|Gita and I squeezing the mashed fruit pulp to extract the juice|
But that's not the point- what I'd like to talk about is one of the best skills to have as an urban homesteader- the ability to make your own high-quality booze. The latest article in the Archdruid Report (a great blog if you haven't read it) made reference to an analogy that compared humans' occupation of planet Earth to yeast cells' occupation of a vat. In both cases, the occupants of the finite space end up consuming all of the resources and producing pollution that eventually results in their own extinction.
While our treatment of the earth may or may not eventually lead to our extinction, we may as well enjoy the process with some homemade wine.
If you are not familiar with the organic chemistry of the process- it works more or less like this:
You fill a jar/vat/carboy with sugary juice of some type or other and add yeast to it, preferably a decent quality wine yeast. You then allow it to sit at room temperature, allowing the C02 produced to escape while not allowing oxygen in. After a few months, you have wine! The part of it that is analogous to human behavior is the fact that the yeast cells doing the work for us are actually consuming the sugar in the juice as food, then peeing it out as alchohol, and farting it out as carbon dioxide. Both, but particularly alcohol are poisonous to yeast. When the alcohol level in the vat reaches 12 or 14 percent, the yeast die en masse, leaving the wine virtually yeast-free. The yeast never learn to live in balance with their environment, and leave us with a tasty wine.
That may be a depressing analogy, but at least at the end of it you have something to drink!
|my friend Josh mashing the mulberries to make the pulp|
The wine in the photos was a mulberry wine. This is one I've made a lot. Not so much because it is so good, but because mulberries are plentiful, and most people consider them to be trash- therefore they are very happy if someone like myself and my friend Josh show up and offer to pick them all. Or if we were to just show up and pick them all at the edge of a public park, as we did the berries that we made this batch of wine from.
We went to the edge of Como Park, if I remember right, laid out a few old blankets and sheets, and took turns shaking the trees. This was enough to be able to collect half of a 5-gallon bucket of berries in about 2 hours.
My criteria for making wine are simple- make it inexpensively and make it organically. Both are easier than they sound. You can find a ton of information online about winemaking, and find some pretty good books about it, but unfortunately, most make it sound much more complicated than it really is.
What you really need to know is that almost any fruit juice, mixed with wine yeast and kept in a sanitary condition will produce a type of wine. It could also produce vinegar if you don't follow the part about keeping it sanitary. Many books and websites will tell you that you need to use sulfur or potassium tablets many times throughout the process, but I've been able to make wine without them- and in my opinion, it tastes better.
Heat is a great sterilizer in making wine, as it in the process of canning. I have heat pasteurized wines, and I have also left them unpasteurized, with the occassional suprise de-corking as a result. But I have never produced anything dangerous or completely unpalatable (but close to unpalatable at times).
So try at your own risk. If you haven't made wine before and don't know anyone else who has, go to a wine and beer supply shop in your area. My favorite is Northern Brewer on Grand Ave. in St. Paul, but really any shop that sells brewing supplies should be able to give you good advice on how to do this.
And you'll have to stop there anyway to get the basic equipment you'll need. The basic equipment setup to make 5 gallons of wine will set you back about $50. They include: a carboy- essentially a 5-gallon jar, a fermentation lock, a siphon, and a corker. A hydrometer is also really nice to have, but not essential.
For ingredients, you will need fruit juice, some white sugar (optional but usually necessary) and wine yeast. Don't think that you can use bread yeast for wine. You'll get a weak and horrible tasting wine. Trust me- when I started making wine in my dorm room a long time ago, this is what I used and it was awful. Real wine yeast costs around $1 and makes all the difference. Don't skimp on yeast.
You can skimp on the fruit however. When you go to the wine and beer supply store you will see $200 kits with juice concentrate from California or France. Walk right by. Use what is local and plentiful and you will discover the flavor of your own terroir. Mulberries and dandelions make surprisingly good wines, considering most people are willing to pay money to exterminate both, at least near where I live.
If, for example, you were to make a mulberry wine, here is what you'd do:
Collect the mulberries- you'll need at least two gallons, preferably 3 or 4. Put them in the biggest pot you have, add water and boil. This helps get the sticks and leaves and bugs out, and sterilizes the must, the term for the juice that will become wine.
When the berries are boiling, mash them with a potato masher or large spoon. Crush them as well as you can to extract the juice.
Then strain. You can see how Gita and I did it in the top photo. Putting it in a clean cloth and hanging it up to drip is another method. Just don't let it drip for too long (more than an hour), or bacteria may find it.
Once you have strained, you can add sugar or other types of juice to acidify the must. I like to add the pure unsweetened cranberry juice that you can buy at most co-ops or natural food stores. One bottle of it will acidify even a very bland wine to a high degree. Mulberries are not very acidic, so you will need some cranberry or grape juice to help it ferment well and taste good.
|checking the sugar level with a hydrometer|
When the must is ready, and around room temperature or slightly warm, it's time to add the yeast. Mix it first with a little warm water, then add it to the must in the carboy. After that, put the fermentation lock on top, and leave it in a warm place. It will take a few months, and you can siphon off the yeast a few times if you want the wine to be clear, but the hard work is done.
You can bottle the wine or leave it in the carboy as you like. I don't have the energy or time to describe the bottling process. It's not as hard as it sounds- but that may be a topic for another day.
|a 'must' ready to ferment|