Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


Peach Wine In Memoriam

We are gathered here today in remembrance of Peach Wine. We watched her birth and development with loving anticipation, but unfortunately we weren’t able to see her mature into adulthood. She was taken from us too soon, before she could even be bottled.

With a few precious moments of free time, I decided to try and bottle my Peach Wine. As soon as I picked the jug up, however, I saw something terrible: the water in the airlock had evaporated down past the point where a seal could be maintained. The wine had been open to the air, for how long I do not know.

I went through the motions anyway. I tossed in a campden tablet and stabilized with some potassium sorbate, and did some tests with backsweetening to see if it could be salvaged. Unfortunately it was too far gone and the whole batch needed to be tossed. The off-flavors were severe, a mixture of paint thinner and rubbing alcohol. It tasted bitter and miserable. So, it’s gone now.

I’ll definitely do another batch this year, as soon as the early peaches come in at the orchard I’ll snatch up a bunch and start another batch of wine with them. I’ll be sure to keep a much closer eye on the airlock this time.

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Tart Cherry Wine: Bottled

My Tart Cherry Wine was all done bulk aging, so I stabilized, back-sweetened, and put it into bottles.



(Yes, that one bottle on the left uses a regular cork and no, I still don’t own a corker. I found a good synthetic cork from our collection of old corks, sterilized it, and jammed it in there by hand. I’ll drink that one up first.)


  • Pitched: 30 June 2014
  • Secondary:  13 July 2014
  • Tertiary: 12 August 2014
  • Stabilized and degas: 21 November 2014
  • Backsweetened and Bottled: 28 Nov 2014

Stabilizing and Backsweetening

I stabilized this batch with a campden tablet and potassium sorbate, as recommended on the respective packages.

To backsweeten, I took 2/3 cup sugar and 2/3 cup water and brought to a boil to make a simple syrup. I stirred in the syrup until it got to a sweetness and taste that was to my liking (just about all of it).

Final Tasting Results

I tasted it before backsweetening, and surprisingly it tasted quite a lot like a dry red wine like you might buy at a store. The level of tannin and dryness struck me as very similar to something like a merlot. However, what I could not taste much of was the cherries. I decided to sweeten the wine to both decrease the dryness (which I typically do not enjoy) and try to bring out the cherry flavor.

With the sugar syrup added it is much sweeter, and does taste more like cherries. Also, the syrup seems to have improved the mouthfeel of the final product considerably.

Overall now, the color of the wine is a shade darker than you might see in a White Zinfindel, just about as sweet, and has a subtle but unmistakable flavor of cherries. There are no off-flavors or any unpleasantness. This is probably the first wine I’ve made so far that I would be perfectly happy sitting down and just sipping on a glass of it through the day.

Notes for Next Time

  • Use more cherries. The cherry flavor in this one is good. It could stand to be more pronounced.
  • Try to improve mouthfeel. Adding a few handfuls of raisins should help this.
  • Acidity seems decent, but some citric acid might brighten it up a bit.

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Orange Pomegranate Wine

A quick google search for the term “Orange Pomegranate Wine” returns no relevant results. This means one of two things:

  1. I’m terrible at using Google
  2. I’m the only person in the world stupid enough to try it.

Whatever, I never let my crushing incompetence stop me from trying new things before, why would this be any different?

At the grocery store both Pomegranates and Valencia juice oranges were on sale, so I picked up a few of the poms and a big bag of the oranges. I found a recipe online that called for 10 pomegrantes for a gallon of pomegranate wine. I found another recipe that called for about the same number of oranges for a gallon of orange wine. Combining recipes and cutting in half (because I only have a half gallon jug to use) gives me this recipe:

Orange Pomegranate Wine

  • 3 Pomegranates
  • 2 cups fresh squeezed oranges
  • Zest of half an orange (with all pith painstakingly removed)
  • 1/2 cup Honey
  • White Sugar [1]
  • 1/2 tsp Yeast Nutrient
  • 1/2 tsp Pectic Enzyme
  • 1/2 Campden Tablet
  • Yeast [2]

Juice the oranges and add the juice to a stockpot. Cut open the pomegranates and remove the arils, discarding the white membranes. Add the arils to the orange juice in the stock pot, crushing as best as possible. Add the honey and zest, and bring the mixture to a boil. Let cool to room temperature.

Add the pectic enzyme, yeast nutrient and campden tablet, crushed. Stir, cover with a towel, and let sit overnight.

Uncover the bucket, fan off the fumes, and pitch the yeast. Allow to ferment until the bubbles stop. Transfer to secondary for long-term aging.


After taking this picture, I juiced the oranges and pomegranate you see in this picture, brought the juice to a boil (to sterilize), cooled it again, and used it to top off the jug. Less air in there is better, and the extra juice should improve flavor.


  1. I added about 2.5 cups of white sugar to bring the SG up to 1.090. I thought about going higher to 1.100, but decided to just stay where I was at.
  2. I used a leftover packet of Cotes Des Blancs. It seemed a little sluggish in the starter, but looks like it picked up over time.

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Honey Apple Wine

Terminology in the realm of homebrew fruit wines starts to get real complicated real quick. My most recent project is a perfect example of this. Fermented apple cider is typically called cider, though if you get the alcohol content high enough and you don’t carbonate it, the result is probably more accurate to call apple wine. Honey wine is, of course, mead. If you mix apple cider with honey and ferment it, the result is typically called cyser, though the more general term for a fruit-flavored mead is melomel.

The word “cyser” seems to me like a play on the word “cider”. So if I were making something like a cider, but used honey instead of ordinary sugar I would certainly call it a cyser. However, I pushed the starting gravity all the way up to 1.100, which is going to yield something closer to wine strength (and hopefully with plenty of residual sweetness). Since the end result I’m aiming for is not  “cider-like”, it seems funny to me to call it a “cyser”.

The name “Apple Melomel” seems like it might be a good choice, but I feel like that obscures the situation: Apple is the star of the show, highlighted with the flavor of honey. This is basically the same thing as my Caramel Apple Wine, if we replace the caramel syrup with honey instead. So, following that pattern, I’m going to call this one “Honey Apple Wine”.

Honey Apple Wine

  • Apple Cider
  • Honey [1]
  • Yeast [2]
  • Pectic Enzyme [3]
  • Yeast Nutrient

Add honey to the apple cider to bring the starting gravity to 1.100 [4]. Bring to a boil in a large pot to sterilize. Skim off foam, which can contain leftover wax and other waste products. Mix in pectic enzyme. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature (at least 1 hour).

Pitch yeast as instructed and add yeast nutrient. Move the mixture to the primary container, attach air lock. Rack to secondary when fermentation has stopped or slowed significantly.



On the left of this picture is my Caramel Apple Wine, which is a much darker, redder color and is slowly starting to clarify.


  1. I used a local clover honey.
  2. I went to the brew store looking for White Labs WLP-775 “English Cider” yeast. That was out of stock, so I picked up a packet of “Cider House Select” yeast, which seems specialized for cider but for which I can’t find any information online.
  3. This is the first batch I’ve made with pectic enzyme. I didn’t see any obvious change at pitch, but I’m expecting some improvements later to clarity.
  4. I added 2 cups of honey to the cider, boiled it, cooled it, and took a gravity reading. The intention was to use white sugar to bump up to 1.100. However, when I took the reading I was at 1.100 almost exactly, so I left it as is. It was a happy accident, but I wasn’t expecting the SG to go so high on only 2 cups of honey.

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Caramel Apple Wine

I’ve been making a bunch of fruit wines this year, but most of those are just ways for me to kill time. What I’m really excited about making is hard apple cider and apple wine, and I have a few jugs available to make several batches. I have a gallon batch of apple wine going right now, and am planning another gallon batch of hard cider soon. Whats left are my two half-gallon jugs, which are the perfect size for things which are a little bit more experimental. For the first one I decided to create a batch of Caramel Apple Wine. This recipe is for a half-gallon batch. Scaling it up should be pretty straight-forward to a point. Too much sugar in the pot will be hard to caramelize. You might need to work in batches.

The regular subscriber (and I suspect there is only one) will notice that this recipe has been heavily influenced by the Caramel Apple Jam recipe I posted a while back, and which has been a household favorite since I first made it.

Caramel Apple Wine

  • Apple Cider
  • White Sugar
  • 1/2 Tsp Vanilla Extract
  • Yeast: Cotes des Blancs
  • Starting Gravity: 1.104
  • Yeast Nutrient

Add 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water to a high-walled stockpot. Cook over medium heat, stirring only if necessary, until the sugar turns a deep brown. Add in 4 cups of apple cider and stir until all the caramelized sugar is dissolved. I didn’t let the cider come to a boil, but I don’t think it will hurt too much if you do.

Add the caramel cider and another 4 cups of cider (8 cups total) to a mixing bucket. Add enough sugar to bring the gravity up to 1.100 (for me, it was another cup). Add in vanilla extract to taste (my home-made extract is less strong than most store-bought varieties, so you may want to start smaller. A subtle vanilla flavor to compliment the caramel is all I wanted).  Funnel the must into a sterilized half-gallon jug. If there is any left over, save it for topping off after the trip to secondary.

I added 1/2 Tsp of the yeast nutrient up front. I have been using a staggered feeding schedule for some of my other brews, but for this one I added all the nutrient up front.

Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature before pitching the yeast.


 First Test

I stole my customary taste-test during the rack to secondary. The wine definitely tastes of caramel apple, though the caramel flavor is not as strong as I expected. I’ll probably do a lot of second-guessing about both the amount of caramelized sugar I used and also the amount it was caramelized. Did I let it get dark enough, or did I panic and take it off the heat too soon? Did I just not make enough?

In a few months when it’s good and ready I’ll taste it again with a definite eye towards making sure the caramel flavor is properly balanced. Maybe it will pop out more when the mixture mellows out after aging.

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Refrigerator Dill Pickles

I’ve been on a pickle kick lately, but I’m very new to the whole enterprise. For that reason, I’ve been making lots of batches of pickles with different recipes to try and learn what ingredients and proportions have what effects on the final products. This is why I made both Half-Sour and Full-Sour pickles a while back, and why I made three batches of refrigerator dill pickles too.

One milestone that I would really like to reach is to duplicate the flavor of the deli pickles we get from the local supermarket. I’m pretty sure they’re Deitz and Watson brand, and they can be found in big wood barrel displays (they’re actually in a plastic bin that sits inside the big wood barrel, but the visuals are the same). Whoever makes them and whatever they are called, I want to make them. When I figure out how to duplicate that recipe, I’ll be more willing to venture out and try all sorts of other things.

I’ve found a few recipes on the internet that looked like they might be what I am after, so I mixed and matched the recipes, and converted measurements so they are per-quart jar. Here are the general ingredients for these recipes:

  • Kirby pickling cucumbers. Usually 4-5 per quart depending on the size of the cukes and how you cut them (I cut them into spears). Make sure to remove the blossom end, to prevent softening.
  • 1 Tablespoon Kosher salt (with no preservatives or anti-caking agents)
  • Fresh Dill (to taste)
  • Peppercorns (about a half Tablespoon per jar, depending on taste)
  • Garlic
  • Other spices
  • 3 cups of distilled water (or, if not distilled, give it a good boil)
  • 1/4 cup vinegar

So all that out of the way, here are the three batches I made (from left to right, though you can see that we’ve been tasting them, they’re only half full now):


Batch 1: Simple

  • 1 clove garlic
  • Distilled white vinegar

This is a simple batch, and very tasty. For the first week they tasted unexpectedly sweet, but by the second week they were more mild. This is a simple, but good flavor. Our least favorite of the bunch, but were still pretty tasty.

Batch 2: More Complicated

  • 1 clove garlic
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • 1/2 Tablespoon whole coriander seed
  • Dash hot pepper flakes

These are probably our favorite batch of the three. The coriander makes the flavor more mellow and a little brighter. The hot pepper adds a little zing at the end, but doesn’t add much heat or flavor otherwise. Again this batch was unexpectly sweet for the first week, but after that they calmed down considerably.

Batch 3: Apple Cider Vinegar and Garlic

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 Tablespoon whole coriander seed
  • Extra Dill

I liked this batch more than Dana did. I think the extra garlic was a big help, but the apple cider vinegar is not quite as good as the white vinegar in this recipe. I would say this batch is tied for first, but Dana likes Batch 2 better.

What Next?

I like the ratio of water to vinegar. I think it’s pretty close to perfect. I will play with the ratio, of course, but I think we’re pretty close as-is.

Overall, I think if I make a fourth batch, I think I want to combine Batch 2 and Batch 3 and add a few more ingredients as well.

I’ll use the extra garlic and dill from Batch 3, but stick with the white vinegar and add some hot pepper from Batch 2. I also think I would like to add some extra spices too, like a little bit of bay leaf or mustard seed. The mustard seed, in particular, is probably a major missing ingredient. These changes to the recipe, and maybe a few tweaks to the technique, will probably get us pretty close to the flavor of the deli pickle I am looking for.

I am also considering another attempt at the Half-Sour recipe, this time with a custom spice blend instead of that problematic “Pickling Spice” I used last time. The pre-made pickling spice adds too much bitterness and off-flavor for my purposes.

In either case, we may have to wait till next year. Cucumbers are out of season now and we aren’t going to get any fresh Kirbys again until next year. Maybe I’ll plant a bush and try to grow a few myself.

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Simple Mead 2: Bottled

I bottled my Simple Mead 2. Here’s a review.



  • Pitched: 23 February 2014
  • Fed: 27 February 2014
  • Secondary: 19 March 2014
  • Bottled: 9 October 2014


You’ll notice that the process for this one was much simpler than for my first mead. The first one was racked twice, stabilized and back-sweetened before bottling. This one had a much simpler recipe and was handled much less.

I tried to degas the jug with the handle of a silicone spatula. It wasn’t an ideal tool for the job, but I think the job got done anyway. Note to self: I need to buy a proper long-handled home brew spoon, if not a specialized degas tool.

Final Tasting Results

Compared to the first batch, this one is pretty darn good. This mead finished sweet, sweeter perhaps than I expected. Where the first batch had lots of off-flavors including oxidation and vinegar notes, this one is much smoother and cleaner.

This is the batch of wine I’ve really been waiting for. It’s proof that I can make things that I like to drink, and it’s encouragement that I can do even better in the future. I’m looking forward to trying out some of my other waiting wines, and I’m really looking forward to testing this one again after it’s aged for a few more months or even a year.


I degassed the wine, didn’t back-sweeten and thought that it was pretty much dead. There were no more bubbles to be had, and no new sugar for yeast to eat. However, a few days after putting the corks in, one of my bottles shattered.


Glass and delicious honey wine everywhere. Probably about half my batch, months of work, wasted. Lame.

While I don’t know the cause for certain, I suspect it was a buildup of gas from live yeast doing yeast things. I didn’t stabilize this batch like I should have and, not wanting to pour it all out of the bottles and figure out stabilization ratios, I decided to take a different route. I took the corks out of the remaining two bottles, covered with aluminum foil, and pasteurized in a pot of water. 170+ degrees for about 20 minutes (there are other temperatures and times you can use, look it up). When the bottles cooled down, I took the foil off and put new corks in. I’m hoping that the bottles do better after this. Next time, I’ll definitely stabilize properly.

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Apple Wine

One of my favorite parts of autumn is the fresh apple cider. We’ve been lucky enough to find a local brand of it which we like very much: sweet and mild with just a little tartness and no bitterness. It tastes great but is also has another awesome feature: it contains no preservatives.

I’m not the kind of person who dislikes chemicals and preservatives on principle. In a lot of cases, preservatives are extremely important, helping to keep food items that are otherwise perishable from spoiling. But with apple cider, one of the best things about it is that it ferments. I like to leave apple cider in the fridge for a week or more, until it just starts getting some sparkle and tang to it. I also like hard cider and apple wine. I picked up a gallon of cider for fermenting (and a second gallon, just for drinking. And some apple cider donuts, just because) and decided to put together a batch.

When I see recipes for hard apple cider on the internet, I frequently see people adding in apple juice concentrate to the mix. The theory, I think, is that the concentrate is cheap, it adds sugar, and it increases the apple flavor. I already have a product like that in my fridge from last year: boiled apple cider syrup. Since the apple cider we use has very little tartness and has a mild flavor, I decided to add some of that boiled syrup to the mix as well.


Apple Wine

I’m going to leave off units of measure for this recipe, because it’s easy to scale up or down. The batch I made was 1 gallon, but all the same things apply for a 3 or 5 gallon batch as well. Since I finally own a hydrometer, I can give specific gravity readings.

  • Apple Cider [1]
  • Boiled Apple Cider Syrup [2]
  • Brown Sugar
  • Granulated Sugar
  • Yeast [3]
  • Yeast Nutrient

Start the yeast ahead of time in a small amount of cider, warmed to room temperature. Allow the yeast to hydrate and build up a bit of foam so you know it’s active.

Add the bulk of the apple cider to a bucket. Mix in the syrup and take a gravity reading with your hydrometer. Add sugar (I did half-and-half with the brown and the white) to bring the specific gravity up to 1.100. Transfer to your fermenter. Add the yeast and yeast nutrient and swirl well to mix.

When the fermentation slows down, rack to secondary and wait. I’ll post an update when we get that far. For now, as you can see, we’re still bubbling away.



  1. Use any kind of apple cider or juice that you like drinking EXCEPT it may not contain preservatives. Preservatives are chemicals that kill or control yeast (among other microbial baddies), which is exactly the opposite of what you want. There are ways to use cider which contains Potassium Sorbate, if that’s the only preservative it contains.
  2. I boiled down 1 gallon of cider to about a pint or more of syrup. From that, I used about a cup or less in this recipe for 1 gallon of cider. I probably could have added more. Keep in mind that the boiled syrup, because of the heat of making it, is going to have a different flavor profile from fresh cider. So it will add more flavor, but slightly different flavor. It’s also going to add more acid, which could be problematic if your cider is already tart. I thought about adding this to the secondary as well, but decided to try it in primary instead.
  3. I used Red Star Cotes des Blancs. This was recommended to me as a yeast which is good for fruit wines and will finish sweet. I had originally bought this for a peach wine that I thought had stuck. I also picked up my hydrometer at the same time and when I tested the peach wine I saw that it indeed had fermented out. So, I kept this packet of yeast to use for cider.

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Peach Wine

This has been a real slow summer in the kitchen and garden, for a variety of reasons. I didn’t really work on too many garden or kitchen projects this year, and I definitely haven’t been updating my blog with the few projects which I did do. Shame.

I did make a gallon batch of wine from yellow peaches, but I didn’t keep any notes about it and I didn’t jot down a draft blog post at the time either (I typically draft posts long in advance, and then forget to publish them until much later. It’s a system, just not a good one.). From the best of my notes, here is what I did:

  1. I took about 8-10 lbs of peaches, “measured” in a very haphazard way because I don’t own a food scale. I stood on our bathroom scale, and then started picking up peaches until our total weight went up by about 10lbs. Of course, the scale gives a different number every time you get on it, swinging 5lbs in either direction depending on its mood. So the real amount of peaches I used could have been much larger or much smaller.
  2. I rinsed the peaches and sliced them with skins on. I added them to a pot with some water and boiled until soft
  3. When cooled, I dumped the peaches into a bucket along with enough water to bring the total amount to 1.25 gallons
  4. I added some sugar (I think it was about 3 cups, but we will never know for certain) to the mix, yeast and yeast nutrient.

One day the fermentation was going great, and the next morning (after a relatively cold night where we had the windows open) it was dead stopped. I assumed that it was stuck because of the cold crash, so I ran down to the brew store for a packet of rescue yeast and a hydrometer. I checked the wine with the hydrometer and it was indeed finished. So, needing nothing else, I racked it to secondary.

One problem that I ran into was that the soft, cooked peaches and sediment were clogging up the siphon. A large amount of sediment also made it into the secondary container. I need to find a way to filter that out at some point. Maybe I can get some cheese cloth or muslin or something. Here you can see the magnitude of the problem:


One other problem I had was that the total amount of liquid was less than a gallon when all the siphoning and straining was done. The peaches made up much more of the volume than I expected and I didn’t add nearly enough water to it.

When I racked it the wine did have a very pleasant peachy flavor. I’m looking forward to tasting the completed product.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Keep notes.
  2. Use a fermenting bag to hold the peaches, so they can be strained off easily and won’t clog the siphon.
  3. Maybe consider not cooking the peaches, or not cooking them as much, if they’re going to create a lot of soft sediment.
  4. Write blog posts when you do the project, not weeks later when memory is fuzzing and other projects are demanding my attention.


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Simple Mead 1: Bottled

My first batch of Simple Mead 1 has been bottled. Here’s an overview:


  • 26 January 2014: Pitched
  • 14 February 2014: Racked to secondary
  • 19 March 2014: Racked to tertiary
  • 27 July 2014: Stabilized
  • 16 August 2014: Bottled

Stabilization and Back-Sweetening

To stabilize I followed directions and used 1 Campden Tablet and 0.5 Tsp Potassium Sorbate. I decided to let it sit for a while longer before back-Sweetening and bottling.

As an experiment, I only decided to back-Sweeten half of it. I put up two bottles with the wine as it was. Then I added about 1/8th cup of honey dissolved in a little bit of distilled water. I heated this mixture on the stove and then let it cool. When it was cool, I funneled it into the jug and filled the other bottles.

All told, there were 4 full bottles which were corked and a fifth mostly-filled bottle which I put on a tasting cork and stuffed it into the fridge. I expect to be drinking more of that in the coming days.


Final Results

The good: It has a good amber color reminiscent of the honey that was used to make it. The mead has a strong and pleasant honey flavor and aroma. It tastes better refrigerated than it does at room temperature.

The bad: There are many off-flavors in the final result. There is still some rawness and hotness to the flavor despite the many months spent aging. That’s not even the worst problem. There are off-flavors. The mead got too much air and tastes oxidized and bitter. There are more than a few vinegar notes. Luckily, after this batch I got a lot better about sanitation and being careful when racking back and forth between different jugs.

In the end this was a good experimental batch, and I learned much about technique including stabilization, back-sweetening and bottling. My second batch of mead is going to be much better than this one, so I’ll be able to put those lessons to good use.