out topped with cider & water

Still, the freezer is full of peaches, all colours of currants, rhubarb and raspberries. The damsons look like they are going to crop well this year and the hedgerows are full of blackberries. It's been four months since I laid anything new down but, I promise, I'll make up for it.

And so it was I bottled the Carrot and Orange. Started in May 2013, racked 5 times and bottled tonight. It is drinkable already. Nellybert shared a couple of glasses tonight. Too soon but we are reckless fools.

Carrots always make good wine. My experiments with pineapples, pears, oranges and strawberries are over. From now on I shall concentrate on the fruit and vegetables that make dry and palatable wines. I know I used a dash of orange in this one but it was juice only, no rind. Wines with rind included tend to give me a headache so no more of that.

Sixteen months from start to bottle. Too long but the wine is yummy. A friend, Emma, gave me loads of sultanas today. Carrot and sultana wine coming up!

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Racking and Bottling

The Banjos came over on Saturday night. Mrs Banjo brought her first ever wine for racking. It was a raspberry made from Asda's finest frozen fruit. To be honest I wasn't expecting much from it but it is coming along very nicely. A good ruby red colour, clear, tasty and alcoholic. Of course we judged this on the merest sip during the racking process but I will be looking for the recipe. I might need to use frozen fruit as we replaced our raspberry canes this year, and thanks to the very wet Spring they were late in getting into the ground.

Tonight I racked one of my elderflowers and a rhubarb. The elderflower was made from fresh flowers. I'd previously used dried flowers. The flavour is good but it is rather too sweet for my liking. I'll try it again this year but will go easy on the sugar.

Rhubarb. What can I say? It never disappoints me but looking back at my notes I see I was very adventurous with this one. I started it in February 2013 and used a pint of pineapple wine as a starter. Then, racking it in October I seem to have lashed a bit of birch sap and rhubarb into it. It didn't clear that well but is strong. Not one for entering in the County Show.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Carrot and Apple Wine

Carrot28/10/1119/05/12still very sweet on 3rd racking/ bottled – sweet and  clear, good colour, cork popped Sept, 12/1/13 drank 1 bottle, very fizzy, sweet but pleasant
Carrot and Orange10/05/13
2nd R -heavy sediment/3rd R: Heavy albumin bloom decanted out topped with cider and water
Carrot and Raisin 128/11/1204/05/13Added nutmeg, cinnamon and pinch clove, needed a lot of topping up (water) when going into demijohn, 2nd R: dry, great flavor, Bert loves it
Carrot and Raisin 228/02/1324/02/14some parsnips in mix, used demerara sugar 2lbs, nutmeg and cinnamon. Bottled 5. Yummy.
Carrot and Raisin 303/12/13

Carrot and Sultana13/12/1206/11/13using plastic container, 2nd r decanted into glass – light flavour 3rd R: dry, clear topped with nettle
Carrot, Parsnip and Sultana24/10/1302/03/14made with Tam veg. Topped with young rhub at 2nd rack

That's a little section of my wine-making spreadsheet and it's all about The Carrot. As can be seen I've made wine from carrots 7 times. Two are still on the go and 5 have been bottled. Bert and I shared a bottle of carrot and raisin (2) last night and it was rather tasty.

The first time I used carrot I stuck closely to a recipe. There must have been a lot of sugar because it was almost too sweet. It was also fizzy which means it carried on fermenting after bottling. Not a good idea! Carrot and raisin (or sultana) and less sugar produced a far more drinkable wine. I also started using pinches of nutmeg and other spices which added flavour. By the time I was on my third carrot and raisin I had stopped using recipes.

Carrot (and parsnip) wines are made with the liquor from the chopped and boiled roots. The actual vegetable is discarded. Some recipes suggest they can then be used in cooking but as I don't like my vegetables with the life boiled out of them, I give them to the pigs. Using dried fruit means that chemical nutrients aren't needed. I rarely use additives now. Just bananas or raisins for added nutrients, lemon juice where acid is required and strong tea where tannin is recommended.

Rough Recipe for Carrot, Apple, Raisin and Date Wine

Roots are easy to prepare for wine but chopping the raisins is a bit of a fiddly chore. And that is where my new Veto slow juicer comes in. I found a recipe for carrot and apple wine on-line and adapted it. I boiled the 4 lb of carrots as always then made a litre of juice using apples, carrots, all the raisins I had in my baking cupboard and a few dates for good measure. I put a bag of sugar in my sterilised bucket and added the pulp from the carrots, apples and dried fruit. Then 2 litres of boiling water and stirred it into a thick sludgy brown syrup. Time for the carrot liquor which had cooled down quite a bit. By the time I added my litre of juice and topped it up to a gallon it was exactly the right temperature for the yeast. Quick stir, lid on and that was that. Did I mention that it looked like liquid manure? Smelt better though.

So there you are. Another rough enough recipe from Nelly.  I'm sure I must be annoying somebody out there by alternating between imperial and metric measures. If anyone wants me to make it more exact I will. But perhaps better wait a few months to see how it turns out.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Drinking It Young

Spring is here at last, a time for new beginnings and a new flurry of activity on the blog. It might still be freezing but the evenings are lengthening and I've been clearing the freezer of all last season's fruit to make way for this year's harvest.

There were a lot of blackcurrants in there. Since I last updated the Rough Enough Guide I have started 11 gallons of wine and six of them have been blackcurranty. Two plain old blackcurrant and the remaining four blackcurrants mixed with,

  1. blackberries
  2. damsons
  3. apple
  4. strawberries.

Way back in August 2011 the first wine I made was blackcurrant and it disappointed me. Dry, dry as a bone. I think that was why it took me two years to attempt blackcurrant again.

Then Jazzer presented me with the entire crop from her solitary blackcurrant bush and we had another go. We started it together and I continued the racking process myself. We used less sugar and Young's Super Wine Yeast Compound. It finished really quickly and, needing something bottled and Jazzer very keen to see it in bottles, we went ahead. We bottled five and polished off the last bottle from the flagon. It was surprisingly delicious considering it was only 6 months old. Jazzer wanted to get stuck into another one but I explained to her that it would not really be properly ready until next August.

Can I take it home with me?
You can take your two bottles if you think it's wise. 
Two bottles? But...

Her face fell.

Did you think it would be all yours? The deal is, and I do this for anyone who provides me with ingredients. If there are six bottles I keep three. For I do all the sterilising and racking.

She saw my point and she got her two bottles.

You know you should really keep them six months.
I'll drink one and keep one.

She drank them both and now she has the wine making bug, rang me tonight looking for a bit of advice on her first batch which she is making using frozen blackberries and raspberries from Tescos. Interesting. If she keeps this up she'll be in rehab before long.

I'll try to keep my three bottles of the Jazzer Blackcurrant until August but it is rather good. No doubt, next time she's here we will fall to it with gusto.

 Blackcurrant & Apple
Blackcurrant & Strawberry