Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Making wine - A rough guide ... ...

I figured I'd write a post about making wine, seems a lot of people are thinking about having a go at it, I say why not :-)

It's not really that difficult to make a halfway drinkable wine, I've managed to do it twice so far, although I did follow a recipe the first time, well I more or less followed it ;-)

 Here's a picture of the plum wine we made last year (still in demijohns)

Not much of it left now ;-)
So on to making wine, you will need some equipment, a tub for starting things of,demijohns for fermenting and empty bottles to put it in once it's done, but you don't have to get everything in one go, you could get to the demijohn stage and then get the empty bottles as it'll take a few months for fermentation to slow down and stop.

Charity shops and free cycling are good places to find equipment, we got pretty much all our equipment from free cycle and charity shops, maybe you have a relative that used to make wine, they may have some spare or unused demijohns and other stuff, although you don't actually need them, you can used large plastic bottles, the 5 litre kind that you get water in, it's easy to fit an airlock to a bottle like this.
You will need airlocks, these help the gas escape during fermentation, they are cheap enough to buy, or you can find them in charity shops and such like, and it's also possible to make them using a piece of tube.

Here's a list of the basic stuff you'll need, it's what we use to make wine. 

Steriliser,this is very important, some people don't use it, but I wouldn't try it, it's best to have everything nice and clean to prevent build up of unwanted bacteria, a tub of steriliser is about £4 (you want vwp steriliser) this will last a while, we also use it to clean out our jars when we make jams.

Large plastic tub for starting things off, these can be bought for about £10 or you could use any large tub, even an old 10 litre paint tub will do, even more so as you can seal it, obviously it will need to be clean and paint free.

Demijohns, these can also be bought for about £10 each, which is a little expensive, so look in charity shops. Or you could use a large water bottle, but you'll need to make a hole to fit an airlock and rubber bung, this is easy enough to do.

Airlocks, these are cheap enough, you can usually get a pack of 2 complete with rubber bungs for as little as £2.50, but again you might find some in charity shops.

One of our airlocks -

This one is my favourite :-)

This airlock is an old one, it's made of glass, sounds great as the bubbles go through it, most are plastic these days, like the ones in the picture below.

Plastic airlocks -

I prefer the ones on the left, they sound better ;-)

Some other things you might want to get are a straining bag, or you can use muslin, a funnel makes bottling up loads easier and a long bottle brush, you can also buy these from good wine making shops, or you could buy a cheap pack of brushes from somewhere like poundland and attach one to a bit of garden cane, it's what I did to get the tough stuff from the bottom of the demijohns, you can also use a little dry rice in some warm water, just shake it about for a while, it works quite well.

Here's a picture of our blackberry wine, along with the brewing tub we use -

Oddly enough there isn't much blackberry wine left either ;-)

Here's a link to the local shop we use, the bloke that runs it is very helpful, you can also order online ---> Good life home brew (opens in new window) you should be able to find everything you need for making wine,beer and other stuff, they also sell some good wine making yeasts, it will also give you an idea of where to start with it all.

Okay I thought I'd leave you with a recipe for making plum or blackberry wine, although it's easy enough to adapt for them for making different wines, like elderberry for example.

Black berry & Plum wine (which are rather good, even if I do say so myself)

You will need about 2kg of blackberries or plums, which you can pick from your local hedgerows (it's what we did)

2kg of sugar (normal granulated is fine) Obviously the more sugar the sweeter the wine, but 2kg is a good starting point, you can always add more buy boiling some water and adding the extra sugar, but make sure it's cooled right down before adding it to the wine, or you'll kill the yeast.

Boiled water, about 4.5litres (roughly a gallon, enough for a demijohn)

And a good yeast, which you can get from shops like the one I mentioned, they do some good ones for about £1 a packet, enough for a batch of wine, or you can get larger packets of wine yeast.

I'm not going to go into working out the gravity and all the rest of it, but there are many guides online on how to work this out, but this will require a hydrometer, or you could buy a vinometer (about £3) which will give you a rough idea of alcohol content, once it's bottled up.

To start the wine of, make sure your tub is clean, use some steriliser and leave it for a few hours or over night (same for bottles and demijohns) when you want to use them make sure you rinse them well.

Fill your clean tub with the boiled water, then add the sugar and blackberries or plums, use a potato masher or big wooden spoon to mix it all up, try and break the fruit up as you go.

Leave the mixture to cool, make sure it's cooled down before adding the yeast or you'll kill it and it won't ferment.

Once you've added the yeast give it a stir, cover the tub and leave it some where warm for about 5 to 7 days, give  it a stir now and then, you should start to notice when it starts fermenting.

After 5 to 7 days you need to strain the wine through a bag of muslin and pour the liquid into your demijohn, then put an airlock on, you need to put a little water in the airlock, this stops anything getting into the wine, I normally use a little bit of the steriliser water in my airlocks.

The wine will be ready for bottling when no more bubbles go through the airlock, this can take a few months, once the bubbles stop this means fermentation has stopped, the sugar and yeast have turned into alcohol, and you can now bottle it up, you can use screw top bottles, we got a load of glass bottles and corks with our freecycled stuff, it's worth doing it this way.

To get the wine out of the demijohns use a length of plastic pipe (you can get this from wine making shops as well) and siphon the wine into your bottles, you can also buy filters that will help make the wine clearer.

Guess what ? we got a filter as well -

Even came with filter papers :-)

Leave your wine for a week or 2 before drinking, it will however get better the longer you leave it, we noticed a distinct difference between our wine from the bottles we drunk after a few weeks and the ones we drunk after a few months, so again it's worth leaving it that little extra.

The above recipe is how I made both wines, plum and blackberry (both made from foraged fruit) this method would work for elderberries and other fruits, we have a batch of elderflower wine on the go, but that requires a slightly different method.

You don't have to forage for fruits either, although buying a few kilos of blackberries will be quite expensive, but things like plums might be cheaper, we ended up with about 13 bottles (8 blackberry & 5 plum) of wine for Christmas last year, and each bottle cost about 50p not bad and we still have our eye sight ;-)

It's worth looking online for guides on making wine, there's a wealth of information and it's easy to do,saves money and the end results are pretty good, it's not just wine either, you can make your own cider and beers to.

Thanks for reading and happy brewing :-)

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Elder flower cordial ... ...

I've made some elder flower cordial, which I'm quite pleased about, mainly because it worked :-) we wanted to make some last year, but missed the best of the flowers, so we put it off until this year, and today I bottled the cordial up (all 2 litres of it) we also have some elder flower champagne on the go, although it'll most likely end up as wine, but I go into that another time.

Here's the cordial -

Nice and refreshing.

Looks good, and tastes great, now making this is pretty simple, although I was a little concerned about it as I've never used flowers in this way and wanted to get it right, and not kill anyone in process :-) we've made cordials before, we make rhubarb and blackberry cordials, and if we get enough black currants we'll be making black currant cordial as well, how ever using elder flowers requires a slightly different method. (you can read about the rhubarb cordial here on my wife's blog opens in new window)

Okay so how to make the cordial ?

Equipment :

  • Measuring jug.
  • Saucepan for boiling water, or you can use the kettle.
  • Large bowl,bucket to keep the mixture in while it infuses.
  • Straining bag or muslin.
  • Funnel (not essential, but makes bottling up easier)
  • Bottles.

Ingredients : (feel free to adjust to suit your needs)

  • Sugar (about 1kg, you can adjust to suit your tastes)
  • 2 lemons (un-waxed)
  • Water about 2 litres (we used 2 litres, but you could use less or more, again adjust to suit your needs)
  • Citric acid (helps it last longer, we used 2 teaspoons, but you can add more, or not use it at all)
  • About 20 good sized elderflower heads, make sure they are as fresh as possible.
The ingredients are easily adjustable, and with the citric acid you don't have to use it, it just helps it last longer, although from the way the kids have been drinking it we needn't have bothered :-) you can also freeze it in ice cubes, which we've done as well, this will help it last longer as well.

Method :

First boil your water, either in a saucepan or use the kettle (if you use the kettle make sure no lime scale gets into it) then put it into your bucket / tub, then add the sugar, and stir it until all the sugar has dissolved, you can use more or less sugar, we've found that 1kg is probably a little too much for us, but we'll just water it down more.

Add the zest of the lemons (again you can use more or less lemons, or add oranges and limes) then cut the lemons into quarters or slices and squeeze the juice into the mixture, then chuck the lemon pieces in the mixture, if your are using citric acid (which you can get from your local pharmacy) add it now.

Now for the elder flowers, before you put them in the mixture there's 2 things you need to do, make sure that the mixture has cooled and remove any bugs, and if your elder flowers are anything like ours there will be loads of them, give each flower head a shake, but not too hard as all the flowers will drop off, you can also rinse the flower heads in cold water.

Our mixture in the brewing tub we use for this type of thing -

The smell is fantastic.
Once your elder flowers have been de-bugged and the mixture has cooled you can put them in, then just give it a stir and cover it with a lid or a clean cloth, cling film will do as well, then leave it in a cool place for 24 / 48 hours to infuse, the amount of time you leave it is up to you, I looked on various web sites and found people left theirs for a day or two, some a week so it's up to you, obviously the longer you leave it the more flavour it'll have.

When it's ready for bottling all you need to do is strain it through a piece of muslin or a straining bag, then you can pour it into your bottles, make sure they are clean first, once bottled put it in the fridge to chill, or you can freeze it as ice cubes, or ice lollies, you could also make sorbet out of it, it's quite versatile :-)

Here's some in an ice cube tray - 

These go down well with the kids, as would ice lollies.

Just to point out that the flowers contain a natural yeast, if you leave the mixture in a warm spot long enough it will start to ferment and you'll end up with a slightly alcoholic mixture, this is how elderflower champagne is made, and whilst this may be nice for adults it's probably best the kids don't have any ;-) I have another post about our elderflower champagne, which I'll try and write soon.

And finally, you can also make lemon cordial in a similar way, just leave out the elderflowers and don't leave it so long, if you chuck everything in your tub of choice when the water is hot and leave it to cool, you should then end up with a lemon cordial, or you could use limes or oranges.

Thanks for reading.

Inspire Me Beautiful sunnydaytodaymama

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Getting grubby - allotment update ... ...

It's been nearly a month (give or take) since we accepted the allotment plot we've been working on, and we seem to be making good progress.

This is what it looked like before we started work on it -

It's changed quite a bit now.
I'm not going to say it's been easy, because it hasn't, most of the plot has now been dug over to remove the roots of the various weeds, which has to be said were mostly docks and brambles, in some parts it was very hard going, the dry weather hasn't helped as the ground is quite hard.

We've all been working on it, the kids have enjoyed finding new bugs (stuff we don't get in our garden) and my son has increased his cocoon collection quite a lot, he now has quite a few different things in a jar, which he checks everyday to see if anything has emerged, it's also proved useful in that because we didn't recognise some of the bugs we've had to look them up, and now we have an idea of what sort of pests we might encounter, apart from the usual slugs and snails.

Not the best picture, but we've found lots of these -

They are about 4/5cm long
As it turns out these little grubs are the larvae of the Ghost Moth (opens in new window) least that's what we think, either way they probably mean trouble for various plants, but on the plus side they seem to have been feeding on the roots of the docks (bonus)

We've found loads of other mini beasts, from ants to beetles and centipedes and also quite a lot of millipedes, digging for the bugs has kept the kids happy for ages.

There's still a bit to do, we haven't as yet started on the very end section of the plot, mainly because of the raspberry plants, they are now in flower and we figured we'd get some berries from them so best to leave them for now, once they've fruited we can dig them up and arrange them in a more orderly fashion, it'll also give us a chance to work out how many there are.

Because we've managed to clear a fair bit of ground, we've also started to plant some veggies, so far we have spuds (with more to go in soon) corn, onions, radish, lettuce, turnips, some squashes (pumpkin etc) and a couple of rows of broad beans, with more stuff in the greenhouse almost ready to be planted out.

So all in all we've progressed faster than we originally though, there's a small patch of ground to be dug over near the newly installed gate (did that today) but that's only an hour or two's work.

Here's what the plot looks like as of today (ours is the left half) -

Not the best fencing job, but does the trick.
Nice new gate and fencing (all be it a little dodgy) all made from re-cycled wood, the gate I made from a couple of saw horses I made when I built our new work station, the fencing was part of our old pond cover, same for the wire mesh.

I've put the gate in the middle because we only have half the plot, and putting a fence and gate here was the cheapest option, other wise it would mean two gates (one into each half) and some kind of fencing down the middle, it seemed a little strange to go to the extra expense when a simple fence and gate would do the job, which is mainly to keep the bunnies out, although it may need to be a bit higher, I also buried the wire mesh about a foot under the fencing to help prevent bunnies digging in :-) all that's left to do is to put some kind of divider down the middle of the plot, some small stakes and wire maybe, not sure yet.

And that's as far as we've got so far, still plenty to do, for a start the compost area needs to be fenced in, either with pallets of some other materials, and of course more plants need to be put in, then fingers crossed it should just be matter of weeding and general gardening type stuff, although I have noticed some bind weed about the plot, which will need keeping on top of, or removing completely, which may not be possible, I'm working on a post about the gate, and how you can make a gate for your garden or indeed allotment plot so stay tuned :-)

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Hmm bread ... ...

Since our journey into being more self sufficient we have been making our own bread (for over a year now) and whilst people making their own bread isn't revolutionary not enough people do it.

You simply can't beat home made bread, I used to travel past a bakery years ago on my way to work and the smell was intoxicating, there's just something about the way bread smells when it's cooking, it's great.

For a while we used our bread maker and we were perfectly happy with the bread that came out of it, and it is a very handy gadget, chuck your ingredients in push a button or two and bread comes out, what could be simpler ? and to be honest it's not difficult to make bread by hand using an oven.

So why aren't more people doing it ? when I do the weekly shop I'm amazed at the amount of people buying loaves of bread, of all different kinds, and some can be quite pricey considering, I get funny looks when I'm in the baking isle grabbing packets of yeast and bread flour, I find this odd.

Anyway of late we've been experimenting with flat breads, these are very nice and you can add loads of different stuff to them for more flavour, like cheese or herbs or both :-)

I started to wonder what else you could do with the recipe, and it seems that by sticking to a set of basic ingredients you can do a lot (this may not be news to some people) so here's the recipe we've been using for the last few months to make all our bread.

Firstly here's a loaf I made tonight -

Just a plain white loaf.
The ingredients consist of 3 things, at least for a loaf like the one above.

Ingredients :

500grams of bread flour (we've been using white, but brown should be okay)

1 packet (7grams) of fast acting yeast, you can get this in boxes of 8 sachets.

250ml - 300ml of warm water (I normally use 275ml)

And that's it for a plain loaf, obviously if you want something a little more interesting you'll need extra stuff, but I'll go into that later.

The method is easy, but might make your hands ache a little.

Method : 

First put your oven on at 200 degrees (gas mark 5 I think ?)

Weigh the flour into a mixing bowl, then add the yeast and give it a mix.

Next add the water (make sure it's warm, but not hot )

Now you should probably mix the water in a little at a time, but I just chuck it all in at once.

Mix until it all starts to come together, then get your hands in and make sure it's all mixed together. Please wash your hands :-)

Now all you have to do is the kneading part, turn the contents of the bowl out onto your work top and start kneading, if it gets a little sticky sprinkle a little more flour onto the dough.

You'll need to keep going with the kneading for about ten minutes, but rather than just push it about tear the dough, grab it with both hands and tear it, then stick it back together, do this a few times whilst your kneading the dough, it does make a difference to the bread (well I think it does)

Once you've finished kneading it form it into a shape, for a flat bread you can flatten it out with a rolling pin, or you can just make it into a ball shape and slice the top like I did for the loaf in the picture above.

Place the bread onto a floured baking tray and cover with cling film, it's best to either spray the cling film with a little oil, or brush some on, so that it doesn't stick to the bread (a damp tea towel should also be okay)

Proving the bread will take about an hour, depending in where you put it, you can place it somewhere warm for an hour, what we do is put it under the grill, we have an oven with a separate grill, so when we want bread we put the oven on at 200 degrees and it heats the grill up a little, which as it turns out is really good for proving bread :-)

You can also place the bread in front of your oven, the bread should double in size (perhaps a little more depending on how long you leave it and how warm it's been) we find we only need to prove ours for 30 - 40 minutes using our grill.

Once it's proved you can then cook it (make sure you remove any coverings) this should take between 15 - 25minutes, but this may vary depending on your oven, or if it looks ready you can take it out and give it a tap, if it sounds kind of hollow it's probably done.

And you should end up with something like this -  

Brushed with a little olive oil.
That's about as difficult as it gets, now if you want to mess about with the recipe you can, it seems pretty easy to add extras without having to alter the recipe, for example if you want a cheesy bread you can knead some grated cheese into the dough, then sprinkle some on top of the bread before baking, you could also add some herbs in the same way.

I have also found that by mixing in a little caster sugar (normal sugar would do just as well) and some raisins you can make a nice fruit type loaf, you can also split the dough and make two smaller loaves, we do this from time to time, making a small raisin loaf and a small cheesy loaf.

Tesco, the yeast about the same, you get 8 sachets of yeast in a box, so for less than £1.50 you can make about 3 or 4 loaves, which is less than 50p a loaf.

Here is the original recipe, as it was intended, I would recommend making this as well, it's great bread.

Chorizo and thyme fougasse ---> bread recipe 

Go forth and bake fellow human :-) 

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Heavy duty wooden building blocks ... ...

Just a quick post, been meaning to get this on here for a while, so before I write another how to type post (got one planned for later) I'll get this out of the way.

We are always looking for ways to amuse the kids in the garden, for times when they get tired of hunting for bugs and digging, and as they both like building things with bricks these are ideal, they do have a load of bricks they use in the house, but they aren't really suitable for out door use.

As it turns out I had a load of suitable building blocks for the garden already, in the shape of the wooden blocks that hold pallets together, I normally burn these as I haven't until now found a use for them.

Here they are -

Can't get much durable than these :-)

Now these are perhaps a little rough, so you might want to give them a sand, and they will have nails in them, so obviously in the interest of safety you should remove the nails :-)

So if you have a load of these lying about then you could use them as building blocks for the kids, and if you don't you could always buy a length of wood, something like 3 x 2 and then saw it up into equal sections, or for something a little more rustic you could use logs of different sizes, you could also paint them to add a little colour, or add letters and numbers to them for younger children.

Thanks for reading.

Wedding ring modification...

Like a lot of married people I wear a wedding ring, and if you've ever worn a ring you'll know that whilst it might have been a goo...