After the bountiful harvests from July to October for various wines and infusions, the hungry months of December to February can be a fallow time for fruit wine makers. I tend to alternate each year making a quince or a parsnip wine which provides some surprising good tastes despite their rarity in drinks. Quince has a nice delicate fruitiness and the quince is a dryer more sherry like wine.
Last year the Seville orange wine was an afterthought when I had some space in demijohns. Initially I was not impressed when it was fermenting as the smell is almost non-existent and the colour was pale but upon opening a bottle after a year it has really improved. The colour is richer and a deeper orange than when it was bottled – the exact opposite of what I was expecting. The taste has developed into something really unexpected and delicious. It is orangey but towards the savoury if that is possible with the profile more like Aperol minus the botanicals as a lot of zest was added to create a more complex base. This is certainly not like an alcoholic Fanta or a glass of sweet orange juice. Serving the wine as cold as possible really adds to it.
As the oranges are juiced and the skins are large zested strips there is very little sediment to fall out so the wine clarifies quickly. When opened the wine had a little fizz as it was bottled young. Usually I would be disappointed by this as there has not been enough time for a natural degas but the slight sparkling effervescence really suited the character and Ms Gazette is interested in a fully sparkling version like a prefab Buck Fizz! This may be a good wine to add some rhubarb to build a little more depth.
There are several sniffy reports that citrus wines taste like vomit, which may be true, but certainly not for this. Using Seville oranges has given a richer depth of flavour than fermenting some Sunny D and it has come out a genuine triumph. I am hoping I can keep these until the summer months for a nice cold spritzer in the evenings.
Strawberry wine is a bit of an oddity. Easy recipe but labour intensive at the start though a dream when it clears and matures. It can be chaptilized into champagne easily and excellently. Good as a sweet or dry wine it stands as a good fruit wine that does not need to be compared to grape based rosé. The still wine though lovely (and quick and easy… did I mention that?) leaves a little to be desired.
I have not been able to push strawberries past good to great except when it becomes champagne. As I have plans for sparkling wines made from gooseberry and possibly the grapes I stole I want a top notch still strawberry wine that can stand on its own. Strawberries are not like other berries or grapes with tannin rich skins and a long period of maceration.
Two experiments were started last year and the first I thought would be best for a still wine. This added banana to add some body with polyunsaccharide sugars that are unfermentable by wine yeast. As they are long chain sugars they act like tannin adding mouth feel. This was made as a still wine and stabilised with metabisulphate so totally unable to be made into champagne but on reflection this would make a great sparkling wine. Arse.
The second experiment was cutting the strawberry with rhubarb and adding a small amount of raisins. This I thought would be an even better base for champagne as the oxalic acidity would move it towards a traditional champagne taste. Just as with the banana I got it all wrong and the rhubarb addition seems to make a better still wine. Luckily this has happily been bottled as a still wine. Though it needs to mature further the taste is smoother with the rhubarb complimenting the strawberry. Ms Gazette who is far smarterer than wot me is described the rhubarb as “cutting through the implied sweetness of the strawberry creating a more complex taste.“ Acids seem balanced with a less puckering taste and the overt fruitiness of the strawberry is tempered by the floral addition of the rhubarb. It seems nice and complex rather than lacking sweetness due to over domineering strawberries of traditional strawberry wine.
So the moral of the story seems to be never trust your instincts and always ask your partner to describe tastes. All I have to do now is work out how long it takes to mature to perfection. Strawberry can mature in nine months while rhubarb can take up to two years. If any one has any experience send it my way.
This year has seen an abundance of blackberries that has been made into a port, wine and mixed with elderberries to make Elder and Black with a few left over added to gin. The year previous it was rather slim pickings as a lot of the blackberry bushes had been trimmed back and the weather damaged a lot of them remaining, I did get enough for a gallon of wine making 6 bottles though.
As this was made in a small batch I nothing to lose and decided to try and modify my recipe. Most recipes just use blackberries and rely on them totally for tannin and acidity. This means that blackberries make a medium bodied wine and it is probably better suited to a 12% ABV so that the alcohol does not taste too hot. To add more body I upped the blackberries adding 200g extra to 2.2kg as well as 100g of raisins.
The effect has been dramatic pushing the wine from medium to full bodied. More tannin has added from the extra skins and raisins creating more mouth feel and the wine is thicker with a velvet feel as you drink. Colour is far darker compared to last years changing from a bright red that allowed light through to a thick black gloss. The taste is also deeper and richer with a less pronounced blackberry base though there is certainly more than a hint being joined by a cherry and slightly nuttier addition. This seems to handle the alcohol creating a more balanced wine.
As the wine is more tannic I gave it longer to age. Usually a blackberry wine is matured for 12 months and it can even be drunk at 9 months. This has taken 15 months and will continue to mature possibly up to 24 months. It is not that this is necessarily a better wine though I do think I prefer it as it is more complex and like a traditional grape wine.
This year has seen a decent harvest of sloes by friends and I plan to forage a few to get the ripest I can. It compares nicely to the terrible harvest last year when I collected none. Two years ago was sloe nirvana with big fat sloes on every bush. I harvested enough for two types of wine that are fruity and suited to a Christmas tipple and great added to champagne. I also made two litres of sloe gin.
Sloe gin is the best flavoured gin you can get. Warm, sweet, slightly nutty with a deep taste that gets better if drunk slowly with a good tonic. The depth of taste is matched by the simplicity of the recipe and the hardest issue is leaving it long enough to mature. If the sloes are picked now it could be ready for Christmas, if left maturing another year it becomes deeper and richer and another year after that it becomes exceptional and far better than any commercial sloe gin I have drunk.
SLOE GIN – 750ml
250 to 400g sloes
750 ml gin. Best supermarket or Gordon’s. No need for anything more expensive.
125g white sugar (more to taste if you want once mature)
Rind of 1 orange (no pith)
1/4 cinnamon stick (recipes use too much in my view so that is why I only use half the amount)
Optional – I don’t think you need them as the sloes have a complex taste that improves with age – but this is your drink so tailor it to your tastes.
Cloves – no more than 3
1 blanched almond (boil a raw almond for exactly one minute)
3 coffee beans
1/4 star anise
1. Freeze the sloes over night to bust the cells (it’s a myth that it needs to be done to turn starch to sugar, or that sloes need a frost to be ripe.)
2. Use a potato peeler to zest the orange – make sure there is no pith. Add all the ingredients together in a cleaned Kilner jar – about 1.5l does it. Shake it vigorously to get the sugar to start to dissolve.
3. Over the next two weeks little shake every day.
4. Leave it to sit happily in the dark at a cool temperature (the cupboard under the stairs is ideal)
Ready to drink by Christmas but can be left for up to two years. No need to remove the sloes if you bottle it.
But wait! The sloes from sloe gin can be recycled into a kick ass chutney. What can be better than a sloe gin, cheese and some home made chutney on a cold winters night? I have paired the sloes with quince, another winter fruit and they compliment each other with one aromatic and one sour. The spices used compliment either one or the other main fruit. Apples are used to provide a sauce as floury apples like Pink Lady will puree as they are cooked.
The chutney needs a little time to prepare the sloes by squeezing the flesh off the stones. The easiest sloes are ones that have macerated in the gin for longest – another reason to leave it to mature for two years. Squeeze them top and bottom and most of the flesh pops away.
GINNED SLOE CHUTNEY
Sloes from sloe gin
2 red onions
2tsp cumin seed
2tsp mustard seed
1tsp coriander seed
½tsp fennel seed
½tsp cayenne pepper
½tsp pepper corns
1cm of cinnamon stick
2 oranges – juice and rind but no pith
400ml cider vinegar
300g demerara sugar
Chutney is not an exact science and ginger, lemon rind, raisins, apricots, cardamom, paprika and any number of other ingredients can be added or substiuted. The general ratio is 1kg of fruit and vegetables need 300ml of vinegar and 300g of sugar to preserve.
1. Rinse the sloes removes from the sloe gin. Give a quick rinse to remove any tannin that has built up on them. Squeeze them holding the top and bottom to pop the flesh from the stones.
2. Throw the stones away and then use a food processor to mince the sloes to a reasonably fine mix. It does not need to be a puree.
3. Pop them in a heavy bottomed pan and then finely dice the onion and add, then the grated zest of the oranges.
4. Use a pestle and mortar to crush the spices to a fine powder and add to the pot.
5. Juice the orange and add along with the cider vinegar.
6. Peal and quarter a quince and cut out and discard the hard woody cores. Dice them into small pieces and stir them into the vinegar to stop them browning in the air. Repeat for the rest of the quince.
7. Repeat for the apples.
8. Add the sugar and stir all the mixture so that the sugar dissolves.
9. Turn on the heat and start to simmer the mixture. Stir regularly once it starts to bubble. Never boil but keep it lightly bubbling and stir every now and again so it does not stick to the base of the pot. Once the mixture becomes thick and there is no free liquid but a fudge/toffee like sugary coating remove from the heat.
10. Store in sealed sanitised jars and leave to mature for at least a month and preferably three before opening to eat. The chutney can save for at least two years if kept air tight in a cool space. If a jar is opened refrigerate.
Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa Valley, The Lewisham-Blackheath Boarders are all considered the top wine producing areas in the world. The LBB area was designated about a week ago when I traveled to an old family friends to steal their grapes from their lovely garden hiding behind a impressive Victorian house. A vine planted 20 or more years ago possibly with the intention of making wine had grown into a total monster stretching half the gardens length as it was now purely ornamental. It had never been trailed or pruned to produce managed wine grapes though it had been well looked after by Alan the gardener. He had thought the grapes should be picked earlier but my schedule and work had not allowed us to meet up and when we eventually managed to get there some clusters had withered slightly. I still easily managed to pick 15kg and have no complaints at all with mother nature and her dastardly end to summer. Free grapes and a chance to practice making “real” wine!
Picking the grapes was easy especially with help from Ms Gazette as whole bunches of grapes are harvested quicker that picking individual blackberries or even the most bountiful clusters of elderberries. In a little under 30 minutes we had climbed over plant pots and navigated terraced flower beds to fill 3 bags. Back north of the river in Walthamstow I started to sort the grapes with only 3 bunches out right rejected and all the browned, shriveled or split berries rejected as well as the odd spider and one dare devil snail. The whole bunches were then dipped and shaken in the sink (well cleaned) to rinse any bits of leaf, twig and dust away and they were ready to be picked and crushed.
Crushing was by hand rather than any machine and with a firm grip a whole handful of grapes could be pulled away from the stems. When three or four clusters of grapes had been stripped I literally crushed them further by punching them with a fist. Grrrr! The free run juice drained through a giant catering sieve into the primary fermentation bucket. It is surprising how fleshy grapes are to other fruit and crushing them was certainly a good work out. Once the majority of the juice had dripped into the primary fermenter I could press the skins to get the absolute maximum of juice out of them. The press was sanitised and a clean muslin held the grape skins together. There were 2 passed done with the first press getting to about half the volume and then the rest added to allow them all into the drum. The press was an even bigger work out and over 30 minutes the pulp was pressed and pressed to extract ever clearer juice. Pressing has to be incremental with a couple of turns every 30 seconds to be successful and any ideas of pressing it like Hulk Hogan all in one go is pure fantasy. I probably pressed about one to one and half extra litres of juice out the skins to manage 10 litres of juice in total. 12 bottles of wine to divide between me, Alan the gardener and Naida the owner… maybe my mum too as she was the intermediary that got me the grapes… and maybe my dad as he was also friends with sadly missed “Uncle” Dennis the planter.
The juice was sweet and fruity with a melon and lemon zest flavour. Ms Gazette and I were impressed that such a taste could be grown in Britain never mind a garden in Sarf London. The true identity of the grapes remains a mystery as they were rumoured to be Chardonnay but several genuine wine growers on message boards said the clusters and leaves did not match. It was agreed that they were Vinis Vinerfera – wine grapes and they were white. Some suggested Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling or Viognier. Maybe when the vine is pruned with less stress producing so many grapes it will give a few more clues. The grapes were not perfect for wine making with a gravity reading of 1.06, I think that is 15 brix and acid was slightly too low so I had to adjust it with some calcium carbonate. With some management pruning the total size, cutting back leaf cover and maybe pruning a few grape clusters there is no reason to think that grapes of 22 brix and perfect acidity could not be produced in London… as if I know what I’m talking about!
CY17 yeast was added as I want to keep as much of the flavour as possible and I may choose to make a sparkling wine by adding some EC1118 yeast before I bottle. Fermentation took a worrying 48 hours to kick off but it was vigorous once it got going. The chance to practice on real grapes has been a real eye opener and has solidified plans to get my own vine… vines as I have a perfect spot with south facing brick wall to warm the vine during the British winter and spring. I may consider setting up a kind of collective if other people wanted to devote a spot in their garden for a vine. Grapes given to me and half returned as sparking wine handed back to them. Its bad enough I want to make my own wine but now I want to start growing it on a wine tree too – good thing Ms Gazette likes the idea too.
The wine making glut of the end of summer is over and the elderberry, blackberry and elder and black wines are not well into secondary fermentation. I may return to make a few last winter wines of rose-hips and parsnips but this years work fermenting is now out the way.
Wines from earlier in the year are starting to be bottled as the early strawberry, beetroot and pomegranate & blueberry wines cleared beautifully. After they were safe in bottles with some decent corks they stood upright for a few days to allow them to swell and totally seal the bottles. One or two of the beetroot fizzed for a minute or two as some extra carbon dioxide decided to escape from the wine. After that a cap was shrunk over the cork to keep it from drying out over the next year as the wines mature. I have seen some wines use a wax top but I am more than happy with the plastic shrink caps to crown them and melting wax seems like a recipe for disaster with me.
The only thing left to do was make some labels. Each year has a different label so I can easily recognise when I made them. I am not a magnificent artist so my skills are limited but I do like to dress a bottle so it looks like a welcoming drink rather than a some horror show with a post it note. This year I lino cut a label and printed a few attempts onto card. The best was photographed on my phone with a few effects on the inbuilt editing aps to clean them up and create a few unique colours.
Printing is easy onto standard A4 blank stickers that get cut out by hand. These labels are ideal as they glue easily and most importantly are easy to remove when I eventually recycle the bottles after drinking. The best way I have sound is to fill the bottle with hot water to soften the glue then wet the actual sticker. It peals off easily with no residue left. The interior can be easily cleaned with out wasting any water.
The wine will live on its side in a rack under the stairs as it has a constant cool temperature. On its side it allows the wine to keep the cork moist so it does not dry out – probably hard if a wine sits for a year but the quince and elderberry will be there for potentially three years.
Elderberry is the hardest wine I have made as it is so close to traditional wine with a clear comparison to grapes. Other fruit wines such as blackberry have a strong flavour of their base fruit that is the basis of their profile. Elderberries make a “purer” wine far more reliant on the balance of acidity, tannin and sweetness that is extracted as you ferment.
I have constantly been refining how I make my elderberry wine and this year I am hoping that I will be closer to mastering it. First I needed the best berries I could get and I have foraged further than previous years and trying to pick only the ripest and tastiest I can find. Elderberries can ripen at different times, vary in taste from tree to tree and even which side of the tree that gets the most sun. I have found that trees on moist but well draining ground provide the sweetest berries with the fullest, fruitiest flavour. Being on a bank of a stream or unhindered by other thirsty trees seems to be best while trees on flat drier ground take longer to ripen. Trees on muddy water logged ground produce the most tannic and bitter elderberries with little sugar or flavour profile so are best avoided. When starting to make wines I never though I would be writing about elderberry “terroir!”
Choosing when to pick has been a test of will but is paying dividends. Virtually all clusters have had a taste test to make sure they are ripe before I pick and that they are from sweeter tasting trees. The best berries have a full fresh berry taste with a detectable sweetness and mouth feel is present as a “buttery” sensation – to me at least. Acidity and tannin is reduced in comparison to the more immature berries that look identical but have still not plumped up full of juice. This year I found two new species of elder tree. White elderberries are sweeter with the tiniest hint of elderflower to them. As they are so rare only five or so clusters could be harvested so they do not make up any detectable percentage of the wine. The other species that gives pink elderflowers provides overly bitter berries that have been left unused. These trees were easily identified as they had dark green leaves that were feathered and curled compared to the lighter oval leaves of the traditional elder tree.
Once home the clusters were rinsed to get dust, leaves and any spiders removed. The few hard, mushy, reddish or otherwise unwanted berries removed and then the good ones gently tickled from the stems. If there are too few for a full batch of wine I froze them ready for when there were enough.
Although I had the best fruit I could fine and my recipe was good my methodology was next to get an over haul. Elderberries are rich in tannin with the skins and seeds being particularly packed full and I wanted to manage how it was extracted. Due to their small size it means there is a lot of skin and seeds in comparison to the juice – certainly more so than grapes and because of this tannin is the enemy when making elderberry wine. A cold soak allows the rich colour and aroma to be extracted from the skins and as it is an aqueous extraction it leaves the tannin seemingly untouched as it is only soluble in ethanol as the wine ferments.
Cold maceration had always been part of my method for elderberry wine so to further manage I intended to test two methods to limit tannin extraction. One is to press the juice totally from the berries after the cold maceration then add only half the skins to the must allowing only half the tannin available to be extracted. I never tested this as I had great results using not weight but time as the limiting factor. The elderberries were pressed two days into fermentation and then discarded. Doing this created a rich dark must that continued to ferment for another five days.
Tannin seems to have been held back allowing the whole of the elderberry taste to shine through. The juice was far fruitier with a slight almost blackberry and deeper cherry like taste that I had not been able to maximise previously. This will take at yeast two years to mature, maybe even more but the admittedly crude taste test during fermentation has shown a rounder balanced wine than with. Hopefully I will be lucky like last year when spontaneous malolactic fermentation occurred mellowing acidity. Next year I will be further refining I hope.
ELDERBERRY WINE 4.5 Litres
Suitable yeasts – R56, Lalvin R2, D80, D254, Bergundy. Strong full bodied wine suitable for higher ABV of 13% Suitable for oaking and can be left totally dry or will a very slight back sweeten. Takes the longest of any fruit wine to mature at a minimum of 2 years. Skins can be used for a second run elderberry rose or an medium bodied elder & blackberry wine.
1kg-ish sugar to 1.09SG
Juice of one lemon
1tsp yeast nutrient (optional)
Pick any elderberries and freeze until enough have been sourced.
Cold soak for three to five days in a sterile covered pan or container in the fridge in two litres of water and a crushed campden tablet to kill any wild yeasts.
On the penultimate day of cold soak, boil the rest of the water to sterilize and leave to get to room temperature. Mash the berries and combine the next day.
Add pectic enzyme and leave for 12 to 24 hours.
Stir in the sugar to 1.09SG, lemon juice then the yeast.
Ferment for two days in primary then press the juice – a good manual squeeze in cleaned hands is perfectly good (A press does wonders though) The juice can simply return to the primary fermenter and then continue to ferment.
Filter into demijohn to remove any rogue seeds or skins that may have stayed and ferment in secondary with an airlock.
Rack after five weeks then two months after that to remove sediment. The wine wants to age at least six months after pitching the yeast.
Stabilise if necessary and back sweeten if desired.
Bottle and wait for at least two years before having a little taste test.
Tannin I think is often misunderstood in fruit wines. Feared even. It is often talked of in terms of minimising tannin levels as if it should be totally removed from wine and wine making altogether. Often tannin it is actually added either as a pure additive, as tea or in oak chips when it is ageing. Oak chips provide “hydrolyzable tannins” that provide greater mouth feel with a softer taste to the harsher “condensed tannins” that are present in fruit juice in low quantities and more prevalent in some fruit skins, seeds and stems.
Both red and white grape wines have tannin present but it is far more prevalent in reds as it macerates on the fruit for longer. Little tannin is extracted aqueously but as the ethanol level rises so too does the extraction of tannin. Grape wines are the basis of fruit wines as the taste template we use as a reference. Home wine makers are beholden to those norms. Sadly not all fruit has the same characteristics of grapes so adding or managing tannin becomes important to replicate the balance between sweet, acidic sour and bitter tannin tastes of grape wines.
White fruit wine ingredients vary in tannin content. Elderflowers for example need tea added as the petals are naturally low in tannin. Gooseberries – the “hairy grape” has tannin present in the pips and skins so does not need any additives and I have found that pressing after an initial short maceration helps manage the tannin content to match that of a traditional white or rose wine. This is done two days into fermentation when the solids are removed, pressed then tossed away and the remaining wine happily sits in primary fermentation for a few days more.
Red fruit wines have more variance in finished tannin content due to personal preferences in taste and style as well as the initial tannin content of the fruit that makes them. Some people may want a full bodied tannic blackberry wine, a medium bodied blackcurrant or perhaps a light bodied almost rose elderberry wine made from a second run fermentation. The tannin levels vary between the base fruit but it can be managed to make the style of wine you want. Because of this tannin becomes far more about management than simply addition or removal as with a white wine.
Always plan ahead and have an idea of the wine you wish to make. Generally it is thought that high tannin content and low tasting acidity and higher alcohol content work with each other as a flavour profile. This means that an idea of the final ABV and initial sugar content derived from a hydrometer reading is useful. Fresher tasting younger style wines will need less tannin, but if you have a preference for full bodied wines, with both time and will power to age your wine more tannin can be present.
I can think of few fruit wines other than oak or walnut leaf wine and possibly some dandelion wines that use stems. Stems should always be removed from fruit as they are high in harsh tannins. This is especially so in something like elderberry or elderflower wine as the stems are toxic as well as tannic! A good eyeball and preparation of fruit will help you make a good wine.
After a style is in mind a recipe needs to match it. Blackberries have some tannin present in them and are a good example where the recipe can change the style of a wine. The berries left to themselves will create a traditional medium-bodied wine that could be drunk at nine months in age if you are very very lucky. Blackberries with a tea added will make a fuller bodied wine that will need 18 months ageing before it approaches drinkability.
Elderberries have the opposite problem and as they have a high proportion of thick skins and seeds compared to the juice they provide when crushed or pressed. When processing tannin rich fruit it is important not to break the seeds or pips as the interior has the harshest tasting tannins that could ruin a wine if extracted in large quantities. Blending in a foot processor or an extremely thorough press could crack the seeds and release it. There are several methods to control the amount of tannin extracted. Cold maceration allows an aqueous extraction of the least harsh tannins from the skins before the berries are crushed. In conjunction with removal of the fruit mid way through primary fermentation less tannin will be extracted. Pressing the fruit pre-fermentation then discarding half the skins and allowing those remaining to sit for the duration of primary fermentation could also work. This will allow the extraction of different tannins as the seeds will be exposed for far longer.
Alternatively whole elderberries could be left to ferment with months in bulk ageing to allow the tannins combine and fall out of suspension as sediment that is left behind when racking. This very much leaves it to chance. In addition or an alternative certain settling agents like gelatine or isinglass can be added to remove tannin when racked. It should be noted that tannin can also act as a natural settling agent combining with certain proteins as it ages and settling agents could interfere. Mechanical filtration though filter pads is a final way to remove tannin but that can also remove other flavour compounds… apparently… the jury is still out on that discussion.
Oaking a wine occurs neer the end of bulk aging just before bottling. This replicates the aging process in a wine barrel. Few white wines are aged in oak barrels but it is not unheard of and I may try it with my elderflower wine next year to simulate a Chardonnay style. Whites are generally unsuited to oaking with chips as the higher acidity (lower pH) conflicts with the tannin tastes. Typically less than 10g per litre of oak chips are added to either white or red wines and they can sit for a few days to three months extracting the oak flavour. A home made port is an exception as it is so rich and more than likely sweet it can with stand the high tannin extraction, ranging from 20 to 30g of oak chips added per gallon and resting for up to three months or more. Oak is not a tannin addition like tea and is not meant to provide the whole tannin content, merely to compliment it with a range of usually lighter tannins to add complexity as top notes. All oaked wines will need longer to age than an un-oaked wine of the same recipe as the tannin will gradually bind over time to create a rounded mouth feel and balanced taste.
Elderberry season will nearly be upon us and, in some cases, they have matured to perfection and are ready to pick now. Traditionally it was thought that elder was an autumn harvest but possibly to global warming or to Walthamstow marshes microclimate and industrial estate pollution they are ripening in mid-August with a few exceptionally early if they are on the banks of a water course.
With a few exceptions of freeze-dried mail ordered packets, all elderberries will be foraged. Identifying an elder tree is important, many berries or trees look similar and some berries are inedible or poisonous. Elder trees are stout, scrubby-looking things up to 15ft tall with ill-defined trunks and thin branches. Leaves are almost always in clusters of five arranged two by two with one at the end, only a few sub-species vary and these are rare. In springtime, an elder tree will be covered with clusters of white/cream flowers with a lovely scent, often detectable even at 10 metres away so keep your eyes peeled all year. By the time the berries have grown, they will be an inky black with the weight of the berries making the red stems droop downwards. If in doubt The Woodland Trust has a very good tree identification app that can be down loaded for free!
Always be sensible hunting for elderberries. Do not get trapped in a bog or fall down a ditch trying to get that last teasing beautiful ripe bunch of berries. Check if you need permission to forage – common land will always be OK but some forests have by-laws as they are managed eco systems, for example Epping Forest. Usually, these are to stop over eager mushroom-pickers but do not leave it to chance and be chased by PC Mountain-Bike. He is unusually fit despite his advanced size.
Elder trees are hardy things and can be seen in unlikely places – do not get temped by any on the side of a busy road chocked by diesel or in the middle of an industrial estate. Trees near still water tend to get mildew and cobweb-covered easily or infested with flies but that is not to say there won’t be anything useable. Ones by the side of running water seem to ripen the quickest as they have a huge reserve of water to plump up the berries while those on flatter dryer land will mature later. This can be used to your advantage if you are making a few batches as it can time with your primary fermenter. South-facing berries will mature earlier than those on other sides of the tree.
Elderberries are regarded as “the Englishman’s grape” as they make the best non-grape wine with a full-bodied taste due to the tannin already present in the skins. Elderberries are acidic to taste raw just like some wine grapes and totally at odds to a dessert grape. In my view, though generally not amazing to eat raw, the acidity and tannic taste has been over emphasised in recipes and guides. Mature berries mellow with acidity becoming less dominant and the “chlorophyll” or “fruit skin” taste retreating and a rounder more traditionally berry like taste developing. Most guides only say to pick when all the berries have turned a deep black but in reality you need to do more. Generally, the mature berries will be weighty and pull downwards but, if a number have been eaten by birds, they will remain rigid. The stems will have become red, and will be brittle and are easily snapped like a twig if they are mature. Before that, pick a few individual berries – they will pop off the stalk easily and be soft and squishy if rolled gently between a thumb and fore finger. Juice will be plentiful and viscous rather than the fleshier immature berries. Taste a few berries from each cluster for the definitive test. Acidity will have mellowed to be palatable with a velvety mouth-feel similar to a ripe blackberry and some sweetness, but not as a dominant as other berries. If the elderberry has a “plastic” or “artificial” taste, they still need time to mature on the tree.
Two kilograms of elderberries are needed for an English gallon (4.5litres) of wine, which is probably 80 to 100 clusters of berries. They freeze well so you can easily pick over a few foraging trips to maximise the quality of your harvest. Always remove the red stems as much as possible, as this contains toxins and no one likes an upset tummy. The easiest way to do this is gently pull three or four berries gently at a time, though some swear a dinner fork works wonders. All parts of the elder tree contain toxins except mature berries and flowers. Do not get tempted to make a leaf wine or experiment with unripe green berries, do not handle the wood and stay well clear of the heavily toxic roots!
So before I get a whole load of moaning emails I want to clear a few things up. Firstly, I know this is not Rum. I know what Rum is. Rum is made from fermented sugar cane… and this is made from a marrow. A marrow fermented in a sock. Let’s not get too hung up the nomenclature.
Mind you, any one that insists on calling a marrow a zucchini needs a good hiding, and as I’m from the North East I should be calling it a marra’.
Marrows are the world’s worst vegetable. A bloated courgette that is good for nothing except making rum apparently. The initial idea came from some notes that funny uncle Michael gave to me from his mid-70s wine making that I have somehow inherited. There has been a revolution in kit, ingredients and ideas in amateur wine making so most have some rather out dated methods, they are a pleasure to read and there are one or two great ideas and inspirations there. Making “Northumbrian Rum” seemed like a particularly bad idea so it really appealed and there are various other methods I have seen since.
The basic idea is to deseed a marrow, pack it with sugar and wine yeast, reseal and then leave to ferment. Light or dark sugar is used in differing recipes and some add raisins either during or after the marrow fermentation. This is a real prison hooch operation so organisation is rather haphazard so I doubt there is a true “marrow rum pot” to make this in an elegant fashion. With the prison hooch stylings there is a totally illegal (both in Britain and Hamburgerland) method of ice distillation that can increase the ABV by freezing the finished rum and letting the more alcoholic mixture melt and be saved with the water being discarded. If they are reading I would just like to tell MI5 and GCHQ that I have not done this.
1 large marrow
1ish kg of demerara sugar
Wash you marrow (ooh-er!) chop of the top and scoop out the seeds.
Fill your cavity (ooh-er!) with demerara sugar, give it a tap and then top it up if space is created.
Juice an orange and pout in the juice. Give it a tap and top up the sugar again.
Pour in your yeast – make a starter as the packet describes or if no instructions dissolve in water and pour over the sugar.
Place the top on the marrow and tape it shut getting a tight seal.
Pierce the skin of the marrow at the base but do not go through the flesh then wrap in cling film.
Place it in a container –the more air tight the better so it can drip into a demijohn.
Wait for it to ferment, drip out.
After a week to three months depending on the integrity of the devil’s vegetable squeeze the now desiccated marrow skin to get all the juice out and leave to ferment fully.
You can now bottle and leave for a year to mature or…
Gather the juice and add more sugar and a high strength yeast. Ferment to the highest alcohol tolerance it can go to – possibly 20% ABV.