Thursday, November 16, 2006

11.16.06 - Must it be a yeast infection? - THE CONCLUSION

The grape juice is now fermenting! I can now see it fizzing from the carbon dioxide, a byproduct of the yeast converting sugar to alcohol. This is very exciting stuff, or I am very easily amused. Probably the latter. See Chapter 1 for more details about the problems: 10.30.06 - Must it be a yeast infection? (a.k.a. "Why won't my grape must ferment?") (view more).

Here's the recap: I pressed a little over five gallons of himrod grapes almost two weeksago. I added way too much sulfite, let it sit 24 hours, and then pitched the yeast. Nothing happened. I aerated repeatedly and then pitched a package of yeast two days later. Nothing. I then transferred it back and forth between the carboy and a plastic bucketsix times. I waited 24 hours then pitched the yeast, still nothing. The temperature of the must was always at the package's recommendation. I tried three different yeast varieties. Then, I transferred it back and forth again (20 times) to try to get the sulfites to dissipate. Then, I pitched more yeast after 24 hours. Nothing.

Then I separated out 2 liters and pitched some yeast in it. Nothing again. It keeps killing my yeast. Nothing is alive in there. I made that must so sterile that you could wash a wound with the grape juice. Then, two weeks later I re-hydrated a double batch of yeast and pitched it after adding some yeast nutrient and yeast energizer. And the next day, this is what I saw (see video for the exciting conclusion).

Since then I've been adding a couple of liters of must to the fermenting batch every day. I should have the full 5 gallons in a good fermentation by week's end. I'll then transfer it back to a carboy with an airlock and let it finish up. I hope to make this a sparkling white wine since Himrod grapes apparently don't taste too good as wine because of their low acidity. I bet it will taste better than my tomato wine though (see blog from 9.16.06)

Saturday, November 4, 2006

11.4.06 - Our neighbor's double-buck day (from her NRA prize-winning deer stand)

Our neighbors are super-cool. Check out their prize-winning deer stand and the two bucks she shot in one day last week. From the NRA Website:

Is That Tree Armed? Faith Walton, Creswell, Ore.

Walton says, "My favorite stand is an old-growth fir log that my husband hollowed out with a chainsaw and then pulled to my favorite hunting spot. He stood it on end and put a roof on it." She says it has been a very successful stand and no wonder, the hollowed-out tree hides everything but her head and firearm.

Here's last week's harvest from the deer stand:
WARNING: If you are opposed to deer hunting, you are cruel for wanting the deer to die of starvation or from having mangled limbs from being crushed by my SUV. Without hunting, my SUV would get crappy gas mileage while dragging along little baby deer fawns from an overpopulated deer herd. Then, George Bush would have to go invade another country for oil. So, you oil-loving hunter haters are also for the war in Iraq.

And if some PETA member's car hits a poor deer, you are insensitive for killing the PETA member who's little fuel-efficient import was mangled by bucks like those pictured above.
If you are vegan, you are super-cool too and I can't quarrel with you. There's milk and eggs in everything; I would starve. That's some dedication to your beliefs.
NOTE: No animals were killed in the making of this blog. Oh wait, I guess there were two. So, never mind.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

11.1.06 - How my vote almost didn't count (a.k.a. How I Forgot How to Sign My Name)

Oregon's vote by mail system apparently has a built in literacy test to go along with the poll tax (post office stamp): You have to be able to follow simple directions.

In order for your vote to count, the signature on the secracy envelope must match your voter registration signature. I sign my signature the same way dozens of times each day. However, this election, for some reason, I felt compelled to sign my ballot with my full name. I think I had some sort of flashback to when we bought the farm (literally - we didn't die) a couple years ago. I had to sign dozens of documents, all of which required me to sign my first, middle, and last names (instead of my first initial, middle and last like I usually do). Back then I tried to explain that they were having me write my name, not sign my name. They just blamed home office or something. Anyway, this election I failed the poll test by signing my first/last/middle and was almost derelict in one of the few responsibilities of a republican (little "r") citizen.

Additionally, I almost failed part 2 of the test, which is the "Be Able to Recognize an Envelope from the County as an Attempt to Warn You of Your Inability to Follow Directions" test. Luckily it didn't get thrown into the junk mail file until after the election.

Wednesday I did manage to find my way to the elections office and sign a new signature card which matched my own signature. Now my vote counts and I am a true republican (little "R")! If I were only a Republican (big "R") in a state with computerized ballot boxes.....then my vote would count twice.

Monday, October 30, 2006

10.30.06 - Must it be a yeast infection? (a.k.a. "Why won’t my grape must ferment?")

A couple Fridays ago I harvested two bushels of the neighbors' green himrod grapes (for you city folk, a bushel is about the size of a laundry basket). They have a beautiful grape arbor over part of their cattle pens. The plump bunches of green grapes were intertwined with red reliants, which they used for grape juice. The grape picking was a tricky business since I'd have to dodge cow manure when jumping off the gate or step ladder. After getting them all picked with the help of the neighbors and then placing them outside the fence, I learned two valuable lessons: A steer's head fits through the wooden fence and bovine drool doesn't seem like a very appetizing or subtle flavor additive. While I was turned around for less then a few seconds, that steer managed to eat about a gallon of grapes and deposit about a pint of drool. No kidding.

Since Saturday's a rugby day, I had to put off the grape pressing until the next Tuesday evening. I rented a small one or two gallon grape press from the homebrew store for $15.00. At first I was de-stemming all the grapes prior to pressing them. After an hour of that with only a dent into the two bushels, I took a break to Google it. It turns out that de-stemming is only necessary with red wines, since you leave the skins in for a few days. White wine is made with just the juice after crushing and pressing the grapes.

After several runs at the grape press, I developed a pretty good system. First, I grabbed a grape bunch and picked away the bad grapes and ate a few grapes; then I rinsed them in the sink and ate a few grapes. After a couple of inches of grapes were at the bottom of a large pot, I crushed them with a potato masher. Then I poured the juice directly into the press (which sat on the kitchen counter) to filter through the nylon liner and into the 6.5 gallon glass carboy (which sat on the floor). Next, I poured the crushed grapes into the press. I repeated this until the press was full and then turned the handle until the circular press was as far down as I physically make it go.

While that batch was draining into the carboy, I started the process over again. While filling up the pot with whole grapes, I periodically turned the press a little more to squeeze out the last droplets of sugary grape juice. When pressing was complete, I dumped the nylon sack into another pot to be recycled into pulled pork sandwiches (see previous blogs to learn where pork comes from - and no, it's not from the supermarket). I suspect next year I could squeeze out another couple of gallons if I had more leverage; I need to secure the press onto the workshop bench with some screws.

Thinking that the pressing wouldn't last too long, I didn't start until about 10:00 p.m. It took four hours. At 2:00 a.m. I was too tired to cleanup (except for feeding the trash to the hog), so I left the kitchen covered with sticky residue until the next day.

The next night I conducted an acid titration (perfect at .70% acidity), measured the specific gravity with my hydrometer (1.100 at 71 degrees Fahrenheit predicts a 12.5% alcohol content), and added the sulfite to the must. Sulfites are used to kill off any wild yeasts or bacteria that could damage the winemaking process. I then covered the carboy with a light t-shirt to wait twenty-four hours for the sulfites to dissipate into the air.

The next night I added a vile of French White Wine Yeast. I covered it this time with an air lock and waited for fermentation to begin. Next morning there were no bubbles (of carbon dioxide). Then I waited until evening. Still nothing. Then I waited until the next morning. Nothing. Finally, I decided to start over with the yeast, thinking the yeast was bad, the must wasn't aerated enough, or I had added too much sulfites. This time I used a package of dry Champaign yeast that I had around from the hard cider. After two days of waiting it didn't start either. Then, I was back to Google.

Turns out I added way too much sulfites and created an inhospitable environment for the yeast. The cure is apparently to transfer the must back and forth between containers a half a dozen times. With Saturday's rugby match still affecting my back, this was a slight struggle. I am planning to let it sit for another 24 hours in a 7-gallon bucket covered with a t-shirt to allow any leftover sulfites to dissipate away. I'll try my luck with a new round of yeast then. Cross your fingers that this fixes things or else I'll be drinking grape juice for the next three months.

In the meantime, I shall attempt to figure out some creative names for this batch of soon-to-be-wine. Steer Drool White perhaps. Remember, I come from a state where our good wines are called Riverboat Red or Schoolhouse red. Apparently the grapes these are made from are a secret. Wish me luck and let me know if you have any suggestions for the name of this batch of wine.

Sunday, October 8, 2006

10.8.06 - Fresh Honey and Stale Kryptonite

Yesterday from the back deck with the camera's zoom lens, I watched J play beekeeper and remove honey-filled frames from our two beehives. We then set up shop in the garage. We had two five gallon buckets; one had triple-cheesecloth to let honey drip from the wax caps, and one had a double plastic filter sieve which were for the extractor to pour into.

We extracted about 10 western frames and nine or ten deep frames, making about 4 gallons of honey. About two-thirds was dark honey and the rest was light. I don't know which is from the blackberry flow and which is from the rest of the summer's blossoms (apple and pear trees, wild flowers, clover, garden blooms, etc.). The dark honey has a stronger flavor with kind of a bite to it.

The extractor holds three frames and spins with a hand crank. We put in three frames and spun for five minutes and then flipped them over for another five. Ten minutes of centrifugal force did a fine job removing what took the bees thousands of round trips to the garden and elsewhere to store.

About fifty or so bees made the trip into the garage attached to the frames or flying behind the beekeepers. While J would cut off the honeycomb caps with the electric hot-knife, I held it at an angle so the caps would fall forward into the holding tray. One of the frames was double combed. The bees had capped off the honey comb and then built another layer over it, filling them both with honey. Apparently we got our bee space a little off. The double comb had a crawl space underneath which had a dozen or so bees lurking about.

While holding it for J one of the girls stung me on my palm. I remember a year and a half ago when a bee sting was no big deal. Back then I thought I was the perfect candidate to be a beekeeper since multiple bee stings cause me little pain. However, this was my first bee sting since spending a night in the hospital after my heart slowed down and tried stopping and since my doctor said, "If you get stung again, you will probably die." But in the next breath, my doc said that bee allergy shots are one of the few sure things in medicine.

I started the shots last summer but going once a week to the doctor's office for one to two hours at a time was a little too much; so I quit once the shots were equal to one bee sting. Apparently that was enough treatment to render my kryptonite ineffective, since I'm alive and well and once again invincible.

Note: No bees were injured in the making of this blog (except for the one that stung me - she's dead now).

Tomorrow we bottle the honey. I plan on setting aside one gallon to make mead, which is supposedly man's oldest fermented beverage. It's the type of drink which will make you want to sack a village and hang out with drunken marauders - in other words, the perfect rugger beverage.

Next week we are rafting the Wild and Scenic section of the Rogue River and staying in lodges in lieu of camping.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

9.19.06 - Tomato Wine and The Harvest

It has been a crazy summer/fall. We have harvested a couple hundred pounds of tomatoes from our garden, canning them into quart after quart of tomato sauce, mucha salsa (along with our fresh onions and peppers), and 5 gallons of tomato juice. The rest of the tomatoes have gone to friends and the livestock (so much that the white-faced goats are stained red like they have some sort of blood lust).

The tomato juice is currently sitting in the closet fermenting into 11.5% alcohol content tomato wine. I got the idea for the tomato wine when I was at the Valley Vintner and Brewer shop. Some older gal came in looking for yeast for her tomato wine project; she said it tastes like a dry white (grape) wine. And given that I hold three truths to be self-evident--I'll try anything fermented, everything tastes good deep fried (except chicken liver), and the Royals will never see a game in mid-October with Glass running the show--I thought tomato wine was a good plan.

Currently the tomato juice is sitting next to the five gallons of apple cider that I'm fermenting into hard cider. I used about 50 lbs. of apples from our two apple trees (two different varieties) after we ran out of steam canning apple sauce and apple butter. The hard cider should end up about 5% alcohol content, and then I might turn a portion of it into apple jack (old school freeze style).

I had intended to juice the 60 lbs. of pears we have (one variety from two trees) for hard pear cider but was vetoed on that in favor of pear butter (which turned out amazing). I might make a small batch of the pear cider (a gallon or two).

In the next week we need to pick/freeze the corn and finish collecting the wildflower seeds from the garden. Then I need to till and plant the cover crop of crimson clover to be ready for winter. Then, it's off to secure a buck for breeding the goats.