A garden, a date, and upcoming fun

Tonight, I made an excellent pasta dish loosely based on a recipe on allrecipes.com. I had some Andouille sausage, and a whole bunch of vegetables from our garden. Using some tomato (different colored varieties), some bell peppers (red and green) from the garden, and adding onion, mushrooms and garlic which we did not grow, along with some cream and a hint of my own apple wine (in place of a dry white), dinner was a pleasant success. Sean, my 6-year-old, still wouldn’t eat it, but everyone else did. And I rarely judge a meal based on Sean’s take-away at this stage of his culinary life!

I love using things from the garden. It’s the perfect time! And it makes me thankful in so many ways.

In other “news”, Kim and I were scheduled for a massage at Zen Gym in Greenville on Saturday (yesterday). Friday, we received the call that they were cancelling our appointment – apparently an opportunity came up they couldn’t refuse…

So, with babysitter already planned, we were not about to quit the date. Just meant we needed to figure out what else to do.

For starters, I dropped us by Grape & Grains and picked up the ingredients to make a Belgian quadruple, or “quad”. I’m a fan of St. Bernardus Abt 12, a notable quad I discovered at The Trappe Door (another restaurant well worth a visit in Greenville). I could only hope to make something so enjoyable! In any case, it should be an interesting batch. I’ve only worked with dry yeast packets – never slap packs or starters. This will likely require building a starter. And the recipe I have suggests re-pitching at priming. The instructions are a little vague. So we’ll see how it goes. Not sure when I will get to starting it. I may need to get something bottled to free up a carboy…

My Beautiful Wife, Kim

My Beautiful Wife, Kim

Moving on from there, we stopped for a late lunch at Brixx Pizza – which we both love. Their pizza is the perfect size for a lunch date, and combined with the Pear-Arugula salad…

We spent the rest of the afternoon meandering a couple common haunts. We bought chocolate at World Market – maybe a little too much. And we picked up a yummy wine called Callabriga after a free tasting at Total Wine & More; the wine is from the Douro Valley in Portugal. Having tasted port from there while in Porto, Kim and I quickly noticed that you could absolutely taste the region’s grapes. It was like pre-port. Just wonderful.

We took a quick trip to Barnes & Noble, but didn’t see anything we really needed, so moved on to dinner. Dinner was at Tupelo Honey Café. We had been to the one in Asheville, NC. But Kim had been dying to come to the new one just built in Greenville. The food and drinks were all excellent. Yummy biscuits, tasty steak, and delicious mac and cheese for me. It was a treat, and we headed home quite satisfied.


Starting a Plum Wine

Friday I cut up twelve pounds of plums (pitting them, but leaving the skin on). I found a great deal at the supermarket and decided it was time!

I found a recipe in Terri Garey’s book for “Plum or Nectarine” wine. It calls for crushing the plums with a potato masher. I tried that. I didn’t find it very effective. So, I just cut them up really thin, instead of in chunks. From the smell now, I think that was a fine decision. But it was only my first departure from the recipe.

Out of all the books I have read and people I have talked to, only Garey’s book suggests that one should finish dry and back-sweeten. I understand her reasoning – you can ensure (well, within reason) a fairly consistent end-product. Every other book suggests adding the right amount of sugar for the yeast to finish up, and leave more after they are done. It’s more of an art, and requires more knowledge of the yeast’s particular capabilities (yeast tolerance, life cycle, etc.). But back-sweetening is a pain in my book, though I have regularly done it to this point.

All that said, I decided to neglect the recipe’s instruction of 2 pounds of sugar to the gallon, instead going with 3 pounds per gallon. Twelve pounds of plums is enough for 3 gallons by the recipe, so I used 9 pounds of sugar.

Plum Red, Just Before Pitching Yeast

Plum Red, Just Before Pitching Yeast

With plums in a fermentation bag at the bottom of a fermenter (big bag!), I poured in a gallon-and-a-half of cold water. The rest of the water (another gallon-and-a-half, approximately) was put in a pan on the stove with the sugar, and heated. I didn’t bring it to a boil, just to the point where I could get it in solution well. I then poured the heated sugar-water over the plums. Doing it this way, I can much more quickly get to the point of adding the potassium metabisulfite.

Which is exactly what I then did. Using my “smidgen” measure, I added 3/20 tsp. potassium metabisulfite. I also added 3/8 tsp. of wine tannin, 3 tsp. of yeast nutrient and 3 tsp. of ascorbic acid. (Oh, I finally picked up some acid blend at Grape & Grains, yesterday…) The recipe of course called for acid blend, and the full dosing would have been 4.5 tsp. That much of ascorbic acid is likely too much, plus I ran out.

Yesterday morning I was ready to add the pectic enzyme, having waited the required 12 hours. At a 1.2 tsp. per gallon, I added 1.5 tsp. of pectic enzyme.

And that brings us to this morning. Opening the fermentation bucket, I was met with a glorious odor – sweet and plum-like, just as it should be. The SG measured 1.106, and I added the re-hydrated Pasteur Champagne yeast (1 dry packet).

So I can expect a couple days of stirring over the next week. Hopefully by this time next year I will have a couple bottles of my own plum wine to share!

Dark and Beautiful

Ready To Pitch Nottingham Danstar

Ready To Pitch Nottingham Danstar

Today, it was time to begin my next ale, this time a porter. How To Brew has an example recipe for a porter, and provides alternatives for all-extract, partial extract and all-grain brewing methods. I went with the all-grain approach, but modified it slightly. So far, so good!

So the recipe called for 8.5 pounds of pale ale malt, 0.5 pounds each of chocolate malt and crystal (60L) malt, and 0.25 pounds of black patent malt. I added to this a half pound of oatmeal – which I have tasted in porter and liked. Everything I have read on the subject suggests there isn’t much of an effect on flavor, but rather an increased smoothness. That’s what I’m looking for!

I added the grains to two bags in the cooler for lautering. I heated 5G of water to 168° F, and then slowly added that to the cooler. End result was right on where I wanted it, 156° F. And then I let this sit for the hour rest. I sparged with 165° F water after the hour – and had no problems.

If you recall my last attempt, with a brown ale, you’ll remember that the lauter tun and sparging were a disaster. In order to overcome this I spent a disastrous hour in the hardware store looking for parts to combine in some freakish manner in order to keep from having a loose tube spill wort. In the end, a run of 1/2 inch (outer diameter) plastic tubing was a perfect fit for the drain hole of the cooler, and none of the other hardware I had attempted to string together was necessary.

I actually do/did have one problem – but it wasn’t clear until after the boil. I think I was about a half-gallon short on sparge water, and total wort after boil bears this out. In any case, the boil went on without much trouble. My son pointed out a pan about to over-boil before it became a complete disaster. About the only issue.

The hop schedule called for three additions of hops, at the beginning of boil and two more at every 20 minute interval. The initial hop addition was .53 ounces of Horizon (recipe calling for 0.5 oz of 12%). The first addition was 0.75 oz of Willamette (recipe called for 0.75oz of 5%). The final addition was another 0.5 oz of Willamette (recipe called for .5oz of 5%). All went well. And I was able to keep from including such a large layer of the hops when I moved the wort to the carboy. Whew.

Cooling is always slower than desirable, as there is only so much ice and cold water. Maybe some day I will splurge for better hardware. But for now, I’ll work with what I have. Cooling took a couple of hours, at which point I moved the wort to the carboy for fermentation, and pitched the yeast. The SG measured at 1.044, though the delta should probably be about 0.005 based on the temp I eye-balled. Which puts the SG right in the right neighborhood as 1.049, with recipe suggesting 1.047.

I used a Nottingham yeast, Danstar. Palmer had suggested an American yeast in his own recipe, but mentioned that Nottingham was a good dry yeast to use as well. Looks good so far. That is where I am now, waiting to see the yeast take off. Initial observation – it is a dark, as it should be. Looks yummy.

Some more pictures:

Fig Wine

In other news, the fig wine that was my first ever wine attempt finally hit its scheduled maturity date, so we popped the cork earlier in the week. That being said, it was still horrible. And at Kim’s suggestion (with my agreement), we simply dumped the one bottle that remained. Neither of us was interested in drinking more than the mouthful or so to sample.

Mint Liqueur

A while back I had prepared a small experiment of different amounts of mint combined with both gin and vodka. The jars had been ready for some time, but I had not found an opportunity to test out the results. This week that finally became a reality. There is a visible difference between using gin and vodka; the gin is darker. The gin based mint liqueur was also tastier. All had an okay amount of mint, but the 0.7 oz batch of gin mint was best. I don’t think any more would have made it better.

I moved the liqueur from the mason jars it was stored in into second-hand liqueur bottles. To each bottle I added 1 or 2 drops of green food coloring for a quite beautiful (and tasty) presentation. We’ve been sampling it in different preparations though the week – a grasshopper with mint, coffee liqueur and cream, a custom concoction with mint, fig leaf liqueur and a squirt of lime juice, and even straight.

Lots going on in the garden, but it will have to wait for another post…


Well, today was not the best for things in storage. Coming home from work, I found two exploded bottles of brown ale. At first I only saw one, in a box on the ground, and thought someone may have just kicked the box. Such things are not out of the question. But the second was in a box up on a shelf, so it seems rather unlikely…

So, I took one of the other bottles of brown ale to the refrigerator for testing “later”. I also took another of my bottles of primed mead to the refrigerator for testing as well.

A  few hours later, I happened to smell a certain fermenty-sweetness, near my home office; soon I found that a bottle of Sweet Asian Pear Mead had popped its cork. So “strike three” for the day.

Results are mixed after that. The brown ale was tested at dinner, and found to be quite tasty. Sweet and fruity, with a modest amount of carbonation – nothing to account for two bottles exploding – and not much in the way of a head. The lemony hops flavor is impossible to miss. Overall, not a bad accompaniment to dinner.

Dinner itself went off pretty well. I made pork chops with a side of rigatoni. To the rigatoni I added a first-time-ever-made Pear Mead Cream sauce. It was excellent. I took 4 tbsp. of butter (real – not that nasty margarine stuff) and cooked a small, chopped onion in it. To this I added 1/2 cup of Asian Pear Mead (my own brew). I simmered this briefly before adding it to the pan drippings from the pork chops. I reduced by half, then added a cup of heavy cream, Only thing left was to heat through till bubbly. The rigatoni tossed in the sauce was spectacular, and got rave reviews from adults and kids alike. And it wasn’t bad on the pork chops, either.

(Oh, and the primed mead is not yet carbonated. But Kim likes it. So, win?)

Racking The New Stuff

Racked and Already Actively Bubbling

Racked and Already Actively Bubbling

Fruity-sweetness canned? Check. Finished ferments bottled? Check. Well, then it is probably time to check in on my newest batches! Blackberry! Blueberry! Cherry!

It is probably worth mentioning that everything went smoothly in setting up these ferments. In a previous post, I detailed to the point of adding the pectic enzyme. 26 hours later, I added the yeast. I divided 2 packets of Montrachet yeast between the 4 gallons, and prepped the yeast as normal otherwise. The next morning, I had bubbling goodness.

Having thus been a week, today was the day chosen to rack. After sanitizing the jugs with a Star San solution, I started with the cherry. The blackberry came next, followed by the blueberries (wine, then melomel). Progress in all but the case of the blueberry wine was indicated by the relative dryness of the must to the taste. The blueberry wine, on the other hand, is still quite sweet.

The blackberry was noticeably puckering in the back of the mouth. I haven’t noticed such a feeling to this extent in any previous batch I have made. But otherwise it was good. Not done, but acceptable for this stage.

I have noticed that sometimes it takes quite a long time before the racked ferments get back to bubbling visibly. Not so today. Within minutes, there were streams of bubbles in each gallon. So many bubbles, in fact, that white-ish pink bubble “foam” rings formed in each jug’s neck.

The blueberry wine is noticeably darker than the blueberry melomel. That was a little surprising. There is not a huge difference in color between the cherry and the blackberry; and the blackberry has a lot less sediment in it. As is typical, I did a terrible job of staying off the lees in the plastic bucket, so in the next couple of days I probably need to rack again to get the must off the excess material.

Anyway, that’s about all the observations I have for now. Now it’s time to do laundry. Ugh.

Time To Bottle, Once Again

Pomegranate, Honeysuckle and Pineapple to be bottled

Pomegranate, Honeysuckle and Pineapple to be bottled

In the last post on this subject, I had just finished adding potassium metabisulfite and sorbate to the single gallon batches which had reached the end of secondary fermentation. Did I mention they are beautiful? The honeysuckle, especially, is a crystal-clear light orange.

Well, that was last Sunday. Wednesday evening, I added the sugar to the only one I had decided to sweeten – the pineapple wine. I used 4oz of sugar heated in a small amount of water to create the back-sweetener.

The instructions on my potassium metabisulfite say to wait 3-4 days minimum before bottling. Thursday should have been fine; everything was looking good. But I didn’t find an opportunity until yesterday afternoon. One of the things that held me up was that I was short on potassium metabisulfite for making a sanitization solution for the bottles.

Well, it turns out that I skipped using that altogether. In beer bottling, potassium metasbisulfite is actually detrimental, unless you rinse thoroughly – which has the potential to defeat the purpose. So… I picked up Star San at my local supply store and made a sanitizing solution with it instead. It comes highly recommended. And I’d say I definitely liked using it. Kim always has a hard time in the kitchen when I have been using the other – makes her light-headed. The Star San solution (1/4oz to 1 gallon of water) has no noticeable odor.

One at a time, I bottled the pomegranate, the pineapple and the honeysuckle – in that order. Each produced 5 bottles. I used green for the pomegranate, and clear for the other two. Bottling went smoothly, to my great relief. But corking was not so simple. I had one cork that decided to stop entering the bottle about a 1/4 inch before in (pomegranate bottle 3). And then as I tried to cork pineapple bottle 5, I apparently did not have a good enough handle on the bottle, and ended up with a bottle landing on the floor.

I’m just glad the bottle didn’t shatter. I was able to recover by adding just a little bit of leftover honeysuckle metheglin to that last bottle of pineapple. “Pineapple wine with a hint of honeysuckle mead” is a little lengthy on the label, but that’s the gist of it.

The pomegranate calculated with an ABV of 15.5%, or 17.8% if you go with the alternate high gravity method. I labeled 15.5, but since the OG was 1.118, well… The pineapple wine’s calculation is so unbelievable that I shudder to report it. An SG change from 1.075 to 0.930 gives an ABV of 19.8%. No, no, no. Just not possible. Something is wrong – either with my measurements, or something. I don’t know what. But I find it hard to believe the 19.8%. A small taste bore out that sugar was good from the back-sweetening – but gave no indication that there was a high level of alcohol. I left the ABV off the label, as I simply don’t believe I have good numbers to base an ABV on.

Lastly, the honeysuckle calculated at 14% ABV, and was labeled so. And now…we wait.

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Peaches and Blueberries

Peaches and blueberries. Sounds rather tasty just saying (or writing) it! Thursday (Aug 1), I made peach jam, based on the Ginger-Peach Jam recipe on allrecipes.com. Friday (Aug 2), I made Blueberry-Basil Preserves, with the help of a post over at Love & Olive Oil. Both went pretty well, I think.

The peach jam mostly went by the recipe. I skipped the ginger for this run. Maybe some other time. Kim would like me to make some more with less sugar (10 cups is quite a bit). I’d like to make some with a hint of chili pepper from our garden…

In any case, I took about 4 1/2 cups of chopped peaches (peeled and pitted), and set them on to boil with a 1.75 oz package of dry pectin. Once it came to a boil, I added in the copious amounts of sugar, little by little. I brought back to a boil and then cooked for a minute longer, just as the recipe said. The end result was 8 8oz jars of jam. I had been curious, since the recipe never said how many it made…

Canning wasn’t the smoothest operation, and the first four jars got about 15 minutes of sub-boiling temperatures before their 10 minutes at full boil. I’ll know better next time. There is a noticeable clear layer of jelly at the bottom of these. But it doesn’t look like any serious harm was done.

The Blueberry-Basil I did do some modification on. Rather than blending the majority of the berries, I chose to crush them with a potato-masher. This should hopefully end up in a less homogenous product – more like the preserves I grew up with. The recipe called for blending or using a food processor (not quite to the point of liquification). I did use the blender on the remaining 1/4 cup of blueberries (as the recipe called for).

So the basic recipe… Put almost 3.5 lbs of berries on to boil after crushing/beating them to a pulp (save a 1/4 cup of the 3.5 lbs for blending with the other ingredients). To this add a 1/4 cup of sugar that has been fully mixed with a 1.75 oz package of dry pectin. While this got going, I put the remaining blueberries, the lemon juice (1 tbsp), water (1/2 cup) and the basil (1/2 cup coarsely torn) in the blender, and blended it. I added it to the pan with the cooking berries. Once this mixture was at a boil, I added the bulk of the sugar (4 1/4 cups) in one fell swoop, and mixed it in. I cooked it for 1 minute once it returned to a full boil.

This recipe made 3 big jars (16 oz?) and 4 8oz jars. The stuff tastes and smells heavenly, despite my wife’s remarks that I should have made some without basil. Canning went smoothly, now that I had figured out to start the canning water onto boil first.