Category Archives: Hobbit homebrew

Summer of 2017: Pause in Play #gdnbloggers

As I sit here, I have Adele singing ‘set fire to the rain’ on loop in my ear phones. This is the summer  of 2017, and I am having a rest.  I’m not very good at having a rest; school and counselling training form a big chunk of my life, then there is the allotment, writing and occasionally I go on adventures. So when school ended about two weeks ago, I took the conscious decision to not fill my diary.  This is time for a full stop.

From August 2016 until now, there has been a lot going on. Work has been busy, there have been lots of students; I have spent my working days, prepping, marking, teaching; doing my day job to the best of my ability. Alongside that, I have also been at night school and undertaking a two-year level 4 Diploma in Therapeutic counselling.  That’s two fairly big plates and spinning all the time.  I had forgotten just how demanding a degree-level course was, and it has been ten years since I got my Psychology degree from Aston University. Training to be a counsellor and a being a  Psychology teacher are at two different ends of a spectrum

Anyway. The first year of the diploma ended in July, but school continued for a bit. When it did, I wasn’t going to go around spinning plates this summer.  I was and am, going to try and have some down time.

Whilst the plot hasn’t had the best year, it has had some therapeutic value over the summer.

For example, the growing stash of homebrew. I didn’t think that I would do much homebrewing or any other preserving for that matter. Only for blackberries to catch me by surprise and appear abundantly on the allotment. I have made blackberry wine before, I made some last year and added plums and currants. This year’s experiment is purely blackberries with some cinnamon and star anise thrown in.  I had been given some plums by a plot neighbour, and only today the must made from them has been transferred into a demi-john.

I have seen lots of fellow allotmenteers start to worry about blight warnings. This can be awfully demoralising, and when you have been working hard to maintain a crop, it’s awful to see it decimated. There are less than half a dozen plants on my plot, but I have harvested lots of green of tomatoes. I think that we currently have all of one red marmande tomato! I wasn’t too convinced by the crop of Roma tomatoes. I do believe however, that there was just something not right about this year’s growing season, least f all because of my own reduced productivity.  The tomatoes that have  been harvested have been used alongside apples and fenugreek to make a green tomato chutney.  There has been less playing with the preserving pan, and to return to that was actually really nice. I have yet to make jam, though Mama F and her sister did borrow my kit to make some blackberry jam. Making Jams, jellies and chutneys is actually really nice; it is a form of mindfulness, I guess, but more on that later! The batch of chutney now needs some time to mature and mellow; hopefully, it will find loving homes.

A bit delayed, but better than never; we  have glads! Appearing a lot like Roman candles, they have burst into bloom all over the plot in a riot of colour.  I don’t dig them out, and let them be. May be, once I have cleared the plot, I might consider sinking some more next year. It never ceases to amaze me, how colourful or abundant they are. They also attract  a lot of fuzzy bottomed bumbles, so having them on the plot for them is doubly useful.

All that any would be suitor needs to worry about, is investing in Diamonds; I can grow my own beautiful flowers, and petrol station flowers are never crossing my palms.  So may be just by my bulbs and things, that would work yes? You’ll have do your own weeding, mind.

 

I started off, saying that I was having a rest; that there were no adventures planned. In some part, that is true. I am very fortunate to be within a stone’s throw of Sarehole Mill. Something of a landmark and a beauty spot, the mill is said to have inspired J.R.R.Tolkien. Whilst I am not a real hobbit-the last that I checked-taking a walk down to the mill was something of an adventure. I’m glad that I did, that I wandered around by the Mill Pool-the mill still works-and even sat in the tearoom with a cuppa and tea cake. There was something magnetic about the place, and no wonder that Tolkien was inspired by it.

I had taken my notebook with me, thinking that I might sit there and write. I ended up taking pictures so that I could write about it later; I could imagine a protagonist stood musing his existence whilst looking at the mill pool. I made a note on the ‘to write’ list, and have plans to write when my brain feels like it. You can’t see it very well in the photo sadly, but there is actually a veggie patch outside mill. I remember seeing raspberry canes and rhubarb; there is all an apple espalier that overhangs a door. I’m not the only would be ‘obbit, that likes gardening.

Having a rest, will hopefully give both my brain and my soul a rest. There are no concrete plans per se as to what I shall do over the summer.

I have re-discovered my colouring books, I had forgotten just how much I enjoy this. I must have sat there for hours, with my pencils, fineliners and fibre tips just not thinking, but just colouring. I cannot describe the sensation, but it does feel as though you are floating away as you feel your attention span loosen out and become aware of your breathing, your heart rate;  all occurs whilst your mind empties.

As a well as colouring, there are books to write and to read.

In terms of writing, there are three, no wait, four separate notebooks/folders waiting to be looked at. But no mojo. Whilst colouring completely empties the mind, writing requires that it is full and with all sorts; for me, the day dreams have to be in full techi-colour and able to flow through my inky pens. It is only when my pens have a mind of their own, that I am able to write, commit things to paper. I don’t type and write. I write it all out in notebooks, it feels a more soulful in analogue rather than doing it via digital.

Having nothing to write, makes trying to rest a little difficult. You, I know that I, feel as though I should be doing something. Trouble is, the impetus, the drive is not there. Waiting for it to come back, the ideas to come back, is a trifle disarming. It is also unpredictable, and I have no idea when it will come back. I don’t want to call this a ‘writer’s block’, not in the least. There is no congestion-as it were-no back up, that needs a wiggle, or a flick to let it pour. Just no material to set a spark to, that oxygen might then fuel.

I can’t write anything at the moment, that doesn’t mean that I won’t in the future. In the last two years, I have written three books, and have another scheduled for release in Spring 2018. Whatever happens next, is the next phase, the next chapter; what will be, will be. I don’t want to force it; I am great believer in things-creative things-happening organically, spontaneously, to make your soul zing and may even a smile appearing on your face. I am going to sit on those four books, and let them appear when they are ready. Trust, me, when they turn up, make themselves known, I will tell you.

I’m not writing anything, so I will read. I am currently two thirds of the way through the Malbry Cycle by Joanne Harris.  Alongside that, I have the Hannibal Quadrology, written by another Harris.  I have only made a small dent in ‘Red Dragon’. Now both of the Harrises have written anthems for my doomed youth. I read ‘Blackberry Wine’ and three out of the four Hannibal novels during my A-levels. At 33, I am having a literary renaissance by making my way through Ms.Harris’s back catalogue and taking on Hannibal once again. Then I have lots of other random stuff-George Eliot, Virgina Woolf, Gustave Flaubert and lots and lots of historical fiction-on the ereader to also look at. There is no shortage of works to read.

I need to read, I want to read; as with colouring, with gardening, it’s time to submerge my soul into what makes it zing.

waltonscarecrow

Last but not least, my thanks to waltons! They very kindly sent my Spike and Drusilla the scarecrows.  There was never any doubt in my mind as to what they would be named.

Right, colouring, reading, watching Bones, Angel, Buffy or Star trek….all options on doing nothing…..

 

Moonshine and Mooli pods #gdnbloggers

There are two parts to this blog post. The first involves the stash of home brewed wine that is developing rather nicely.

 

Today, I have bottled up a batch of Rhubarb and currant wine. This has been lingering for sometime and was brewed in August last year. One of many different varieties, the batch was racked off into small bottles, wrapped up and stowed away. When bottled, it was actually transparent-you could see right through it, and there was little or no sediment left behind. Like all the others, this batch has been wrapped up in brown paper so that it doesn’t fade.  I have taken a quick inventory, and we do have something of a stash developing. To date, we have bottled up:

  • Strawberry wine
  • Blackberry, plum and currant
  • Rhubarb and Currant

There is apple wine, blackberry and mixed berry and Rhubarb and goosebery left to do later in the year.

Most of the wine is transparent on racking, and you can see right through it. It is only through repeated racking that you get wine that is completely see through whilst keeping it’s natural colour. As the wines are so varied, they will need to be stored and allowed to  mature sufficiently. I have to say though, that the blackberry ones are a rather nice claret colour that does look rather proper! There id definitely more than one way to preserve alloment produce, and Petal plonk isn’t too bad at all.

That’s the home brew developments today. Then come the mooli pods. Mama F has found some Mooli pods-these are seed pods from bolted radiishes-in the freezer.

Very simple to make, Mama F created a sauteed base of onions, garlic and ginger before adding the mooli pods, tomatoes and potatoes. We might not have got any radishes, but the seed pods are edible and you can see use the produce that you do get quite effectively.

Chateau Petal…or Petal Plonk…#gdnbloggers

Yeah, Petal Plonk doesn’t sound that good, now does it?

 

Not every thing on the allotment ends up being cooked. There is after all, more than one way to preserve something that has been sow and grown for the future.

2016 involved Petal and I carrying out a number of home brew experiments. Whilst there was a lighter than expected vegetable yield, there was quite a bit of soft fruit. Quite a few blackberries were harvested, and there was something of a bumper crop of currants. We also had a fair few strawberries; which since I don’t really like that much were going into ice cream, be used to make wine or be given away. I decided to go with the home brew by way of experiment.

Strawberry wine was the first of the home brew endeavours; the batch where I learned and saw what the fuss was all about. Al the subsequent batches were about replication and seeing if the straight forward recipe given to be my the fabulous Sister Sparrow could be replicated and to what effect. Problem is, I had little patience during this year; a great many things were done in a rush and probably not thought through. In relation to the home brew-strawberries in particular-I may have racked and bottled a little early. Though I have heard whispers of it being best drunk and consumed whilst young.

With the racking, especially the early stages, I learned to be firm with the must. Not let it all through, basically. Okay so the the odd blackberry or raspberry might plop through, but to generally let all the liquid pass through. With the bulkiness of the must now removed, that leaves the likelihood of sediment passing through, that’s the super fine stuff that even a muslin will let through. It is repeated racking and uber filtration that will overcome that. However, I am not aiming to supply the world’s someliers or open a vintners; I can deal with the sediment, with the wine being drunk from the top. Just don’t shake it all too much!

Today was about racking and bottling; it was the two batches of blackberry that would be dealt with today, leaving a demi-john of rhubarb and gooseberry waiting in the wings. The one batch, was from August 2016 and contained blackberries, plum and currants. This was to be bottled. You can see it above; it is a little cloud-that sediment-but hopefully should settle down. The strawberry wine did-the one in the glass-and it didn’t taste too bad either. Drinking it, was alot like eating a Sara Lee strawberry cheese cake with biscuit base. I kid you not, it was the biscuit base taste that got me. Any way, the batch is now bottled, will be labelled and stowed for future consumption. To keep the colour, I will probably wrap the bottles in brown paper. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of bottles, actually; I was only expecting six 500-ml bottles to be filled. I must think of an interesting name to put on the bottles in the same vein that all the preserves have names. Answers on a postcard, eh?

The other batch, was very very recent; blackberry wine that is dated December 2016. This has been fermented, left to settle and now been racked off-as it were. Any sediment and must that crept in has been discarded and with the wine in demi-johns, it also needs to be stowed away. This is the biggest batch by far, and I have no idea as to how many 500-ml bottles this might produce when it is eventually put into bottles. The colour is rather cool and it looks very claret-y.

As to whether it all tastes any good. Well, we’ll see!

Blackberry wine, finally! #gdnbloggers

This is probably going to be the last home brew experiment of this year, but I have finally got around to making Blackberry wine.

I have used a recipe-a recipe that is henceforth know as Sister Sparrow’s fruit wine recipe-that is really easy to follow. A quantity of fruit is prepared and placed into a brewers bucket. You boil up a sugar syrup-say a couple of litres of water and a bag of sugar-add this to the bucket. When cool, pectolase, yeast and nutrient are added and stirred in. I then keep an eye on the mixture, it is kept covered and in a warm place; stirred twice daily. After about a week, I transfer the mixture into demi-johns. You can see the mixture brew up as real-life science experiment. I also tend to keep it covered, as otherwise you might get an interesting waft of brewing filling the house.

This time I have used all of the blackberries foraged from the plot. However, in something of a disclaimer, I have also added shop bought frozen berries. This is a mixture of additional blackberries, raspberries, cherries, blueberries and currants. The bulk of the wine is blackberry, and that was always the aim.To further play with the flavour, I did throw in some star anise and some cinnamon. We are unlikely to age the wine in oak barrels, so this flavouring with spices might make for an interesting experiment.

You can also view the video here.

There was quite a lot in the brewers bucket, enough to fill two demi-johns, making this batch the biggest batch I have made to date. This will either turn out okay or go drastically wrong! It is always an interesting experience transferring the ferment into the demi-johns as you try not keel over.

blackberrydemijohn

Two demi-johns are now placed aside to clear. There is a slight colour difference, as one demi-john was filled before the other. Red in colour, the wine does look rather pretty! The air-locks are deliberately green so I can see whether or not they are bubbling.

experiments

Over the course of the year, there has certainly been a number of home brew experiments. This latest batch and of blackberry wine carries the tally up to six different varieties. I’m not sure if that is a good thing, or that I should be a little worried as to how much has been made and whether or not it will all be consumed. One thing that is true and most certainly, is that it is all the product of the plot.

I will have to consider how long the wines are left in their containers before racking and putting into bottles. The first batch that I ever made was the strawberry wine, and that is the one inside the bottle beneath the brown paper.  I suspect friends and family are going to get some interesting gifts in the future, other than jams, jellies and chutneys. It has been fun making Petal plonk-as it were-it doesn’t half make you think of what goes into wine, how and why.

With everything stashed away, each batch will need a name-all the preserves have a name!-other than Petal’s Plonk…..

Preserving without a pan #gdnbloggers

For me, preserving plot produce without a pan, can only mean one thing. Homebrew. Over the last year or so, whilst the growing season has been a little hit and miss, I have been able to experiment beyond jams, jellies and chutneys.

Today’s experiment, involved blackberries that were foraged from the plot sometime ago.

There have been a number of experiments and with assorted plot produce.

experiments

I did double check, and the variety that we have are:

 

  • Rhubarb and currant
  • Blackberry and plum
  • Rhubarb, strawberry, currant and gooseberry
  • Apple
  • Strawberry

There isn’t actually a lot of sediment or lees in the bottles, so I will keep an eye on them and see when each one can be decanted into bottles.

Yes, make and drink responsibly, folks. Believe it or not, I do tend to have adult supervision 😉

Strawberry wine and beyond #gdnbloggers

From the last post, you will have seen that there was an experiment on the go with strawberries. It is time now to move the experiment on.

The youtube version can be seen here.

 

Having left the fruit to ferment for three days, the must  is suitably calm and ready to be transferred into the demi-john. It was a slow but steady process to strain the must through the scalded muslin, as I was doing it pint by by pint and there were five litres in the bucket. As you can see, this has nicely filled the glass demi-john. For now, I am using the demi john and will most likely be transferring and racking into five litre water bottles fitted with a grommet. I know that  second had glass demi -johns are available, and this is something that I might look into should the experiments work. The plan is to now leave the demi john alone, for about three months. I will need to keep any eye on the bubbles.

There is still a lot of fruit to use, and the next experiment is going to involve rhubarb and red currants. These are sat on the side defrosting.

Beyond this experiment, there is the small matter of the plot grapes.

There are three vines on the plot, red and white. These are boskoop glory and madeline sylvaner, which are dessert varieties. These can be used to make wine, the second hand wine making book suggests that acid is added to them, if these are the only ones available. I am not aware of any of the plot neighbours having vines, and there was a crop last year. So the plan-I think this has always been the plan really-is to wait til October when the now baby grapes have ripened to harvest and to try and make some wine out of them. Other than making vinegar, my other concerns in the volume grapes required. The recipes all require a significant amount of grapes, at least 13-14 lbs of fruit. Right now, the wine being produced is using 4 lbs of fruit, so that is a significant difference and depends on the vines producing enough. That, or the quantity will have to be scaled down.

At least now, there is a big enough fermenting bucket.

Spirit infusion and Spuds

After a month in the dark, the spirit infusions were ready to decant. These infusions involve home grown raspberries and gooseberries. The raspberries broke down and produced  a lovely bright pink infusion. The gooseberries were still quite firm, and hadn’t broken down so much. Both however produced a decent level of end product. Both had been made with 70 cl of spirit. I managed to get 2x 250 bottles from each kilner jar, so I am pretty happy. The gooseberry infusion is rather like drinking a spiced curry.

There there were spuds. Above you see a 10kg bucket of pink fir apple potatoes. This is the first time I sown and grown this variety, and I have to say that I am rather impressed. We managed to get just under 10kg from half a 1mx2m bed. There is still that half a bed and another 1mx1m bed left to harvest. These a beautifully odd shaped potato, and we did get a few, ahem, rude shaped ones. I had to warn my mum in advanced.

Those were okay, then came these.

image1

They look a bit scabby. I forget now, what these are now. Perhaps lady balfour or interntional kidney. I think they have been left in the soil a little bit too long. They will be okay, after heavy peeling. I refuse to say that growing things is always going to be rainbows and butterflies. It won’t be.

Harvest and homebrew kick off 2015

The garlic foliage has dramatically keeled over, indicating that it is rather good to go. The seed garlic was sunk last autumn, having been purchased from the garlic farm. Over the years, I have brought and planted lots of different varieties of seed garlic. This was the first ever batch from the garlic farm, and I do have to say, I have not been disappointed.

IMG_5020

As of yet I have only harvested the one bed; I have two beds of over wintering garlic. The foliage had fallen over completely, was all very straw like and yellow. The bulbs didn’t take much lift, and moved out of the soil quite easily. The vast majority of the bulbs are very, very big. By far the largest that I have ever managed to sow and harvest. Big clumps, that are almost trying to split away from the main one. And they honk. Honk of garlic. There are assorted varieties here, and the purple ones are my own personal favourite. Not least because of their size, but because of their smell as that indicates the flavour they will yield. These are solid and stable cloves. What will happen now, is that they will be left to dry for at least a few weeks. The skins and peel should dry out and become crispy. These are better than good garlic bulbs, and I don’t do plugs of people just for the sake of it. This is produce that has come from an excellent seed producer and exceeded my expectations. I would certainly order again from The Garlic Farm.

Then comes the home brew.

Also harvested from the plot today was the last of gooseberries and and also raspberries. I am lucky to half allotment neighbours who ask me to liberate their excess fruit. I don’t ever filch fruit, by virtue of ethics, I always ask permission for the fruit is liberated.

With the gooseberries, this was always going to be their final fate for this year. I have so far made an experimental jam with them, and also an experimental Indian pickle. Their final fate, was to be used to infuse gin. There was a lot of experimentation last year with all sorts of fruit. An interesting learning experience, that produced interesting Christmas presents for family and friends. I also received, via a twitter conversation, really good advice from the lovely Thane Prince. Add coriander seeds to the gin. This advice worked last year, so I am taking it up again, having raided mum’s garam masala stash. Whilst I also plan to make some form of raspberry ice cream; the gin is one possible experiment with those that I have been looking at for a while.

The process is simple. Put fruit into jar, add sugar and steep. Then place into an airing cupboard and wait for a bit. The raspberry gin is apparently quicker than the gooseberry gin; a matter of only a couple of weeks. Gooseberries will be left for a while longer.

Hobbit Hombrew: Decanting Day-Festive Finale

Remember, please drink this responsibly. I have also had intermittent parental supervision as they wondered I was doing exactly. They know, and were watching carefully. That goes for all of you.

With nine days left to the big day, today was the last decanting day of the year. All of which was being decanted was made primarily for the festive season. Most of it will be festive gifts, hopefully. The one batch, was the plum brandy that was steeped three months ago exactly. That was the first to be decanted.  The rest, whilst I remember, was

  • Blueberry Gin
  • Blackforest Gin
  • Cranberries, raspberries and cherries in light rum

Having been decanted for the last three hours, I need to get that list down quickly, I assure you.

I learned a valuable lesson with the gin, from the lovely Thane Prince. She of Big allotment challenge fame, and one of Britain’s preserving Queen. Use coriander seeds in the Gin. Decanting those two, the gin gives a lovely spiced smell to it. No idea yet as to what it tastes like, I was trying to concentrate whilst I still could.

Most of what has been decanted today, is a beautiful pink or claret. The Plum brandy is less attractive. Perhaps it was the plums, the sugar or the spices, basically all of it; but its a very dark muddy brown. I assure you that there is no mud in there.

The gins and light rum have only been in brew for about six weeks. The raspberries had gone all very mushy, and just disintegrated with squishing.

Hobbit Homebrew: Decant day 3-Blackberries, brandy and pudding!

On the fourth of September, I harvested the last of the allotment blackberries and put them into a kilner jar. Added to this was some cheap brandy, and probably some star anaise and some spice along with some sugar. The jar was then sealed, and stashed away for three months. I have pedantically been counting down the weeks. Apparently, after three months the berries start to get a bit woody. So that was ringing my alarm bells. I was going to give the jar another week. Anyway,today I have retrieved the jar from storage. The liquid was all decanted off through a muslin cloth into clean bottles. The fruit, was saved and put into a simple crumble. It is cooking through in the oven as I type. This is the type of pudding that you cannot drive after eating. Ma’s kitchen starting to whiff of warm brandy, Probably should get some custard made. I had also saved the berries that were taken out of the dark rum a few months ago. I had secreted them into the freezer for safe keeping. Still have plums in brandy too, that should be done in the next week or so. This was also, yield another pudding. This close to Christmas, what’s another crumble?