Over the weekend we drove through beautiful countryside to visit a dear friend, Catherine, who is a brewer in a local pub. She’s taught me about hops and coppers, carmelised barleys and the whole alchemy – we will tell you the story sometime! We took a walk along miller’s streams in the Worthies, pottered about the vintage market in Winchester, and shared a gorgeous meal at a pub with an enviable potager in West Meon. The last afternoon we looked round the astonishing Petworth House. Its galleries, architecture and park are all quite incredible, but it’s the kitchens that I adore.

copper pots at petworth © elisa rathje 2012

The kitchens boast a copper batterie de cuisine of a thousand pieces. I believe them. Copperware all over. There are fascinating relics preserved by the National Trust in every room, the scullery, the pastry room, the larder, the servants quarters. You’ll know by now that I was in heaven. I can only imagine the dinner parties that were thrown in such a place, a shame Turner didn’t paint those too. Petworth has a gorgeous park, one cannot blame him for painting outside.

Now I must go look at the kitchen being spring cleaned.

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.

elderflower champagne

We’ve bottled up our annual elderflower brew. It’s remarkable how much easier it is when you’ve tried it even once before.


While the girls were out gathering flowers, I got started. Elderflowers won’t keep!


I followed a slightly different recipe that I discovered last year after some anxious research.


Dissolve about a kilo and a half of sugar in eight pints of water, and let it cool.

© elisa rathje 2011

Slice a couple of lemons, choose seven or eight of your freshest elderflowers and clear off any insects (have a good shake outside!), measure a couple of tablespoons of white wine vinegar, and throw it all in the cooled sugar solution.

© elisa rathje 2011

I covered the brew with a few layers of cheesecloth, and left it for 24 hours. Some folks say to keep it longer, til it bubbles, and others say it won’t bubble til it is bottled. Oh dear. We’re trying the 24 hour version.

It does smell gorgeous, there should be a perfume. I sterilised my bottles in the dishwasher. You want very strong flip-top bottles intended for bottling under pressure, or you may have an explosion!

© elisa rathje 2011

After scalding a ladle, funnel, and mesh bag, I filled the bottles.



p>They are a pleasure to look at, aren’t they? I’ve stored them on a shelf with another strong shelf above, so if I do get an explosion, it will be contained. I know, how terrifying! Truly these bottles are made to hold tremendous pressure – not all flip-tops are. This elderflower champagne should be ready in a couple of weeks, but I’ll uncork it for my reunion with my sweetheart, on our return to the old country cottage.

making elderflower champagne

The elderflower cordial and elderflower honey we made gave us a little more confidence, so on a dry morning little girls and I gathered lots of elderflower and set about making elderflower champagne. Our first brew. I was awfully nervous and checked many resources, before and after. We didn’t work from the following recipe, but I wish we had.

  • 1 gallon hot water
  • 1 1/2lbs white sugar
  • 7 heads of elderflowers
  • 2 lemons, sliced thinly
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar

“Dissolve sugar in water, and leave to get cold; add lemons, flowers and vinegar. Cover loosely with a tea towel and leave for 24 hours. Strain and bottle, try after a fortnight.”

elderflower brew

Sterile, swing-top brewing bottles are best for all the bubbling pressure. After a few weeks my sweetheart and I tried the little bottles, hmmm, nice enough, but I suspect messing about with a recipe that said it would get fizzy before bottling may have made it a little less nice. Elderflower has wild yeasts on the blossoms, so you needn’t add yeast. Oops. When we break open the large bottle we’ll see if it is any better, but next year I shall trust in this recipe! Did you grow up with home brews? What kind? I would love to make ginger beer, and dandelion & burdock. Soon! Someday!

elderflower champagne