Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Wine from garden plants

Here is a link to a pdf file of an article I wrote on making wine from garden plants for RHS The Garden Magazine www.susannemasters.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Making-wine-from-garden-plants.pdf

Monday, 30 January 2012

Oak Leaf Wine

I missed picking oak leaves at the beginning of summer when they are bright perfect green and still slightly soft to touch. I thought I would have to wait another year to try making oak leaf wine but by the end of the summer I was armed with the information that meant 2011 would be the first year in which I made oak leaf wine. 

From April until July I had been travelling around Britain meeting people who made beer and wine at home and interviewing them. While I was at home in-between interviews I never had enough days in a row to get out to pick oak leaves, infuse the oak leaves, start the fermentation and then put the fermenting wine in a demijohn. Several of the people I met who made oak leaf told me that not only could you make oak leaf wine in autumn but the flavour of autumn oak leaf wine was pleasantly nutty and different to summer oak leaf wine. 

I went to collect oak leaves in September with a friend. As we walked our dog we plucked handfuls of leaves from trees that we passed so that by the end of the walk we had a plastic bag full of leaves. A couple who saw us rummaging in the tree branches wondered if we were collecting acorns to fatten up pigs at home and were surprised to hear that we were collecting the leaves to make wine. 

At home I used the recipe from Roger Phillips (Wild Food); although he stipulates picking the leaves in summer. I didn’t have any plain oranges to hand but I substituted with Seville oranges I had put in the freezer in January when it became apparent that no one would have time to make marmalade with them. In theory Seville oranges are particularly high in pectin and this could have caused problems with the wine. However pectin is degraded by freezing and the wine is beautifully clear. I think that people who want to avoid using additives in wine making might find that freezing high pectin fruit could be a way to cut out pectinase from recipes. 

Unless you take weighing scales with you when you go to collect ingredients it can be hard to judge whether you have enough. Recipes that give amounts in volumes are easier for foraged ingredients as  a plastic bag or measuring jug is not inconvenient to take on a walk. The problem with measuring ingredients by volume is that you may wonder if the recipe writer packed the ingredients in more or less lightly than you. In the interests of resolving these issues I have been weighing ingredients that are measured by volume and also noting the volume of container used to collect ingredients measured by weight. I am gradually adding these numbers into recipes when I have had the opportunity to check them a few times. 

Making the recipe used only half a bag of leaves. I had thought the oak leaf infusion would go straight down the sink as the stench of oak leaves immersed in hot water was disgusting. Once the liquid was tepid the smell had vanished so I thought I would give making oak leaf wine a try and added in the other ingredients. As I put the liquid in the demijohn we tasted a spoonful. The flavour was powerful slightly nutty and lingering. It was so delicious we decided that one gallon would not be enough; so we quickly made another batch.

Clearly this recipe is for making in the summer or autumn but I am writing about it now because we have started drinking one of the demijohns. Only 4 months after making it the wine has a bright golden colour and is delicious whether it is room temperature or chilled. It is possible that we might manage to wait to drink the second demijohn of wine. If not at least I know now that the right time for picking oak leaves for oak leaf wine is any time through summer to autumn.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Wild plants people are using

The past six months I have been busy carrying out research on the use of wild plants to make beer and wine in Britain. This has kept me pretty busy racing around the country meeting people and then getting technical analysing results; so not much posting here while I was working on all that. My next research project is a three year one  (PhD) still on beverages but this time teetotal.

However beer and wine making is still ongoing. It would be impossible to compress 6 months of research into one post but as a starter the weighted word cloud above shows the plants that the people I interviewed used.

As the word cloud is weighted by how frequently plants were used by different participants you can see how significant elder (Sambucus nigra) is to home beer and wine makers. While elderberries were only used by wine makers both beer and wine makers used elderflowers.

People talked about wines that they had made. This means that some plants such as cowslip which has declined in abundance due to agricultural changes were not used recently.

One person made beer out of Japanese knotweed when they were given the plant material to use from a source which had not been sprayed. Because Japanese knotweed is invasive and listed on Schedule 9 there are legal restrictions on cultivating it and disposing of it safely and when you see it growing it may have been sprayed with herbicides which would render it unsafe for consumption although it would not necessarily appear unhealthy. So I wouldn't recommend going out and picking Japanese knotweed.

Please note that I am putting up this information for people's interest; it is not a list of plants that are necessarily safe to use. Individuals may also have allergies to specific plants and some plants could in theory be toxic in high doses.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Cucumber Wine - the verdict

I have just got round to bottling the cucumber wine which took me by surprise. Given the length of time for which it bubbled off melony aromas I thought that a lot of the bouquet would have been lost. It still smells gorgeous and it has those delightful cool curcubit flavours in it; most reminiscent of Midori or apple Martinis.

I modified a recipe I found for Marrow wine to make the cucumber wine and the original recipe had 5tsp of citric acid in it. I think cucumbers have a little more acidity in them than Marrows so they don't need quite so much.  You can of course substitute lemon as suggested by Mike.  The great thing about using lemons/orange in preference to citric acid is they contain some additional nutrients, its harder to go too acidic (sprinkling pure citric acid is easy to take too far) and lemons in particular do enhance the flavour of other ingredients. I didn't use any enzyme to break down pectin and the wine has cleared really well. Note that I steeped the cucumber in cold water and didn't use hot water. Heating can bring out the pectin; which is what you want in jam making but not in wine making.

Sadly this year I will not have a cucumber glut since the snails waged an extensive massacre on all seedlings.  I have just  managed to get a cucumber plant flowering so I don't think the plants will swamp me with cucumbers this year. However I am really appreciating having that cucumbery summer flavour captured in those bottles of wine from last year :)

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The season for

It is always the right time of year for brewing and making country wine if you are flexible with your ingredients.

Once again I have missed making dandelion wine. I saw the dandelions flowering but didn’t have enough time in the same place to manage picking flowers, infusing, setting up the ferment. . . . . So I just enjoyed seeing the dandelions. Since I live on the south coast further north it is likely that sufficient quantities of dandelions are still available. The key point to bear in mind is that the green bracts clustered under the yellow petals are bitter while the petals are sweetly fragrant. Unless you want a bitter edge to your beverage it is worth taking the time to go through the fiddly process of removing the golden petals from their stalk and bracts.

With dandelions setting seed and elderflowers tightly in bud in my area I still have a choice of spring beverages to get going.

Oak leaves are unfurled, bright green and soft to touch; perfect for collecting. The only codicil is finding a tree with leaves within reach.

Hawthorn is blooming furiously at the moment and living up to its other name May flower. The flowers unusual scent contains a chemical produced in the early stages of decomposition to attract pollinators. The bouquet of hawthorn wine is not enjoyed by everyone so before picking flowers and investing your effort in making wine smell the sweet flowers on the tree and decide whether it is to your liking.

As early as January gorse was in flower but I hesitated to take the sparse flowers away from insects at a time of year when there is little in bloom. Now the gorse is abundantly golden and there are plenty of other flowers out rendering these coconut scented blooms guilt free.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Archeobotany: first brew

Archeobotany; looking at archaeological remains of plants is a little more challenged by beverages than food because liquids are not usually found fossilised in solid lumps unlike ancient food that can sometimes be discovered relatively intact. Evidence of plants in beverages is indirect. For example by finding plant remains in conditions in which assumptions can be made about how the plant was used. Mead can be evidenced directly because of the pollen contained in honey. Small traces of this can be analysed and lead to plant identification.

The earliest evidence of beer is from Neolithic times. One of the oldest pieces of evidence of brewing in Britain is of heather ale in Scotland. Though there is some dispute over whether evidence of mead containing meadow sweet is older.

Most cultures across the world brew beverages. The underlying process of fermentation is used in the production of food; though technically fermented beverages can themselves also be food. Food, medicine and drugs are relatively recent and arbitrary divisions of substances that humans ingest. Making risen bread relies on bubbles of carbon dioxide being given off to give a light texture. Bread can be made using cream of tartar and bicarbonate of soda. But most commonly fermentation by yeast is used to make bread. Fermentation can be used in other ways to preserve food or even to detoxify toxic foods such as Cassava.

Your home brewing might use bakers or brewers yeast purchased from the shop, or a culture of yeast you have nurtured over the years having kept it growing after a batch of brew. In historical terms these are brief periods of time. The overarching heritage of yeast and the beverages it creates stretch to thousands of years.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Exploding Home Brew

Mastering the explosions is a key part of the brewing process. Fermentation converts sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. In a sealed vessel the pressure will increase. Without a release for the pressure eventually a point will be reached at which the bottle explodes.

This is not a problem if you are brewing wine without bubbles. You simply leave the wine to ferment in a demi-john with an airlock until fermentation has completely stopped; no more bubbles emerging from the airlock and the wine tastes dry .Or use a hygrometer. Hygrometers show how much sugar is still present in the wine as dissolved sugar and alcohol have different densities. If there is still a lot of sugar in the liquid than the carbon dioxide released by continuing fermentation could be too great for a bottle to contain. The hygrometer will float higher in the liquid when the sugar level is higher - because the liquid has greater density than if there is proportionately more alcohol. My hygrometer has a mark on it accompanied by the warning “do not bottle when above this level”.

Managing the balance of pressure created by fermentation is a little trickier when it comes to making sparkling beers or wines. You need a certain level of gas to build up within the bottle so that when opened it fizzes. While plastic bottles are not aesthetically so appealing and not good for long term storage they are more forgiving of bottling errors than glass bottles as they can stretch as little. If the pressure builds up too high in a plastic bottle it will tear open, a glass bottle will explode propelling shards of glass through the room. Going into a room full of potential exploding glass bottles to get one out for drinking, and hoping it will not go off when you are holding it is not fun, and certainly an avoidable peril. So here are a few tips:

• Follow recipe instructions carefully re timing of bottling

• Never use screw top lids on glass bottles

• Use plastic bottles with screw tops or champagne/beer bottles with corks

• Stand bottles in waterproof container with a lid – if you have got the balance wrong it will save a lot of time clearing up