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Sunday 30 March 2014

Making Wine On A Whim

Making wine at home is so fun, inexpensive, and rewarding.

Good wine is more than a bunch of grapes.You can make delicious wine out of all kinds of fruit. My favorite fruit wines are apple, pear, golden plum, rhubarb, and blackberry. 

All you need to make a batch of homemade wine are fruit, yeast, and sugar. And, some containers to put your wine into. One gallon glass juice jugs work just fine for small batches.

The following directions are my own tried and true method for making delicious homemade wine and are based solely from my own experience. I encourage anybody that is interested to discard intimidation because it is actually really, really easy to make wine.

Fruit will ferment on its own, without any help from us. Left to its own devices, unpasteurized fruit juice turns to alcohol. (Try juicing apples and leaving it on the counter for a few days. You just made cider.) The key to making wine is just to stop the fermentation with a tasty level of alcohol before it turns to vinegar.

This batch of peach plums yielded a couple gallons of golden wine.

Remember that almost all of the wine sold in liquor stores, unless it is specifically organic, has been sprayed with pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Grapes in particular get treated heavily and this is another reason why I choose to make wine myself from good quality fruit. A bottle of homemade wine makes for a special gift and is always appreciated at dinner parties and potlucks.


The recipe I use is a general ratio of fruit to sugar to water.

One package of Champagne Yeast for up to 20 gallons of wine.

One gallon of water for every 3 to 4 pounds of fruit.

One pound of sugar for every one pound of fruit.

That is all you need to know to get started. This loose recipe can be altered depending on the desired alcohol content and also the sweetness of the fruit. For example, I am generous with sugar when I use tart fruit in blackberry or rhubarb wine, and I hold back a bit when I'm making plum wine, because the plums are full of natural sugars. 

The more sugar you add, the more alcohol you will make, because essentially the sugar feeds the yeast and the yeast is what ferments your fruit juice into booze. However, don't think that you can make a good strong wine by adding extra sugar. Keeping to the ration is important in producing a wine that is both alcoholic and tasty.

*Please note that bread yeast does not work for wine. It would be overwhelmed by sugar and die.


Say you just picked some fruit and you are keen to turn it into wine. First, weigh the fruit so that you can measure the appropriate quantities of sugar and water. The first step, or primary fermentation, should be done in a large and open container. I have a lovely 5 gallon ceramic crock for the purpose, but I've also made wine in 5 gallon buckets, and for big batches I use a garbage can! Everything is clean and sterile, of course. Your wine will begin its fermentation and live in this container for up to two weeks.

Berries and fruit need to be sterilized with boiling water so that the wild yeasts do not interfere with the packaged, more predictable yeast. (There is a method of natural fermentation that allows the natural yeast to develop and does not call for prepackaged yeast - the difference is akin to bread making with packaged yeast versus a sourdough starter. Someday I'd like to try it the all natural way.)

Bring some of your measured water to boil, and pour it over your fruit. Then add the sugar. A nice tip for measuring sugar is that 2 cups equals one pound. Remember the one to one ratio of sugar to fruit. Stir in the sugar while the mix is still hot. Then, add the rest of your water so that the fruit and sugar slurry cools slightly but is still nice and warm. Add the packet of yeast. (Remember, yeast is alive. If the mix is too hot, the yeast will die.) 

Cornelian cherries, on their way to becoming booze.
Now be sure to cover this primary fermentation so that it can "breathe" but so that no bugs, dust, or debris can contaminate your wine. A double layer of cheesecloth or a thin piece of fabric works well, tied securely around the surface of your container. Trust me, you don't want fruit flies to find your wine.

Over the next ten days or so, the yeast will start to work and a bubbly head will appear on your wine-to-be, which is known at this stage as the "must" or, "young wine". I stir the batch every few days. Now comes the fun part! Strain the must so that only the liquid makes it into your secondary fermentation, which is a jar, jug, carboy, or demi-john. At this stage we now have a "wort" which is still full of sugars.

mmmmm.... wort.
This next step in the process is very important. During the secondary fermentation, air should be allowed to escape from your container - but oxygen should not be allowed in. You need to cap your container with a fermentation lock. Special tops for this purpose can be purchased at a hardware store, and this is the method I prefer. You can also use a balloon fitted over the mouth of your secondary ferment, providing that you pay attention to when the air fills the balloon and "burp" the wine as needed.

And now we wait.

Generally when I make wine I leave most of it to secondary ferment in a cool, stable environment. The warmer the site, the faster your wine will ferment. It takes anywhere from six to ten months for the wine to be drinkable. You can watch the wine at work by observing the tiny bubbles that rise to the surface - this is the byproduct of the yeast turning the sugar into booze. When those little bubbles stop, and your wine stops burping, you are ready to rack it off into bottles.

Every year I make several gallons of wine and simply use recycled wine bottles with screw-on lids. These lids all come with little gaskets and when screwed on tightly, they work just fine. I don't bother with corks.

What about the rest of the must? That fermented fruit slop that is leftover after you strain the primary ferment? Add more sugar and water of course! There is no reason why you can't make another batch of wine or cider with the original fruit. The second time around, you don't even need to add yeast, because its already there in the must. Just add warm, not boiling, water.

As your wine continues to develop in the bottles, it will change in flavor and intensity. Sometimes wine that is flat and sweet will be bubbly a month or two later. And then a month or two after that, it will be dry and delicious. I prefer wine to be on the sweet side, but everyone's taste is different.

One year I made a second run of wine from a big batch of blackberries. I was disappointed in the result, which was a thin wine that was sickly sweet. I shared some bottles and used some for cooking, and one bottle was forgotten in the cupboard. When I found it six months later, it was exquisite blackberry cider. Bubbly, slightly sweet, and alcoholic. What a treat!

If you are not happy with your results, give it time. Your wine will continue to age and at the very worst you will end up with a batch of homemade vinegar.

Now that you know how to make wine, here is a recipe for a very special brew.


One gallon dandelion flowers (use the full blossom head, not just the petals)
One gallon boiling water
2 oranges
2 lemons
4 pounds sugar
One package yeast

Make a strong tea of the dandelion flowers and water and let stand for 24 hours. Strain, and discard the flowers. Add the grated rind and juice of the oranges and lemons, and the sugar, stirring well. Add yeast and allow to primary ferment for one week before straining into a wort and capping with a fermentation lock.

Good luck practicing as a home vintner.
Bottoms up! 

Saturday 29 March 2014

Goat On A Boat

Today I rode a rocky ferry off the island with Bessie Mae and her daughter.

Our regular ferry is being refitted and we have to ride on the dinky replacement boat. I put the goats in a large dog crate, but on this boat there is no covered area for freight and the poor goats arrived WET, having been splashed with seawater in the back of the boat!

Goodbye, dear Bessie Mae! Thanks for all the milk.
Thankfully today was not cold, and Bessie's new owner was happy to see her and her baby. They are going to a good home and soon the billy goats will go elsewhere also.

This is the other one of Bessie's twins, I am keeping her. She is too beautiful and sweet! I am calling her Snowdrop because she was born on the snow.

The couple who adopted Bessie Mae also have horses and a couple of Nigerian Dwarf kids.They had decked out the back of their car for goat transport. Goats ride amazingly well in cars, a lot like dogs do - although you won't see a goat with it's head out the window! They feel safer in small spaces.

Yesterday was rainy and for fun I brought one of the other little doelings into the house for us to play with. We pet her and tried to feed her raisins. It is important to socialize the babies so they aren't afraid of us.

We returned this little girl to her mom after dressing her up in David's clothes and bouncing a balloon off of her head. Socializing, huh?

Remember that rooster that I said would make a tasty dinner? Apparently the ravens thought so, too.

We caught the raven in the act, but I had to put down the injured chicken. Luckily it was our biggest bird so at least there was some meat for a fried chicken dinner. I made mashed potatoes and steamed some leeks and greens, so everything on the plate was from the land. I love it when that happens.

Tonight was singing practice with my awesome group of ladies. We sit around and harmonize, drink steamy mugs of tea and eat popcorn. I sat with an amazing view of the ocean and watched the white caps crash as we sang. I love living on an island!

My beautiful friend Constanze was battling breast cancer over the last year. This is one of the love blankets we have made as a community for our sisters and friends who have had to deal with cancer or a serious illness. Many people contributed squares and all of the blankets are unique and stitched with intentions of healing and friendship. In addition to all of her many talents, it just so happens that Constanze has an AMAZING singing voice, the kind that stops you in your tracks and makes you shush people so you can listen.

The fruit trees are starting to blossom and sleepy bumblebees are appearing on primroses and red-flowering currants. I have been working on two quilts and I'm ready for BASTING!! Yeah baby!! I can't wait to show pictures of the finished product.

As always, thank you so much for reading.

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Wednesday, Wednesday

So for this "Work In Progress Wednesday" I am making a concerted effort to hold back on starting new projects and to focus instead on finishing things up. Right now I have a little list of partially completed quilt tops that I'd like to get quilted and bound before I start cutting and sewing on the next ten projects I have in my head.

It doesn't help that I just got this beautiful batik jelly roll in the mail from my mom!!

It is so colorful and I think it might look neat with the bright sarong I have been saving for a quilt for my sister Caroline.

I've saved this piece of fabric for years with the intention of making it into a blanket for her. She is going to graduate soon and she is a Geology major so the big Earth seems fitting, plus the rainbows and "happy hippie" theme have always made me think of her free and cheerful spirit.

My little baby girl quilt has stalled because I don't have a back for it. I found this great vintage polka dot sheet but it just isn't the right color. If only it were pink!

Other projects in the works are my hexagon practice piece and my reclaimed "tacky quilt", both of which I have all the materials for and also a definite plan on how to finish them up, so at least those two projects could get completed first. I blogged about these two quilts in my last post.

Also in the works is my huge Forest Queen quilt. The top is done but I have no idea how to go about quilting it on my little machine. I am considering paying someone to Long-Arm quilt it.

Forest Queen Top Finished
Really, a stretch of free time and a little inspiration is all I need to make some serious progress. In between transporting a goat this weekend, singing practice, work, gardening, milking and feeding the animals every day, taking care of my son, and recovering from my recent dance with pneumonia, somehow sewing and crafting still manage to happen! Every day is a miracle.

We found a little baby bird in the grass today. They start showing up around this time, in the driveway and around the yard. Baby birds have no fear and you can go right up to them and even stroke their feathers. This is why we don't have a cat, even though I love kitties, the wild things are the ones that belong.

Sunday 23 March 2014

A Little Quilt and a Little Lamb

Why do I have ten unfinished projects on the go?
I seem to be good at starting projects but not so hot at finishing them these days.

I made this sample to test a pattern I am working on for a hexagon quilt made of half-hexagon strips. I wanted to see if I did the math right and if my hexes would match up.

The light is shining through some fabric!

The hexagon shapes worked! I didn't pay much attention to matching up the print of the fabric so it definitely looks scrappy, but this is sort of a trial piece anyway. I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing before I cut into my fancy stuff.

For the most part the hexes lined up just fine. I think I'll add a border to this and make it a baby quilt. I am pretty excited about making tiny quilts after doing a couple of queen sizers. They work up so quickly!

Someone showed up at my house today with a little orphaned lamb. He was being pecked at by ravens, poor little thing! He was covered in mud and hungry so I warmed up some goat's milk, got out the bottles again, and gave him a warm bath. He seemed to perk up once we got him clean and dry and fed. I sent him home with some more milk and a feeding bottle. I hope he makes it. 

See this hideous thing? I found this old quilt top and I decided that I AM going to finish it. It is so ugly that I'm making that the "theme" and replacing some squares with fabric that is just as tacky and mismatched. Call me crazy but I think this could be a quilt that I'll actually use!

In my house, between all of us trekking through animal pens and garden beds and my son making spills all over the place I can't bring myself to put a nice hand made quilt out for us because I know it would get wrecked in a hurry!

Last night I made a couple of goat-cheese and asiago pizzas. I used my easy paneer cheese recipe and added sage, rosemary, and basil to the cheese. The pizza was divine! The sauce was our garden tomato sauce from last year and I made a couple loaves of bread from the rest of the dough for the crust. Nothing like food from your own backyard.

Friday 21 March 2014

Back To Some Crafts

Hello faithful readers, I am still alive! The craft is not dead! Only a little under the weather. My blog views were climbing, and then I got very sick! The last few entries were kind of boring and craftless. Now I think I'm back to just blogging for my mom! But, that's ok. (Hi, Mom!)

I made a little zipper pouch for a friend of mine for her birthday.

It was made from a few little scraps. I hope she likes it!

I did some seam ripping and improved my "Lady of the Lake" blocks for the Sister's Ten BOM.

Let it be known that I do NOT like to do this block. Lining up all those triangles was a pain in my pincushion. They aren't perfect but they're as good as they're gonna get!

June's block is called "The Contrary Wife"
These are the blocks for June. I love the name.

And to honor all of the time I am putting in to these blocks, I fixed February's Susannah block. And celebrated my small accomplishment with another cuppa. I wonder just how many gallons of tea I've drunk over the last couple weeks?

I ordered more musical fabric, the background for my Sister's Ten blocks, and got a charm pack just for fun. It is called "Hearty Good Wishes" and is a beautiful sea theme. I love those little sperm whales! Also I like these prints because they will all match squares of repurposed blue jeans and khakis. Maybe I can squeeze a small quilt out of this charm pack!

This rooster is going to make a tasty dinner this summer.

The garden is starting to come alive.

Our radishes are emerging!

Thank you so much for reading my blog.

Check in with me again for some more quilting progress.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

On The Mend At Last

Now for a different kind of "mending"!

I have begun mending myself after a visit to the doctor and a trip to the pharmacy. I had been loading up on garlic, hot lemon teas, strong ginger chai, goldenseal, peppermint oil, and eucalyptus steams, and my chest infection was only getting worse. Finally realized I had pneumonia. Thankfully I now have some serious meds and I can tell they are working.

I am even paler and thinner than before! Nemo is checking me out.
I am going to be fine, but very little has happened in the craft department. The most exciting development was this score yesterday at the thrift shop.

A long length of fabric with smiley, sleepy jungle critters. This would make up into a quick lap-sized quilt for David with some oranges and yellow, blue, and black. Or it could be another baby quilt, or maybe just some I-Spy squares.

The goat kids are now three weeks old. Everybody is doing well.

The babies like to huddle together.

And then there are the little billies.

Why does this little girl have her butt up in the air? Only a goat knows.

The chickens have been moved out to their coop, but they always run back into the greenhouse. It makes for some hilarity when night falls and they all have to be rounded up.

With great joy I can report that the hummingbirds are back. They usually return around this time of year and we put out some sugar water for them.

 Other wild birds live all around our house, in bushes and crawling vines, and in the eaves and under the roof tiles. Whenever I go out at night I usually surprise a sleeping bird. It is pretty neat to know that all those little creatures are finding a safe haven.

Though my ancestry is Scottish, and 'tis a crying shame there are no more merry pagans in Ireland, I still wish you a lucky St. Patty's week. May the wind be at your back and sun be overhead.

Saturday 15 March 2014

Photos: Nature Walk

Happy World Quilting Day! To atone for my last post which was full of dull white photos of white cheese, here are some more colorful shots from the last couple of days. I've been forcing myself to rest so much that I am not even sewing, even though when I sew I often sit down so that is kind of resting, right?

I considered disbudding the kids this year, but I didn't do it. I would have had to burn their horn buds to prevent the horns from growing. There is only a brief window of time after the kids are born when this can be done, and I missed it. The goats will have horns after all. Removing a mature animal's horns is a terrible process, as the horns are a living part of the skull. Surgical horn removal is rarely recommended. 

Horns are majestic and my goats are pretty gentle (certainly with us, if not with each other) and also many of these kids will be sold or eaten.

David has been pretty understanding that I've been sick. The downtime has actually been nice because I have even more time to listen to him.

Playing 'pirate ship' at the lake.

He likes my knit toque!

Fighting for a clear blue sky. Come on, sun!

Pirate booty.

Have a wonderful weekend!


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