So, Tuesday evening I finally bottled that wine from back last Summer. This year, I went and put it in actual wine bottles instead of swing top beer bottles Continue reading
Half the reason I pick so very many berries is that I love blackberry wine. I don’t even bother with preserves- I can get excellent preserves at the Dane County Farmer’s Market with far less muss and fuss. What’s infinitely more difficult to find is blackberry wine. However, the recipe I used last year is no more. So, I did some searching, and found another. This one intrigued me with the additional recipe for blackberry whisky. So I made both, although I blended last year’s technique with this recipe’s amounts. I was worried how the boiling water would affect the flavor of the berries.
The brandy will sit for up to a year, if I can wait that long. It’s on top of the fridge, so I hopefully forget about it, like everything else up there. The wine pulp will sit for a week or two before I strain it off into a carboy for secondary fermentation. It’s nowhere near as hot this year as it was last summer- we’re actually supposed to drop from our current high of 82 (as I write on Sunday) to the 70s all week. I assume that will affect fermentation quite a bit.
Dinner Monday night was the last of the venison “football roasts” from last year’s deer. After that, besides a couple summer sausages and jerky, all I have is a quart bag with stew meat in it. That is, if nothing’s lurking at the bottom of the chest freezer.
I made this cut of meat a few times before, and I wrote about it here, and that should have a link to a recipe from The Deerslayer’s Wife. This recipe builds on that. Only, this time I made a few more cuts to the inside of the muscle, exposing a bit more surface area.
I then sliced up a large green onion, did a very rough chop of a handful of garlic cloves, drizzled the surface of the roast with olive oil, and packed the stuffing in. I also added a bay leaf, parmesan, and marjoram. And of course, salt and pepper.
Trouble was, I had managed to misplace my kitchen twine. Well, the roast still needed to be closed up, so while the oven preheated to the very high initial temp of 500F, I soaked some bamboo skewers in water, and then pinned the roast shut.
I didn’t season the outside of it. I put some olive oil in the bottom of my cast iron roaster to keep it from sticking, and put it in the oven. It sat at 500 for about 15 minutes before I dropped the temp. At the same time I dropped the temp, I opened up the oven, pulled the roast out, and put some butter pats on top of it. I wanted some browning and crisping, and this cut was very lean. It then roasted for another 20 or 30 minutes at 375. While it roasted, I put together the sides- roasted Parmesan garlic potatoes and sauteed oyster mushrooms. The potatoes finished baking while the roast rested.
It was a bit more done than I like, but it was still very moist and tender. Paired with some of that home wine of mine, it was an excellent dinner.
Maybe we’ll see some more deer once I finish cooking the ones from last year.
I have off Wednesday and Thursday of this week. Given how much I’ve been working this summer, I planned to get a ton of things done during this downtime. Duck season starts Saturday, and deer is ongoing. If I don’t do it now, it will never get done.
So. I spent my Wednesday chipping away at my (still growing) to-do list. I picked up around the back yard- dog poo, lawn furniture, sticks, dog toys, dying flowers, the works. I mowed, front and back. I treated the lawn for bugs and fleas, bathed the dogs, scrubbed the bath tub and bathroom. Plus, doing laundry, washing dishes, and making a short run to the grocery store. I have more to get done Thursday (organizing the hunting room, cleaning under the bed, going through my closet/dresser, running to Goodwill, cleaning Matt’s truck). By the time I was hungry, it was about 6pm. I was going to make myself a nice dinner, and enjoy a glass of wine.
Yeah, that’s my homebrew. It’s good. This particular bottle didn’t really carbonate. There’s the tiniest suggestion of fizz to it, which isn’t all that bad, really. It reminds me of a nice pinot noir. I’m no sommelier, though, to be going on about tannins and floral notes, though. So, I made a pretty tame dinner of acorn squash and chicken, and had a very healthily poured glass of wine.
Matt came home in the middle of it, and decided to start getting his decoys set up for the duck opener. So, my livingroom, my nice clean livingroom (albeit in need of a few passes of the vacuum), is populated with a flock of artificial waterfowl.
At least they’re all nicely rigged now, and won’t tangle horribly like last year. I have to work Saturday and Sunday morning, but Matt’s plan is to take a couple of the other recruiters with him, to get out in the field for a day, shooting. They do spend entirely too much time cooped up in the office.
I’d been checking on my homebrew off and on for the last couple weeks. It had been stubbornly bubbling along, until sometime around Tuesday. I checked in on it again, and there were finally no bubbles. I decided to give it a few days, to make absolutely certain fermentation had stopped, but also until I had a day off.
So, sanitize everything you plan to use, etc, etc. Since I’m carbonating this stuff, I opted to use eight 16 ounce swing top bottles. Had I just carbonated it in another gallon jug, I was concerned it would go flat, because I definitely can’t drink that much wine that fast. So. once they had been sanitized, I added the priming sugar tablets.
With that done, it was time to siphon. I got yet another healthy tasting of my wine doing this, and it’s good. On the strong side, too. I also stained my leg and the lower kitchen cabinets. And two towels.
So, once they were filled, I wiped down the mouth of the bottle and clamped the swing top shut. I swished each bottle a little bit to get the sugar tablets dissolved a bit more easily.
It should take two to three weeks for them to carbonate properly. And each bottle should be roughly 2 glasses of wine. Once I get a chance to drink it, I can report back on its potency, since I wasn’t able to get specific gravity measures before I fermented it. That taste I got tonight was a pretty strong one, though.
See the earlier parts of this process here:
Racking when brewing refers to the process of siphoning partially-fermented fluid off of the sediment left behind by yeast as they complete their life cycle. This sediment is usually pretty bitter and smelly- not things you want in your wine (or whatever). So, I did that today, ten days after straining it. Fermentation had slowed considerably, and I had a mostly fully inflated balloon. So, more sanitizing and set up, then I was good to go.
So, getting that siphon going proved to be a challenge. But the good news is that even for being quite unfinished, my wine tastes pretty damn good. Pretty strong too! The rest of the process was simple- after the siphon was done, add some syrup and seal back up.I was right- there wasn’t room for a pint of syrup in there. I filled it back to the neck, though.
So, now it will sit until fermentation is done. Since I wasn’t able to add the entire pint of syrup, that may be shorter than planned. But- I’ll keep an eye on it, and then rack it a final time, then add conditioning tablets to carbonate it.
After figuring out what to do with the hide last weekend, we didn’t have much to do. A cold front had moved through, so we went from the mid-90s early in the week to the 80s, and the high Saturday was in the 60s. Overnight it dropped into the 40s. Totally out of place for mid July in this part of the country. Also why all our pictures from the weekend show us wearing sweatshirts.
Saturday evening, we went fishing, after attending a short work-related function for Matt. We didn’t catch a thing, and when we tried to bowfish after that, the water was too murky to see more than a few inches. We got spoiled with the water clarity last year- it was hot and dry, and though the levels were feet below normal, they were undisturbed and clear to the bottom. I did nearly catch a baby gar with my bare hand, though.
Sunday evening I had to work, but on the way to the work function Saturday, we saw a yard sale with some pretty awesome stuff. They said they’d have more out the next morning. Sure enough, they did. Hand-forged antique sturgeon spears (we put in for our permits last night), antique fishing poles, a 150 pound cast iron cauldron, old tobacco pipes, axes, hatchets, antique woodworking tools, wooden longbows. Basically, it was a small estate sale for an outdoors enthusiast. Do I even need to say we took some home with us?
I hope my estate sale is half as intereting as this fellow’s was. That wrapped up our weekend.
I went shore fishing on my own yesterday, but didn’t catch a damn thing. A kid next to me on the breakwater caught the biggest bluegill I’d ever seen. In the two hours I was out, I watched a fishing tournament get going, a scuba club head out, and four families with children let their kids chuck rocks into the water by my lines. I was less than thrilled.
On the docket today is a run to one of the smaller Madison farmer’s markets (Saturday’s one on the Square is too early for me) and racking that wine. Last night, we put in for some permits. Applications for Fall turkey and Winter sturgeon spearing on Lake Winnebago were due by the 31st. Matt also put in an application for wolf harvest, and discovered he has only 3 preference points for black bear. His home area requires a minimum of 9 points. The area just south of there requires 5, and just south of that requires three. Bear populations get correspondingly smaller the farther south one comes from Lake Superior. And even still, the area with any bear is two hours north of us here in Madison.
Today’s my last day off before a new month starts, and I work all through the weekend. Since my boss was ignoring my un-availability on the weekends this past month and a half, my weekend availability for August goes from 8am-2pm Saturday and Sunday, so I can still do something with my life, rather than working 11 hour shifts and crashing. This weekend, however, has one of those 11 hour beasts of a shift, and I’m not too sure how much I’ll have to write about come Monday. At least some interesting seasons are getting closer, as is our replacement vacation. I am refusing to do any planning until I’m sure this one won’t be cancelled on us.
I had originally intended to get this done yesterday, but two weeks of poor sleep during that heat wave caught up to me. Anyhow. It’s been just under a week since I started that wine. It was pretty damn hot for most of the time, so I cut the ferment on the pulp short. I’ve been checking the smell, and it definitely smells winey. Before that it was yeasty, which was good cause I’d worried I’d killed my yeast with Campden tabs. When the temp dropped yesterday, the smell stopped being as strong.
When I got home from work this afternoon, I began to sanitize.
I cleaned out another bucket, in much the same state as the first, and re-sanitized a ladle, a spoon, a gallon jug, and my hands, since they would be doing the pressing. The recipe I’m following has me adding more syrup at this stage, and I had it cooling in a salted ice water bath. With everything clean, I was ready to strain out the pulp.
I ladled the mash into the muslin bag, and dumped the dregs in. I let it drip and drain under its own weight for a bit.
Then I got in there and started squeezing and pressing by hand. My palms are still tinged slightly purple. Once I got as much juice out of the pulp as I could, I added the cooled syrup and sloshed the mix around a bit. Then I positioned the jug and funnel under the spigot on this new bucket.
And I let ‘er go.
It’s quite full, more so than I expected from the recipe’s photos. It calls for one more syrup addition, but I won’t have room for that, and more syrup wouldn’t give it enough volume to fill two gallon jugs. But, I fit the bottle with a rubber stopper meant for the airlock, and put a balloon over that.
Now it will sit for ten days. If I didn’t murder the yeast, that balloon should slowly inflate with carbon dioxide as they consume the sugar and turn it into ethanol. It will be racked two more times to rid it of sediment. And sediment it will have- I know I squeezed plenty of seeds back into it. Since I can’t add more sugar syrup to it (unless racking it really reduces the volume), I’ll rack it once (after ten days) back into a clean jug, and then that third racking (once fermentation stops entirely, approximately a week or two later) will be the final one, and I’ll add the conditioning sugar to carbonate it before I cork it.
Between the two of us, Matt and I have been homebrewing off and on for several years. He started with his college roommates before they moved to Madison, and I started with a former boyfriend and some mutual friends before I moved to Madison. I’m fairly certain they stuck to beer. I had observed one batch of beer being made, and had made hard cider and mead from scratch. Not without mishaps- the hard cider was a bit watered down due to our flawed pressing method, and the mead exploded. We carbonated it before it was finished fermenting the first time. Whoops. Matt and I together had made one batch of a Kölsch beer, and one batch of hard cider. The beer was good, but the hard cider was too strong- I’m still hoping to turn it into apple cider vinegar.
Anyhow. Today was my first time at Madison Brew N Grow’s new location. It’s smaller and over on Willy Street, which is pretty fitting, honestly. I picked up the essentials there.
The only thing I forgot was pectic enzyme, but there’s still time. Anyhow. Our last batch of beer was probably two years ago, and it showed.
The sanitizer I bought works in cold water, so I did the whole deal out on the shaded front porch (seriously, it’s frickin hot, even more so in the sun) with the hose, after I washed the dirt and dead flies out with water and a tiny dab of dish soap. I made sure to rinse out the soap thoroughly. I’m no expert, but if you’re new to homebrewing, seriously, sanitize the everloving crap out of everything with actual sanitizer. It will save you much heartache. This isn’t like cooking where cleanliness can be half-assed because the heat will take care of it for you. This stuff will basically sit at room temp in a not-always-airtight container for weeks. Wild yeast, bacteria, or mold could all cause it to go off.
My bucket water is brownish, because the sani was iodine based. It smelled like hospital. Once that was over, I started following this recipe, one of the very few I was able to track down online. I found a couple in some old books at my local Half Price Books today, but went with this instead. I won’t hash out all the measurements or whatever, because I followed it very closely.
Per that recipe, it will begin fermentation on the pulp. It will sit like this, lightly covered, for a week. I’ll be keeping a close eye on it, and conducting frequent sniff tests. With how warm it is today, and the heat forecast for the rest of the week, I would not be at all surprised if it was good to go a bit early. No sense in letting the yeast eat themselves to death before I even strain it. So, next week, I’ll strain it through those muslin bags, and put the liquid in the glass carboy(s). I discovered I am also short one airlock, so to monitor fermentation, I’ll use a trusty balloon on the mouth of the jug. After that I hope to carbonate it, because I love fizz and fizzy blackberry wine sounds real, real good. Poured over ice. To top it all off, I was left with a little over a pound of blackberries! That means pie and cobbler once it drops back below 90 and I can bear to have the oven on.
Where did I get all those berries? Glad you asked! Look over here.
Props also go to this site, which seems to have sadly fallen out of use.
When I was a kid, my parents bought a small parcel of land about 3 miles outside of the town I grew up in. It was 7 acres, situated between some farmland, an old, disused gravel pit/pond (the site of much youthful trespassing, fishing, and swimming), and some rural residential areas. The back portion, away from the road, was low woodland, with a small creek flowing through it. We camped back there, fished, and dad hunted. The front half of the land was a bit higher, out of the flood area of the creek. The previous owner had done some demolition, and used it to dump construction refuse- old concrete, rebar, and lots of the red Barr bricks manufactured in my home town. So this part of the property was sort of a weedy, concrete-strewn meadow. My dad used it to dump wood chips from his tree cutting company there, but it was also chock full of wild blackberry brambles and black raspberry bushes.
Every summer, we would suit up in old jeans, tall socks, boots, long sleeves, and all the mosquito repellant we could get our hands on, and go out berry pickin’. I don’t really remember how much we would pick. It was enough for a couple pies or cobblers. But from then on, I was spoiled for store-bought blackberries. To this day, I don’t care for them- too big, and they only taste like water. They don’t bake up right, either. My eye was also trained. Out running on the trail at college, I could pick out blackberry canes, and I made more than one berry-eating pitstop, returning to my dorm or apartment with purple fingers. They grow along the bike path near our house in Madison.
Naturally, I also noticed the sheer abundance of berry brambles on the public land we hunt. Even in Fall, I knew I was sitting behind the canes of blackberry bushes while I waited for deer, and not just because I sat on their thorns. I resolved to get berries for the first time since my early teens.
Fast forward to this past weekend. Matt’s gone, and I can’t back up a trailer to save my life. Fishing’s out. However, factoring in the difference in agricultural zone between my home area in north-central Illinois and where I am now in southern Wisconsin, I had a feeling we were in about the right time for blackberries. My walk last Wednesday confirmed it- enough berries were ripe to justify going picking.
Saturday afternoon, I dressed in jeans, tall socks, my Chucks, a long sleeve, and a ball cap. I took two cans of bug spray with me, an old pillow case, and drove over to Sunny Slope.
It was a lovely, warm day. I found berries before I even got to the fields.
Dismayed at first to only find unripened berries, I wondered how much longer I’d have to wait. A few feet further along brought me to the glistening black beauties you see in the second photo. Pleased to have found any berries, period, I kept moving. However, the county had someone out mowing the clover. He was in the field where I scared out that turkey tom back in May. It was a great big hay mower, and I had no intention of getting in his way. I picked a different field. He would eventually catch up to me, though. He got out of the cab of the machine, and nervously asked what my plans were. He didn’t want to mow me down with the clover. Agreeing with him that such an outcome would suck for me, I also agreed to stick to the one he’d finished already. I’d already finished the field he was moving to. In spite of the heat and the skeeters, I had a pretty good time. I got a decent number of berries. But my day out berry pickin’ was cut short by the mower and an emergency call in from work. I cut out to head home after only two hours.
More than slightly grumpy about the whole work thing, and with only two pounds of berries, I decided to head back out on Sunday and hit the back fields. I arrived, and the gate was shut- at least there wasn’t a mower or a baler out today. I began the mile hike to the back of the property. It was a pretty slow process, because the number of berry bushes along the mostly shaded back half of the tractor access surprised me. I picked probably a pound or so before I even got to the back fields.
I walked around the field counter clockwise from where I entered it. At first, I saw only red raspberry canes, which had few berries on them, if any. But as I walked up the hill a bit, there were more blackberries. More here were ripe than on the front of the property. Luckily, there was more wind Sunday as well, because I was standing in place a lot more to strip bushes, and it kept the mosquitoes at bay. The best bush I came across, though, was behind some wild beebalm. It was huge, and I would say about two pounds of berries and a lot of my scratches came from this bush.
In this part of the field, I didn’t end up stripping as many of the bushes of ripe berries. There were a lot I just couldn’t reach. The field margins here are a lot deeper for whatever reason, but I’m ok with leaving a couple berries for the birds and deer (or so I tell myself).
Anyhow, I moved through this field much more slowly, as it’s both larger than any of the other fields, and it had an astonishing number of berry bushes. Before I knew it, I’d been out in near-90-degree weather picking for three hours. I was mighty thirsty, and the hand holding my berry sack was getting tired. I finished up this field, and did a quick buzz around the fourth field. There weren’t as many bushes there, so I headed home. I picked almost five pounds of berries.
As you can see from the photos, not all of the berries were ripe. I’m thinking that I may go back out next weekend to check out whether they’ve ripened or been eaten by then. And I’ll do it with a second set of hands, because Matt will be home. He doesn’t even like fruit, but he volunteered to help.
With now seven pounds of assorted berries (blackberries, black raspberries, and red raspberries), I plan to do some research to see how much juice I can get from them. If it’s a gallon, I’m going to make a trip to our local homebrew store to pick up some yeast, corks, and a few other things. We have glass carboys and other basics from previous forays into homebrewing. I want to make some wine, and possibly carbonate it, but I won’t rule out home-brewed blackberry soda. If I have enough leftover, or if we get some next weekend, I’ll make pie and cobbler. That’s if I don’t eat them all fresh before then.