Brewing root beer and mead (with wine yeast, I’m not leaving it up to chance this time). The yeast at least is having a feast. It’s feasting on honey.

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Mead recipe (following this one but without the spicing):

  • boiled 2 gallons of filtered tap water
  • steeped one big of Tazo organic chai in it
  • took off stove, added 4 lbs of raw honey, set aside to cool (= the must)
  • made yeast starter separately: boiled small jar of water and 1 tbsp of honey
  • let cool, added 1 package of Montrachet wine yeast (two hours later: see pic)
  • once the must was 95 degrees F, added yeast starter
  • transferred to two 1 gallon glass jars, topped off with boiled, cooled filtered tap water

Now it ferments for a couple of weeks.

I see it only now, at the end of the day, how much was accomplished: cleaned out the chicken coop,  collected four eggs (we’re back to four!), inspected the beehives, painted the last of the signage for our town’s Earth Day, and racked the wine.

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 Four.

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Amie paints her own sign in the new basement Project Room. The Earth Day lawn signs behind her are reused.

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The A-Frames from the previous year got a new lick of paint and are awaiting the last lettering on the porch (along with the seedlings, hardening off).

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DH racks the Merlot and the Cabernet

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Sediment, with some wood chips.

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We tasted both, the Merlot, pictured here, was further along than the Cabernet. Back in their cubby they went for the next stage.

 

Can’t call it ginger soda anymore. “Ginger champagne” is more like it, as it’s definitely alcoholic and tastes a little like champagne. Foams like it too! To your health!

{Update 1/17} I immediately put all the bottles out on the porch, where it has hovered around freezing. That immediately squashed the fermentation. When I open them now, immediately after bringing them in, they are perfectly carbonated. No geisers! And the taste is superb. I’ve started a new bug so we will have ginger beer ready when this batch is finished.

A friend asked me to bring her a couple. I declined and said she’d have to come and drink it here. I’m not driving around with these projectiles in my car!

 

DH’s buckets with the wine grapes had company: my ginger soda carboy. The trouble in our house is that there is no place where the temperature remains constantly warm enough. My 1 gallon carboy was being moved from next to the wood stove, to next to the radiator, to next to the gap between fridge and wall, to a spot in the sun with a black t-shirt thrown over it. But as our thermostat is set at 60F, and as the solar gain nowadays gets us to 62F, the heat doesn’t come on, and it’s only when we fall below 62F in the evenings that we get the wood stove going. We keep it going till we go to bed, and in the early morning the heating comes on perhaps once to keep the cooling house to 60F.

Anyone who bakes bread knows that yeast is fussy about temperature, and my poor yeasties were not happy with the cold gaps and the temperature swings. My ginger bug died on me the day I made the wort (bug? wort? read all about it here), so I cheated and spiked it with bread yeast. It was bubbling away within an hour and I added it to the wort in the carboy, along with the juice of an orange.  Five days now I’ve been trying to keep it going, by moving it around and stirring it to aerate it to prevent it from turning alcoholic, and it remained a sluggish one.  The longer you wait to bottle your ginger beer, the more chance there is that it becomes alcoholic, but you also want to make sure the fungi have done enough of their thing that they don’t go berserk in your bottles, over-carbornate and then explode them (it happens!).

Today after the wood stove heat  got the bubbles going again I tasted the decoction and to my surprise found it already too alcoholic, so it was time to bottle.

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Not having a siphon, I strained out the “lees” or sediment (ginger and dead yeast) through several layers of cheesecloth. My 1 gallon carboy yielded eight 12oz. bottles. I found that capper at the give-and-take at my town’s transfer station: thank you! The bottles are from root and ginger beer that I’ve saved up over the past year.

As for that plastic bottle, a great trick is to keep some soda into a plastic bottle, so you can squeeze it to check on how tight it’s getting in there. This plastic bottle, the same volume as my glass ones, will see good use because I never buy plastic bottles (except for, painfully, milk containers). I’d rather be thirsty than buy one. Yet, I learned my lesson the last time when I opened a bottle of soda. And for that reason, as an extra precaution, this is where the capped bottles went:

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In a wooden case with a sheet of plexiglass in front of it. I then turned it and placed the plexiglass side up against a cupboard. If any explodes, it’ll be a mess, but a contained mess.

Other happening ferments: I am baking bread again, using the BreadMan that we got for our wedding (12 years ago), and a friend is growing a kombucha mother SCOBY for me. I’ll go pick her up next week.

Yesterday evening we took the next step in making our wine. We picked up the grapes in early December. They’re from Behm Vineyard in California and get shipped here as part of a wine club. We got a Cabernet Franc and a Merlot.  The grapes come crushed – so with skins and pips – and frozen in five gallon buckets. You thaw them out and once they’re warm enough you add  a packet of wine yeast. That and the yeasts already present on the grapes will get to work and after a few days you can smell that yeasty smell. To keep the yeasts invigorated you need to stir the bucket once or twice a day.

A month later (that was yesterday) this primary fermentation is finished and it’s time to get rid of the pips and skins by pressing the grapes. We simply used part of my honey extractor: a five gallon bucket with holes at the bottom. A lot of juice just pours out and then you put some pressure on the grapes to squeeze out more. Each five gallon bucket of grapes yielded a little more than a 3 gallon carboy of juice. Every carboy got a handful of oak wood chips and was inoculated with a batch of malolactic acid bacteria to convert the stronger tasting malic acid into lactic acid. In a month we’ll rack or siphon the wine to get rid of the sediment, and then it’ll sit in the carboys till September, when we bottle and either drink or let the wine age in the bottles. We’ll get 30 bottles of wine out of this.

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The must. The bucket in front has a plate covering the big hole where my honey spinner’s axle fits.

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The first juice pours out easily and is clear.

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Then there is still some juice trapped in the grapes. This you have to press through the sieve.

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That pressed juice has a lot of sediment so isn’t that clear. It’ll settle in the carboy and will be left after racking.

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The cake of skins and pips that’s left over. Compost!

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Malolactic bacteria go in.

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Special French oak chips, medium toast!

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Two times three gallons and a little leftover for topping off the carboys after racking. Airlocks to keep oxygen out.

Two posts in a day!

The mead’s doing well! I made two batches: one with honey from the first nectar flow (lighter colored), another, smaller batch with later honey (darker color).

They’re about the same proportion water and honey – though, to be honest, I’m going the Sandor Katz-way, that is, I’m eyeballing it, adding a bit here and there as I see fit. The first batch is doing better: the yeasts are developing a nice foamy head on the must, and it smells yeastier too.

That picture was taken before the daily shake. When I opened it after its shake the other day, it fizzed so much it spilled over the rim.

I tried to capture this on video today  but the effect was less spectacular. Still, you can hear the fizz when I open the cap. Smells great, quite yeasty.

I started my first mead – fermented honey wine –  today. I used my own honey, of course. This little jar was from our last extraction (09/26). All the air bubbles that were “invited” into the honey when spinning it had risen to the top, taking the wax and propolis that had hitched a ride up with it.

It creates a nice, creamy wax seal.

This stuff is okay to eat if you like the texture. I read in Katz’s book, The Art of Fermentation, that adding wax cappings during the first phase of mead adds flavor. So in it all went, 1 part honey with 5 parts dechlorinated (charcoal filtered and then boiled)  water. This is called the must. Shake it vigorously (for that, screw the cap on tight), then open the cap to release pressure buildup from the fermentation.

The honey is alive with yeasts, so it should start “boiling” soon. This phase of the process can take a couple of weeks, during which the must must be shaken every day.

We also extracted 13 more pounds of honey today. This from 6 frames (so about 37 oz. per frame). This was disappointing: our last extraction of 8 frames yielded 22 lbs, that is, 45 oz. a frame).  But these last frames had all kinds of honey in them: some light and runny, some (I presume the second honey flow) very dark and viscous, almost impossible to extract.  DH and I spent hours spinning it. Still, it’s another 13 lbs. This brings our total to 54 lbs and 12 oz.!

The first one is sauerkraut. It is my first deliberately fermented food. A huge cabbage head came in our CSA box a couple of weeks ago. What to do with it? As I was reading Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation, I couldn’t resist.

My mom and I went looking for a good crock, but all the right shapes we found (in non-specialty stores) had questionable glazes. Always know what glaze is on your cookware, and especially make sure there is no lead in it.

In the end we went with the ceramic liner of our crock pot.  We shredded the cabbage, layered it in the pot, with one tablespoon of salt on top of every inch of cabbage (except on the last layer), then submerged it in filtered tap water, crushing it down to get the air bubbles out, then weighed it with two plates, then a jar with water. We draped a towel over it so dust couldn’t get in.

It smelled something awful three days into the process, so I put it on the porch. The potent smell lasted a few days, then it became more neutral. On day 10 there was some surface mold, which was easily skimmed off. All the cabbage under the water surface was unaffected. It is now two weeks and it tastes delicious!  I think it’s ready!

I transferred the kraut with the brine into jars – careful to keep it all submerged – and put them in the fridge to eat it over the next couple of weeks.

I gave the chickens the large leaves that we put at the bottom and they are loving it!

The second ferment is comfrey liquor. No, it’s not  edible. At least, I wouldn’t drink it!

It took much longer to make. I started it in July. It required three buckets that fit into each other. The bottom one captures the liquid which drips down through the holes in the second bucket, which I stuffed with comfrey leaves from my garden. I have a comfrey patch right across from the chicken coop. The chicken, by the way, love to eat it. On top of the leaves I put a heavy paver and then on top of that a third bucket heavy with sand. I stood this in the shed for a couple of months. I checked it a month later and it was pretty bubbly, but it didn’t smell,  even though my internet sources say it should stink to high heaven! I swear I took a picture then, but I can’t find it. This was the state today:

Now a little over two months into the process, the  leaves (left in the picture above) are just fiber. The  liquid (right) is no longer bubbly, and it doesn’t smell. It’s a coffee brown-black and somewhat viscous.

A 5 gallon bucket stuffed with leaves yielded a little under 5 cups of liquor.

I will fertilize the berry bushes with this or keep it in a dark, cool place until Spring. I’ll dilute it as it’s very concentrated: one part of liquor per fifteen or so parts of water. Comfrey’s deep roots mine and bring up  especially potassium – comfrey is actually one of the few organic sources of potassium.