Sharing and Swapping Food

One of the centerpieces of self-sufficiency is, surprisingly enough, sharing and swapping food with neighbors. Yes, it’s possible to grow everything you need yourself, but absolutely everyone has a bad year in something. In addition, your soil and gardening techniques may produce copious quantities of one item, but prove dangerous, or even fatal, to other items. Your neighbors will have similar luck with other items. Consequently, swapping items between neighbors is one of the hallmarks of a self-sufficient community. The community as a whole benefits in such a situation because everyone ends up with a greater variety of food to eat. So, while you can grow what you need, you’ll eat better when you swap with someone else.

It isn’t just the garden though. Just about everything is swapped at times. One person may have an abundance of chickens and trade a chicken or two for some beef. These swaps aren’t done on a strict accounting system. People tend not to get too caught up on the price of the food—they’re more interested in exchanging something they have in excess for something they need. Of course, no one would swap an entire cow for just one chicken either . While the swaps aren’t strictly fair, they’re reasonably sono one tries to take advantage of someone else (otherwise, the community as a whole would stop swapping with them).

There are times when people simply share food, which is where the country ethic comes into play. We’ve shared wine, soap, or cookies with other people simply because we think they’re nice people and want them to enjoy something we’ve made. There is no other motive behind the act, other than seeing the smile on the other person’s face. It makes us feel good to see how others react when we do something nice for themacts of kindness are their own reward.

People have also shared with us. One winter we were extremely low on wood and I wasn’t able to get out and cut any. Our neighbors sent three cords of wood our wayan extreme act of kindness that we’ll never forget. We recently received a nice buck from some friends for nothing more than a smile. It isn’t often that you can fill your freezer with venison because of the kindness of someone else. The 65 pounds of meat is nice, being able to use the tenderloin for Christmas dinner is even nicer. I’ll make some lovely venison medallions (with wine we’ve made no less). It will be an extremely special Christmasone we’ll never forget.

Our swapping and sharing often extends outside our local village. Other good friends recently sent us a decadent cake that we’ll share with family and friends here. We’ll send a fruitcake their way later this week. I wish that our friends could have seen the smile on our faces when we received the cakeperhaps they felt the warmth of our feelings from afar (and certainly we’ve thanked them for their fine gift).

If you choose to become self-sufficient, don’t get the idea that you’re an island. No one is separate from the entire world. The more self-sufficient you become, the more you realize that the self-sufficiency of the community in which you live is important. It doesn’t matter if you live in the country, as we do, or in the city. The need to depend on others and also experience the joy of giving to those in need is possibly the best part of being self-sufficient.

Does your community swap and share? How are you experiencing the kindness of others during this holiday season? Have you done something kind, something totally unexpected for someone else? Let me know at

Creating Raw Juice for Wine Making

Earlier this year I created a series of posts about making wine using the cubicontainer technique that relies on a single container, rather than using two containers for primary and secondary fermentation. This approach requires that you use juice, and not raw fruit/vegetables, as the source for the wine. Most people think that you can make juice only from a raw source, such as crushing grapes. However, wine makers know that you can use both raw and cooked juice. This post shows how to work with raw juice—pears in this case. If you haven’t read the wine making series of posts, you can find them at:


When working with any fruit for raw juice, you need to pick the fruit at the peak of ripeness. In the case of pears, this means smelling the fruit for the distinctive pear odor. The fruit should still be firm, but crush easily in the hand. Taste the fruit and you should smell a strong pear odor, along with a high sugar content. Check the inside for an off white appearance. If the fruit seems starchy, the inside has yellowed or browned a bit, or seems mushy to the touch, it’s overripe and won’t make good wine. Likewise, if the fruit is still greenish in color, seems a bit too firm, or lacks the strong pear odor, it  isn’t ripe enough. Every fruit has its peak time for picking that typically last one or two days. That’s rightyou must check the fruit absolutely every day or you’ll miss the perfect time to pick it.

In order to create the juice, you begin by running the raw pears through a Victorio Strainer. You need to be absolutely certain that the pears are ready for use in wine. Pears that aren’t ripe could damage your strainer. Normally, the juice turns a bit brown as you strain it due to oxidation and the presence of bacteria. In this case, you’ll prevent that from occurring by adding a campden tablet to the output of the Victorio Strainer and stirring the juice from time-to-time as you strain the juice. The result should be a slightly greenish yellow juice as shown here.


However, this juice isn’t ready for wine making yet. It still contains a substantial amount of pulp. You need to make at least 2 quarts of strained pear juice to obtain 1 quart of juice ready for wine making. The next step is to place a jelly bag over a 1 quart measuring cup like this:


Pour as much of the strained juice into the jelly bag as possible. Now you’ll squeeze the bag to separate the pulp from the juice like this:


Once you have a quart of juice, you can use it immediately to make wine or freeze it for later use. A quart of pear juice will make one gallon of wine using the wine making techniques I discussed earlier. If you decide to freeze the juice, make absolutely certain that you mark it for wine use only because the juice already has the campden tablet in it.

This same technique works fine for any fruit that gets soft enough when ripe to put through the Victorio Strainer. For example, it works great with berries. However, I haven’t ever gotten this technique to work properly with applesmost apples are still too crisp when picked to get through the Victorio Strainer successfully. Apple wine requires the use of a cider press or the cooked juice method. Other fruits, such as rhubarb, require the cooked juice method. You can use this technique for some vegetables as well. This is the technique I use to make tomato wine. If you want to work with a harder vegetable, such as beets, then you need to use the cooked juice method. (I’ll describe the cooked juice method in a future post.) Let me know if you have any questions about this technique at


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:


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


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:


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:


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:


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


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

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

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


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.


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.


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

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:


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


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. If you are not partial to the whole wine making process, you might want to check out some GraysOnline wine online so you can cut out the middleman, but wouldn’t it be fun to make it, order some anyway and compare them? Another plus… you get more 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, so you can’t become a reverse wine snob super quickly. It can be worth picking up something else to drink in the interim period. 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. If winemaking turns out not to be your thing, you may instead want to buy a bottle from the best wine store denver so you can get an excellent quality wine without the difficulty of doing it yourself. Here’s a picture of my winemaking ingredients:


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:


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:


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:


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