A Wonderful Time Of Year

It’s summer! Wow, I’ve not posted on here in a while. Lots has been going on, but things have been slow on the fermentation front. Not a standstill, but not overly active either. Things progressing, a couple beer attempts, and at least one mead started.

In any case, it was nice to head to The Happy Berry today and take home 33 pounds of fruit (18 pounds of blackberries and the rest blueberries). Some of that will end up as jam, and some as wine/mead. I wonder what a “cider” of blackberry would be like…

Dill Pickles

Dill Pickles

I also started my first vegetable fermentation with some of the cucumbers (munchers) from the garden. Dill pickles are a nice treat, so I set about starting my first batch using the recipe from Alton Brown as a guide. Looks like things should turn out okay, but it’s a little early to be certain. I don’t exactly have a good 1 gallon vessel for that type of fermentation, but I had one big enough for the amount of cucumbers suggested, and hopefully a smaller bag of the salt-water solution can seal the cucumbers under the brine well enough.

We have a ton of things in the garden. We’ve already made quite good use of the zucchini and squash, though if the caterpillars have anything to say about it, that may end. The peppers are slowly getting going. And the corn is growing slowly, as well. We should have a ton of tomatoes, if all goes well, though they are green at the moment.

Also, with some hints from a friend, I have a plan for testing out lemoncello, limecello and orangecello. So I picked up the fruit and the base for it this afternoon. Maybe there will be some time tomorrow to start on that. But tomorrow, there is a bigger goal, and that is getting the Irish Red Ale started.

I picked up the ingredients as a Father’s Day gift, and I suppose it’s high time I get the ingredients into a fermenter! I plan on using a little more malt extract than the recipe actually calls for, and a little more hops, as well; both modifications are really dictated by packaging sizes. But hopefully the color and body will be right, and the flavor good. I do like a Killian’s – not that I expect it will come off exactly like that. Just saying that I do like that style of beer, and wouldn’t mind having some on hand, and the knowledge to reproduce in the future!

Pickles, beer, fruit, jam, garden, cellos…bed.

A Busy Weekend, Part I

This was a constantly “moving” weekend (I’m including Friday in the weekend, though I worked), fun and frustrating all wrapped up together. Friday was a mixed bag, ranging from racking wine to experimenting with salsa-making. Saturday was full of excitement, with a trip to Atlanta for food stuffs, and a side trip of the “fun for kids” variety. And today was the youngest child’s birthday.

Friday

Friday was a fairly normal work day, with a small break over lunch to rack the fig wine to a jug for secondary fermentation. I got the bright idea to pick some figs to add to secondary, and ended up adding only 3.5 ounces; the tree in the back yard has been picked over fairly well at this point. Not much, but I hope enough to provide some additional fig character. I washed and removed stems, then cut in half before adding to the jug. At first, most sank, with only a few floating. But many are floating at the top, at this point.

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As you can see, the color has proceeded from a milky pink to the clearer grapefruit color, seen today. Or better, much like the color of the pinkish insides of a fig. I did taste the fig wine at racking, and it does not have any of the woodiness or vinegar flavors I feared. Restrained optimism seems warranted.

Later on in the afternoon, work completed, I proceeded to make two dinners. One was sausage and peppers, intended for delivery to Friday potluck. The other was spaghetti, for the girl scouts that would be meeting at our own house that evening. While preparing, one of the neighbors brought over a good number of tomatoes, peppers and herbs. This reminded me of an idea I had been having for salsa.

For a couple of days, I had been taken with this idea of combining tomatoes and blueberries to make salsa. Fruit can certainly be a salsa component, right? But, knowing that I sometimes get an eyebrow raised when I suggest the combination of fruit and less-fruity things, I decided to look online – not for recipes exactly, but to see if I was out in left field or not. I managed to find this recipe for an Avocado-Fourth-of-July themed salsa. Rather thick for salsa, if you ask me.

As I said,  I did not exactly follow the recipe. Just used it as a sanity check. I ran to my blender, threw in about a half cup of white onions, a bunch of backyard blueberries, a bunch (3 medium-sized?) of just-ripened tomatoes, a kid-size handful of cilantro, a single jalepeño, and 2 poblano peppers (I think). I also added in a 1/4 tsp. of salt. Then I blended it. It filled 1 2/3 of the pint-sized canning jars, once fully blended.  Came out rather runny at first, but then I recalled the recipe suggested letting sit for ten minutes.

By the time I was at potluck, the salsa had “set” nicely. Not too thick, not too runny. And best of all, quite apart from any knowledge on my part, there were fajitas. The salsa worked quite well, in spite of the oddness of a salsa with blueberries. It was a lovely pink color, I guess from the tomato and white onion, but with a purple shine from the bits of inter-mixed blueberry skin. And the peppers added a distinct, but not overpowering, kick. Sweet and spicey, very nice.

We only took the 2/3 jar, as I was not certain whether my concoction would go over well. Glad to have the remaining jar in the refrigerator, now that I have verified its taste!

And the weekend continues…

Saturn Grapes, Check!

Messy.

That’s about the best way to describe the state of the grapes as I picked over them to remove stems and bad berries. Unfortunately, there were simply a lot of bad berries. Describing what I saw would make some squeamish, so I will refrain from details. Jenna, who helped me in spite of the stickiness and distasteful smell of fermentation, had a harder time than I determining which berries were “good enough.” I think in some cases the grapes had not fully ripened – lots of green, rather than red. But even in “green’ cases, I enjoyed the flavor of an occasional taste test.

Long story short, after picking through and then washing the good, I bucketed 18 pounds for wine, and bagged another 3.5 pounds for jelly. Maybe an ounce or two short, actually. So that is 21.5 pounds out of the 25 picked. Not as efficient a pick as the Mars grapes, with 26 of the 27 pounds kept. Still, not a bad haul!

With the destined-to-be-jelly grapes in the freezer for later, I moved on to crushing the wine grapes. As expected, I put them in a straining bag in the bottom of the fermentation bucket, and tied it off. Then I began to crush. Crushing these Saturn grapes was much more difficult than the Mars. It took a little more elbow grease, and a lot more time. But the end result was nearly the same, nearly 2 gallons of grape slurry, roughly a purple-grey/brown.

As with the Mars grapes – maybe even more so with these Saturn grapes – I decided it was necessary to add potassium metabisulfite. 1/8 tsp. should once again be a decent amount to knock out the “native” yeast for a 3 gallon batch. I mixed it in well, and was greeted by the odor of sulfur. I could have gone ahead and started adding the extra sugar and water, plus chemicals, to get the Mars grape wine going. But, instead, I decided to sync these two up. So I expect that will be a task for both these wines tomorrow.

I ought to take the Venus grapes out of the freezer…

Mars Grapes, Check!

It was such a busy day today that it was past 7 in the evening before I was able to begin processing yesterday’s grapes. I started with the Mars, based solely upon the side of the table they were on. First, I measured out 18 pounds, having removed stems and poor quality berries. These were placed in a straining bag in the primary fermentation bucket.

I set the bucket aside, and began processing the rest of the Mars grapes into bags for storage. I hope not to store them long, but I won’t be making jelly tomorrow! I bagged another 7 pounds of grapes into two bags, 3.5 pounds each. That is enough for two batches of grape jelly, taking an unofficial average of various recipes I reviewed online. I then bagged three quarters of a pound more. Those will be for eating, most likely. We probably had eaten enough to make up the rest of that pound.

That means in total, we got 26 pounds of usable grapes from the 27 pounds of grapes picked. That is great! I wasn’t expecting anywhere near that efficiency.

With all the grapes bagged, I got to work on the grapes in the bucket. I tied off the bag, and then proceeded to hand-crush the grapes. Eighteen pounds of grapes crushed finished just below the 2 gallon line, including both liquid and the solids. I’m going to wait on additional water and sugar until tomorrow, as well as some acid blend and the pectic enzyme treatment. But tonight I wanted to be sure to get some potassium metabisulfite on the grapes, to make sure none of the “native” yeasts were making a mess of the grapes Jenna and I picked. I used 1/8 tsp. and stirred it in well. I detected lots of sulfur-y fumes as I stirred, though that is not very surprising.

I put a lid on the purplish, light brown wine-to-be, then placed the small bag of “to be eaten” grapes in the refrigerator. I ran the larger bags to our downstairs freezer, and called it a night. I should have time tomorrow to finish with the Saturn grapes, all of which are still on the kitchen table under a sheet, to keep away pests. And I’ll continue with the Mars wine, too!

 

Mars and Saturn!

Muscadines are not yet ready at The Happy Berry. Probably at least another week. Just as well, as I picked a few more grapes than intended, even without Muscadines ready! I missed the Jupiter grapes, and picked Venus earlier this summer. But there were plenty of Mars and Saturn grapes left, even after Jenna and I went through the vines.

We picked 25 pounds of Saturn and 27 pounds of Mars. I was shocked. I’ll of course have less than that once I pick over them to remove stems and bad berries. But that is still plenty for a 3 gallon batch of wine and at least one batch of jam (maybe more?) each. And, as the kids keep asking, some for eating… They are table grapes, after all. Though I did see online that Saturn grapes have the potential to be used for an “acceptable blending wine”.

We picked just before closing, so getting home I had just enough time to get them off top of each other instead of crushing one another in the buckets. Tomorrow, despite some other activities, I will need to pick over the grapes removing stems and bad grapes. I have the primary fermenters, yeast and maybe enough sugar. May need to clear up some secondary fermenters soon, though…

July 23, 2014

It was a busy day of work, not to mention mowing during lunch and weeding the garden after work was over!

All that wrapped up, I decided to get to the blueberries I picked over the weekend. Not enough for a batch of jam really, and certainly not enough for wine. Too much for eating. But I probably could have frozen them all for smoothies later, which would have made my kids happy. Instead, I decided to try something new. Well, new with blueberries.

Blueberry Liqueur

Thinking back, the recipe I’ve used for liqueur was originally for raspberries…and I don’t think I’ve actually ever used raspberries. In any case, it is really very simple. Get a 1 quart mason jar – that’s a rather big one – and add 1 cup of white sugar. Then add your crushed up fruit (1-2 pounds of it). I used just over 1.5 lbs of blueberries, leaving another 3/4 lb for eating. Yum.

To crush the fruit, I decided to use the blender. I augmented the blend with a little bit of vodka (Veil); I was going to be adding the vodka later anyway! Took more than one round in the blender for that many berries.

With the sugar and fruit/vodka in the jar, I add more vodka to top up. I then put the lid on and shook, to get the sugar wet. Not quite worried to get it into full solution – that takes time. Enough to free up extra room, though. I removed the lid, and added enough vodka to top up again. No need to waste space, right?

So now I have a purple-blue slurry of vodka, berry guts and sugar. Should be wonderful in about a month, given daily shaking and kept out of the light (maybe more important for raspberries, but why chance it?).

Vagabond Gingered Ale

Throughout the day I kept an eye on the airlock and head of my newest batch. Everything is looking good. I might have expected the head to form a little quicker, but no complaints. Took pictures at just under 12 hours and 24 hours from pitching yeast (see below). My hope is that the 6.5 gallon carboy provides the room for the 5 gallon batch, without having to remove the air-lock!

Muscadine Liqueur

And, since I was already in the liqueur mindset, I remembered the Muscadine liqueur that was ready to be strained and bottled. This round of Muscadine liqueur was made from the pulp after making jelly earlier in the spring. And I will definitely do it again. It’s a little lighter in flavor than the stuff made with whole chopped Muscadine, rather than leftover pulp and skin, but not by much. It’s a beautiful pinkish red – I imagine the color of wet pink cotton candy, a candy-like red. And it strained nicely, though I won’t say the end is crystal, it is pretty clear.

And that is it for the day. Probably it for the week, so far as anything new is concerned. Though if I got motivated I could make more Muscadine jelly from the grapes in the freezer. I’m going to say, unlikely

 

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!