cider vinegar

A bottle of leftover apple cider travelled with us from a flat in London we’d stayed in at the end of summer, to our cottage in the countryside. I brought it home to subject it to a science experiment. After several unsuccessful experiments using leftover wine and even the elderberry seeds left from summer’s cordial-making, I’m ever so pleased to have pulled off my own homemade vinegar.

apple cider vinegar © elisa rathje 2012

Apple cider fermenting on the mother from an older bottle of unpasteurised vinegar, exposed to wild yeasts in the air, protected by a cheesecloth.

apple cider vinegar © elisa rathje 2012

I cleaned the jar well and poured the cider over the mother, gave it a spoonful of sugar to begin with (probably an unnecessary step) and stirred it now and then, where it rested on the kitchen counter, otherwise covered by the cheesecloth. I waited throughout autumn, a bit nervously, and tasted it in the first days of winter. Glorious – just a beautiful flavour. I’ll decant the cider vinegar into a bottle, and use it in the kitchen, I love it in salad dressings particularly. Or you know, as a hair tonic. My mistake, previously, was not to have used a wide-mouthed crock or jar, the process needs air! I’m inspired to try making red wine vinegar and fruit vinegars next, using the mother from this batch to give it a good start. Do you make vinegar?

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.


Firstly roughly chop fruit.


They go into a ‘scratter’ (crusher).


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


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


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


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).


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.

baking apple-turnovers

To celebrate a year of homemade stories, I bring you appleturnover‘s original homemade story.

A dozen years ago, when I was pregnant with our first child, I made up a little song to hum to my sweetheart when I very much wanted him to visit Fratelli Bakery and bring me one of their glorious apple turnovers. It is a small but effective song. I may hum it for you sometime. When we collected the family together to tell them we were having a baby, we brought a box of those apple turnovers to have with tea. When I began to think about writing homemade stories, our little child would sing my appleturnover song and it seemed to fit my project ever so well. So appleturnover began.

I was beside myself with joy when Fratelli‘s delightful owner, Marco Cornale, welcomed me into his family bakery this summer to teach me how to make the apple turnovers I’d fallen in love with. Beside myself! Dancing! Singing!

baking with marco © janis nicolay 2011

I brought along my friend, the talented photographer Janis Nicolay, who shares a passion for baking. We were both in heaven.

baker © janis nicolay 2011

We made two kinds of turnovers. Yes, these are cherry turnovers, however they are gorgeous, and will demonstrate the traditional turnover. Fratelli makes so many turnovers, they had someone build a pastry cutter in the perfect shape, but you could achieve the same effect by pressing a large, clean tin can.

eggwash © janis nicolay 2011

Marco showed me how to paint a half-circle of beaten egg along the edge of the turnovers.

eggwash  © janis nicolay 2011

Simple pleasures.

cherry fold © janis nicolay 2011

Then we folded the pastry over to meet the opposite edge, tucking up the filling.

cherry © janis nicolay 2011

Press with a couple of fingertips starting at the middle and working each hand out toward the fold, the index finger pressing firmly into the spot the middle finger was last in, then work back down to the center again. That’s good.

snip the turnover © janis nicolay 2011

Now, the scissors.

fratelli snipping © janis nicolay 2011

Make a vent, as you would for a pie, with a couple of snips, to allow the heat to escape without blowing up your turnover. That would be tragic.

roller © janis nicolay 2011

Next we made the apple cream turnover, a slightly different style, the one I fell for. I’ll be rolling out my pastry with my best pin at home, as the family used to at Fratelli. Now they use a wonderful, simple hand-operated machine that rolls their dough out perfectly, back and forth til it’s the right thickness.

floured © janis nicolay 2011

The pastry chef showed us how she flours the dough a little,

rolled © janis nicolay 2011

And rolls it onto a baton, amazing. Then she simply lifts it onto their beautiful work table and unrolls it like a scroll.

cutter © janis nicolay 2011

We needed squares, and lots of them, so first Marco cut one way, setting the blade into the last cut edge to align it,

cutter © janis nicolay 2011

Then sliced again at a right angle. I’ve been eyeing my pizza cutter to see if it will be up for the job.

custard © janis nicolay 2011

Now you need the custard. I really must acquire a pastry bag like this. It looks easy but it takes some practice. Make a diagonal stripe of custard. (At home I’ll use a spoon! Or snip off the corner of a bag, perhaps.)

apple © janis nicolay 2011

On top of the custard, add a stripe of the apple filling. Oh yes.

appleturnovers © janis nicolay 2011

So wonderful, a dream, to see how these are made. The bakers are so much fun.

egg © janis nicolay 2011

Find the egg and brush again, but this time just paint a bit across a corner.

pinch © janis nicolay 2011

Fold a bit of one corner over the other, and give it a great firm pinch. That’s right.

turnovers © janis nicolay 2011

There they are, apple cream turnovers all in a row, ready to bake, magnificent.

chef © janis nicolay 2011

The pastry chef was so sweet to us. It’s absolutely enchanting to be in that bakery. Marco’s wonderful mother and one of his daughters were there helping out, everyone is ever so friendly and received us with astonishing warmth.

teatime © janis nicolay 2011

Marco sent us home with turnovers to bake fresh for our families. Rapture! Then my little girls did a happy dance of their own!

marco © janis nicolay 2011

If you happen to be in Vancouver, it’s best to get over to Fratelli Bakery
early in the day for an apple turnover. If you’re not, you can bake them yourself! Send me a note and I’ll send you the recipe! Thank you to Marco and everyone at Fratelli, for such an experience, and to Janis, for the beautiful photographs. You can follow her over at Pinecone Camp.

Thanks ever so much to my sweetheart and our family for such devoted support this year, all my love and gratitude. I’m so looking forward to learning more about traditional skills in the kitchen garden, good old fashioned handcrafted ways of making things, and tried & true objects.


While I was at River Cottage this week I spotted a pair of bottles in the corner of the barn.


Steve Lamb tells me they are demijohns, fermenting apple juice, pressed from the farm’s orchard, into apple cider. They’re fitted with fermentation locks, and I think they’re gorgeous. I’m quite sure he said that the bottles are at two different stages of the fermenting process. I would love to try this kind of brew. I’ve tried making elderflower champagne. I aspire to make ginger beer, dandelion & burdock, and mead one day too. There are so many things I would like to do, but after such an exhilarating, dizzying week studying at River Cottage, I need a very quiet weekend.

apple picking

There is an old apple tree in Granny’s garden. Today the little children gathered up the windfalls.





I lifted the little one as high as I could reach to pluck a few in the higher branches. The tall one climbed into the tree and I showed her how to cup an apple and tip it to the side to see if it is ready to pick. We liked watching Alÿs Fowler do that on The Edible Garden, which was made somewhere nearby in a similar back garden. So pleasing.


We’re home in London now, and spent the afternoon digging up some beloved plants of ours to take with us on our move to the countryside. The apples join some rosehips and sloeberries that our dear friend foraged for us, and a few quince and the neglected pumpkins are all waiting to be preserved.