Sunday, August 22, 2010

Wine Report

It's been three weeks since we racked the plum wine, so it was time to re-rack, and lose some sediment. It was also the Big Check - is it wine, yet?

Oh, yes.

After we siphoned it into a new bucket, we took a taste. It's very dry, which I think is wonderful. I prefer dry wines, and I was afraid this would be too sweet, since it started with plums.  But, no. It's VERY dry.

I think it's almost perfect, but Rick wasn't sure. According to the instructions, if we want it sweeter, we can add sugar just before we bottle it. So we'll decide then.

It's also done fermenting. The SG is 1.006, which means there's almost no sugar left. What's the alcohol content? Well, that's an inaccurate guess, due to my faulty record-keeping. We need to know the starting SG, and I forgot to write that down.

But I do know it was in the normal range for starting wine. So we have a range of 7%-12% alcohol. I think it's at a reasonable level, because what we tasted (about a 1/4 cup each) was enough to provide the beginnings of a tipsy feeling.

I'm excited about it. We'll let it sit for a month or two more, to get rid of more sediment. Depending on how clear it looks at that point, we might bottle it.

Next year, I'll make an effort to use all our plums and make a bunch of wine. This is great stuff.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Even Better Pickles

My pickle kick is continuing unabated. We eat a little bit every day. But I've discovered that I'm not quite on the right track with the pickle thing.

Pickled foods are the right idea, but the REAL idea is fermented food. The vinegar-sugar route is a short-cut.

So I'm trying it the old-fashioned way.

I sliced up some cucumbers, onions, and carrots. These were all mixed together in a bowl with 2 tbsp sea salt, a few cloves of garlic, and some mustard seeds. The idea is to mix and mash for 4 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables have reduced and let off a lot of their juices.

Then I packed them into jars (which I first sterilized). I filled the jars to the top, making sure there was plenty of the liquid covering the veggies.

Aren't they beautiful? The jars are left on the counter for three days, with a loose lid. After that, they can be stored a few more days in a cabinet, then refrigerated.

I really want to be able to store these things in a cabinet, to have veggies throughout the winter. In the past, I think people kept them in their basements or someplace very cool. Perhaps I can keep them in our garage. It stays plenty cold in the winter. But for now, I think the jars have to be refrigerated, which is disappointing.

The quandary is, the vegetables are in season now, so now is the time to ferment them. But I don't have a cool place to keep them.

I'll have to work on that.

Oh, and one tip I found out about: putting a grape leaf in the jar keeps the vegetables crisp. So I "borrowed" a few leaves from our neighbor's vines that grow over our fence.  We'll see if it works.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wind Dancer Ranch

I've been waiting to write this entry because I wanted to give it the time and attention it deserved. I need to get to it, before I forget everything that happened.

A few weeks ago, I went up to Wind Dancer Ranch in Yolo County, to "cut and wrap" my portion of a pig. I split the hog with two other people from the Bay Area Meat CSA. One person took half, the other half was split between me and one other person.

This was such an incredible experience! I feel bad, because I don't have the pictures I wanted. This is my fault - I've got to learn to be better about that. But I didn't get any pictures of the farm itself, despite the fact that the owners, Lisa and Jim, took us on a grand tour.

These two people are amazing - working regular jobs in addition to fixing up and running this old, abandoned farm. We could see how much they've accomplished, and how much they still have to do! But they just jump in work until its done. These are the real heroes of American life.

Wind Dancer has several animals: the pigs, of course, and chickens, turkeys, sheep, rabbits, horses... I had one of their turkeys for Thanksgiving last year, and it was wonderful.

They also have a garden, of course, but don't grow crops to sell. They do grow feed for the animals.

It was a hot day, which made it difficult for the weak city dwellers to concentrate. I brought my 14-year old grandson with me, and he was very impressed. He'd never been exposed to this kind of thing, but he loved it. He even asked if he could come work with them next summer! He couldn't do it this year, because he has a broken arm.

The highlight of the day, was learning to cut the hog. They had already cut it into quarters, so we dealt with the front and hind quarters of our half. We all gathered in Lisa's kitchen, where she has a marvelous wooden table.

She supplied us with cutting boards and knives, and with Jim helping, we proceeded to trim away the rough, pinkish remainder of skin from the fat areas. This was a very thin layer - you can sort of see it along the edge of the fat in this picture.

Jim gave us lots of direction as we sliced, and helped quite a bit with the hard parts. Strength-wise, I'm a wash.

We made sausage with a lot of the meat, using spices we brought from home. Lisa contributed any extras we needed.

This was an incredible experience. Lisa and Jim are working on a real "butchering room" which will have tables, large sinks, commercial refrigerators, and all the huge equipment this job requires. Including, hopefully, a commercial-grade food wrap machine. The little one we used kept stalling, and stretched things out far longer than we'd planned on. But they're talking about having classes for butchering or canning... whole weekends when people can stay in a guest house at the farm and spend time with others who want to learn these important skills. Or who just want to have fun with others while they work!

I had such a great time up there, and I hope I get back. It will take us a while to use all the meat we got. But I do need variety - some lamb, perhaps, or a rabbit or two. Maybe chickens. Another turkey, for sure! But thank you, Jim and Lisa, for all your hard work and help. Good luck to both of you!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Yum Wine

The plum wine I started last week has been merrily fizzing and popping away in the guest room, with lovely scum appearing in the mixture. The bacteria are growing!

Yesterday, we washed and sterilized our equipment in preparation for our first racking. Assembly of the wine bucket was not an easy thing. The silly nozzle that goes in the hole near the bottom of the bucket just would not stop leaking. We did all we could, which involved tightening the bolt with pliers, taking it apart and putting it back together, then attacking it with pliers again. All of this required that we sterilize the bucket again, just to be safe.

It still leaks at a very slow rate - maybe a couple of drops a day. I'm not happy about this.

But we went ahead and siphoned the wine into the new bucket. First we lifted out the bag of pulp and squeezed out as much liquid as we could.  Then with the new bucket on the floor, we lifted the mixture onto a desk and siphoned away. This went much faster than I thought it would.

The wine is a lovely pink-red color, sort of like punch. We each took a taste and oh... this stuff is gonna be good. It's sweeter than a typical red wine, but it's not too sweet... I'd put in on a level with a dry Riesling, perhaps. We'll see what it's like after several months in the bucket.

For now, we wait about three weeks, then test the specific gravity. If it's where it should be, or whenever it's ready (I don't have the number in front of me right now), then we do a second racking. This will be done about every two months for six months. Then it can be bottled. It should be ready to drink at that point, but aging will only improve it.

Unfortunately, this means it won't be ready for Christmas presents. But if it's good enough, family and friends can look forward to a bottle or a chance to share it. Salud!

For the record: yesterday's SG was 1.020. According to our recipe, it should have been about 1.040. So we let it go a bit too long in the bucket, I guess. It appears I've made nearly every mistake in the book, but if yesterday's taste was an indication, everything is all right. Keepin' the fingers crossed!