Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry

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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.

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Russian Pickled Cherries

I’m in a big pickling kick, and I came to realize that I’ve never really had pickled fruits before. Apparently they’re just the bees knees, so I looked up some recipes in my pickling book to get a feel for things. With cherries being the only thing really in season right now (and, having got a few bags at a great price!) I decided my first batch of pickled fruit would be cherries.

Russian Pickled Cherries

  • 2 cups sweet cherries, rinsed and stemmed
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • part of a cinnamon stick
  • dash nutmeg

Put the cherries and vinegar into a bowl or large-mouth jar. Cover and allow to sit overnight.

Next day, drain off the vinegar into a non-reactive saucepan. Add the sugar, water, cinnamon chunk and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, decrease heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Take the mixture off the heat and allow to cool.

Once cooled, pour the liquid over the cherries again. Allow to sit, covered and undisturbed, for 3 days.

Drain the liquid back into a sauce pan, boil and simmer again for 15 minutes.  Let cool.

Put the cherries into a sterilized pint jar, pour in the liquid, and cover with a tight, sterilized lid. Let the cherries mellow for 1 month.

Cherries should keep for about a year.


The original recipe called for things like “cardamom pod”, “mace” and “allspice”. I didn’t have those things. Mace is similar enough to nutmeg that I made the substitution. Otherwise, I would have just omitted it entirely.

The original recipe also suggests a small bit of kirsch as an optional addition. I don’t keep kirsch on hand so I wanted to replace it with some other liquor: I was thinking brandy or dark rum. As we have neither of either (Dana being pregnant has pushed booze way way down on our priorities list), I scrapped the idea entirely.



The resulting cherries are sweet with a bold cherry flavor, but also a distinct vinegar flavor and tartness. They also have a very interesting texture, more dense and firm than I would have expected. These aren’t your dessert cherries, but they are definitely tasty. I suspect they will go well with a pan-friend chicken or a roast pork loin or something like that.


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Apple Review: William’s Pride

Before the ubiquity of Honey Crisp and Granny Smith, I thought I hated apples. The ones you got at the store were almost always one of three varieties: Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Macintosh. I didn’t like any of them. They were mealy and lousy. But, of those three, the one that I hated most of all was Macintosh.

Honestly if you gave me a bushel of Macintosh apples, I would be torn between using them to line my compost pile or just putting them out with the weekly trash. They are horrid little things and I will never understand why people eat them. The flesh is soft and mealy, the skin is thick and waxy. The flavor is lousy. Macintosh are to apples what grapefruit are to citrus.

Once we found a bottle of “Macintosh Juice” for sale, and I bought it on a final attempt to find redemption in this little apple. Dana and I both poured ourselves little glasses of it, tasted it, and dumped the rest down the drain. Terrible. Absolutely terrible.

We were at the orchard picking peaches in early August, and were alerted to the fact that there were some early varietals of apples ready for picking too. The apple in question was Williams’ Pride, one we had never tasted before. It wasn’t until we were already committed, sitting in the wagon with buckets in hand, that the farmhand described them as “like a macintosh”. Great.

We picked half a bucket of them to test, without high hopes. When we came home I rinsed one off, cut a slice, and took a bite.

Actually, they’re really pretty good. Maybe it’s just because it’s August, and we haven’t had fresh apples in months, but I really think they’re a decent apple. There are definite similarities with macintosh, I can see why the farmhand described them that way. However, they don’t have any of the problems. The skin isn’t thick or waxy. The flesh is crisp. The flavor is slightly tart, reminiscent of Jonathan (which itself is pretty good, though not my favorite).

Overall, Williams Pride is a decent apple in general and is pretty amazing for the time of year when it comes in season. If you’re jonesing for apples in late July or early August, Williams Pride is going to hit the spot. Later in the season you’d do much better with Gala, Jonathan or Honeycrisp instead.

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Tart Cherry Wine

Cherries are the first pickable fruit of the season at our local orchard, so when they come in season I rush down there to grab myself a bucket. The wife and kid came too, because it was a beautiful morning and everybody needed a little bit of time out in the sun.

Picking cherries, as I’ve noted before, is quite the hassle. They’re so little that getting an appreciable quantity of them takes a long time of narrow-minded focus on the work. It also involves a lot of standing, picking with arms raised up, and carefully dropping them into a bucket. Physically, it’s more demanding than you might expect. For those reasons and more, our first trip out wasn’t extremely productive. Xander’s fleeting attention span was drained very quickly and Dana’s happiness decreased in inverse proportion to the rising temperature of the midday sun.

With about 8 pounds of cherries picked, we decided to wrap up and call it a day. My plan was to come back to the orchard myself some morning and pick a whole bunch more. I didn’t make it back before the supply was picked out and the season was over.

About half of the cherries we did pick went into some cherry pie filling which I wasn’t completely happy with. We still had several jars of cherry jam left over from last year, so I decided to turn the remainder into cherry wine.

Cherry Wine

  • 4lbs cherries, stemmed and rinsed [1]
  • Sugar
  • Water [2]
  • 1 Campden Tablet
  • Yeast Nutrient
  • Yeast [3]

Put the cherries into your fermenting bucket and mash them up. They were so soft, I was able to smoosh them up with my (clean) bare hands. Add the sugar to about half a quart of water in a pot over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then allow the mixture to come to a boil. Remove from heat.

Add the warm syrup to the cherries, along with enough water to bring the total quantity of must to 1.25 gallons. Crush the campden tablet and add to the mixture, to kill off any wild yeast or baddies from the cherries. Allow the mixture to sit, covered by a towel, for 24 hours.

After 24 hours pitch the yeast and the yeast nutrient into the mixture [4]. Give it a good swirl to incorporate, then put on the lid and the airlock. Allow to ferment for 2 weeks, or until fermentation has decreased to a crawl.

After primary is complete, rack the mixture into a sanitized carboy[5], attach airlock, and allow to age until ready [6]



I stole a small taste while racking it to secondary. Ignoring the harsh punch of the fresh alcohol, the wine has a decent but subtle cherry flavor and floral notes. I suspect more cherries would be better. Next year I may try again with 5 or 6 lbs, if the wine this year doesn’t have enough cherry flavor when it’s done.

The color of the wine is a beautiful rose color.


  1. The total quantity of cherries might have been closer to 3 lbs. “They” say that the pits will add bitter flavors to the wine, but I wasn’t prepared to pit all those cherries just to mash them all up with my fingers and toss them in a bucket. I probably could have strained some of them out once the cherries were mushed, but I didn’t.
  2. My tap water has problems with calcium and iron. For all my cooking projects, I always use bottled spring water. Since you can buy gallons of spring water at the store for less than the price of a 24oz bottle of Dasani bottled tap water, I don’t think it’s too bad an expenditure.
  3. The yeast I used this time, following some online recommendations from other brewers of cherry wines, was Lalvin 71B-1122. It supposedly is a decent yeast for fruit wines.
  4. I like to split up the yeast nutrient. The bottle recommends 1Tsp per gallon. I put in half at the beginning when I pitch the yeast and the other half a week later.
  5. I had about a quart of liquid left over. I put that into the fridge and will use it to replenish whatever I lose during racking. I’ve kicked around the idea of boiling this liquid down to concentrate the flavors a little bit. I’ll consider that option as well.
  6. I’ll probably rack this wine off the leas in about 1 month, and may have to rack again if more sediment accumulates. I expect to bulk age this wine for at least 6 months before I try to stabilize and bottle.

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Carrot Review and Pickled Carrots

The carrots I grew were absolutely gorgeous. Today I’m posting a review of the carrots I harvested, along with a recipe for pickled carrots.

At the time of writing this, there are a few small stragglers still in the ground not ready to harvest (they were overshadowed by larger siblings and need some more time in the sun), and I have several still in a bucket on my porch waiting for the right time to be harvested. If I learn any new information when the remainder come in, I’ll include that in a separate post.

Carrot Review

St Valery

The St Valery were a creamy orange color on the outside, with a vein-like appearance when peeled. The flavor was good and carroty, but not nearly so sweet as the Nantes and Danvers you find in the grocery store. Yield for the St Valery was decent, with a few caveats:

  1. They were inconsistently shaped. A few of the harvested carrots were short and stocky, while others were longer and thinner.
  2. They had a tendency to branch. In one or two cases I think the carrot hit a rock and went two different directions, but many of the carrots came up, branched into two or more parts, for no discernible reason. These branches make peeling, cleaning and storing the carrots more problematic, and decreases the overall size of the carrot.


True to their description, the Dragon carrots came out a gorgeous purple color. However, much to my intense displeasure, they are pale yellow or mottled orange on the inside. When you peel them, the great color goes away.

Unlike the St. Valery, the Dragons were much more consistently shaped and had a much lower rate of branching. Like the St. Valery, they were not nearly so sweet as the supermarket varieties.



Here you can see that I couldn’t get a single picture of these things before breaking them open and eating half a jar.

Pickled Carrots

In my book, The Joy of Pickling, I found an interesting recipe for carrots called “Pickled Bay Carrots with Dill”. I made several changes, not the least of which being my use of mature sliced carrots instead of the tender baby ones called for. The recipe also called for a hot pepper, which I thought I had in reserve from my adventures with the dehydrator last year. I took a look through my stash, and the remaining ones were looking a little brown and creepy. I don’t know why. Maybe there was just too much moist air in the fridge? In either case, I substituted some crushed red pepper flakes instead.

I made this recipe per-jar, using half-pint jars instead of the quart batch the recipe calls for.

  • Carrots, washed, peeled and sliced
  • 3.5 cups water
  • 3.5 cups apple cider vinegar
  • Black Peppercorns
  • Crushed Red Pepper
  • 1 Sprig of Fresh Dill
  • 1 medium-sized garlic clove
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 0.25 cups sugar

In a pot, mix the water, vinegar, salt and sugar. Bring to a boil.

Blanch the carrots in boiling water for 2 minutes, and immediately move them to an ice water bath to stop the cooking process.

In each jar, place 1 garlic clove, a dash of red pepper flakes, about a dozen pepper corns, and the fresh dill. Add carrots to the jars, loosely packed, to fill within a half inch of the rim.

Pour the vinegar over the carrots to fill the jars with 1/2 inch head space.

Burp the jars, put on a clean lid and band, and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand at room temperature overnight.


Let just say one thing: Pickled carrots are probably my favorite new type of pickle. The carrots are soft but not mushy. The flavors are perfectly balanced and absolutely transcendent. I’ll be making more of these this year, next year, every year.