Blackberry wine

It’s time for a catch-up brewing log post.

Two weeks ago I went over to a nearby vacant lot and picked 18 lbs of blackberries (I weighed them on my bathroom scale when I got home). Most of them went into 15 pints of jam; I froze one ice cube tray’s worth of the milled puree, and so far have used half of it for coconut milk ice cream; the runnings of blackberry juice from my larger-than-you-would-ever-choose-if-you-wanted-your-berries-to-come-home-unsmashed collecting jars, and the seeds & stuff left in the food mill after processing the berries for jam, went into the hooch bucket, with enough water to bring it up to a gallon. So did a handful of red oak leaves, for extra tannin. And, uh, probably somewhere around two pounds of sugar, 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme, and some yeast nutrient. OG 1.111 or thereabouts.

I found some nylon mesh fabric in a free pile – it looks like in its first life it was a sheer curtain panel and then someone had cut it up for mysterious craft purposes. So I used a big piece of that to wrap the blackberry pulp before putting it in the fermenter. Old curtains: A+ brewing equipment.

Then last night I wanted to transfer it to a carboy, but I only have one gallon jug and it was occupied by lilac hooch. So I bottled the hooch – including a campden tablet for stability. It’s a nice peachy-pink color, hazy (I only racked it once), and the taste is thin and sour. Here’s hoping it’s drinkable in 6 months.

This was my first time bottling anything with wine corks. My friendly local brewing store found an old wooden hand corker on the back shelf for me – the thing looks like a toy you’d find at a Waldorf school. It SUCKS to put corks in with that thing! The Mister eventually figured out the trick of it but all of the tops of the corks are still smashed all weird. Lesson learned: Pay the extra $20 for a fancy one with lever arms.

Also racked the osoberry piquette, which is *great*. I will be doing a bigger batch next year, with better attention to filtering early in the process.

Last but not least, I’ve been drinking the dandelion mead (which I did end up carbonating). It’s pretty dry and not detectably dandelion-flavored – but it makes a good base for champagne cocktails with a bit of herbal simple syrup.

I’ve also changed day jobs recently – or rather, I quit my day job in favor of full-time freelancing and working on a startup thing. If you have a data mining idea you need help with, let me know! I expect to be pretty busy for the next several months, but my schedule will be much more flexible and I can take short breaks to e.g. tend to a sourdough while I’m working from home. So we’ll see what effect this has on my foraging and blogging.

Osoberry Piquette

Piquette, or pomace wine, is an inferior hooch formed from the skins and other solids left over after pressing grapes for wine. My osoberry pomace was the leftovers after making jam, not wine, but I bet it’ll still make a nice inferior hooch! If not, well, I’m not out much.

I milled about 2.5 quarts of osoberries, dumped the leftover skins and seeds into a bucket, and added 2 quarts of water. I took a hydrometer reading (1.02); then I felt sorry for the yeasts and added 2 cups of table sugar, a pinch of yeast nutrient, and a couple tablespoons of bottled lime juice. Did not take another reading. Stirred ‘er up and dumped in a jar of champagne yeast from the fridge (leftovers from the lilac hooch).

Update, 6/21: Opened it up and there was a thin layer of mold on top, which I think may have been because I used a too-big bucket combined with possibly not enough yeast – usually yeast will produce a protective blanket of CO2 which prevents aerobic organisms from colonizing the top of the brew. I skimmed off the mold, and what was underneath tasted good, if syrupy, so I racked it to a growler. Gravity 1.092. Maybe next time I am tempted to impulse-add arbitrary amounts of sugar I will look up some recipes first to improve my sense of proportion. Poured in a bit more leftover yeast – reinforcements!

Update, 8/31: There was still a steady stream of visible bubbles coming up through the growler, but I was fussing with other wine last night so I decided to rack it anyway. Added a pinch of pectic enzyme, too, for good measure. There were a LOT of solids; I filtered it through some nylon mesh fabric. I am worried about the amount of oxygen that got in during the rather messy transfer – I guess the worst that happens is that I end up with osoberry vinegar.

The wine tastes great though. It has the kinds of fruity flavors you expect out of a nice red table wine, balanced by a little acidity and … well, whatever it is the yeast did to the weird rubbery undertones you can sometimes get in osoberries, it worked.

The Kitchenaid as Thresher: Notes on Micro-Scale Grain Harvest

Last year I brought home an armload of ripe cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) and some kinda fescue (Festuca sp.), because I’d never tried foraging grains before. Tom Elpel notes that all grasses are edible with the possible exception of ryegrass (Lolium spp.). Ryegrass has distinctive seed heads with neatly alternating spikelets, so it’s easy to avoid.

Grass seeds are designed to fall off the stalk or be caught by a passing animal when they’re ripe; each seed is wrapped in a little hull with protruding bits called an awn that help them disperse. Take the seed heads home, find an undisturbed corner, and let the seeds fall out onto a sheet while they dry.

This falling out process of course is not neat; you will have a bunch of seeds, and straw, and some seeds will be stuck to the straw still so you have to smash and winnow. I tried putting all of this stuff into an old pillowcase and beating it, which… sort of helped to break the straw down but mostly served to embed bits of straw and grass seeds into the pillowcase. Cheatgrass in particular is very pointy and likes to get stuck in things.

I also tried threshing by spreading the grains onto a cookie sheet and using a rolling pin, and my feet, to separate the grain from the chaff. I manually picked out some of the straw. I ran the stuff in small batches in my little food processor – this worked OK for fescue, but cheatgrass is so long and skinny, and has such long awns, that it just sort of rotated around as a single tangled mass.

Anyway, none of these techniques worked very well, but by the time I’d run out of ideas I had managed to reduce the amount of straw enough that I could put the grass away for a while. Had I been thinking I would probably have cut the straw longer when I harvested, so that I could just grab a handful of grass and flail it around in a box – I don’t expect that to be a very good way of handling cheatgrass awns but it might at least make it easier to separate out most of the straw.

Today I pulled out some of the cheatgrass, spread it on a cookie sheet, and baked it in a low (170F) oven for 90 minutes – a trick I’d read about for oat hulls. It worked! I could rub some of the seeds in my hands and feel the awns and hulls loosening.

I finished threshing with the plain metal beater on my Kitchenaid. It didn’t remove all the hulls, but after half an hour or so, the awns were broken down and the only remaining parts of the hulls were wrapped closely around the grains. Good enough.

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I winnowed in the breeze in my back yard. I know I dropped some seeds. I don’t really worry about transporting seeds the short distance from the bike trail to my lawn, which is already infested with all manner of invasives anyway – but if you’re bringing seeds home from farther away, or you care about the grass mix in your lawn, uh, maybe be careful about the species you choose to harvest. I don’t think there’s any practical way to do this without losing a few.

Finally, I put half a cup of the grain into my rice cooker with two cups of water, and wound up adding another cup when that was gone. It probably wouldn’t’ve hurt to use even more. The grain tastes good, in a vague cereal flavor sort of way, but the remaining hulls give it a rough, scratchy mouthfeel.
Cooked Cheatgrass

I have a flour grinder, so I think that’s what I’ll do with the rest of it. Cheatgrass is high in gluten so maybe I’ll try to bake a mini loaf of bread.

Mugwort mochi

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Someone on Pinterest put up a link to a recipe for yomogi mochi – a Japanese dessert of sweet rice flour flavored with Artemisia princeps powder and filled with red bean paste. Since the traditional species of Artemisia was not conveniently in my cupboard, I tried it with good ol’ Artemisia vulgaris instead.
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Yarrow Pale Ale

Take 2 on a hop-free gruit. Maybe this time (unlike the last batch) my sanitation will succeed; the mugwort and extra dandelion root should help.

  • 7 lbs liquid light malt extract
  • 8 oz aromatic malt
  • 6 oz carapils
  • 3 oz dried dandelion roots (60 min)
  • 1 oz mugwort (20 min)
  • whirlfloc tablet (20 min)
  • 1/4 oz licorice root (15 min)
  • 1/4 oz mugwort (10 min)
  • 5 oz dried yarrow flowers (5 min)
  • 1 qt starter of Thames Valley ale yeast (Wyeast 1275)

OG: 1.054. Wort tastes sweet but balanced.

In other brewing updates: I forgot to blog about the mugwort rye lager I made over the winter. The mugwort part was 2 oz. added on impulse; also I got lazy and never racked to secondary. The final beer is good but tastes… messy, I guess, where you expect a lager to be clean. And very mugwort dominant. Still, pretty good.

I also made a gallon of lilac hooch last weekend following recipe #1 here, with a big handful of dried blackberry leaves added in hopes of a little tannin. I racked it today. My lilacs are a very pale purple but the wine is currently bubblegum pink. The must tasted like delicious lilac lemonade at the beginning, and now it tastes like some horrible flavor of Four Loco. I didn’t bother with an initial hydrometer measurement.

Update, 6/8: Bottled the YPA yesterday. It was good, but on the sour side, which is worrisome. FG 1.018 (~4.7% ABV).

Desert Parsley

I went looking for morels last weekend and didn’t find any. But as a consolation prize, I learned a new plant:

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Lomatium nudicaule – barestem biscuitroot, barestem desert-parsley, Indian consumption plant, pestle parsnip, wild celery. I have never actually heard any of these common names in common use; I think I’m gonna call it desert parsley to match the way I’m starting to think of this plant in the kitchen.

The fresh leaves at this stage taste a bit like a celery-flavored cough drop – there’s that carrot family flavor, but it’s almost completely overwhelmed by a minty medicinal flavor, not quite eucalyptol but in that vein. Googling up some analyses of the volatile oils from various other Lomatium species just shows a mix of the usual terpenoid suspects common to many plant families. Anyway, from the taste it’s quite obvious why people use it for respiratory ailments.

I took a bit home thinking it might be interesting in soup or with lamb, and then let it dry out in the fridge instead of using it. I think I like it better dried than fresh – the mintiness goes away and it just tastes like a strong parsley or celery leaf.

Traditional food uses focus on younger greens than I was picking, or on the young taproot.

See also: Writeups from herbalists Kahlee Keane and Ryan Drum.

Horsetails & spaetzle

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Today I learned two things:

  1. Horsetail shoots are not a very good substitute for green beans. Their flavor is too light and they lack toothsomeness.
  2. Nettle spaetzle with garlicky beer sauce, dandelion and money plant greens, and caramelized tofu is a good idea. It’d be better if the horsetails weren’t in the way.

Dandelion Bitter Brown Ale

It’s brewing day again. This beer isn’t even beer yet and already it’s a tale of woe.

  • 7 lb amber liquid malt extract
  • 1 lb amber dry malt extract
  • 8 oz brown malt
  • 8 oz chocolate malt
  • 3.5 oz dried dandelion roots – 60 min
  • ~3/4 oz dried yarrow leaves – 60 min
  • ~1/4 oz Perle hops (9% AAU pellets left over from a previous batch) – 60 min
  • 1 oz Fuggles – 5 min
  • 1 tsp Irish moss – 20 min
  • Yeast. Woe is yeast. I had a starter of my saved Northwest Ale, but let this be a lesson to you all: Always doublecheck your starter on brew day, while the homebrew store is still open. Because even if it was krausening like a dream earlier in the week, it might have gone moldy on you since then. In desperation I dug through the fridge and pulled out one jam jar of ale yeast and another of mead yeast, and pitched them both.

This is also the bitterest wort I’ve brewed yet. That’s not saying much, since I prefer sweeter beer styles – but it tastes very close to balanced to me while all of the sugars are still in there, so I am imagining that it’ll have a very pronounced bitterness when it’s done.

The bittering wasn’t intentional – I based the amount of dandelion off this recipe and commentary, adding the yarrow and leftover hops to make up for my paltry dandelion stash. But if it turns out too bitter for my tastes I have a lot of hophead friends who like that sort of thing. Assuming of course that the yeast works out.

Update, 29 Dec: Bottled yesterday so I guess it’s time to finish this story.

I sent the Mr. to the brew store when it opened on the Tuesday after brewing, to pick up a couple of packages of yeast. Pitched them that night. Fermentation seemed to have kicked in OK the next morning, not super vigorous bubbling in the airlock but definitely active.

A couple of weeks after brewing, the gravity was only down to 1.04 and it tasted awful. Rather than risk contamination while transferring to the carboy, I just kept it in the primary bucket – turned up the brewing room heater a bit (baseboard heating means I am always subjecting my yeast to weird thermal stress) and swirled up the trub a few times over the following days to see if I could kick the yeast back into gear. Got some more bubbles from the airlock; then I got busy/lazy and ignored it for a while.

FG 1.018. (And oops, I forgot to write down the initial gravity, but it was close to the 1.06 the recipe called for – so, 5.5-6% ABV.) Not nearly as bitter as the initial wort – I actually really enjoyed what I drank from the hydrometer tube, even without carbonation. A++ will make again, hopefully next time with better initial conditions for the yeast.

Oysters on the Half-Shell with Sheep Sorrel Mignonette

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You know you are reading a high-quality food blog when, instead of boring food magazine clichés like well-lit images of a beautiful invertebrate scantily clad in a swirl of condiment, or action shots of the author’s oystering companion gracefully bashing at shells with the fog playing tag with the fjord in the bokeh… instead of any of that crap you get an out-of-focus picture of the bottom of a jar. These are the sacrifices I make for you, my readers.

Anyway. I woke up at 5am this morning for the last reasonably timed spring tide of the season. “Reasonably”. It wasn’t the civilized afternoon tides of spring but at least we weren’t wearing headlamps in the winter rain at midnight. We got to the beach just as the tide was turning back in, so I raked up a quick limit of clams (if you are willing to eat purple varnish clams this goes VERY quick) before settling onto the oyster beds.

The State of Washington requires you to shuck all oysters on the beach and toss the shells back where you found them; this preserves habitat for baby oysters, which like to grow on old shells, and prevents the spread of invasive oyster drills. So if you want to eat your oysters raw on the half-shell, that means you have to eat your breakfast on the beach.

Sometimes life in temperate paradise can be very difficult indeed.

I brought three kinds of mignonette to eat with the oysters: A classic recipe with champagne vinegar and shallots; cucumber-borage; and sheep sorrel. They were all good but the sheep sorrel was the clear winner! I’d planned to get all the acidity from the oxalic acid in the leaves, but it didn’t quite work and I had to add some vinegar. Procedure is as follows:

  • ~2 cups mixed oxalic greens – in my case this was a lot of sheep sorrel (Rumex acetostella) and a little Oxalis whateveritis.
  • ~half a shallot
  • pinch of salt
  • a few turns of the pepper grinder
  • buzz in food processor and add enough water to make it the right consistency
  • also add a few drizzles of rosé vinegar when the water doesn’t taste acidic enough

Makes way more than you need for 3 dozen oysters. What should I do with all my leftover mignonette? Bonus if the answer also involves some of this ridiculous haul of lobster mushrooms I picked up on the way out of the park (while spitefully ignoring an almost equally generous bloom of Suillus lakei. Sorry, consolation prize mushrooms, but state parks have a 2 gallon mushroom limit and you don’t make the cut! Suckers!).

Oh, one more lesson: All seaweeds around here are edible enough to nibble on, but not all of them are tasty, and not all of the ones that seem tasty are actually good for food. I brought back a clump of ok-tasting mystery seaweed intending to dry it and use it as furikake or something, but then when I identified it… sulfuric acid, really? Harrumph.

Daucus carota Seeds: What’ll They Do to Your Hormones?

This summer I leveled up in foraging by carefully studying poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) and Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota), which both grow in profusion along the bike trail. Poison hemlock is one of the first plants, possibly the first, that every forager needs to learn, because even small amounts of it can no-shit for-real kill you. The same is true for another carrot family member, water hemlock.

The carrot family is some scary shit, mostly not for beginners. (Fennel is probably the one exception – between the distinctive smell and the threadlike leaves, it’s not likely to be confused with any of its poisonous relatives.)

But once you’re used to the process of identifying plants using reputable field guides, dichotomous keys, and paying attention to botanically relevant traits beyond just leaf shape, sorting out the carrots isn’t so bad. If you pay attention to them over the course of a growing season, the differences between poison hemlock and Queen Anne’s lace become pretty obvious; Butter has a great rundown of most of them, but she doesn’t mention the seeds.

If your suspected wild carrot is in fruit then it’s easy to verify its identity: Daucus seeds have rows of bristles growing from parallel ribs while Conium seeds are smooth. The only other carrot family members with bristly seeds found in the coastal Pacific Northwest are sanicles (Sanicula spp.), but sanicle seed bristles aren’t arranged in rows like Daucus seed bristles.

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(I am super excited about my new microscope. Turns out just holding my phone up to the eyepiece works pretty well for taking pictures. Photo above is a wild carrot seed at 30x magnification.)

So I infused some flowers into simple syrup for a soda, which was good – and I think much improved by the carbonation – and didn’t kill me. And after nibbling on a couple of fruits to verify that Queen Anne’s lace seeds are indeed delicious, I brought home a bunch of seed heads. Seriously, the seeds are indeed delicious – like a warmer, spicier version of carrots. I could happily munch on them plain as a snack.

Here’s my problem though: Daucus carota seeds have a history of use as birth control. Herbalists recommend eating a teaspoon of seeds daily after sex or around ovulation, which is an amount I could easily exceed by using carrot seeds as a spice. Although I’m not trying to make a baby, I don’t want to put a bunch of ground-up Plan B in my granola bars without knowing more about the side effects.

So it’s off to PubMed I go.

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