Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


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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.

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(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.)

Timeline

  • 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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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.

Notes

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.

Results

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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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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]

Results

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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.

Notes

  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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Cherry Butter

I have a rule: When cherries get down to 1.99$ per pound or less I pounce on them like a lion who….pounces….on things. Whatever. I’ll work on the metaphor later. Don’t judge me.

Last year I couldn’t even find sweet cherries in the grocery store for any price, but this year they came down to 1.99$ for a brief, glorious moment. I ended up with three bags. Three bags, and no immediate plans for what to do with them. I sat down for some serious brainstorming (and, truth be told, browsing funny cat pictures on the internet. I have an attention deficit thing).

I decided to try out a recipe for pickled cherries I got from my pickling book, but that was only a pint. I needed something to do with the rest. (The pickled cherries take about a month to brine, so I’ll post that recipe with review when I have a chance to taste them).

I have been keeping a recipe for Chai Cherry Butter in the back of my head since I first saw it last year. I didn’t have the spices needed, but I liked the general idea of making a cherry butter. So, that’s what I made (next year, maybe, I’ll try the Chai version).

This recipe doesn’t include any measurements, because they really aren’t necessary. A simple cherry butter has only a single ingredient, and you just cook it down until it’s the texture you want. Things get only a little bit more complicated if you want to preserve the results in a sealed jar, but not by much.

Cherry Butter.

  • Cherries, rinsed, stemmed and pitted.
  • Sugar
  • Cinnamon
  • Vanilla Extract
  • Amaretto
  • Lemon Juice

Put the cherries in a crock pot, along with some sugar (about a cup, to taste) to help release the juices. I added the cinnamon here to really incorporate the flavor, but you can add it later too. Set the temperature to high and just cook the heck out of them for a long time. At least a few hours. Blend the cooked cherries with an immersion blender or, working in batches, with a regular blender.

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Continue cooking the mush down until it has your preferred fruit butter consistency. Stir in the vanilla and amaretto. Cook a bit longer to let some of the alcohol boil off.

Fill warm, sterilized jars with the butter. Add lids and bands, then process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Results

The resulting butter is fantastically good. It has some of the same character as an apple butter or a peach butter, but with a strong cherry flavor that has to be tasted to be believed. The cinnamon was added very early in the process so its flavors were subtle and mellow. I wasn’t trying to make a “Vanilla Cherry Butter”, I only wanted to add a dash of vanilla to help bring out the cherry flavor. Dana says she can taste the vanilla clearly, but I feel like I hit it right on the mark. The amaretto, like the vanilla, was not intended to change the flavor in a major way. Instead I wanted it to just add some background complexity, which it did.

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I never cook my fruit butters down as far as some people on the internet do. The consistency is good and thick but still spreadable. The flavor is great. Just, great. I don’t know why I’ve never made this before but I will most certainly be making it again.


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Cherry Melomel Review

My two batches of Cherry Melomel are ready for review, so I cracked open the jugs and gave them a big test.

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Cherry Melomel 1

My first batch of cherry melomel is the much darker of the two. It has a rich, ruby color. The cherry flavor is present mostly in the aftertaste but is quite recognizable. The texture is a little watery and it doesn’t have a huge amount of body. However, what it does have is alcohol and quite a lot of it. This melomel is strong. It is smooth, doesn’t have hardly any off-flavor, and is much more palatable when chilled.

Cherry Melomel 2

The second batch of cherry melomel (I originally called it “Cherry Cyser“) is very light, like a blushed hard cider. It has even less cherry flavor, which is hardly discernible. It almost tastes more like apples, which makes sense considering the ingredient list. The final combination isn’t unpleasant, it just isn’t very strong. It has a little bit more body than the first but also comes across as quite watery. It is also quite strong, has no off flavor, is very smooth, and is better when chilled.

I’m not quite sure what to do about the lack of body in these two. Some tannin, acid blend or other additives probably hold the key, though I don’t have a clear idea about where to start experimenting. I have the strong opinion in mind that these two would do better with some sparkle. One day when I have some bottles and the right equipment, I would definitely try carbonating something like this.

I also suspect that I could get better, more clear cherry flavor if I added the cherries (or their juice) to secondary instead of in primary. I also want to try experimenting with some tart cherries, to try and get more acid into the final product.

 


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Cherry Harvest

Cherries, so far, have not been an easy or rewarding crop to grow. I know that the trees are still young and they are bound to increase output with age and proper care. Last year I didn’t get so much as a single pretty flower, much less any fruit. This year we seemed to be on track for a decent crop but it never materialized.

The tree that showed the most promise, the Black Tartarian, put out tons of flowers and originally set dozens of fruit. Many of these fruit were stunted, never growing and eventually withering off. Others were attacked by insects. The rest were gobbled up by birds before they even had a chance to get ripe. Bummer.

The smaller and more spindly of the two, the Stella, had fewer flowers and set fewer fruit. However, the few fruit it did set managed to survive long enough for me to take some action. I tied plastic bags around the few cherries that made it, to keep the birds away, and I’ve been doing what I can to keep bugs away (I’ll need to do a MUCH better job of that next year). Finally, with some serious effort and daily observation I managed to harvest some cherries:

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I know what you’re thinking. “That sure is an attractive representative sample.” No. That’s the entire harvest. 6 Cherries, and two of them had insect damage on the back that made them mostly inedible. With the family gathered around, I cut up the good ones and we all had a taste.

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The color, obviously, was good. The texture and flavor of them was great as well. Xander kept asking for more until there weren’t any. We’re all pretty excited for next year, especially if we can do a little bit better than this year. The question is “how?”

Challenges and Plans

The Black Tartarian tree was the better performer last year. It had more leaves and put on more growth than the Stella. This year the tide has changed: The stella put on more leaves, larger leaves and more new growth.  Next spring I’ll have to be more aggressive about fertilizing it. I may pull up grass around both cherry trees, mulch, and apply some serious fertilizer and compost. Nitrogen is sorely needed, and probably some trace nutrients as well.

The Black Tartarian tree also had a problem with Black Aphids, with many of the newest leaves being completely infested and deformed. Next year I’ll look at some agricultural oils to control the aphids and maybe some products to control the ants (which help “farm” the aphids).


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Late May Garden Update

Early spring is a difficult time for blogging for me, because the garden isn’t moving at an appreciable pace, I’m not cooking anything interesting (in anticipation of the growing season) and generally because I’m a lazy sack. Knowing that I wasn’t doing anything worth writing about, I put together a fluff piece about the status of my garden in early April. I didn’t post it, because I had to upload some pictures (pictures which I already took, no less) and that was just too much work.

Now it’s the end of May, and I don’t have any better ideas, so I’m going to just post the same thing.

And if you’re expecting me to write a big long blog post to make up for all the weeks of nothingness, I have only one word to say….Nope! I’m putting together a few small stupid blog posts and scheduling them ahead of time so I can not worry about writing again for another couple weeks. You could say I’m a genius.

Late May Garden Status

Garlic is growing extremely well. So well, in fact, that I’m going to talk about it in a separate blog post. Next week or something. Don’t quote me.

Onions seem a little bit small but they are growing at a consistent rate. Two of them are already putting out little scapes, which I think is weird but the weather has been weird. Hopefully this doesn’t eat up too much of my yield, but we won’t know till harvest.

I planted two varieties each of Carrots, Green Beans and Lettuce, since I either haven’t tried or have tried without success all of these and I wanted to start making some comparisons. All of these were bought from Seed Savers Exchange, an heirloom seed outfit. I picked varieties that would be visually distinct from each other so that I would be able to tell which varieties were doing well and which weren’t more easily.

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I planted two varieties of Carrots, both heirlooms. I picked “Dragon“, a beautiful purple variety that I’ve wanted for a while and “St. Valery“, which is a variety that looks different from Dragon. I knew I didn’t want a Nantes or Danvers relative, so both of these should produce some interesting results come harvest. Rabbits have already started attacking the leaves, so I had to cover them up with chicken wire to keep them safe. In addition to planting three rows in my garden, I planted several in a large bucket (one of my potato buckets from last year). If the ones in the bucket work out, next year I may do that exclusively and save the garden space for something else.

I picked two varieties of Pole Beans, and have them running up some of my unused tomato trellises. The first variety is “Kentucky Wonder Pole“, which would definitely be my stage name if I lived in Kentucky and was considering a career in porn. Kentucky Wonder Pole is supposed to be a popular variety with high yields. The second variety was one I picked mostly because it was visually distinct: “Rattlesnake Snap“. This is a green bean with purple stripes and good reviews.

The two varieties of lettuce I picked were: “Crisp Mint” (a mint-shaped, but not mint-flavored Romaine) and “Red Iceberg“. The two varieties promise great flavor and were interesting-looking. So far they are growing well (the Crisp Mint better than the Red Iceberg).

I planted tomatoes late, because I had to completely redo that garden bed and we were saving money in the early spring. They are in the ground now though, so hopefully they can make up for the lost time. I received as gift two “Orange Wellington” plants, which were doing well but looked a little starved for nitrogen. At the store I picked up one each of “Roma”, “Big Mama”, “Homestead” and “Big Beef”. Homestead is the first Determinate variety of tomatoes I’ve ever planted, so I’m looking forward to seeing how that works out. I’ve thought about doing tomatoes in pots, and if I have success with Homestead this year I may try it next.

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My Blueberries are growing well and are putting on quite a large crop of berries compared to last year. I’d say the berries are about a third of the way to maturation, so we are looking forward to harvest with licked lips.

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The Cherries are putting out a very small harvest this year. This is fine considering I got nothing from them last year, and they are still getting established. Some of the pollinated flowers made cherries which were (for lack of a better word) stillborn, in that they seemed to have gotten fertilized but the little cherry never grew. Instead, many of them just shriveled up and fell off. Some other cherries grew about half-way and then shriveled up. If all the cherries that had been pollinated had grown, we might have ended up with a pint or two. Now, I expect to only get a handful (and I will cherish every last one). The ones we do have are looking a little smallish, but they are already starting to blush. I expect to be tasting them as early as mid-June.

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