Blackberry vodka – the update

You may remember, way back in September

(oooh… almost sounds like the beginning of a cheesy Christmas song!)

No… I didn’t give you my heart or anything sloppy like that… I steeped blackberries in sugar and vodka – which, incidentally was A LOT more exciting!

Well, this week was the time to finish off the vodka and sample my concoction. The timing wasn’t specific – the whole thing’s taken around three months from start to finish.

What to do…

  1. Screw tops off bottles
  2. Sniff contents and have cheeky swig
  3. Empty bottles completely of blackberry and vodka
  4. Sample a blackberry
  5. Bample a couple more sackbarries
  6. Aim funnel onto cop of clean tottle
  7. Vest todka again
  8. Parefully core bodka into vottle
  9. Eat bum more slackberries
  10. Vaste todka again
  11. Squint to focus, crew sap on blottle
  12. One bore mackleberry for luck
  13. Have a lie down

What could be easier? I will definitely be using the original quantities again, because let me tell you – it’s blooming delumptious!

I’ve also kept the blackberries, as they are so infused with vodka-ey goodness,  it would be criminal to dump them. I may well transform them into a boozy jelly or upside-down cake.

As for the blackberry vodka? I’m just hoping it lasts until Christmas!

(hic!)

One glass

Marrow brandy

Well, it would seem that after the awesome growing season we’ve just had, autumn is well and truly underway. Unable to get out into the garden due to the frankly miserable weather at the weekend, I turned my hand instead to making marrow brandy.

Now, I’ve been fishing around on the interweb for a while for a bullet proof recipe and different folk seem to make it in different ways. The main process is the same: chop the top off a marrow, scoop out the seeds, pack with sugar and fasten the top on again. This is where it gets a tad complicated. Some add brandy to the sugar, some add yeastand some add nothing at all. Figuring I wasn’t likely to get a potent brew with no brewing process, I decided to add yeast to mine.

Fetching my non-prize winning marrow from the depths of the pantry, I first cut off the top about 3 inches down. Scooping out the seeds proved trickier than I first thought due to the length of the marrow and the size of the opening. Undeterred, I removed all that I physically could, then made the cavity as big as possible by poking the remaining seeds down with a rolling pin. Genius!

I then set about packing the hole with brown sugar. After it was half full I added the juice of an orange and a sachet of wine yeast, then up to the top with more brown sugar. As this thing is hopefully going to ferment its head off I made a small hole through the lid of the marrow and inserted a wine-making airlock. With any luck this will let any yeasty gasses out and avert any unfortunate exploding marrow incidents. It should also keep the whole thing a bit more sealed and sterile and stop any bacteria getting in and sending the insides mouldy. That fitted, the top went back on the marrowand I fastened it with gaffer tape.

I then put the whole thing into an old pair of tights, hung it from the window latch and suspended it over a sweet jar. Apparently when the magic starts to happen, the marrow can get really mushy and hard to handle, so the tights will help support the weight.

Marrow brandy

Marrow brandy

According to form I now leave it alone for about three weeks, and then pierce a hole in the bottom to let the liquid drip out. At that point I should then pack the marrow with even more sugar and seal again for maximum juice extraction.

If all goes to plan I’ll be rewarded with a syrupy liquid that will be the start of my brandy. The liquid then goes into a demijohn with more yeast and water, to be fermented into a heady brew. From all accounts the end result can knock your socks off, so should be enjoyed in moderation.

I wonder if I should include a health warning on the bottles…

Appeared in The Hinckley Times on 17 October 2013

Wine from weeds

Dandelion wine

Dandelion wine

Earlier in the week, myself and the youngest decided to go off foraging and see if we could make a batch of dandelion wine. A gallon of wine from a common old weed must definitely worth a try!

Off we set to our local woods – where it has to be said, there were enough dandelions to go around the entire village, and quickly set to work on the pickathon. The recipe calls for just the flowers, so we tried to pick just the yellow heads. One gallon of wine needs one gallon of dandelion petals, and we found that a full carrier bag of flowers is more than enough to do the job, and after we’d gathered them our hands were an interesting shade of mustard.

As well as the flowers, we also needed:
4.5 litres of water
1.5kg sugar
Zest and juice of 4 lemons
500g raisins, whizzed in a food processor to chop up
1 teaspoon of brewer’s wine yeast
Yeast nutrient

All containers and equipment also had to be sterilised and we used Milton’s tablets for this.

Boil the water and pour over the petals. Cover and leave for a couple of days, stirring occasionally. This mixture looks like a bowl of sludgy seaweed… don’t be put off.

Pour everything into a large saucepan and add the lemon zest, bring to the boil then stir in the sugar until dissolved. Continue to boil for five minutes. Take off the heat and add the lemon juice and the crushed raisins or grape juice concentrate.

Clean and sterilise the fermenting container – we used a big plastic punch bowl –  thoroughly, pour in the mix and cover until cool. Add the yeast and yeast nutrient and cover with cling film. Ferment for three or four days, strain the petals off through some sterilised gauze or voile then transfer into a demijohn using a sterilised funnel. Fit an airlock cork and allow to ferment for a couple of months.

Ours is now bubbling away, and so it’s in a warm place, out of direct sunlight, I’ve wrapped it in a towl and put it in the shed.

Once it’s finished fermenting I will need to siphon the clear liquid off the debris at the bottom of the demijohn and leave to clear further in a cool place. Once it’s clear I’ll transfer it into bottles.

Hopefully we’ll be sampling the fruits of our labour at the end of summer. I’m hoping for good results…

How to make dandelion wine | Life and style | guardian.co.uk.

Sloe gin – the sticky end

Well, all that chasing around country lanes in the pursuit of sloe berries was well worth it! We finished up with three bottles of sloe gin and two bottles of sloe vodka – result!

After weeks of agitating the bottles once a week (think bell-ringer), the gin and vodka was ready just before Christmas. I carefully poured the liquid off the berries, and into clean wine bottles. The lesson learnt from last year was NOT to try to strain it through a clean cloth. It came out smelling and tasting of washing powder and the whole batch was ruined.

The smell was divine, the liqueur was thick and almost syrupy, and I have to admit I felt rather smug with my little haul.

We had a family get together over Christmas, and I proudly presented my home-made stash of moonshine. The family were dutifully impressed and the sloe gin/vodka took a mighty bashing that afternoon… it was fair to say that it slipped down like honey!

I’d kept one bottle of sloe gin in the pantry to be savoured in small doses throughout 2012, but the rest of it was ‘open house’.

This plan was doomed for disaster. Our pantry is in fact, a glory hole. You’ll find everything from hoovers to lightbulbs in there. It never gets sorted out, and you almost have to hold the stuff in with one hand, to shut the door with the other. Whilst rustling around in there, the other half inadvertently knocked something over. This in turn created an avalanche of junk. Sod’s law dictated that this would not land on the vintage bottle of Cinzano that’s been lurking around in there since time began…oh no… it only went and landed on the treasured bottle of sloe gin.

If you have ever spilt a glass of red wine, you will know how far it travels. Imagine a whole bottle of sticky, red liqueur smashed all over the pantry floor…

The pantry floor was duly emptied and cleaned, but there is still a faint whiff of gin in there – some of it must have gone down the cracks in the tiles. So instead of having a lovely glass of something yummy, I’ll have to make do with sticking my head in the pantry and taking a big lungful of ginny aroma.

The glass that should be full of sloe gin... but is, in fact, empty.

Sloe gin: the harvest

It’s an annual tradition for me and the 13 year old to venture out into the wilderness to collect sloe berries for the Christmas gin. We’d been told of a new location where apparently the hedgerow was bursting at the seams with them.

The first time we went, we made absolutely sure that we were picking sloes, and not some ‘berry of death’ (might make an interesting conversation piece, but we wouldn’t be invited back again). Sloes are a bit like miniature plums, but slightly smaller than a marble. They’re purple, with a cloudy skin, and a small stone inside. Some say not to pick them until October/November, but we’ve found that by then they have either been eaten by the birds or picked already. Get the ones higher up – they will be riper as they have had more sun.

So there we were, in the idyllic Leicestershire countryside with the canal running through, and you could almost imagine someone in a field somewhere drinking ‘lashings of ginger beer’. It soon became apparent that our  informant was indeed correct: there were LOADS of sloes around!

Our bountiful harvest of sloes

But peace was to be shattered. In a neighbouring farm, we thought someone was teaching someone else how to drive a tractor. We heard, “turn the wheel,” then a slightly more panicked, “turn the wheel,” then a truly ear-shattering, “TURN THE F****KING WHEEL!” Bemused at who could be making such a racket, we dashed up the lane to have a look.

Turned out that the shouter was actually in the digger scoop of a tractor, trying to do some work on a barn roof. Someone else was trying to get him there without much success….
Related posts:

Sloe gin in 5 easy steps

Sloe gin: the sticky end

 

Elderberry wine in five easy steps

I was finally ready to embark on my virgin flight of hedgerow wine-making. The only bit of equipment I had was a demijohn that had been rescued from the depths of my friend’s shed, so I went off in search of other bits and bobs I might need. These now consisted of: one piece of voile, one car washing bucket and one punch bowl. Armed with citric acid, wine yeast and an airlock , I was ready for the off.

I fished my elderberries out of the freezer and sterilised all my equipment.

Mashed elderberries steeping in boiling water

Step one: put 3lb of elderberries in the punch bowl, mash them about with the spud masher and cover with boiling water. Leave for a few hours to go cold. (Note – smells like old socks)

Step two: put 3lb sugar in the demijohn (funnel required) and pour on a couple of pints of boiling water to disolve.

Step three: stretch the piece of voile over the bucket and secure with a big elastic band, tip cold elderberry mix on, and leave to strain through.

Step four: tip elderberry syrup into the demijohn. Agitate to mix with sugar. Ensure contents are just warm, add one teaspoon of citric acid and one sachet of wine yeast. Fill to the neck of the demijohn with lukewarm water, bung with an airlock.

Step five: leave in warm place.

Roll on next year...

Happy to say that the wine is bubbling away like crazy this morning. I’m moving it around the house in order to catch the hot spots.  Apparently I do more stuff to it when it’s finished bubbling (watch this space), and it should be drinkable in … ooh, about a year.