Making Tomato Juice

One of the ways in which we store food is as juice. Rebecca makes juice out of a number of items including tomatoes, apples, pears, and grapes. Of all of the juice sources, however, tomatoes are probably the easiest to work with. We’re having a stellar tomato year, so Rebecca decided to make tomato juice today. Of course, the tomato juice starts out with tomatoes. We used an entire bushel as shown here.

TomatoJuice01

If you know how big a bushel basket is, you can see that our tomatoes are quite large this year. Fortunately, they’re also quite meaty. If you’re going to work with this many tomatoes (and believe me, this is only the beginning), you need some way to convert them to juice quickly. There are a number of tools available to perform the task, but our tool of choice is a Victorio Strainer:

TomatoJuice02

In order to use the Victorio Strainer properly, you need to provide two containers. The first holds the juice and it sits right below the output tray (the blue dish in the picture). The second holds the seeds and skin and it sits right below the strainer horn (the clear dish in the picture). Using glass works best for high acid foods such as tomatoes; otherwise, you can get a metallic aftertaste in the juice. Below the strainer (out of view of the picture) is a 5 gallon bucket to hold any liquid that comes out of the strainer (some leakage will occur) and to provide a place to put tomato that is cut out because it’s damaged in some way.

We use a two-person setup. One person (usually me) cranks the Victorio Strainer, while the other uses a knife and cutting board to cut up the tomatoes and place them in the hopper. A two-person team can whip through a bushel of tomatoes quite quickly. We did it in just over an hour this morning (and that included some cleanup and other chores, such as moving the juice to the stove).

 

I usually run the skins and seeds through the Victorio Strainer a second time to get all of the juice out of the tomatoes. Using this approach today netted an extra quart of juice. The downside to running the skins and seeds through a second time is that you could end up with extra seeds in the juice, along with bits of skin that many people dislike. The leftovers didn’t go to waste. After running the skins and seeds through a second time, I took the remains out to the chickens who were only too happy to eat every last bit.


The tomatoes today included a mix of red and orange tomatoes. Our garden has several varieties that compliment each other. As with a fine wine, a good tomato juice is the result of mixing several kinds of tomato together. Generally, if you have good tomatoes, you’ll get mostly juice and pulp, with very little in the way of waste as shown here.

TomatoJuice03

You’ll need a spatula to get the juice and pulp off the output tray. It also pays to clean off the outside of the strainer (the part with all of the holes in it) from time-to-time. A full bushel of tomatoes will easily fill a large pot like this one with space left over. (We asked a friend in the restaurant trade to purchase this professional quality pot for us, but the selection from Winware is quite nice.)

TomatoJuice04

Rebecca uses the instructions found in the Ball Blue Book to can the juice. That means raising the temperature of the tomato juice to 190 degrees. While the juice is cooking, Rebecca adds a little salt (not much is needed) and spices. Before she pours the juice into the jars, she adds two tablespoons of lemon juice to each quart jar to raise the acidity level. The juice doesn’t require pressure canning. Because this is an acid food, you can use a boiling water bath like the one shown here.

TomatoJuice05

In order to ensure the juice won’t spoil, you process it for 40 minutes after the water comes to a boil. Normally you can fit seven jars into a large pot like this one at a time. You could also use a canner, but we found that we kept burning the bottoms out of the pot and it was costing more than buying a good pot to begin with.

The result is these lovely quart jars of juice. One bushel of tomatoes produced 17 quarts of juice.

TomatoJuice06

After the jars have set for a while, you’ll notice some separation. It will look as if the water in the juice has separated from the pulp. This is perfectly normal. Just shake the quart before you open it to recombine the water and the pulp. Making tomato juice is an exceptionally healthy way to enjoy tomatoes anytime. You don’t have to use any particular kind of tomato to make juice. In fact, the juice usually tastes better (fuller) if you mix several kinds of tomatoes together, so you can make juice out of odds and ends used for other purposes. Let me know if you have any questions at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Making Use of Those Oversized Zucchinis

You find it stashed beneath some leaves and it’s gargantuan—a zucchini that somehow missed your attention earlier. What do you do with this massive thing? Well, for one thing, you could eat it as normal. When you look at the nutritional benefits of the baby zucchini that most people eat, you might as well drink a glass of water for all the good it does you. The plant puts all its effort into the seeds, which aren’t developed at the time most people pick their zucchini. In fact, the seeds are simply packed with all kinds of good nutrition, including the highly sought Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. So, eating a larger zucchini has significant health benefits.

The secret is to learn when to pick your zucchini. We wait until they’re about 2 or 3 inches in diameter and the seeds are well developed, but you can still push a thumbnail through the skin. If you wait too long, the skin gets pretty tough. Yes, you can peel the skin off, but then you lose all of the wonderful fiber that zucchini can provide.

However, the subject of this post is to tell you about something interesting you can use those oversized zucchinis for. We use them to make a substitute for potato chips that provides some significant health benefits, yet taste absolutely amazing. Our technique isn’t completely healthy, but I’ll take them anytime over the store purchased chips. You begin by thinly slicing your Zucchini as shown here and placing them in a dehydrator.

Zucchini01

We sprinkle the tops of the zucchini with popcorn seasoning that we buy in bulk from a local store. The popcorn seasoning comes in four flavors: cheese, sour cream/onion, ranch, and bacon/onion. The cost for the product is extremely low when you buy in bulk quantities like this:

Zucchini02

A one pound container of the topping cost us $4.65 at the local bulk goods store. You don’t need to use a lot of the topping. Just a dusting will add a bit of wonderful flavor to the resulting chips as shown here:

Zucchini03

You can use any sort of zucchini to produce the chips. As you see, we have a variety in the dehydrator right now. However, our friends introduced us to the Clarinette Lebanese Squash, which has a light green exterior, and produces a superior chip. The chip retains its crispiness far longer and the zucchini itself is a better shape for chips in that it tends to grow bigger around in a shorter period without getting a hard skin.

To perform the drying, you set the dehydrator to 155º. Check the dehydrator every few hours. When the chips are crispy (in about six hours), the drying process is done. Rebecca packages the initial chips in resealable bags until she has enough, then she uses the Food Saver to store the chips in sealed bags that contain a little air to prevent chip breakage. Normally, she makes me two five-gallon containers of chips for the winter (along with two more five-gallon containers of apple chips that I’ll describe later). Here’s the preliminary result:

Zucchini04

We’ve never had any of our chips go bad. They should last at least a year if you seal them properly. So, what is your favorite alternative way to use zucchini? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Making Brussels Sprouts Palatable

Rebecca and I grow a large assortment of vegetables. There are many reasons to grow a variety of vegetables, but you can distill them down into several important areas:

 

  • A balanced diet requires diversity because each vegetable has something different to offer.
  • Each grown year comes with different challenges and you can’t be assured that a particular vegetable will grow well in a given year.
  • Local nurseries will offer different choices in a given year, so unless you start absolutely every vegetable in your own greenhouse, you’re reliant on what the greenhouses have to offer.
  • Biodiversity ensures that your garden’s soil won’t be able to concentrate any particular pathogen.
  • Crop rotation is known to help garden soil by keeping any particular element from becoming depleted.

There are likely other reasons for growing a large variety of vegetables, but this list will suffice for the purpose of this post. I eat every vegetable we grow. In fact, I’ve never had a problem eating vegetables, having had insistent parents when I grew up who ensured I developed a taste for everythingeverything thing that is except Brussels sprouts. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t convince myself that the little cabbages were good tasting. As a child, I’d swallow them whole to avoid tasting them at all (since eating them wasn’t an option).

Imagine my surprise then, when I got married and found that the one vegetable that my wife loved best was Brussels sprouts. Given a chance, she probably would have eaten them at every meal, leaving me wondering what to do next. So, I embarked on a quest to make the Brussels sprout more palatable while begging my wife’s indulgence in eating them only occasionally until I found a solution.

A good part of overcoming any vegetable dislike is to find a way to prepare them. Simply boiling Brussels sprouts in water and serving them with a bit of butter preserved the bitter taste all too well. My first discovery was that boiling Brussels sprouts (or any other vegetable for that matter) is simply a bad idea. Simmering tends to reduce the bitterness. I also discovered that lemon juice and garlic salt make the bitterness of many vegetables appear considerably less. So, here is my first Brussels sprouts recipe that made the vegetable at least sort of palatable.


Plain Brussels Sprouts

 

3 tsp

Garlic Salt

1/2 cup

Lemon Juice

3 tsp

Butter

2 cups

Brussels Sprouts

1/2 cup

Parmesan Cheese


Just
barely cover Brussels sprouts with water. Add lemon juice, garlic salt, and
butter. Simmer Brussels sprouts slowly until tender (don’t boil them). Remove
from heat and dish out into a bowl. Let cool for about 5 minutes. Coat top with
parmesan cheese. Serves 4.

Later I discovered that the method used to grow Brussels sprouts makes a huge difference. Most people pick them during the hot summer months. We found that by letting the Brussels sprouts continue to grow until late fall and only picking them after the second frost, that the Brussels sprouts were not only much larger, but also considerably sweeter. Since that time, we’ve found a few other vegetables that benefit (or at least survive) a light frost, including broccoli. (Most vegetables don’t like frost, so this technique does come with risks.) The combination of the new growing technique and my recipe made Brussels sprouts a somewhat regular visitor to the table, much to the happiness of my wife (who had waited patiently for many years for the day to arrive).

Recently I experimented with a new Brussels sprouts recipe that makes them taste even better. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say, I like them enough to eat them more often now. Here’s the fancier Brussels sprouts recipe.


Fancy Brussels Sprouts

 

1/2 tsp

Lemon Peel

3/4 tsp

Corriander

2 tsp

Garlic Salt

1/2 cup

Pomegranate Balsamic Vinegar

1/2 cup

Water

2 tsp

Butter

1/4 cup

Parmesan Cheese

2 cups

Brussels Spouts


Mix
the water, lemon peel, coriander, garlic salt, pomegranate balsamic vinegar,
and butter together in a pot. Bring the mixture near a boil, but not a full
boil. Add Brussels sprouts. Reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer Brussels sprouts
until tender. Remove from heat and dish out into a bowl. Let cool for about 5
minutes. Coat top with parmesan cheese. Serves 4.

Now you know my secret methods for dealing with Brussels sprouts. However, there are some important lessons here for the self-sufficient grower. First, make sure you pick your vegetables at the optimal time because timing is everything when it comes to taste. Second, the manner in which you choose to cook a vegetable is important. Taking time to make your vegetables taste good is an essential part of learning to like them. Let me know about your vegetables eating experiences at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Making Wine – Day 31

Welcome to Day 31the best day of the process . The previous post, Making Wine – Day 28, described how you can clear your wine. At this point, your wine should be clear. It may not be pristine, but you shouldn’t see more than a few particles here or there. If you see a bit of pectin haze, you probably won’t be able to clear it easily at this point and will need to amend your recipe to obtain better results in the future. However, if you’re seeing more than a few particles, wait a few additional days before bottling. If the particles don’t clear up in two or three more days, you might want to repeat the Day 28 processing. Professional wineries actually have a filtering system they use to improve the clarity of their winethe home wine maker has only time and technique to rely upon.

Assuming that your wine is clear, you’ll want to sterilize enough bottles to hold it. A single gallon container will normally provide four bottles of wine, plus a little leftover. These dregs are usually drinkable as long as you don’t pick up too much sediment, but you don’t want to bottle them. Choose good quality wine bottles. The type with the screw top don’t hold up well and you could even break the bottle during the corking process. Use the one-step sterilizer to wash the bottles and make sure you get any sediment out of the bottles. It helps to have a bottle brush designed specifically for wine bottles.

Before you can bottle your wine, you need to have a supply of corks and a corker. Many kits come with tasting corks that are absolutely worthless for storing your wine. These corks are probably good for three or four months worth of storage in optimal conditions and look like this:

WineDay31_1

What you want instead is an actual wine cork that looks like this:

WineDay31_2

You can find them in several sizes and in a number of materials. My personal preference is actual cork, but I know of many people who are able to use the plastic corks with good results. It’s essential to choose a cork that fits the bottle you usea #8 cork fits the standard bottle used by wineries and normally found in kits. You may have to use a different size if you choose to store your wine in a 1.5 liter bottle. The choice of cork determines the corker you use. Even a cheap floor corker (required to use anything larger than a #8 cork) will cost you a small fortune. That’s why I chose standard sized bottles, the #8 corks, and a Portuguese twin lever corker that looks like this one:

WineDay31_3

The problem with this corker is that it does require a fair amount of arm strength to use. Some people much prefer the Gilda compression hand corker, which is moderately priced and requires about half the strength, or a bench model corker, which is whopping expensive and requires even less strength to use. The kind of corker you get is also dependent on how many bottles you plan to cork. Since I only make 2 gallons at a time, I get by corking 8 bottles and using the corker that I do works fine.

A problem that many new wine makers encounter is overfilling the bottle. If you overfill the bottle, you’ll find it nearly impossible to cork. In addition, the cork won’t seat fully (making spoilage more likely). It’s even possible that you could crack the bottle; although, I’ve never personally had this happen. Use the racking technique described on Day 10 to fill the bottles right to the point where the neck and shoulder meet like this:

WineDay31_4

After you fill the bottle, insert the cork into the corker. Normally, the corker will have a slot you use to load it as shown here:

WineDay31_5

When you place the corker on the bottle, make sure it sits squarely and fully on the bottle top as shown here:

WineDay31_6

Push down on both handles (or on the single handle as determined by your corker) with an even, steady pressure. Eventually, the cork will seat properly and fully in the bottle. At this point, you can label your bottle and dress it up a bit (if desired). Even though your wine is drinkable at this point, you’ll normally wait three to six months for it to continue mellowing and settling. Store your wine in a wine holder designed to keep the cork wet in a cool, dry place. That’s ityou’ve completed the wine making process in a mere 31 days! So, are there any questions about day 31? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

This post ends my basic series of posts about wine. Of course, there are all kinds of other topics I can cover. Let me know if you have a personal preference on what I discuss next in this blog.

 

Making Wine – Day 28

At this point, it doesn’t appear that there is any activity in your wine container, but activity still exits. Yes, the fermentation process is complete, but the wine is still in an early state. When you remove the air lock and take a whiff, you smell something with a distinct wine odor. It’s even possible to drink the wine now and you might possibly enjoy yourself, but you’d be cutting the process short.

The next step is a seemingly odd one because it requires a certain amount of wizardry on your part. You might have noticed that your wine is still a tiny bit cloudy and that it doesn’t quite have the taste you wanted. That’s what this post addresses. This is the fit and finish phase of your winethe phase that turns your homemade wine into something that could rival the best wine on the market.

Begin by racking the wine using the same procedure found on Day 10. Make sure you clean your container after you pour its contents into another container. Once you have the wine in a suitable container, put a small amount in a small glass. If you want to follow the fancy way of doing this, you’ll swirl the wine around a bit, inhale deeply, and then sip it gingerly. Personally, I find that taking a good deep smell and then tasting the wine using smallish sips is much better. If you used the Montrachet yeast, you’ll find that your wine has a nice odor, but that it’s probably too dry and that the flavor hasn’t quite come out. In short, the wine will be a little disappointing.

To overcome this problem, you add sugar to your wine. Now, remember that your wine is stabilized at this point, so you don’t want to make the wine horribly sweet (a problem I’ve noted in more than a few homemade wines) because there isn’t any yeast to clean up the excess. Add a little sugar at a time and then repeat the smelling and tasting process. Small sips are best. If you find that your nose is working less efficiently by the third or fourth try (I always do), give it a bit of a rest. Inhale some coffee grounds (if you have it around), then try again. The sugar you add at the end of the process is one the place where no one can offer you truly useful adviceeveryone has a different standard.

Now that your wine is properly sweetened, you need to perform one more step. This particular step caused me no end of consternation when I first tried it. It’s time to clarify your wine. Clarity problems come in three forms:

  • Pectin Haze: Pectin found in many fruits will cause a haze in your wine if not removed during the fermentation process. The haze is nearly impossible to remove at this point, but this step will help a little. However, most people won’t even notice it. The haze is slight in most cases. Amend your recipe to use more pectic enzyme (see the Day 1 post for details).
  • Free Floating Particles: Some wine ingredients, such as pumpkin (makes a wonderful warmed wine), will leave particles behind. The best way to avoid this problem is to filter your ingredients initially, before you add them to the wine. You can also use a two-step fermentation process that takes significantly longer than my wine making technique. This step will remove at least some of these free floating particles. Letting the wine rest for an extended period will also help.
  • Yeast Cells and Tanin Complex Materials: Your wine will almost certainly have yeast cells and other materials left over after the fermenting process. These particles are smaller than the larger particles left over from the main ingredient (such as pumpkin) This step always resolves this sort of clarity problems.


You need to obtain some Sparkolloid powder. Not every supply store stocks it, but the effort of getting this product is more than repaid by a superior wine. Add 1 tablespoon to 1¼ cup of vigorously boiling water and stir for five minutes (keep the pan on the stove while you stir). When I first started using this product, I tried all sorts of other time intervals, but you really do need to stir it for the full five minutes to obtain optimal results.

This action doesn’t apparently do muchat least, not much that you can see. What you’re actually doing is creating a static charge in the mixture (hence the need for vigorous stirring). This static charge will help clear your wine, much like an ion filter cleans the air in your house. The fine particles floating around in your wine are attracted to the charged particles in the Sparkolloid powder and drop to the bottom of the container. Interestingly enough, you’ll also find that this step improves both the taste and smell of your wine.

After you stir the Sparkolloid powder for five minutes, add 1/6 cup (8 teaspoons) of mixture to each gallon of wine. Mix it in thoroughly and pour the wine back into the container. Close the container using the airlock as usual. Put the wine containers in a cool location. That’s it! So, are there any questions about day 28? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Making Wine – Day 23

If you’ve been following this series of posts, you’ll know that Monday was actually day 23, but I’m posting today about it due to some scheduling conflicts. The last post was on Day 10. At that time, the wine fermentation was slowing down, but still active. By the time you get to Day 23, the wine has basically stopped fermenting. You might see a line of tiny bubbles at the top of the container, but that’s about it.

You still don’t have drinkable wine. If you tasted it at this point, nothing terrible would happen, but it wouldn’t have a good wine taste just yet. In fact, your wine may still have a yeasty odor to it. The step you perform today is important because it helps stabilize your wine so you start getting the right odor and flavor.

First, look at the bottom of the container. If there is little or no sediment, you don’t have to rack your wine again. However, if you see more than 1/8-inch of sediment, consider racking your wine using the same instructions as Day 10.

At this point, pour about 1/4 cup of your wine into a cup. Add 1/2 teaspoon of potassium sorbate per gallon to the wine. Potassium sorbate is a yeast inhibitor and will help stabilize your wine. It doesn’t stop active yeast from working, but it does stop the fermentation process from restarting. The potassium sorbate mixes with extreme ease. Pour the wine back into the container and stir it using the handle of your spoon. Because the potassium sorbate mixes easily, you don’t have to stir the wine a lot.

Replace the airlock on your container. Move your containers to a cooler location (between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit) to aid in stabilization. That’s it! So, are there any questions about day 23? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Wine Making – Day 10

At this point, your wine has been perking away for ten days. The number of bubbles you see is decreasing quite a bit. If you’re still seeing one bubble come from the air lock every ten to fifteen seconds, the wine is doing great. However, if the wine stopped bubbling before you reach this point, the batch is stuck and you need to follow the procedure in my Wine Making – Unsticking a Batch to fix it. Allow some extra time for the wine to ferment properly.

Normally, this is the time when you start your secondary fermentation. In order to do that, you rack the wine, which means using some type of tubing to siphon the wine out of the fermentation container into another sterilized container. Sterilize this second container completely using a one-step sterilizer designed for wine making. Never use a container that isn’t absolutely clean to store your wine.

You can use a second fermentation container, or do what I doempty the contents into a sterilized pan, sterilize the original container, and then use a funnel to pour the wine back into the container. The purpose of this activity is to get rid of the sediment that has accumulated at the bottom of the fermentation container and to stir the wine up so that the yeast can get to the remaining sugar.

You have several options when it comes to siphons. Some people use a racking cane (tube) to perform the taskothers use a siphon kit. I have a semi-rigid piece of tubing that came with my kit and it looks like this.

WineDay10_1

Notice the tip on the right side. This is a racking tip and it keeps the end of the cane out of the sediment. The flow is redirected upward so that you get as little as the sediment as possible from the fermentation container, yet maximize the amount of clear wine you get. Here is how the tip looks close up.

WineDay10_2
WineDay10_3

The end of the tip is angled so that you can move it right into the bottom of the container. Notice how the end of the tip grabs the tube, yet leaves space for the wine to flow through.

Never taste the wine at this point. It contains live yeast and you’ll get a bellyache for your efforts!

In short, Day 10 is basically a time to start clearing the wine and ensure you get the maximum value for your efforts. It may seem like a simple step, but it’s critical to the success of the wine. So, are there any questions about day ten? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Wine Making – Unsticking a Batch

In my post, Wine Making – Day 1, I discuss how to start a batch of wine. If you followed that post, your wine has been perking away for several days now. In fact, tomorrow you’ll start to think about doing the Day 10 processing. Of course, this all assumes that everything has gone as planned. In most cases, it does, but there are situations where the wine can simply stop fermenting. The little plug inside the air lock may even float to the bottom. Even if it hasn’t, when the bubbles stop appearing every minute or two (the fermentation process slows as the yeast turns the sugar into alcohol) you know something is wrongyou have a stuck batch.

Don’t fret! Your efforts haven’t been wasted. I’ve never run into a situation where I wasn’t able to get the wine restarted with a little patience.

Start by placing your ear next to the container. If you can still hear some bubbles, you’re actually in great shape. In fact, spend a little more time looking for bubbles because the fermentation does slow considerably by day 10. If you don’t hear anything, you might have to work just a bit harder to get the batch restarted. In most cases, you’re just fine as long as you can still smell the yeast when you open air lock.

The first step is to ensure your wine containers are in a room where it’s warm enough to ferment. The lowest room temperature that has ever succeeded for me is 50 degrees Fahrenheit. You normally want the room temperature in the 70 degree range. Having the temperature too high is also unproductive. If you live in a warm climate and the air temperature is 95 degrees or higher, you’ll likely find that the yeast has a hard time continuing to work. Theoretically, the yeast will live just fine all the way up to 110 degrees in most cases, but most of us (yeast included) have a comfort zone.

The next step is to add a cup of sugar to the batch using the funnel. Add the sugar slowly. If you add it all at once and the yeast is still active, there is a tendency for the wine to bubble violently and create a mess by spilling out of the top of the container. After you add the sugar, use the handle of a slotted spoon to stir the sugar in (being careful to disturb the sediment at the bottom of the container as little as possible). Here’s what my slotted spoon looks like:

SlottedSpoon

The spoon is almost flat and it has a skinny handle. This spoon is perfect for working with the fermentation container opening. (I was lucky to find this sort of spoon in plastic, normally you see them as wooden spoons.)

Look at the batch and listen to it again.  If you see tiny bubbles and hear them when you listen to the container, you know that the batch has restarted. Close the airlock and let the wine continue to ferment.

However, you might find that the wine still hasn’t restarted. In this case, add 1 teaspoon of yeast nutrient to the batch and stir it in using the handle of the spoon. Listen again to see if you’ve been successful. In many cases, you’ll have to wait about five minutes to see any effectbe patient!

If the wine doesn’t restart after you add the nutrient, try adding some more wine yeast (I generally use Montrachet). The old yeast might still be alive, but there may not be enough left to restart the batch. Sprinkle the full amount required for the size batch you’re trying to create. Remember that one packet of yeast is normally good for around 5 gallons of wine. This time, put the airlock back in place and wait for fifteen minutes.

I’ve never had wine fail to restart by this point. If you supply sugar, nutrient, and yeast at the right temperature, then the wine should ferment just fine. However, the temperature can be a tricky part of the process. Take the wine’s temperature using your dairy thermometer. If the temperature is too low, place the container in a warmer location. Generally, it’s a bad idea to pour the contents out of the container and try to reheat it in another container on the stove. If you do have problems getting your wine restarted, we may be able to work out a solution. Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Wine Making – Day 1

This post is the start of a series showing my particular technique for making wine. There are probably more ways of making wine than you can imaginecertainly more than I’ve seen. The technique I use produces highly repeatable results in small quantities (suitable for the home enthusiast) in 31 days. I don’t use a two-stage fermentation technique, nor do I rely on whole fruits/vegetables as a source of juice. This technique relies on pure juice and is extremely simple, but it does produce some nice tasting wine.

Many foods are preserved using fermentation. For example, we also make sauerkraut, a kind of fermented food. Wine is probably one of the earliest forms for food preservation through fermentation. In this case, yeast (species Saccharomyces cerevisiae) consumes sugar found in juice to produce carbon dioxide and alcohol. It’s the alcohol that preserves the juice.

This form of preservation was probably found by accident in early history. It turns out that the yeast required to produce wine occurs naturally on some fruit such as grapes. When you see that light dusty coating on grapes growing on the vine, part of that dust is the yeast. If you wanted, you could simply crush the grapes and let nature take its course, which is how some people still make wine. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with this approach. However, naturally occurring yeasts don’t always produce the best results and sometimes you can end up with vinegar when the alcohol is oxidized by acetic acid bacteria, AAB, instead of being stabilized to produce wine.

In order to produce wine, and not vinegar, the modern technique is to kill the microbes by adding a campden tablet to the juice. Later this year, I’ll show some techniques for producing and preserving juice for wine making. For now, just assume that you have the amount of prepared juice required for the wine you want to make.

The first day of wine making is the most time consuming. I normally set aside three hours to perform the steps required to start two, one gallon, batches of wine that will eventually produce eight bottles. In most cases, I’ll create wine from two different juicesno need to be boring when you’re doing something creative .

To start the process, you gather all of your equipment and sterilize it using a one-step sterilizer designed for wine making. You need these basic pieces of equipment to make wine:

  • Mixing container capable of holding the amount of wine you want to make (one gallon in my case)
  • Four-cup measuring cup
  • Measuring spoons
  • Funnel (for pouring the wine mixture into the fermentation container)
  • Fermentation container
  • Air lock and adapter (you’ll see a picture of it later)
  • Dairy thermometer


You want to gather all of the ingredients as well. The ingredients you use depend on the kind of wine you’re making, but generally you’ll need sugar (food for the yeast), yeast nutrient (helps the yeast to start growing), pectic enzyme (helps produce clear wine that lacks a pectic haze), and acid blend (improves the pH balance of the juice and the eventual taste of the wine). Some wines also require yeast energizer (works like yeast nutrient for some types of fruit) and tannin (helps the wine keep longer, promotes clearing, and improves taste).

Of course, the most important wine making ingredient is the yeast. I generally use a Montrachet wine yeast. It performs well in a wide temperature range, produces a somewhat drier wine (one that has less remaining sugar with a higher alcohol content), and tends not to stop working until the fermentation process is complete (a condition known as getting stuck). The yeast you choose makes a great deal of difference in the quality and taste of your wine. Never use bread yeast for wineit tends to produce a low alcohol result and the wine won’t clear properly. After all, the purpose of bread yeast is to produce lots of carbon dioxide for fluffy bread.

There are a lot of sources for recipes and I’ll eventually share some of mine, but each recipe produces different results, so you’ll have to play around to see what produces the result you like best. That’s part of the fun of making wine. Here’s a picture of my wine making ingredients:

WineDay1_1

After you have everything gathered, mix the ingredients in the mixing container to produce the must (the name of the wine mixture), but don’t add the yeast. The next step for me is to gently warm the must to the optimal temperature for the yeast (105 degrees for Montrachet). Keep mixing the ingredients to make absolutely certain they’re mixed completely. Measure the temperature carefullytoo cold and the yeast won’t start as quickly as it couldtoo hot and you’ll kill the yeast:

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After the mixture is at the right temperature, pour it into the fermentation container. Sprinkle the yeast on top. Add water to the air lock and attach the air lock to the fermentation container as shown here:

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In this case, you’re seeing tomato wine on the left (delicious with a stronger tasting cheese) and apple wine on the right (a wonderful desert wine). The tomato wine has raisins added to it for taste. I’m using one gallon cubi-containers originally obtained as part wine making kits purchased a long time ago. Buying a kit is one of the better ways to get all of the equipment you need to make wine, but you can easily purchase the components separately. Notice I also put my containers on a cutting board. That makes it easy for me to move my fermentation containers around to more evenly heated rooms or simply to get them out of the way.

Keep an eye on your containers for a while. You want to be sure that the air locks are working properly to keep out foreign yeast and bacteria. Here’s a closeup of my air locks:

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The one in the front is already in the right position. Carbon dioxide produced by the yeast has pushed the little cap up in the middle. In order to get out, the carbon dioxide will now need to go down through the water in the air trap and then out through holes in the top. In this way, the container maintains positive pressurekeeping out external sources of contamination. The air lock shown in the back isn’t in the right position yet because the yeast has just started working. Eventually, that cap will rise to the top as well. So, are there any questions about day one? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Dealing with Overabundance

Gardening is never a precise science. In fact, there isn’t any way to make it a precise science, despite the best efforts of growers worldwide to do so. There are too many variables to consider and each season is unique. A heavy snow winter can delay spring, which reduces the time in which you can plant some early season vegetables. A humid, cool summer favors some vegetables; a dry, hot summer others. The presence or lack of insects makes a difference too. Too many cloudy days changes the environmental landscape, as do myriad other environmental factors. Every season is unique and brings unique challenges.

It’s hardly surprising then that some seasons tend to produce an overabundance of certain vegetables. For example, last year was an especially good year for okra. I don’t think I’ve ever seen our okra plants get that tall or produce such an abundance. That has partially meant having a lot of gumbo this past winter. Rebecca also made pickled okra for me, a delicacy I seldom get.

In many cases, overabundance means having leftovers at the end of the year. In fact, we usually try to plant with a three-year plan in mind. The tomatoes that grew so well this year, very likely won’t grow all that well next year. (Tomatoes are one of the few vegetables that you can count on producing something every year, even if they don’t produce enough to meet your annual needs.) So, during a good year, we can the excess because canned foods have a longer shelf life than frozen and once canned, they require no electricity to keep them fresh. According to eHow you can store high-acid foods for a year and low-acid foods for two to five years without any problem.  Practical experience shows that canned goods will keep longer than that when stored properly, but we throw anything over five years old into the compost heap to become new vegetables.

Try canning your food in various ways. For example, tomatoes are easily canned as whole peeled tomatoes, tomato sauce, salsa, tomato juice, tomato jam, ketchup, and in many other forms. Rather than buy these items from the store, make them up in advance during canning season so they’re ready whenever you need them. Now, whenever you need a quick meal, you already have it stored in your larder; making that trip to the fast food restaurant unnecessary.

Some food items won’t can properly or the loss of vitamins is so exorbitant that canning makes the result less desirable nutritionally. Anything that’s high in vitamins A or C, thiamin, or riboflavin is less desirable canned than frozen. Consequently, we try to freeze these foods more often than not to preserve their nutritional value. However, this choice has consequences too. Freezing incurs a constant storage cost and there is limited space for freezing in the typical home. Frozen food also has a significantly shorter shelf life than canned food. We try to empty the freezer by the end of each season and will can some remaining foods just to keep from losing them.

This is where many people end their efforts to store excess food. There are many other techniques you can use, however. One of the techniques we use is dehydrating the food. zucchini cans terribly and the frozen result isn’t much better. However, zucchini plants typically produce very well and they’re quite nutritional when you choose larger plants (rather than the baby zucchini favored by stores, which aren’t much better than drinking water). I’ve found over the years that much of the food value in squash is in the seeds. Dehydrated zucchini served in place of potato chips is an exceptionally nutritious (and tasty) snack food that I love and it provides an outstanding way to preserve excess zucchini. Eggplant also preserves well this way, as do many other plants. We dehydrate them and eat them as a low calorie snack food during the winter months.

Another interesting way to use excess vegetables is to make wine. I tried my hand at tomato wine this year for the first time and the results were amazing. Each gallon of tomato wine requires an entire quart of tomato juice, so it’s possible to preserve quite a few tomatoes using this technique. I’ve also made wine from excess pumpkin, along with all of the usual (and a few unusual) fruits. I understand many people use other vegetables to make wine. A friend of mine makes turnip wine.

You can always give your excess to other people. It’s interesting to note that not everyone in a particular area will have your success in a given year with a given vegetable. Last year was a horrible year for tomatoes and zucchini for us. Yes, we received some of each, but not nearly enough to meet the year’s requirement, much less enough to put away for the future. We were able to trade extra food such as potatoes with other people for extra food they had gotten from their gardens. The result is that everyone ended up with a more balanced larder.

These are just a few of my ideas for dealing with overabundance. What are the techniques you use? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.