Fruit of the vine.

August 28, 2008 at 2:35 pm (Ampelopsis, brevipedunculata, Plants, Porcelain Berry, vines) (, , , , , , , , , , , )


By Brother John

Ampelopsis brevipedunculata, Porcelain Berry

Simply the most gorgeous porcelain vine berries!

For many years I had a beautiful Morning Glory vine which regrew annually from seeds it dropped at the end of each growing season. In the Spring, the seeds would sprout and I’d have Morning Glory vines all over again. As I said, this went on successfully for quite a number of years. But then one Spring, all that changed.

Once again a vine sprouted, but only one. It grew and at first I didn’t notice that the leaves were different and so I continued to believe it was a Morning Glory vine. And then I noticed it wasn’t.

The vine was way too aggressive and was quite hearty. Its single vine began to take over an entire fence that usually supported a number of Morning Glory vines. It had tendrils that wrapped around everything it found, and in so doing anchored the vine securely in place. If it found a nail, or a link, or a post, or a wire, it threw out tendrils which quickly wrapped around each object like some living beast. It was fascinating to watch, (and maybe just a bit scary). Then I noticed that its leaves kept getting bigger and bigger and turned a very healthy green. It was quite the vigorous and vibrant vine!

I let it go where ever it wanted to, and watched it growing each and every day. And then one day toward the later part of summer, it began to put out tiny little flowers. Actually they were more like tiny yellow dots, but if you looked very closely you could see that they were indeed a flower. Soon each tiny flower was getting a lot of attention from several different types of bees who hungrily visited each and every one.

One day, tiny little green berries began to form where once there were flowers. And they grew bigger with each passing new day! And then they did the most amazing thing. Each berry started to take on a bluish color while tiny dark blue speckles randomly patterned its surface. I was amazed and thrilled and humbled by what nature can do. And they got bluer every day! Some of them also turned purple with the passing of time.

Winter forced the vine to go dormant and I didn’t have time to rip the remains off of the fence. I was glad this happened with the coming of Spring. Because this vine didn’t have to start over like my Morning Glory’s always had. This just started sprouting leaves where the dormant vines already were. And it picked up where it had left off (so to speak).

I know this is just a “weed”. Some say the berries are probably poisonous. Most caution me to get rid of it and perhaps I will in time. But for right now, I just love the beautiful show it gives me at the end of the summer. And it amuses me that this “volunteer” chose my fence for its home.

Breaking news! I just learned its name, and evidently the berries are NOT poisonous. They just don’t taste very good to humans. Birds love them!

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The Problem With Eydie’s And Sammy’s Jam.

August 28, 2008 at 2:15 pm (Blackberry) (, , , , , , , )


No more Blackberry Jam!

The only real problem, that I can see,
With the Blackberry Jam that was given to me.
It was made too well and a little too fine,
by loving family hands, (and it tasted divine!)
Made fresh and sweet, with love and with care,
I couldn’t stop eating, so now my jar’s bare!

-By Brother John

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Olde recipes for Mead and Metheglyn

August 26, 2008 at 7:32 am (Books, Mead Making, Recipes) (, , , , , , )


By Sammy Wight

Here is a link to a free Project Gutenberg book that reveals recipes and stories about Mead and Metheglyn. An educational and fun read!

One of the best sources of old recipes for Mead and Metheglyn (which is a type of spiced Mead) comes from a free downloadable 17th century book called “FROM THE CLOSET OF SIR KENELM DIGBY KNIGHT OPENED”. In this book Sir Digby outlines a lot of great recipes and just reading the book is a lot of fun just to see some of the processes that he used to make his mead.

There have to be more stories that have been found with info like this. I would love to read more recipes and “In my search for the Holy Grail of Meads” to find the “best” recipe.

As time permits we will attempt to reformat some of Sir Digby’s Mead recipes and will place them into our Wine Recipes section. Feel free to copy and use. Let us know how they turn out for you!

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Our trip to Scotzin Bros Beer & Winemakers Paradise

August 23, 2008 at 7:00 pm (Airlock, Carboy, Fermentation Lock, honey, Mead Making, Uncategorized, Wine Making) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Sammy Wight

Scotzin Bros Beer & Winemakers Paradise!

Eydie and I worked last night and after getting off this morning, decided to ride into Lemoyne, Pa to the Scotzin Bros wine making supply store for an extra 6.5 gal. carboy, a few stoppers and 3 more fermentation locks. The store didn’t open until 10am, so we slept in our Saturn until someone came to open. After he had a few minutes to balance his cash drawer, we were invited in early and completed our mission, luckily so because they are only open Wed. and Sat. We have another transfer of wine to make, and we should be set until it is ready to sample.

NOW, we are curious if anyone out there has made Mead with anything other than Honey that might be a tasty adult beverage to try? We welcome recipes from other Mead makers. Our local Alcohol dispensing store pointed out to us a “Honeywine” Mead, so we bought a bottle to try. All i have to say is “Yeccch! Blah!” I did not like it in a wine format at all. So, recipes that make it truer to the 17th Century types, will probably be more acceptable to me. I do want to drive up the alcohol content as much as possible, because it tends to be much tastier with a “Kick” and a “Poof” in your belly when it goes down. I tend to liken it to “Shuttle Fuel” and rest confidently should the Space Program run low on fuel…, we may be able to help! 🙂

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The Funnel Technique.

August 18, 2008 at 7:25 pm (Airlock, Blackberry, Carboy, Filter, Funnel, Strainer bag, Wine Making) (, , , , , )


Here Eydie demonstrates another method of transfer. The Funnel Technique:

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The Siphoning Technique.

August 18, 2008 at 6:51 am (Carboy, Mead Making, Siphon) (, , , , , , , )


Here you can see how to siphon!

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Capping Off The Blackberry And Mead Wines

August 12, 2008 at 3:14 pm (Airlock, Blackberry, Bungs, Fermentation Lock, Mead Making, metabisulfite, Nutrient, Potassium Metabisulfite, Sulphited, Wine Making, Yeast) (, , , , , , )


Two examples of capping fermentation pails with two different types of Airlocks.

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Cometh by Phone

August 9, 2008 at 6:18 am (Mead Making) (, , , , , , )


What pray tell is this disgusting “stuff”? Looks like sterile dark honey, sterile spring water, yeast, and perhaps some yeast feeding nutrient? I’ll need additional information because this just doesn’t look like much quantity. But perhaps it gets poured into something else. I’m dying of curiosity Brother Sammy and Sister Eydie. Send me some info so I can make this right.

And here is Sister Eydie pouring the “stuff” into a large mixing pan. Later we see Brother Sammy pouring that out into still yet another container.

More info please!

I have found that I really do not much like getting the images via my Cell Phone. They tend to be a bit blurry and… I’m a cheap so and so… I have to pay to receive these!!! Ahem…

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Our First Batch Of Homemade Mead!

August 7, 2008 at 8:00 am (Airlock, Bees, Fermentation Lock, honey, Mead Making, Nutrient, Recipes, Yeast) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Having been up late the night before picking over blackberries and starting our blackberry wine, we slept late and spent a goodly part of the day doing house chores, buying groceries, refilling the hummingbird feeders, and checking the garden for any produce. Right now the garden is producing just enough squash and tomatoes to eat. In fact, we’re still at the stage in the growing season where we lovingly say to each other, “No, you take that tomato Sweetie, it has your name on it.” And then the other replies, “No, I had the last one last time, you get this one.” Later, as the garden becomes more prolific, it will be, “Sweetie, you have to start eating up some of those tomatoes, I don’t have time to can right now and they’ll go to waste.” As Brother John will agree, and it is a point I’ve addressed in earlier blogs, NO PRODUCE MUST GO TO WASTE! Better to eat it all until you burst and die, than waste it! (Brother John actually wrote his first, and only poem about the pressures involved when a garden produces a too abundant bounty. You can read his poem in our Poetry Section).

I also felt compelled to cook some food to tide us over the next few days of our work week. So, I thawed some of Dad’s fish that he had caught. My dad and his “crew” of friends go fishing at Quimby, Morely, and Oyster, VA on my Uncle Dave’s 19 ft. Carolina skiff, the “Binnie May” or on his friend Jerry’s catamaran. They go bay fishing for croakers, flounder, king fish, and shark. Actually my dad is famous in the family for being shark bit last year. Seems he had pulled in a small (five foot) shark. He intended to get his fishing line ready and back in the water, and then deal with getting the shark back in the water. His fishing buddy (name withheld) decided to help dad out and throw the shark back in. He picked it up by the tail and swung it and just that quick the shark twisted around and latched onto dad’s calf. They had to leave the shark there in full bite and cut it’s jaw with fishing scissors down both sides to work the inward slanting teeth out. And then they took dad off to the hospital, right? Of course not. They wrapped a dirty fish scaled rag around his leg and kept on fishing. The fish (and the sharks) were biting good. No fisherman leaves when there’s fish to be caught.

But I digress. So, I had thawed out some of dad’s fish, croakers they were, and decided to bread them with a little crushed saltines, cornmeal, and Old Bay seasoning. I dipped the fillets in a mixture of beaten egg and milk, and then in the breading, and then fried them in hot oil. Since we had a few zucchini that had to be eaten I decided to make a pancake batter, slice the zucchini, and then cook them in the batter. It is delicious that way.

Well, all of this took until about nine o’clock in the evening. It was then time to start making our mead, an event we had planned for and anticipated for weeks! We were excited, anxious, and tired. In honor of the occasion we had bought a bottle of “Mead” at the local liquor store, along with my favorite hard liquor (Laird’s Apple Jack). We poured two little shot glasses full, toasted each other, took a sip, and said simultaneously, “Blech”. Looking at the bottle we saw that the store bought mead was mixed with white wine. Not to our taste at all. Oh well, on to OUR mead.

The first thing we did was make up a couple gallons of sterilization solution. And boiled a big pot of water and then allowed that sterile water to cool for rinsing. Everything we used, buckets, spoons, measuring containers, utensils, HANDS, were sterilized and rinsed each time they were used. Step one was to pasteurize the honey. Now, my apologies to beekeeper Dan, about pasteurizing the honey, because many people believe this is an unnecessary step, but this was our first time, and the honey was raw, so we did. We first skimmed off any particles of wax and propolis that were on top of the honey. Then I had to make Sammy stop eating big spoonfuls of honey long enough to help me measure out 5 quarts of honey (about 15 lbs). I put one and a half gallons of spring water into a big pot, brought this to a boil, added the honey, stirred it, put the thermometer in the stuff and raised the temperature back to 160 degrees. This we let simmer at about 160 degrees for fifteen minutes to pasteurize the honey. All that sounds so easy and uncomplicated and it really is. But, you have to add to the equation my obsessive compulsive neat freak habits and the worry factor. Minsi Mountain honey is beautiful, tasty, wonderful stuff. But it’s sticky stuff. Sammy and I were ladling the honey into a two quart container to measure it and, of course, some dripped on the floor, and the counter, and the stove top, and my shirt, and my arms, and my face, and my hair. We stirred the honey for the entire time it was pasteurizing and kept playing with the heat to try to keep it EXACTLY at 160 degrees. Worried it near to death. Then, Sammy suddenly said, “I forgot!” and ran out of the room, leaving me stirring. I was hot, sticky, cranky, and none too pleased to see him come back with the camera. “I almost forgot to take pictures for Brother John!”, he said. Now, I’m in my pajamas (again), I’m honeyed but not too sweet if you know what I mean, and Sammy’s taking pictures. Fine. Couldn’t look anymore like a hillbilly then at that very moment. Yee-ha.

Well, after the honey was pasteurized we poured the honey mixture (called must) into the sterile bucket. We added two more gallons of the spring water (of the original four gallons there was now 1/2 gallon left) and stirred it up. It was at this time that we realized that the mixture was still way too hot and was going to take a very long time to cool down. One of our guru sites on the Internet suggested the two gallons of spring water could be frozen before being added. Or at least refrigerated. Next time we’ll do that. So we waited. We were waiting for for the honey mixture to cool to 80 degrees. We mixed up two packets of yeast in a half cup of warm (not hot) sterile water and let that sit for 15 minutes. After that time the yeasties were bubbling nicely. We added yeast nutrient, and yeast energizer to the must (per package directions) and added the yeast and stirred the mixture in the bucket actively for five minutes. I did dance around the bucket chanting, “Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble, cauldron boil and cauldron bubble.” but Sammy was back E-mailing Brother John with the pictures we had taken so far and he missed it. Gee. Too Bad.

We promised our mead that we would see it soon, (told it to be good and ferment “like a nice wine”), and then we put the lid onto the bucket. We added a fermentation lock out of curiosity (you don’t really need one at this point) and Sammy hauled the bucket down to the basement. Our basement is dry, stays about 70 degrees, is quiet, and mostly dark. We put the mead in the back bedroom/storage room. Here it would sit thinking secret thoughts for about two weeks.

I did have an image, as Sammy was going down stairs, of him tripping, falling, and splattering gallons upon gallons of sticky goo all over the basement where it would flow into corners and mix with dust bunnies and possibly grow into an evil monster that would kill us all while we slept. If that happened, I would just get beekeeper Dan to bring in some honeybees and they could just live in the house until the spill was all cleaned up. Speaking of honeybees, we put all of the propolis and comb that we had skimmed from the raw honey, out for the wild honeybees. They cleaned up the bowl in a few days, as beekeeper Dan said they would. The mead did demand a small blood sacrifice. I scraped my knuckle getting the lid on the bucket. No blood went in the mead, just a spatter on the floor.

Well, I scrubbed the floor, counters, sink, dishes, myself, and sat on the couch at last. Sammy and I “high-fived” each other a few times, I ate a half a celebratory box of Wheat Thins and drank a few shots of Apple Jack and Sammy, my loving soul mate, brought out the cocoa butter lotion and gave me a long, thorough foot rub. Life is good at the Wight House!

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Blackberry Wine

August 4, 2008 at 8:00 am (Airlock, Bees, Blackberry, Books, Bungs, Carboy, Fermentation Lock, metabisulfite, Potassium Metabisulfite, Sue Hubbell, Sulphited, Uncategorized, Wine Making, Yeast) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

SWEET!

Sammy and I had been noticing a prime crop of blackberries that were growing in the fallow meadow temptingly close to the roadside about a mile from our house. We kept wondering if anyone would pick them, and, it getting near the end of the season, decided they should be ours! I have an old wine making book written by a British gentleman who talks about getting carboys from the “chemist” for “20 pence or so”. This chemist, for a few more “pence” will also supply siphon tubing, sodium metabisulfite, bungs, and nearly all other materials. I get the idea that the chemists in Britain of that time were a bunch of wine swilling mad scientists. My kind of people! My wine “Bible” suggested several kinds of recipes for blackberry wine. The wine could be made in port style, claret style, as “light” table wine, sweet or dry. Sammy and decided on a port style. This called for four pounds of blackberries.

We loaded up a bucket, a couple of smaller containers (Chinese egg drop soup containers which we have a surplus of), a “snake” hoe (Sammy is always sure that copperheads will just naturally want to be anywhere we want to be), and some bug spray and headed out. We were both wearing shorts and t-shirts which I do not recommend. Blackberries have vicious thorns and they’re not afraid to use them. We started picking berries, Sammy in his selected section and I in mine. His method was to first beat the underbrush to death to mangle or scare away any snakes, then use the hoe to pull the canes toward him to pull off the berries. I trusted that any snakes were well out of my way by the time I had gotten snarled up in the first canes I came across, untangled myself, had three or four more canes attach themselves to my anatomy, dropped the hand full of berries I’d just gathered, cursed a bit as I wiped off the blood, ate a berry or two to see if they were good, and generally wallowed around ripping my clothes and skin to shreds. But, by the time I had picked my first quart, I found my berry Zen. I would carefully move a cane to the point where I could anchor the thorns against my clothing (or skin) to hold the cane where I wanted it and then, by this method, work my way into the patch to collect the berries.

We picked berries until our bucket was half full and the berry patch was picked over. We weren’t sure we had enough, not having any idea how much we needed to make four pounds. I remembered a couple berry patches I had seen while jogging and we checked them out, only to find they were pretty scant in the berry department. Sammy remembered seeing a patch right across the road from home so we decided to make that our last stop. As we walked over to the patch I felt my mouth drop open in awe. The patch was loaded, absolutely loaded with huge, ripe berries as big as a thumb tip. They were so ripe they were falling off into our hands. We picked more, juicier, plumper berries in 15 minutes than we had in an hour. We had a little concern with a yellow jackets nest that was apparently about five feet from where we were picking. We were a little more concerned when the dogs came down to keep us company and started snapping at a few stray yellow jackets.

Back at the house Sammy started picking over the berries (culling unripe berries, bits of leaf, a few aphids and inch worms, that sort of thing) and I started preparing my “tools of the trade”. Now these were, for the most part, new tools of the trade for me. I had only ever made dandelion wine in the “hillbilly” way, bakers yeast, citrus peels for nutrient, allowed to ferment right in the bottles so that the lees settled to the bottom and came as part of the wine. Don’t get me wrong, it was good wine. Good enough that Sammy and I chose it as our wedding toast. In fact, at one point in our post nuptial celebration, I was walking around in my wedding dress with a bottle of dandelion wine under one arm, a mason jar of moonshine (compliments of a certain Uncle), in one hand, and a bag of jello shots in the other. Just so you know, I was sharing these items.

Back to the blackberry wine. The first thing I did was scrub out the sink and fill it with a few gallons of sterilization solution. Potassium metabisulfite at about 2 oz. per gallon of water. What a stink! I think the fumes actually made my voice a little hoarse the next day. I had also boiled a big pot of water which I allowed to cool to use for rinsing. Everything that was used was sterilized in this fashion, soaked in the sink, rinsed with boiled water. Sammy had finished picking over the berries and we tumbled them into our large six gallon bucket. I mashed them with my potato masher until they were a liquid mash. (I found later that using your hands works much better and doesn’t run the risk of scratching your bucket. Scratches can increase the risk of places to harbor contaminants.) Into this mash was added an eighth teaspoon (per gallon) of the metabisulphite and a pint of sterile water. Fruit wines can naturally harbor stray “bad” bacteria which can make the wine taste off. So they can be “sulphited” to minimize this. The mash was allowed to sit for a couple of hours. The metabisulphite causes a little bleaching of the color as it sits but doesn’t harm the color of the wine. While that was sitting I mixed one third of the total sugar to be added (1 1/2 lbs. at about 2 cups of sugar to the pound) into 2 pints of water. I boiled this for one minute and let the mixture cool to about 80 degrees. (Important! the mixture to which the yeast will be added can’t be too hot or the yeasties won’t like it!) I mixed up 1 package of wine yeast in about 2 oz. warm (not hot!) water and let that sit for about 15 minutes. Once the sugar water was cooled enough I added it to the mash with 1/8 tsp. of yeast energizer and 1 tsp. of yeast nutrient, then the prepared yeast. This I stirred vigorously for five minutes. Well, part one was finished! The lid went on the pail. The hole in the pail lid can be fitted with a fermentation lock (not necessary at this point) or taped over. We didn’t have a lock for the pail (ours reserved for our mead) so Sammy found a metal tube which fit and we put a balloon over the tube. We did this rather than tape out of simple curiosity to see how much the first stage would ferment. We ceremoniously carried the bucket downstairs and placed it in the bottom of an old cedar wardrobe I have. The basement temp. stays at about 70, the wine likes 60-80 range. Fruit wines like to be kept in the dark or be in dark glass bottles or they can bleach in color like Grandma’s old sofa.

Sue Hubbell's A Book of Bees

Sammy finished out the evening by having a little of last year’s dandelion wine. I went straight to the apple jack and the warm smooth glow of accomplishment. Tomorrow, mead, stage one. I relaxed for the rest of the evening and began reading Sue Hubbell’s wonderfully written A book of Bees.

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