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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Eydie and Sammy meet beekeeper Dan

August 3, 2008 at 11:00 am (Bees, honey, Mead Making, New friends) (, , , , , , , , , , )



By Eydie Wight

On the way home from Brother John’s house Sammy and I were discussing how every component needed to start our mead making attempt had fallen into place except the honey! We had priced honey at four or five places from the health food store to Sam’s club to the local grocery stores. We had also put out an all points bulletin to our friends to see if anyone had any leads on honey. Well, we had actually heard from three people who suggested the same person. I knew Dan slightly from his too infrequent visits to our writer’s group. I think I remember one piece that he had written about the sea that was very deeply attuned to the earth and it’s rhythms. I liked it and hoped he would keep writing. Sammy and I heard that Dan had begun beekeeping and possibly had some honey for sale. We called the number, left a message, missed his call back, left another message, played some phone tag, and finally got through as we were on our way home. Dan (our hopeful honey supplier) invited us to come by his house and check out the honey he had.

What a completely excellent way to end the best weekend we had had in a long time! Dan lives in an old farmhouse that has so much character. I didn’t want to be rude but I kept looking. There was an old wood stove in the living room, and varied artwork on the walls, two loving dogs to be petted, friendly cats (one a big orange poly dactyl, another a young yellow fellow just full of curiosity and life), bee books and articles inviting a good read at the kitchen table, china cats and knickknacks. I felt a wave of nostalgia, it was like being in my Granny and Granddad’s home again. It was comfortable. It was lovely.

We started talking about homemade wines and Dan mentioned that dandelion wine was one of his favorites. Well, I just happened to have part of a bottle that Brother John had given back to me (it not being one of Brother John’s favorites) and I dashed out to the car, tauting the virtues of my wine all the way. My dandelion wine is made the old fashioned way with baker’s yeast, fermented in the bottle, with the sludge allowed to sink down to the bottom. Dan brought out a bottle one of his friends had made that make my wine look like pond scum. He dandelion offering had the color of the first warm spring sunshine and tasted like a smile. Next thing I knew Dan had given us a bottle of his homemade strawberry wine to take home.

We started talking about bees, and beekeeping. Dan explained that he is new to beekeeping and has gotten involved after hearing if the dwindling of the American honeybees. He has four hives now and does all he can to not distress the bees. He told us he can tell a happy bee buzz from an unhappy one. I was sold right there without ever seeing (or tasting) the honey. Of course then I saw the honeycomb with it’s loaded amber treasure and had a spoonful. I was hooked. We bought 25 lbs right then and there, enough for the mead and a few jars for us. Dan also gave us some eggs from free range chickens. When I cooked them the next day they had the biggest, yellowest yolks I had ever seen! Sammy and I agreed that we had been truly blessed to meet such a gentle, courteous friend as we found in Dan.

We even talked on the way home about trying our hand at beekeeping. I have seen so many honeybees at our place, especially around my lavender, hyssop, and lemon balm. I think I could give them a happy place to live. We slept so peacefully that night, visions of honeybees and big yellow cats companionably drinking mead at the kitchen table…(Maybe I shouldn’t have had that second glass of wine!)

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Our trip to the wine store for equipment.

August 3, 2008 at 8:00 am (Bottles, Bungs, Carboy, Fermentation Lock, Hydrometer, Mead Making, Nutrient, Potassium Metabisulfite, Siphon, Strainer bag, Yeast) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

My husband Sammy and I were having a really good weekend. We had had a long, gray, spate of “not winning the lottery” (again), having our septic system spew raw sewage out into our beautiful corn crop (human poop does grow good corn-not safely edible corn-but good corn), having our safety net of painstakingly horded cash mysteriously disappear from its hiding place, having the air conditioning go out in the car three times while at the same time listening to the musical grindings of the brake rotors in the other car, and having our kitten Ophelia become very ill very suddenly. Our motto for awhile there had become, “Let’s kiss the ass end of this day goodbye.”

But, we were having a really good weekend. Saturday we decided to finally make the hour drive to the beer and wine making store. We held hands and talked of pleasant things like our proposed mead making and the possibility of another trip to the Bahamas next year when I reach 50. I had a list of things we needed for the mead. I always feel better when I have a list. When I drop dead some day it will be with a list in my hand with all the items crossed off. On the drive to “the city” Sammy called a friend who he hadn’t been in touch with for a long time. The two of them, Sammy and Ramey, used to have an acoustic duo. back in the 70’s. I have a picture of the two of them on my locker at work. When people ask me, which one is your husband, I either reply, “the fuzzy one” or “the Dan Fogelburg looking one”. Ramey I call “the Glen Campbell guy”. Anyway, Sammy and Ramey talked until we had reached our destination and then we parked and sat and they talked some more, catching up on 30+ years of news.

We finally figured out that the entrance to the store was actually down an alley. As we drove down the alley Sammy stopped, backed up, and said, “Hey, did you see those drums? Somebody put a snare and a tom out for trash.” I said, “well, you can’t pass up looking at that, we could use some drums.” So, Nine Inch Nails sticker and all, the drums were loaded into the car.

As we parked in front of the store we saw a van with a Bucknell wrestling sticker. We looked at each other and at the same time wondered how our young friend Luke was doing. He is an honors student, fantastic musician, savvy wrestler, and he goes to Bucknell. We miss him. We entered the world of “everything you need or want to have to make really ostentatious and hopefully drinkable beer and wine” and stood gaping like fish out of water. Buckets, carboys, wine yeasts, wine nutrient, yeast energizer, siphons, fermentation locks, bottles, corks, potassium metabisulfite, strainer bags, bungs, hydrometers, thermometers. And we saw young Luke there with his dad! After hugs all around he told us he was there shopping for the ingredients to make his own probiotics. Well, we were assisted in our purchases by a knowledgeable and personable kid who is probably old enough to drink but young enough to get carded for the next 10 years of his life, and headed out. Outside the store we called Lew, an amateur wine maker I work with who had generously offered to lend us two carboys and some other equipment.

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The Mimsi Mountain Meade Makers!

August 2, 2008 at 1:00 am (Mead Making) (, , , , , , , )


Minsi Mountain Meade Makers
Tools of the Trade

My sister and brother-in-law, (Eydie and Sammy) have started a new project learning how to make Mead. Here you see my sister Eydie sterilizing the dark honey and spring water. This has to be done before adding the yeast and nutrients.

And here are the new toys they will be playing with! (Perhaps Brother Sammy can get a clearer picture?).

A little Mead making music, sung by Sister Eydie and accompanied by Brother Sammy

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