brandied peaches

When I find the very last of the summer fruit is going, I always wish I’d preserved just a bit more of it. Even the last two peaches will do! By now I think you know my solution. When it comes to the final peaches of the year, there’s nothing better to do than to introduce them to some brandy.

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Charmed, I’m sure. Don’t worry if the peaches are long gone or not yet arrived where you are – any fruit will do. Quince would be perfect! Like ginny plums and drowned cherries, like elderflower liqueur or raspberry vodka, like oh, oh how I miss it, sloe gin, all you need is a bit of sugar and some kind of hard liquor. A clean jar. I sliced these peaches, poured half a cup of sugar over them, and filled the jar with brandy to cover the fruit. The longer you wait, the better it gets. The peaches will be intoxicatingly brandied, and the brandy will be exquisitely peachy. With the astonishingly early autumn storms we’ve been getting, summer seems a long way off. Brandied peaches will be a fine reminder on a cold winter’s night.

apple wine

For those of us who have been daydreaming about making homemade wine, I’m delighted to offer a look into an annual apple & pear pressing day. I give you the wonderful Patricia Mellett of Making the Best.

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Firstly roughly chop fruit.

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They go into a ‘scratter’ (crusher).

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Pears work well too. You can make wine from lots of things such as tea, parsnips and even rosehips.

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The scratter turns the fruit into pulp. To make wine on a small scale at home it can be done in a food processer!

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The pulp is then put into the cider press to produce the juice.

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Take a gravity reading of the juice and add sugar to bring the gravity up to the desired level for the alcohol level you want in the wine (about 1075-1080 will be enough).

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Once you have the juice at the desired gravity, you put it into a demijohn and add the yeast – white wine yeast is best. Fit a bung and airlock and keep the demijohn in a warm place – you want about 20 to 25 degrees C. Fermentation will start within a day or two – you can tell that it has because bubbles will pass through the airlock. Fermentation will be complete after one or two weeks (the bubbles will stop). Once fermentation is complete, syphon off the wine into a fresh demijohn and refit the bung and airlock. Now wait for the wine to clear. This can take several months, but you can help things along if you are in a hurry by using a clearing agent. Once the wine is clear, syphon into bottles and cork them.

Adding Pectolase at the juice stage may help clearing substantially. You can also add a yeast nutrient to the juice to help fermentation if you wish. Some winemakers use a campden tablet to sterilise the juice before fermentation (this helps to get rid of the natural yeast in fruit). You don’t have to do this, but it helps to produce more reliable wine. If you do add campden to the juice, wait at least 48 hours before you add the yeast so that the campden tablet has time to wear off. The wine will be best after at least 6 months. This gives time for the flavours to develop.

It is very important that the demijohns, bottles and anything else that is going to come into contact with the fermenting juice, and later the wine, has been sterilised. It is best to use a dedicated steriliser like “VWP”. After using this, rinse items in clean cold water.

What are you going to do with the rosehips you have just collected Elisa? Wine maybe?

Oh, now I wish I’d made apple wine with them! I’ve made something traditional with my rosehips, I’ll show you soon. I’m thinking about perry, and ginger wine too. I feel much more brave now, thank you Patricia! That’s ever so inspiring. Patricia’s gorgeous shop in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, Making the Best, has brewing kits and supplies and classes, and other wonderful things to make.

nettle tincture

Following my inspiring visit to the apothecary, I was determined to make a tincture.

tincture © elisa rathje 2011

Being impatient, I got started with enough vodka to cover some nettles that I’d wildcrafted and dried last spring. These are fine, but not ideal.

tincture © elisa rathje 2011

Ideal is fresh, new growth, which arrives in early spring and early autumn. Once we’d had a chance to catch our breath after settling back into the old cottage, I went out to pick some nettles. The bright hearty leaves look like just the thing for a strong tincture. Don’t forget heavy gloves when foraging for the fierce things!

tincture © elisa rathje 2011

I filtered out the dried nettles, which had had a good long infusion in alcohol, and poured the infusion over the fresh leaves. Sort of a double infusion, nearly. I had to add a bit more vodka to cover. Now I’m shaking the jar daily, and will probably do this for a good month before straining off, bottling, and using my nettle tincture. A dropperful will be perfect when I haven’t had time to make the infusions from the dry leaves that the children like so much, and when I just need a little bit extra to escape autumn colds. We’re having a bit of a summer revival this week, so that all feels like a long time off! Next I’m hoping to find enough rosehips for a few bottles of cordial, to store away with our winter remedies.

apothecary

One day, during my summer in Vancouver, I went to study a bit of herbology at the local apothecary. Gaia Garden Apothecary has a devoted following of those who want to understand old knowledge and natural remedies, who like knowing exactly what’s gone into their medicine. The apothecary works like a compounding pharmacy, preparing creams, tinctures and herbal formulas.

apothecary © elisa rathje 2011

I love the tradition of treating yourself or your family for everyday illnesses, making sure you have a good kit, or at least know where to find wild herbs safely. In Vancouver, folks wildcraft lemon balm, horsetail, plaintain, shepherd’s purse, yellow dock, red clover, nettles, red raspberry, dandelions. It’s good to have the apothecary if you don’t have that knowledge or the time to gather your own herbs, if you need advice about what to take, and if you have a naturopath supporting your health who can prescribe herbal medicine. The master herbalist at Gaia has helped me so much over the years. He showed me a page in one of his favourite books, which shows all the known medicinal properties contained in ginger root. There were over three hundred!

apothecary © elisa rathje 2011

Row upon row of dried herbs, plants that have been used for thousands of years. There’s an herb room in the back where Gaia’s teas are made, and they do mail order and wholesale herbs.

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Row upon row of tinctures. These are alcohol and water extracts, one part plant material to three parts liquid. Wild cherry bark and passion flower sound delicious! The apothecary makes tincture formulas for patients, like going to a pharmacy and getting a prescription.

apothecary © elisa rathje 2011

apothecary © elisa rathje 2011

Essential oil is usually steam-distilled, and needs very special equipment. With infused oils, put the plant material in an oil base for a couple of weeks, strain and use, or you can give it a little bit of heat for a couple of days instead. I’m going to try this! Gaia would need a separate distillery for each oil, required microbial testing is far too expensive to do small batches of tincture, so they work with a company that produces oils on a much bigger scale. Besides making my own infused oils, Kathleen, my herbology teacher for the day, has inspired me to make tinctures:

If you ever wanted to make a tincture at home they’re actually really easy to make. One of the best alcohols to use is vodka, mostly because it doesn’t really have a smell of it’s own and isn’t going to interfere with the herbs you put in it. You just need a big jar, put plant material in it, pour the alcohol in so it covers the plant material. A couple of weeks, shake it every day, strain it, bottle it up, that’s it you have a tincture! Very simple really. Making tinctures like that is a method they’ve used for hundreds of years, the monks used to make digestive bitters with alcohol the same, and we’re still using those herbs, like frangelico… made as medicinals.

Fascinating that some of the infused liqueurs we have now were orginally made as medicinals. I imagine it’s fairly recently that we’ve even abandoned the idea of having alcohol in the house for medicinal purposes, especially when you didn’t have antiseptics and painkillers. Thank you to Kathleen, for showing me round the apothecary, and to everyone at Gaia Garden for welcoming me into your beautiful space. I’m so glad that you exist, supporting natural medicine.

Come and see my first tincture. If you’d like a look at what I have in the works for the future, don’t miss the postcards! Sign up for appleturnover’s first newsletter, out for the equinox this week.

cherry liqueur

Last summer I had the good sense to put some cherries in a jar, tip in some sugar, and cover the lot with vodka before I left for England.

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Summer in a jar. Those cherries infused all year long til I returned to Canada in late spring, and broke open the jar to share some homemade cherry liqueur with my friend Tamara. A tipply tea party.
cherry liqueur © elisa rathje 2011
In celebration of another lovely visit with family here (though summer did take its time arriving), we poured a glass all around to say goodbye.
cherry liqueur © elisa rathje 2011
All the booze is in the fruit, a pair of cherries will set me a little drunk. Perhaps not the best state for packing the suitcases. I’ll be in England with my sweetheart before long – luckily he made cherry liqueur last year too! We sipped it all through the winter, when it is particularly good with a square of dark chocolate. I soaked the last cherries in sherry come spring and abandoned them back to the pantry. I expect they’ll be quite nice this autumn. We made lots of other types of liqueur and we’ll have to do it all over again this year.