Sunday, August 28, 2011

House Amber Ale Tasting

So I brewed ten gallons of this stuff about 5 months back. It primaried in a massive 15 gallon hdpe barrel and I bottled it all with the help of Abrial- with whom sanitizing and filling became a joy. (perhaps it was just nice to have help for once.

Grain Bill:

14 Pounds Canadian 2 Row
4 Pounds Canadian Munich Malt
5 Pounds Crystal 30L Canadian Malt

2 Ounces Cascade Whole Leaf Hops @ 60 Minutes
2 Ounces Cascade Whole Lead Hops @ 5 Minutes
1 Ounce Cascade Whole Leaf Hops @ Flameout

Note: The bitterness is there( which I like because this beer is quite malty) but I should have dry hopped it for a few days as well.

Yeast: I used US-05. Its a good all around yeast that ferments out pretty clean.

Fermentation Schedule: Fermented at Room temperature - about 62 degrees - for two weeks.

Mash Schedule:

Single Infusion to mash at 153 for 60 minutes

Sparge at 172 for 20 minutes

Appearance: The beer pours a nice red amber color with about three fingers of foamy head that dissipates within a few minutes. Carbonation is a bit over where I want it, my fault as I primed with a bit too much dextrose. As long as you pour immediately after opening and into a large enough glass its not an issue.

Taste: This is one of the better mainstream style beers I have made. Usually I tend toward the saison and Belgian direction but this is great on a hot summer night. Its malty and crisp with enough backbone to balance out the large hop additions. Its very drinkable and the carbonation plays nicely with fuller body.

Nose: nice smell of cascades, malty and somewhat yeasty- yeasty in a good way but I would prefer it without, probably because I didn't cold crash this one. It was before I had the ability to coldcrash- before acquiring a freezer and a fridge for "extra food". I think willow saw right through that ploy.

I have about 1.5 cases of this stuff left, and while I wait to get all the parts for my keezer I will be milking the bottled beer I have and letting some of the bigger beers I made age out - many of them still have that high alcohol rocket fuel taste that big beers have for the first few months.

On that note I think I need to make some smaller beers soon.

Fruit Press Basket Complete

So I went out and bought a can of Watco Butcher block sealer for my wood press components. I put about 5 coats of this stuff on the basket and press plate. it looks great and now I can be assured the basket will last a long long time. The tin says to wait 72 hours before using the sealed wooden object so I can finally use it tomorrow.
Willow checked our grapes tonight during our pre dinner tennis excursion and they are sweet and so dark they look black. Tomorrow is the day to pick them. I think I am going to make a nice big red wine and maybe a second wine with the leftover skins to use as a table wine or a cooking wine. I have a lot of bottles to fill. Thank goodness I bought an Italian floor corker.

Unfortunately, like many of you, my lovely children are going to school tomorrow so I will lose my able but not always willing outdoor servants and child watchers. This will make picking fruit much more difficult. This means that they will get up early- 6 am, and come home around 2:30 pm. Over the summer their schedule was more like get up at 9 and go to bed at 10:30 or 11 with a possible nap in between- and these are 11 year olds. I finally got some better family photos last week after everything greened back up and before the Irene rain dumping from the last few days.
 In the photo above: Rylan in red, Finn, Abrial, Jalene holding Maelle
The obvious addition here is willow.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New Cider press basket

I picked up this basket today, it cost 75 bucks and came with a press plate and a bunch of spacers for pressing. I need some butcher block oil and I will get it finished so I can press my grapes in a few days. for scale there is a nice frosty mug of Apfelwein - the mug is a very tall two pint mug. The basket is 12 inches in diameter.

the quality is great, I feel as though I could stand on top of it and it would be just fine - in fact the guy that made it for me made it last night on really short notice and told me I could stand on it.

His stuff was sturdy and well made, plus I got to pick it up so I didn't have to pay for shipping - saved me about 25 dollars.

here is his artfire website, this is a plug for his stuff because he sold me something that was well made and couldn't have been nicer. He even had two border collie crosses that wanted to fetch a ball and get constant attention so I got some dog time while I was there.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cider Pressing Matter

Over the last year I have plotted and schemed trying to justify buying a cider press. I found someone locally that makes and sells them but the prices are high: around 300 dollars if I remember correctly. Shopping craigslist and the local classifieds brought up a handful of fully functional antique presses for around 500 to 1000 dollars. Clearly I had to do something else.

So two days ago Willow took all the kids except Rylan to some kind of gathering and I decided to build something.

After scowering the web I found many people using scissor car jacks and 4 or 8 ton hydraulic jacks. Luckily I bought a 4 ton hydraulic jack at Harbor Freight a few weeks before.

The plan, as it sits, is to gather apples either from our back yard of to buy bushels of seconds from a local orchard and use those. They will be cored and pulverized into an applesauce like product, placed into a nylon mesh bag and pressed using the jack and some bucket sized plywood circles.

I had planned on sanding and varnishing everything with food grade wood varnish but then my laziness took over and I made a snap decision not to do it. Instead I plan on placing food grade plastic on everything that the apples/cider will touch. this way I can simply add plastic when the press is in use then throw it away when we are done.

I checked out apples today and they are about two weeks from ripe so I went and bought some drops from a local place. Three bushels got me almost three gallons of cider, even though my process was very inneffecient. It tastes great and the kids liked it. I contacted a local guy about making me a proper basket for the press, I need to cut a few more pressing disks and I need to find some material that will let me create the cheeses and have them stay where I want them.

If you research the term " pulpmaster" you will find a delightful product sold in the UK, I couldn't find it here in the states) that works to chop apples in a way that might work better than my blender idea. I bought a few things at the hardware store today and will be making one for myself over the next few days.
Our grapes are almost ripe as well, and hopefully this press can do double duty as a grape press. Two years ago we picked 120 pounds of grapes but being novices we picked them too early and got slightly tart grapes. This year I am going to wait until the birds start eating them and then pick them, as I was instructed to do by many an internet sage.

The video I made of the press seems to be to large to load, even after letting the page sit unattended overnight. So I will post it to youtube and set it up here in the future.

In the video above I stated I used three bushels of apples, looking at what a bushel is I realized what I bought were half bushels.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Grap-felwein experiment #1

So I bought a surplus of apple juice at a local bent and dent and set about making a prodigious amount of booze from it.

5 gallons of anything sounds like an awful lot but really that only fills about 2 cases of beer bottles plus a few more. So out of a 5 gallon batch of anything I get around 54 twelve ounce bottles of home made hooch.

Two cases of carbonated beverage - or one 5 gallon keg - doesn't necessarily last two adults very long. Especially if those adults happen to have 5 wonderful children. In that case 5 gallons isn't nearly enough.
Here is the link to the original recipe and a lot of discussion on it.

This batch is an experiment. If you look for Apfelwein you will find a long series of posts dedicated to it on, the recipe came from a guy calling himself EdWort. This stuff is great. Willow loves it because it sits happily around 10% alcohol and takes about 1 glass to give a healthy warming feeling. More than that and its a speedtrain to giggletown. I like it carbonated but I did cork 24 wine bottles worth of the stuff about three months ago. One bottle is left and that has been promised to a currently pregnant woman who wants to drink it when she becomes unpregnant in a few weeks.

My adulteration of EdWort's recipe is as follows:

2 pounds Dextrose
3.5 gallons Apple juice - only other additives allowed are Vitamin C as it doesn't interfere with fermentation
1.5 gallons Grape juice with only Vitamin C added - I used welches and juicy juice
Yeast: I used champagne yeast because its what I had on hand

The carboy on the right is the Grapfelwein, on the left is the straight laced apfelwein.

We tend to drink ours young, I shoot for waiting at least 3 months but I hear that waiting longer is better. 

Ian's Vanilla Cinnamon Mead

So I whipped up a quick mead last night. 5 gallons of great smelling booze that should end up between 10 and 12 % alcohol. It will be a doombringer that tastes like liquid satin.

Recipe for Ian's Vanilla Cinnamon Mead
12 pounds local honey
4 whole vanilla beans
4 all spice berries
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Water to 5 gallons

Yeast: White Labs sweet Mead Yeast WLP720

I dissolved the honey in 130 degree water and added the stick and ground cinnamon and allspice. I allowed it to steep for 20 minutes before racking into a carboy leaving the cinnamon stick and allspice berries behind.

Racked into carboy and added 4 vanilla beans and filled to 5 gallon mark with cool water.

Pitched starter of WLP720 and yeast nutrient and yeast energizer according to the directions on the bottle.

It should ferment out within a few months and in 6 months should be ready for drinking. maybe even before that. Mead usually takes a little while to clear out and for all the flavors to meld appropriately.

The carboy is shaped oddly because after a really long brew day- I think it was 1 AM, I didn't chill my wort and just poured into a carboy(rookie mistake), it mushroomed like this but it still works - just holds 5 gallons instead of 6.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Garden Bed Experiment: Hugelkultur

It really is quite fun to say: hugulkultur - its a fancy way of saying a raised garden bed that is made by putting down dead wood- preferably rotten - covering it with upside down sod, leaves, dead grass, compost and a layer of topsoil.

Pennsylvania has nice spring and fall seasons- winter is grey and cold with little snow and summers start off nice and end up with arid desert like conditions. This is what brought me to this idea. Hugelkultur is a type of permaculture bed design that provides massive amounts of nutrients and water in times of drought and dry weather. The wood breaks down releasing nutrients to the plants and it absorbs massive amounts of water during rainy periods which is released back into the soil when the plants need it most.

So since I had some beds that dried out really quickly I decided to create my own version of this gardening style. I started by digging out the beds and throwing the topsoil and other stuff onto a tarp in a path. I stopped digging when I was tired of digging...which didn't take very long. Then I put down a few logs, branches, and sticks I had lying about and a thick layer of maple wood chips that had a large population of angry ants. On top of that went another thick layer of mushroom mulch and on top of that will go the top soil I removed.
Here you can see that about 2/3 of the way through the digging I decided to pull some old broccoli and add it to the mix. At this point I raked it all out then started adding layers of wood

Finn decided he wanted to hit tennis balls at me.

 Finn and Abrial dragging some branches that fell during our last wind storm. In the second picture I think Finn looks as if he is driving a mule.

It's messy and there are some Swiss Chard plants that I allowed to live but the bed is taking shape. I covered the wood scraps with wood chips then covered that with mushroom mulch. Tonight after the temperature goes down this evening I am going to cover it with the top soil I removed and give the entire thing a healthy soaking. Hugelkultur beds are supposed to be mounds, but mine is more of a somewhat rounded pile. I hope it works as I really miss having greens and I bet garlic would do great in this kind of bed.

When we started out gardening we build eight 4x8 foot beds out of rough hewn hemlock and filled them with turned sod and mushroom compost. They tend to dry out quickly but we have tried amending them with grass clippings, leaves, and other compost. This is my attempt to see if hugelkultur is something that could work on a large scale and work for us when we put in a more permanent garden.

Fresh Tomato Ketchup

Fresh Tomato Ketchup

We used Romas because we had lots of them and I thought they would make a great ketchup. and they did.

3 lbs. ripe tomatoes
1 Medium Onion Chopped
4 Cloves of Garlic Chopped
1/4 cup Brown Sugar/Honey
1 Tbs Dry Mustard
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1.5 Cups Apple Cider Vinegar
1 heaping tsp of cayenne pepper - add less if you like it less spicy

This is the basic recipe we used, we threw the entire tomato, minus the stem into the vitamix. Yes, I included seeds and skins. After much internet perusing I found many references to the nutritional and taste benefits found in the skins and seeds of tomatoes, so I decided to be super lazy and benefit my family by doing nothing other than pulverizing the Betelgeuse out of them.  we made a huge batch- starting off with 24 pounds of Romas and adjusting this basic recipe from there.

The picture below is after the tomatoes and spices have cooked down for about 4 hours with constant stirring- be sure to keep it moving so it doesn't stick. When it has reached this wonderfully thick consistency - imagine what you want your ketchup to be like then boil it down until you get there, take it off the burner and process your canning jars in a standard water bath. We added 1 tbs of lemon juice per pint and filled them up to about 1/2 inch from the lip of the jars. Immerse in the water  bath canner and boil for 30 minutes. I usually have a great deal of luck with my jars sealing, but this time two didn't seal. they went into the fridge and one is already gone.

I ran ours through the vitamix again just to make sure everything was pulverized and the consistency was right.

I believe, if memory serves, we got 17 pints of delicious home made ketchup out of 24 odd pounds of fresh tomatoes. We don't really use ketchup in our house, mostly because of the nasty crap that goes into the manufacturing process- HFCS, lots of sugars, Dyes, etc. With this ketchup though, and the kids like it quite a bit, I don't feel bad giving it to them for a condiment.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fall Greens

So this summer has been a bit of a disappointment as far as rain goes. Early summer was great, we got rain all the time and we hardly had to water at all- which is good because we suck at watering our plants -but mid and late summer have been very very dry. Even weeds are having problems growing and the grass has been fried by the sun to the point where if I walk outside without shoes I come back in with sooty looking feet.

This week brought rain, and lots of it. Our rain tank was full and the grass has started to green up again. Yesterday we cleaned out our two kitchen garden raised beds and planted lots and lots of leafy greens. Maelle helped while Finn was taking a nap, she decided the hose was of the greatest interest and at one point thought her four might misaligned teeth could chomp through it.

We tried to get baby Maelle to let us plant more, placating her with an empty seed packet. Willow had given her one before this one which she thought was empty, turns out it wasn't and we ended up cleaning up lots of seeds. I found the best method, by the way, is not to pick them up individually, but instead it is to wet your hands and press them down onto the seeds making them stick. then just shake all your seeds onto the soil and everyone wins.
 We also found some really pretty little peppers while adding more compost, unfortunately I was weeding and pulled them out, oh well they make for a nice picture.
 You can see some of our sunflowers, we get these pretty little yellow birds that I am almost 100% sure are Goldfinches. They love the seeds and are often seen peering into our back windows. Willow claims she could never grow sunflowers before, apparently that curse has been broken. They look a little sad but our recent rain is perking them back up. They smell great too.
Spinach, Lettuces, other stuff I forget but Willow remembers. It all went in on top of a new layer of nice dark mushroom mulch which I promptly soaked over and over again. Willows instructions were : Keep this wet all the time.

I'm really looking forward to having garden greens again, the harsh summer meant all of our lettuce bolted or turned so peppery it was inedible.

Fresh Pumpkins: I'm canning them.

I spotted them through the early morning mists. A herd of lumbering giants bright against a drab scorched earth. These monsters won't hesitate to show you their defenses- tiny spines along their necks- and they drive fear into the heart of even seasoned foragers. What do I do with these things? Where did they come from? But most importantly: How does one go about killing one of these? a herd?

These particular pumpkins have assumed a defensive posture; encircling their youngster in protect it. Out of fear I take the biggest one, lop off its head and carve it up while the others watch. It makes the others still waiting better behaved and lets me get more pumpkin seeds for delicious dried pumpkin seeds. Next post? Delicious dried pumpkin seeds.

Search the internet and you will find that the USDA doesn't suggest canning puree as a good idea. They warn against it. I found post after post of people canning pumpkin and not dying or going to the hospital. Besides, a pressure canner is as close to an autoclave as I presently have so its got to do. If a microorganism can survive 1.5 hours in a canner at 15 pounds of pressure then it deserves to live and I deserve to get food poisoning for not listening to the USDA, the same organization that allows slaughter houses to use bleach on the food sold to citizens and banned soft cheeses because it could possibly hurt someone. Forgive me if I don't put all my eggs in the USDA's basket - oh yeah, USDA inspected eggs have caused salmonella and e coli outbreaks too. hmmm. okay, no more ranting.

My weapons are simple:
My iron will, a razor sharp Butchers Scimitar and a 400 degree oven.

Their weapons:
Painful spines, an 8 on the Mohs hardness scale, and I am starting to suspect from the way they are surrounding their young that they know I am a big giant softy.

 First place your pumpkin on a flat secure surface. They are hard and you have to use a bit of force to take the top off. Be careful here as the pumpkin can roll and that knife is sharp.
 Dissect the specimen from the top down.
 The two halves are full of goo and seeds, grab your favorite spoon and scoop them out. I always resort to using my hands

Below the others watch as the Alpha Male Pumpkin sits awaiting the scoop.

To minimize cleanup I used one big roaster pan

Place these in a 400 degree oven on the middle rack and wait. For me it took about an hour for the pumpkin to become soft enough to scrape the skin off.

That's what I planned on doing anyway, and I even peeled one piece - it was still hot and I singed my fingers a bit. That made me think: how can I do this in a lazier way?


We long ago learned that if you want something to work well and work for a long time you have to buy something well made and with a great reputation. The vita-mix blender is all of those things and more.( I promise I don't get kickbacks or anything). When we buy something we expect it to perform as it should, its the same reason we make most of our own food; if your going to spend your money or time you should get something good out of it. We paid a bit under full retail because we bought it during some kind of sale period and its become a highly used gadget in our kitchen.

So, I was going to skin the pumpkin but instead I didn't. Instead I crammed the blender full of baked pumpkin chunks and cranked the dial to 11( it really only goes to 10 but there is a super high powered turbo switch). The blender chews through anything, and it obliterated the pumpkin skin and made a lovely looking orange pumpkin colored puree, along with a nice four leafed clover shape. Slightly messy? yeah. much easier? yeah.

It's easy to clean as well, rinse out and add some water and some dish soap then turn on high for a minute and the inside is clean. Also, yes there is pumpkin puree on the wall outlet in the background
5 Quarts of puree. Yay!
I ended up with 6 quarts of puree, one of which I asked willow to use me to bake me a pumpkin pie because I love pumpkin pies. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Will it fit? Freezer edition.

I just answered a question that has been with me since birth:

Will a 26 cubic foot freezer fit into the back of a 1997 Jeep Cherokee?

Answer: More or Less.

Question: Will a 26 cubic foot freezer fit into a Jeep Cherokee while still allowing me to drive whilst not looking like a complete pud?

Answer: No, I looked like a pud.

I am not a small man...6'2 and 208 pounds as of this morning. The seats are normally positioned all the way back and not just so I can hear the anguished screams of one of  my passengers as the seat rests  on their knees. Instead its because as a plus sized man I require plus sized room. Really I just have the seats where it seems most comfortable and allows me to drive without looking like a very tall Simpsons character in a certain small automobile.

The freezer fit, and while I had to load it myself the drive home was uneventful despite the back hatch being held down with tie downs and my seat being so far forward that my knees have dents in them.

to what end did I bring home this beast? well I want to stuff it full of beer and put it in my living room of course. As an ever evolving avid home-brewer and husband to a far too accepting wife I continue to get deeper into the hobby of making alcoholic beverages. I acquired 13 five gallon soda kegs, enough for a lot of beer. Which is good because I have a lot of malted barley which is good because I have a lot of carboys and fermenters which is good because I love good beer which is because I have 5 kids.

It will become a KEEZER. A freezer modified to chill to above freezing temperatures and it will be glorious. I had planned on adding it to our kitchen as a way to expand counter space. I know what you're thinking: Ian there is no counter space in freezers! its like buying real-estate in a housing boom- it only ends in divorce and sadness. But no I say, I will build a custom cabinet for it and a massive butcher block counter top to fit onto it, greatly increasing our counter space. It would have been useful and beautiful. but Alas the kitchen cannot accept a gift of such girth. If only we could get rid of the stove....

much of my inspiration will come from where many before me have devoted time and energy( and a little cash) to creating things that eject cold beer in a pleasing manner. see the link here:

After leafing through that post I got some ideas and now just have to slowly build the beast.

I will add updates as my progress continues. It will live in the garage for now...but soon.....

I just started cleaning out the Beast and here is the first photo.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Finn from the 70's

So I played "hit the fallen apples with a bat" with Finn tonight while Willow tried to get baby Maelle back to sleep. I took some cell phone pictures of our blonde wunderkind and my rooted android phone decided to go into super fantastic 1970's camera mode. They look like old Polaroids. yay me I feel all ironic.

Sun Dried Summer

This bowl full of dehydrated tomatoes is our attempt at introducing summer to crisp autumn days and cold winter nights. Will eating these bring back summer? No more so than downing a few strong beers makes me a better dancer...well it might but pictures of that could well lead to divorce.  What these beauties will do is add a sweet tangy flavor to pasta sauces, pizza, and out of season caprese salads.  They will help avoid the bland store bought dried tomatoes covered in chemicals and give us an excuse to plant more tomatoes next spring.

These Roma and Kellogs Breakfast tomatoes were sweet and juicy when they were picked and it took about 10 hours in the dehydrator to turn them into leathery tomato goodness. The price for these in the store is pretty high, and while what you get might satisfy your needs they are nothing like what you can make yourself.  Ignoring the amount of work that goes into planting and maintaining a garden, or more likely trying your best to erase from memory long days of tilling and planting, its a slightly cheaper option but a far more fulfilling one.

Sun Dried Tomatoes Packed In Olive Oil


5 pounds Tomatoes - we used mostly Romas but any kind will work
2 cups white vinegar
1 Head of Garlic


3 Pint Jars
Canning Lids and Rims
Jar lifter
Hot pads

Prep Work:
To prepare the tomatoes cut them into either thick slices( I did 1/2 inch slices when using tomatoes other than romas) for paste type tomatoes like Romas I just cut them lengthwise in half. Place on dehydrator drying racks so that none of the slices are touching each other. Dehydrate for 6 to 12 hours at 140 degrees F or until tomatoes feel like leather but can still be bent without them cracking.

Canning in Olive Oil
All I hear about canning tomatoes in oil is botulism botulism botulism, but after the process I prescribe you should have no problems whatsoever.

Using a pressure cooker or canning pot sanitize your pint jars, remove to a cutting board to await filling.

Remove your now wonderfully dried tomatoes from your dehydrator and set aside. Grab a medium sized sauce pot and turn the heat on high. Add your white vinegar and wait for it to boil. The idea here is that you are hitting your soon to be canned sun dried tomatoes with the first two of three anti microbial/anti-fungal steps. when the vinegar reaches a boil start giving small batches of your tomatoes a quick dip.  just a few seconds in the boiling vinegar is all you need, to long and the tomatoes will start to absorb too much of the liquid. Pull your tomatoes out of the vinegar, I found using a spider skimmer worked well to get them out quickly. place your tomatoes into a bowl and continue immersing and removing the remaining tomatoes until all have been treated in the vinegar solution.

Place 1 clove of garlic in each pint jar and then stuff as many of the dried tomatoes into the jars as you can. I left about an inch of head space in each of the jars so I had room to get all the air pockets out later on. Now add the olive oil to the jars very slowly. The oil will get into the nooks and crannies pretty well but you will have to shift the tomatoes around either with a fancy canning tool or with a butter knife- my weapon of choice. Work the tomatoes around until no more bubbles float up then top up the jar with oil until there is about 1/2 and inch of air between the oil and the top.  Continue in this way until you run out of jars or tomatoes. Next place the lids and rings on your jars and tighten the rings until the are just barely snug on the jar. Place in your canning pot and bring to a boil. Boil for 30 minutes then remove and wait for that delightfully satisfying pop as your jars seal and all your hard work is done.

Allow the jars to sit for at least 24 hours to make sure the lids have seated properly then store somewhere until your curiosity gets the better of you and you have to open them. Just don't eat them all with a fork while murmuring the word precious and hissing at anyone who tries to take them from you.

Anyone for Tennis and Tomatoes?

Today was the first cooler day we have had in quite a while. My phone tells me that today the mercury has only risen to 80 degrees and there are several dire looking warning symbols along the top telling me to expect rain. I remain skeptical as I've been lied to in the past. Looking behind our house I see a dull gray sky and looking further west I see something that looks as if it could be an approaching storm. Lets see if nature sees fit to water our plants, as we are remiss in doing so quite often. 

Despite our garden neglect we got a pretty good haul of tomatoes this year. We planted 27 tomato plants ranging from Cherokee Purple to Black Cherry( my personal favorite cherry tomato) Romas and Sungold. Willow is in charge of ordering plants in the winter so we got a bunch of neat seedlings shipped promptly in the late spring.

Finn, our 2 year old, got me outside to play tennis with him, otherwise known as lots of hitting a ball with rackets while I try to pick vegetables and hang /unhang laundry. Todays haul: 19 Roma tomatoes and 2 Ox Heart tomatoes. There are a lot more out there but that was what I could fit into the pockets of my shorts while avoiding a tennis ball pummeling.

What will they become? Tonight's dinner most likely. although we have already made ketchup, sauce, and paste. As well as about 8 pints of dehydrated Sun Dried tomatoes.