Icky Water

Yesterday, Anderson Regional Joint Water System finally came out with boil warnings and such. I’m quite glad I decided to go with distilled water for all of my latest batches of wine. Apparently there is an algae bloom, at the very least. They say there working on a different problem, though. Hard to know what’s really going on.

I don’t know what took so long. For weeks, the water in most Clemson restaurants and definitely at home has been quite unpalatable due to the smell.

Loving This Process…

The process I used making blackberry jam, the other day, that is. It works equally well on blueberry. Much better, in fact, than the process I used last year. My set’s are turning out awesome, if not even too much. Probably will start cutting back the pectin which I have been overdoing based on my previous “way of doing things”.

So the major difference is in the heat times and order of operations. Before, I was adding the pectin and a little sugar early, then getting to a boil, then adding the rest of the sugar, bringing back to a boil and keeping there for 1 minute. Sets have been almost there, but I can’t say I ever had one well set – and I was increasing the pectin by half to three-quarters. I was blaming it in my mind on the low quantity of sugar, but I think that does not truly explain it now. Not to mention that I always seemed to have a bunch of foam at the end, which is not tragic, but a bit of a pain.

The new process is to start the fruit to boil, then add the bulk of the sugar, and heat until boiling and thickened. Usually the foam is copious here, but it dies down later. Once it is thickened a bit (couple minutes?), I am adding the pectin with little bit of sugar and bringing back to a boil; it usually doesn’t even stop, actually. Following that, I boil for 5 minutes (stirring!). And so far the sets are wonderful and the foam at the end is almost non-existent.

Blueberry Jam/Preserves

I am getting ahead of myself! This morning, I began on my two batches of blueberry jam/preserves. The first was “plain”, and as mentioned, I decided to go with the “new” process, rather than the one used last year (and earlier this year). I continued with the same ingredients, basically – well, sort of, as I didn’t make “plain” blueberry jam last year. Anyway…

Canning The "Plain" Blueberry

Canning The “Plain” Blueberry

My first batch was “plain”. As a change from last year, I blended half of the berries with a half-cup of water and a tbsp. of lemon juice. The other half were cut in halves. All of the berries (3.5 pounds) were then put into the cooking pan and heated to a simmer. Once the simmer was reached, the bulk of the sugar  (4.25 cups) was stirred in. I brought this to a full boil, and kept it there while the batch thickened a bit. Then I added 1.5 packages of pectin (normal, powdered) mixed in a 1/4 cup of sugar. It stayed at a boil, and I held it there for 5 minutes.

I then jarred (10 full 8 ounce jars). It seems to me that I may have overdone it in the “less big pieces” department, as compared to last year. Which I addressed in the next batch. Canning was a cinch, with all jars given ~7 minutes (or just a tad more) in the boiling water. I tested just a bit ago and the set was very firm. Flavor was good, too; not too sweet, but tasty and definitely blueberry.

Well, since I wasn’t quite as thrilled by the blending of half the berries, on the second batch I only blended 1 pound (a little less than a third of the berries). Also, the other berries were simply smashed with a potato masher. While I couldn’t guarantee that all berries would get crushed that way, the end product seems perfectly fine, and it was certainly quicker. Plus, easier to have the younger kids smash berries than trust them with sharp knives and tiny berries…

In any case, everything else was the same, with the exception of the addition of a 1/2 cup of basil leaves added to the blending: same amount of water (1/2 cup), same sugar (4.25 and .25 cups), same lemon juice (1 tbsp.), same pectin (1.5 packages) and same amount of total berries (3.5 pounds). Process was exactly the same as above, and the set and flavor, also tested just now, was great. And this batch produced just a hair shy of 10 full jars, as well.

But that was not the end of the day!

Blueberry and Blackberry Wine

Tonight it was time to pitch the yeast for the blueberry wine. I rehydrated 1 packet of Montrachet yeast, and while it waited its fifteen minutes, set myself to racking the blackberry wine to a carboy for secondary fermentation.

Before racking, I checked SG, a low 0.993. Racking was simple enough, but took a little longer than the fifteen minutes. I got it all done, and the air-lock on top. I rinsed the hydrometer with distilled water and then tested the blueberry wine. It’s starting gravity is 1.095. That should be fun! In any case, I pitched the yeast, stirred to incorporate oxygen, and topped with the air-locked lid.

L to R: Blueberry, Blackberry, Peach, Russian Stout, Plum

L to R: Blueberry, Blackberry, Peach, Russian Stout, Plum

More?

Jenna has been asking all afternoon if we can make another jam or jelly. She really likes to help cook, and I’ve enjoyed showing her how things are done. I do have some muscadines in the freezer that I still haven’t gotten to, but it won’t be tomorrow. She and I both have a martial arts seminar, and I have my first of 6 (minimum) black belt tests. Not even sure we can get to it this week, or next.

I’m glad she is enjoying it so much, though!

Children And Blueberries

Yesterday, with my wife still in Kenya, and the knowledge that blueberry season was “open” at The Happy Berry, the kids and I headed out to pick. After gathering 18 pounds, we headed home. That means, much as with the blackberries, we have enough fruit for a 3 gallon batch of wine (3 gallon carboy ready and waiting!) and 2 batches of blueberry jam/preserves. And, because my recipe for blueberry wine takes less blueberries than the blackberry recipe did, the kids can be overjoyed in the leftover 2 pounds of blueberries available for freezing (smoothies!) and eating. A win for all sides!

Thus, this morning I began to make the blueberry wine. I started with the most labor (and time) intensive task, crushing the blueberries. First, I had already measured out the 9 pounds of berries for my 3 gallon batch. Rinsing and removing leftover stems and a couple shriveled berries, then crushing in a pan with the backside of a wooden spoon, little by little I transferred the pulp, skin and juice to a nylon bag in my fermentation bucket. Thought it was never going to be done.

With berries mashed and the bag tied off, I threw 2 gallons of distilled (my tap water has been smelling funny to me) water onto a burner with 7.5 pounds of white sugar. As normal, I didn’t quite boil, just heated to where I could incorporate the sugar fully into solution – to the point the water becomes a faint yellow. That complete, I poured it onto the bag of berries in the bucket, and watched the purpley-red liquid rise from the bottom. I then added the remaining water – total water including the heated part was 3/4 cups shy of 3 gallons – to the pan. Wasn’t quite chilled, but it certainly wasn’t like the sugar-water.

Water, sugar and berries combined, I proceeded to chemicals: I added 6 tsp. of acid blend, followed by 3 tsp. of yeast nutrient and 3/8 tsp. of wine tannin. And I mixed it all in together well, though incorporating oxygen is a little premature at this point. Now I’m just waiting for it to cool so I can move on to the pectic enzyme and its 24 hour cycle. Cooling down is going to take a while, though.

I could start on the blueberry jam/preserves, but Jenna keeps on requesting a movie. I was planning a movie tomorrow, having been told that the dollar movie tomorrow was “The Lego Movie”…but it appears that was last week (sad face). With that no longer an option, I’m not against her desire to go see Maleficent. Not what I would normally choose to go see, though!

UPDATE: At just after 9PM, I added 1.5 tsp. of pectic enzyme. Tomorrow, same bat time, same bat channel…

A Productive Morning

…and a busy kitchen. First, I made two batches of blackberry jam, for a total of 21 jars – well, 20.5 at least. Then Sean and I made “Pick-Pocket”, a pizza recipe from his “kids” cookbook. It was an excellent, if slightly late, lunch.

The two batches of jam were made similarly as far as process, while quite different in ingredients. And the process followed was very different from any jam I have made before. I started by researching a number of different blackberry jam recipes online, and then recombined as I pleased for the amount of berries, some suggestions, and my past experience with sugar and such.

The first batch I made was the more complicated, so far as ingredients go. I labeled it my “Blackberry Spice Jam”, and the spice refers to its being dosed with cinnamon and ground nutmeg. To start, I crushed 3.5 pounds of blackberries with a potato masher. I threw this on a medium-heat burner adding 1/4 cup of lemon juice, and brought to a light simmer, then added 5 cups of sugar. I also added the spice at this point: 2.5 tsp. of ground cinnamon, and 1.5 tsp. of freshly ground nutmeg. Once that reached a rolling boil I held it there for a while, till it seemed to thicken slightly. Then I added 1.5 packages of powdered regular pectin mixed in a 1/4 cup of sugar so as not to clump. I brought it back to a rolling boil (didn’t take long, not really any time at all) and then kept it there for 5 minutes, stirring.

In every batch I’ve done before, I’ve always added the sugar-pectin first, then got it to a low boil, then added the remaining sugar, and waited the long time to get it to a full boil again. And, I have typically only boiled vigorously at the end for 1 minute. That process results in much less foam while cooking, but I have found it to have much  more foam at the end – and I haven’t been thrilled by the set; admittedly, this batch is hard to compare against since I also used a lot more sugar than recent batches. The “new” process used this morning results in copious amounts of foam during the sugar-fruit heating, all of which subsided back into the jam during the rolling, five minute boil.

Back to the Blackberry Spice…

I jarred the jam, producing 9 full jars (80z.) and a half jar that I will use for sampling. A ran all through the canning pot for 8 minutes. Simple. Bummed that I was off, expecting 10 full jars. But not very – that’s still pretty close.

The second batch was “less frills”. Process was the same, as already mentioned. Crush berries. Put berries on heat with lemon juice. I also added a 1/2 cup of water, since many of my previous recipes have done so, and I was still rather annoyed by the less-than-ten-full-jars in the last batch. Thought maybe that would fill out the recipe. I added the sugar, but no spices, and heated till somewhat thickened, expecting lots of foam. There was actually much more foam this time, for whatever reason. Added the pectin-sugar mix and did the 5 minute vigorous boil, then distributed to jars and canned for the 8 minutes.

So, differences amounted to no spices and the addition of a half cup of water. And the result is a jam that is much sweeter; the spices hid the intense sweetness, I think. And due to the extra water – too much water, I suppose – the batch produced just shy of 11 full jars. Hrmmm.

The set is spectacular, whether by process or greater amounts of sugar. And it isn’t even yet the full 12 hours rest often suggested (I’ve seen 24 hours in some recipes/guides). I put the half jar of Blackberry Spice and the just-shy jar of Blackberry in the refrigerator just a short bit ago, for “sampling” later this evening. Patience, right?

In the future, I might try making it seedless, but this time I did not make any effort to do so. I think the seeds make for a nice “look” as one views through the glass, as the berries are a lighter, contrasting color to the midnight purple of the jam. We’ll see if it is distracting in the eating. I like good-looking things, of course, but good-looking means little if the “eating” is poor.

And She’s Off

So, I helped drop Kim off at the airport today, with her team of ladies headed for Kenya. She’ll be there for a few weeks, so it’s just the kids and I here. For the next couple days, it’s just my son and I, as the girls are at Camp Wabak (a girl scout camp). Should be…interesting?

But, returning home around 9:30 PM, I went ahead and finished first steps on the blackberry wine. I started with checking the SG (1.086) and then moved on to adding the packet of rehydrated Montrachet yeast. Everything looking good. In the morning, hopefully I’ll find a good bubble on the fermentation bucket’s airlock. Unlike with the peach, this is only a 3 gallon batch, and so is not overfilling the bucket. So closing the lid fully was actually possible!

Caught Red-Handed

I love this season. I’ve not always been a big summer fan, but the joy of picking fruit, or of getting a new berry wine, jelly or jam underway is all just a blast. Today, I didn’t quite get to making blackberry jam. But I did get the wine started.

I started by putting the fruit (12 pounds of blackberries) in a bag in my bucket, and hand crushing it. My hands were so purpley-red! To that I added a near-boiled sugar water solution, 7.5 quarts of water (that’s amost 2 gallons) of water with 6.75 pounds of sugar. I topped that off with another 3 3/4 quarts of cool water. Didn’t quite bring the temp down much, but some. No biggie, didn’t expect to add the pectic enzyme immediately anyway!

I did go ahead and add the rest of the chemicals, in all 6 tsp. of acid blend and 3 tsp. of yeast nutrient. And sans the pectic enzyme, that is what it takes to make 3 gallons of blackberry wine. I then spent the rest of the day working and such, finally getting back to it in the evening. At 8:30PM I added the pectic enzyme, so I’ll have to wait until at least that time tomorrow to add the yeast.

Now I just have to find time to do two batches of jam. Not super-efficient at it…

The-Day-Before-Father’s-Day

Not officially a holiday, nevertheless we tend to have fun out of the house on the-day-before-Mother’s-Day and the-day-before-Father’s-Day. But, Kim had a meeting this afternoon to prep for her trip to Kenya, so plans were adjusted. still some out and about time, but some closer to home, and more time spent doing home-bound tasks.

I started by getting up somewhat early to rack my peach wine. I sanitized everything needed and then checked the SG, already a low 0.994! But while a hydrometer dries fairly quickly, the carboy took a bit longer, so I had to wait to do the actual racking.

My wife now awake, we moved to the next thing on the “schedule”. Kids forced into car, we drove the distance to The Happy Berry and proceeded to pick copious amounts of the yummy goods. In this case, we picked only 19 pounds of blackberries. Only because blueberries weren’t quite ready yet (mid or late next week). Only because, well, 19 pounds of any fruit is quite a bit.

We got back home just in time for my wife to get ready and head off to her prep meeting. In the meantime, I got back to the peach wine, racking it to the carboy ready and waiting for it. Racking went well enough, though I did break a racking cane prior to the actual racking as I tried to figure out how to connect the cane to the tubing I had available. Actually it was disconnecting after a test that had been the issue. In any case, I figured out the right arrangement with the help of a razor blade and the end of the snapped racking cane. Racking was quick and rather effortless, once all that nonsense was out of the way. And looking over my shoulder, I can now see the line that differentiates the upper cloudy pink from the lower milky orange descending. Slowly, very slowly. And the carboy is bubbling nicely, without threat of overrunning the airlock entrance. That’s always good!

I then set myself to processing the remainder of the peaches. And they needed to be dealt with. The peaches weren’t in near as good shape this time as last, and peeling them this time was quite difficult. I had to resort to both blanching and the back side of a knife to get those peels off. The peaches were destined for jam, and I followed very similar recipes to the batch a couple days ago, this time making a strawberry-peach jam and a pepper-peach jam.

Making the strawberry-peach involved two changes. First, I replaced about a cup-and-a-half, or maybe just a bit more, of peaches with strawberries. Second, based on the set of the peach from before, I decided to blend part of the peach and part of the strawberries with the 1/2 cup of water before combining with the rest of the fruit in the pan. We’ll see if that helps the set; I sure hope so. Based on a small taste, I think that the strawberries come out a little more powerfully than intended. Not that it is a bad flavor, I just wasn’t expecting them to be so center stage.  The batch produced 10 full 8 oz. jars of jam, which hopefully means I am starting to get a better feel for measurements in jam making!

Making the pepper-peach was nearly identical to making the first batch of peach, except that I ground (coarsely) two dried chili peppers from last season’s garden and added them during the final minute boil. And, as with the strawberry-peach, I blended half of the fruit (this time just peaches). I guessed at the spice level, but I think I chanced on a perfect balance between sweet and spice. More spice would be acceptable to me, but I think most in the house would not approve, less would be lost in the sweet. So, again, pleased. And once again, this produced the 10 full 8 oz. jars.

While I hoped I might get three or four batches out of the remaining peaches, that just wasn’t in the cards. The remainder have a lot of mold, a lot of “bad” spots, and all around don’t look up to the task. They might have enough fruit on them to combine with something else more substantial – but it would have to be very soon. In any case, it’s only enough peaches for really one more batch, if that. Overall I’m very happy with what we got out of the peaches purchased on our date-day: a five gallon batch of wine and 3 batches of peach jam (of various stripes).

Once my wife got back we ran to Greenville for dinner (Bacon Brothers Public House) and a movie (How to Train Your Dragon 2) with the kids. We didn’t get back until late, so tomorrow (in the late afternoon/evening!?) I am going to get to work on the blackberries. That is just enough berries for two batches of jam, following a process similar to that used for the peach jam, and three gallons of wine. Excited!