Category Archives: Home brew

Drying sage to make tea

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It’s a good time of year to cut back sage stopping it getting woody and lanky, it’s also a great excuse for drying sage. We just cut the plant back to a few inches from the ground, remove the most woody stems then blitz in a mixer and leave out to dry. Chopping it up first allows it to dry quicker which is useful if you are air drying it. You can also do this in summer meaning you’ll get a fresh flush of leaves for autumn.

This year it is going to form part of my wild and garden teas experiment. We drink loads of tea, black and fruit but we make very little of it ourselves which seems strange as we have a go at making most other things. I’m going to be trying out different herbal teas and also experiment in making my own black tea. I can see the sower faces I will be pulling in the near future but hopefully I can find some alternatives to shop bought teas that will become new favorites.

Sage Tea (Salvia Officinalis).  As a herbal infusion it has many medicinal properties. Sage acts as a relaxant for nervous disorders and depression, also as a disinfectant / antiseptic in the treatment of mouth ailments and stomach pains, it’s also good for brain function.

http://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-sage.html

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The taste is not as strong as I’d first thought but I can’t seem to get the taste of a roast dinner out of my head, not entirely a bad thing. I shall wait for the brain function to begin.

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The Best Wild fruit Infusions

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I’m not the greatest of wine makers I can admit that, not that I’m not going to keep trying but there is something about the process that I always seem to get wrong. That’s perhaps why I love infusions, the alcohol part is done for you all you need to do is add flavor and drink it! Last autumn was a great season for wild fruits of all kinds so I took it as a chance to experiment with something other than Sloe Gin.

While out walking one day I came across a damson tree laden with fruit, I kicked myself as I must have walked past it dozens of times before without noticing. I did consider making jam but you can have too much jam but never enough booze, so I made damson vodka, after a few months of patience it turned into a beautiful thick rich comforting blanket of a drink, instantly better dare I say than Sloe Gin. Using vodka instead of gin allows the fruit to impart it’s own flavor rather than be masked by the taste of the alcohol. Needless to say it’s all gone now.

By now the bug had bitten so I was on the lookout for more fruits to experiment with. The second I made was Cherry Plum vodka, made in the same way as the Damson, this has a sharper flavor, a little more tart. A search on the internet gave me my next and I must say favorite infusion ever, Blackberry Whiskey, it’s smooth and comforting after a cold January walk with a real depth of flavor, that I insist that everyone tries.

Blackberry Whiskey

blackberries

sugar

bottle of whiskey

Take a large jar, fill it 2/3 of the way with blackberries, pour in half that amount of sugar then top up the rest of the jar with whiskey. Don’t use expensive whiskey that would be a crime. Shake the jar now and again to help dissolve the sugar, leave in a dark cupboard for at least 3 months, try and make it in time for Christmas but better still hide a bottle of it for a year.

Damson Vodka

1kg damsons

500g sugar

1 litre vodka
Put all the ingredients into a large Kilner jar, shake every so often to dissolve the sugar and bottle after 3 months. Some people prick each fruit but who has time for that I tend to squash them lightly with a potato masher in the jar before I add the vodka. Like most infusions it will be better after a year if you can wait that long. Don’t forget that when you have bottled it you can eat the fruit with cream or custard etc.

Cherry Plumb Vodka

Make in the same way as the Damson Vodka but try freezing the cherry plums first then letting them thaw before adding them to the jar, this breaks down the skins and removes the need for tedious pricking.

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Eating the past

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Spent the afternoon leafing through this recipe book dated from 1679 at Leeds university, slowly making myself hungry as I went. I hope to return soon to research wild food and hedgerow harvests and experiment with some of the recipes. The entire book is written in beautiful long hand making some of the translations difficult that coupled with the rather colourful spelling, ‘Apricocks’ for example! I hope that Yorkshire based recipe book with open up some traditional recipes for wild food. Some interesting ones were, Walnuts to preserve- white, To preserve Pippins in jelly, syrup of wood sorrel and Syrup of red poppies.

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making cider vinegar

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I’d love to say that the reason that all the cider we made in 2008 still is to be drunk is that we are only modest drinkers but that just not the case, it is and I’m thinking in gastronomic terms here, a bit cat pissy. Now that’s not to say that it’s undrinkable but it seems to have positioned itself in the emergency booze category along with that stuff in the strange bottle that I don’t know where it came from but gets that funny stain out of the toilet.

I digress, as I’m from a long line of waste not want not’s the natural thing to do is turn it into a superior product. Now I have in the past transformed what is an acquired taste cider into very pleasant apple brandy, by freeze distilling-which actually is my most popular post- but I wanted to have a go at something different.

Cider vinegar is a must in our kitchen so I having a go at making my own and at about £4 for an organic bottle, I’m hoping to save money too.

Now there are many ways of fermenting alcohol into vinegar some more complex than others but I was coming from the point of ‘if you build it they will come’ or if you let the air to it, the Acetobacter, the vinegar bacteria present in the air, will attack the alcohol in the cider and convert it into acetic acid or vinegar, with just patience and without needing Kevin Costner. That’s a ‘Field of dreams’ joke, sorry never mind…

Here’s what I did,
Nearly fill a large jar with 6% cider, (about 2.5ltrs) this cider is completely natural, just apple juice and time.
Leave enough space for adding a little cider vinegar, at 6% or more and unpasteurized, this so I’ve read, should aid the fermentation as the natural bacteria should still be present. I used Aspall organic cider vinegar. I added about 200ml.
Put a piece of cloth over the top and secure with an elastic band.
Leave in a warm place out of direct sunlight, mine is in the cupboard above the oven.
Wait…..

I’ve read that you need to add this and that or keep stirring but I’ve not. I will check it every month, I’m thinking it will take two to three months. It has already become a little hazy and there’s a white mold on the surface as there should be. I think if you brew any type of alcohol you should have a go at vinegars too.

cider update

Right first I’ll stop saying update. I just wanted to mention that last years cider has finally been bottled! After 6 months of very slow brewing. I think this was mainly for two reasons, one- our last house was so cold it rarely got above 15c (how do you do degrees C on the computer?) in the kitchen. Two- This years scrumpy- yet to be named- had no added ingredients, so just relied on natural yeasts present in the peel of the apples.

I can truly say that this year it’s completely organic and best of all never cost a penny. It was so pleasing to make use of a natural unused resource which would have otherwise just rotted away.

I’m going to leave it as long as possible this time as the taste I’ve noticed improves with age, however this will depend upon when the next part is as I’m sure it’ll be sniffed out.