Radical Ass-kicking Home Economics (part 2): Fermentation & How to Wines and Vinegars
Wine can be made from just about anything. It’s very easy to do, although I’ve never found a book that explains it in the simple terms it could be. Wine is water plus sugar plus yeast plus time. Fruit or flowers add flavor, and often up the sugar content (flowers a little, fruit a lot). Spring flower wines have a delicate but distinctive flavor. Pick your favorite blossoms; in my yard, there are violets, redbud flowers, and dandelions.
It’s often a good idea to pick away any green part on the blossom, usually at the base of the bud. This can be pretty time consuming, and a large group of friends who are excited to trade labor in order to drink the finished product is a nice thing to have handy. If you don’t pull off the green parts at the base of the buds, your wine may be bitter. Heat up water with the flowers and boil for a few minutes. Let steep. The more flowers you use, the stronger tasting the wine will be. I use approximately a quart of flowers for each gallon of water.
Strain the flowers out of the water and pour into your fermenting vessel. A 5 or 6.5 gallon carboy is ideal, but for smaller batches (often a good idea with flower wines as they do take time), a gallon jug from apple cider or maple syrup can be used. Add sugar for the yeast to eat so they can poop out alcohol for you to drink. Since flowers do not contain a lot of sugar, add sugar to taste as well. If you enjoy dry wines, you may want to add as little as one cup of white sugar per gallon. If you like sweet wines, five cups of sugar per gallon may be what you want. Remember, hopefully most of the sugar will turn into alcohol!
Stir strained water and sugar until well mixed, and then add wine yeast, if available. Wine yeast allows the alcohol content to be higher than what is normally tolerated by most yeasts. Catch a wild yeast if you are feeling particularly daring. Add some sort of airlock, a device that allows carbonated air to bubble out but does not allow vinegar-bacteria-carrying fruit flies to contaminate your wine. A diy method is to use a large balloon and poke many air holes in it with a large pin or needle.
When your wine stops bubbling, it is done with its first ferment. It is often ready to drink now, depending on your wine reserves from winter (mine are, sadly, always low at this time!) and your snobbery about wine. If you have patience, put the bottle away for a year or two, loosely capped, or tightly sealed in champagne bottles. Wines taste better with age, and even a few months to a year can make a big difference. But, when you are in need of the necessities of life (as Dolly Freed called it in her book Possum Living), something that is drinkable and alcoholic will suffice!
Vinegar is easy to make. It is basically wine gone “bad”. Since I like vinegar and use it in cooking, I don’t consider it bad at all. Vinegar is even easier to make than wine! Apple cider vinegar can be made by putting apple cores in a jar with filtered water. Add a breathable lid (like a tied on hand towel), and wait. When the bubbling calms down, chances are, you will have vinegar. To ensure the end result is a vinegar taste you appreciate, simply add a tablespoon or two of vinegar to the mix to get the yeasts going.
For fruit vinegars, simply mash fruit and add to boiled water, steep, and strain. Add a bit of sweetener (sugar or honey), and either wait for a natural vinegar yeast to pop in, or add a bit of vinegar to the brew. A “mother” will eventually grow, a blobby mass that covers the top and usually trails down into the vinegar. This mother can be plopped into additional batches to easily make vinegar. Homemade vinegar is quite easy to make and actually, hard to mess up!
Fermented foods are an excellent way to add good bacteria to your gut and strengthen your entire immune system. Back when I ate processed foods and worked all the time, I was continually sick from November to March, and sporadically sick the rest of the year. Since I do not have as much work stress anymore and I eat fermented foods, I rarely get sick ever. Fermented foods take the yeasts in your surrounding environment and enable you better to cohabit with them.
Food is medicine! It’s good to tell yourself when you eat that you are treating your body to medicine making it strong and healthy. I admit, I am not a strictly healthy eater, and when I find myself unable to tell myself that I am eating medicine for several meals in a row, I at least appreciate that I am aware of the crap I am feeding my body. But it feels even better to tell my body: “I’m talking to you, sugar! I’m talking to you, baby! I love you! I love you!” (quoting a KLF’s Chill Out album sample there)
The ways and means of the radical kick ass domestic are many. It seems like doing things ourselves in a low-tech, low-cost sort of way, rather than buying ecotrendy expensive bandaid solutions, is a way to go. Figuring these things out and sharing solutions with each other just seems obvious. If there is a human culture a few thousand years from now, it is because we figured out ways to live that make sense. Why not now? Why not us?!
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