Saturday, June 26, 2010

Brew'n the finest in our hobbit house

I have never had to "relearn" how to pick black berries as it was a favorite childhood past time. It was a mix of activities that included meditation (you're out in a thicket of brambles with the trees whispering and the birds chattering in your ears), patience (having picked wild berries over the years now the brambles hardly register pain unless they REALLY dig in), balance (stand on one foot on a rotten log while stretched out so you don't fall in and crush the berry plants or upset a hornet's nest), and puzzle solving (Is that a berry or beetle? Where did I see that last patch? How do I get over to those large berries without falling in?) One thing I never learned and am excited to try is how to make black berry wine. I found a recipe and got to it!
I had some black raspberries picked from last year that I was saving for a "special occasion" and then December came and my sister was making room for things in her freezer and found a bag of black berries. There were bequeathed to me and they sat next to my black raspberries in the freezer. Spring came and I got the notion to make tarts but never followed through and then I came upon a black berry wine recipe. I feel like making this would further connect me to my heritage and what the heck, we had beer making equipment already.

I should've taken a photo of the berries before mashing them all up but this is a photo of them right before we started our second stage. We mashed them all up in the first stage with our hands and then added boiled water (cooled of course) and some red star yeast specially for red wine. Actually, to clarify the water was turned into a simple syrup with granulated cane sugar. I made a point to purchase Domino brand Organic sugar to try and be good. The mash was then dumped into our five gallon bucket as pictured in the start of this post. We put a piece of muslin over the top and tied it off with a cotton string. I drove the fruit flies nuts who in turn drove us nuts. I exaggerate because it was only two fruit flies but they still got on my nerves.

The recipe mentioned "not to worry if bleaching occurs." The only thing I can think of is that maybe they mean the berries looking lighter as fermentation occurs like what we saw in the picture above. I wasn't worried. What I did notice though was the first 3 days my kitchen smelled like what rising bread smelled like. On the fourth day I didn't smell it as much and decided to peek under the muslin. Wham! The smell of alcohol smacked my nose. Hot damn! We've got wine!

For the second stage, we boiled more sugar and water and strained what had been fermenting into our beer carboy. Here is all the pulp from the berries above. This was thrown into the compost for another go at the food chain. We strained it through the muslin that had been tied to the top of the bucket. The white tile floor looked like we had slaughtered a goat because I really had to wring the juice out of the pulp and sometimes a wayward spray would issue from the muslin.

It didn't fill up much in our carboy but then the recipe said that it was only going to make a gallon of wine.

The juice was really dark though...

...depending upon what light you were in.

We popped the airlock on it and hauled it to the upstairs bathroom for a week of isolation and meditation to think and concentrate on the wonderful and delicious wine it was about to become. The airlock is a lovely little device filled with water that allows gas to escape the wine while keeping outside air and potential wild yeast/bacteria out. About two days later I checked its progress and found the airlock pleasantly gurgling away. As I peered into the glass I saw a huge four inch across bubble in the middle of the mix. Holy cow! Some find it gross but I found it intriguing and as usual my camera was around. This was a good sign that the yeast was still active and that our first attempt might not be vinegar. I hope.
This coming thursday is the third and final stage before bottling!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fatter Fat Toad

I've been meaning for a while to post about a little friend that lives under our porch that Pat and I affectionately call Fatter Fat Toad because, well, she's HUGE! I first found Fatter Fat Toad last year one night when I was coming home from work. I work the evening shift so I get home around midnight and my husband leaves the porch light on for me. This is probably why she hung around our house. The porch light attracts all kinds of tasty bugs. As I pulled around the house I saw a large rock and got out of the car to check it out because more often than not large rocks end up being animals. Yep, she was a huge toad that was about the size of a baseball and she did not want to give up her prime hunting spot. She continued to hang out around our porch throughout the summer and quite often when found her (like in the picture above) hunkered down under the bleeding heart waiting for a hapless insect. She even let me feed her worms from my worm composter. Fatter Fat Toad was our good luck charm omen and I hoped that she found a good place to stay for the winter. Turns out she did.
This is a picture my husband took one spring morning. He emailed me that Fatter Fat was a awake and sure enough when I got home I saw a scuffled mud hole under the porch steps where she had slept. It was only about an inch or so under the soil at best. I remember slipping on the porch steps when we had the huge blizzard as the damn things were a sheet of ice. It's amazing that she slept there the entire winter.

She looks a little less fatter in this photo as her little flaps of skin sag over her little elbows but soon there would be a bounty of insects for her consumption and also the worms from my compost bin. But this was the last we saw of Fatter Fat Toad. I've yet to spot her so far and it's been a dryer summer for the most part than last year. I miss seeing her but I'm holding out hope that she might come back to the porch to hibernate.
I had a volunteer potato come up near the porch and I decided to cultivate it in hopes of a few potatoes, what the heck? A few days ago I was messing around it watering and decided to see if I had any baby potatoes yet for maybe a salad or something. Well, I found no potatoes but I did find a baby, toad that is. Could this be the next generation of Fatter Fat Toad?

He (she?) was teeny tiny and fast! I was able to take a few shots of him before dumping him back onto the potato plant he was guarding so well. I took a few shots of him on one of my packages in the mail just so you could see his diminutive size against a stamp.

He then decided that that was quite enough documentation thank you and proceeded to spring across my cutting mat that I had laid out on the table!

I hope he tells Fatter Fat Toad to come back for a visit.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Advance of the Green Dragons

Oh how the duties of watering and weeding wring the water from your brow and the will from your back! Between keeping my garden alive, preparing for my art show, and other projects I have neglected my blogs. Other updates to come in the future are my endeavours at making black berry wine, toad corralling, and bread making as well as my new found love for shopping at the farmer's market in Charlottesville.

My Amish Paste Tomatoes are laden with fruit. The Mortgage Lifters are trying to keep up. The Buhl Corn is growing, Super Shepherd and Jalapeno Peppers starting to fruit, and Golden Potatoes flowering. The real super star in the garden for the moment however is are the Galeux D'Eysines pumpkins. I planted 5 vines in total and they are the first to flower and are winding their way through my garden like great green pythons. The above photo makes it appear like a sleeping green dragon as it wraps its tail around and down the hill. I swear they grow a foot a day and I have to herd them about and pluck their grabby curling tendrils from an unwanted place before their fat little white roots anchor them down.

It was one of these trio featured above who first burst into flower. My husband and I were making our way down the garden path and I was in a particularly crummy mood due to the usual combo of not enough time for things that need to be done and too much time spent on things I'd rather not be doing. I think everybody is laden down with this deal these days. As I moped down the path I looked up and the moment my eyes hit that familiar happy yellow all crappy thoughts were instantly erased. It's hard to describe wether or not this is a gardener's reaction or an instinct left over from childhood (I'm guessing the later). Just the sight of those first flowers from my pumpkin smiling up at me instantly threw me back to walking in the garden with my father how obsessed over his crook neck squash. I remember those squash blossoms in great detail. Seeing my pumpkin blossoms was an instant transport back to childhood and that moment...I needed that.

It did make me laugh out loud and I think my husband thinks I'm nuts. These two blossoms side by side peeped out from the huge leaves like little eyes. As a few days followed more blossoms burst out and the bees and beetles positively fought over the blossoms, getting well coated in thick heavy pollen in the process. I don't have to worry about cross pollination as the Rouge D'Vif and Tan Cheese Pumpkins have yet to bloom. The top ones are close to the cucumber trellis though and I'm kind of wondering about that.

I think an image similar to this of the trumpeting blossoms with their delicate fluting amongst the mammoth leaves would make a nice woodblock print...

A major difference between the squash blossoms of my childhood and the blossoms of my Galeux D'Eysines is hair. Yes, this close up shows that my french pumpkin has hairy blossoms. I'm curious to know if this is a pumpkin thing or just a trait particular to this breed. One thing that endears me to my Tan Cheese Pumpkins are its soft downy leaves. I love to stroke their velvety my husband another reason to have me committed.

Here is a lovely example of my Amish Paste Tomatoes fleshing out on their lovely and convenient stalks and meanwhile below is a photo of my Mortgage Lifter Tomatoes trying to catch up. I'm hoping that extra support of baling twine will help. Everyone knows you can fix anything with baling twine....