Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Home Made Wine From Concord Grapes

This was bound to happen anyways. What else can we do with all that harvest? All eleven pounds of it that is. A household can only eat so much! So we decided to venture into wine making. In such times one turns to the Great Wizard Of Google for advise and insight. Search results poured out in all forms. From wine making kits to home made equipments all riddled with hitherto unfamiliar terms. Then I hit upon a wine making supply shop not too far from us and also fixed on a few great recipes/sites that seem to match where we live, the kind of grapes we have and the amount of complexity I wanted to engage in.

Turns out, the seeded california concord grapes we grew are not popular for winemaking here and so the helpful person at the store was at a loss on how to guide us. A little more research showed that I can make dessert wine a.k.a sweet wine with these grapes like it is done in Kerala. How I wish my grandfather was alive so I can ask for his recipe. Nostalgia is an ingredient that adds taste exponentially.

I vividly remember sizzling caramelized sugar being transported in the piping hot  cheenachatti from the kitchen to the wine preparation area at lighting speed. The asan or guru who taught us the malayalam alphabet at home was also grandpa's assistant in wine making. Both would get together once all the items including the grapes were purchased. I remember oranges among the ingredients but have so far not found a recipe that includes them. I know he used rice kernels instead of the more common wheat kernels. I am not sure what was done once the prepared mixture was poured into the wine barrel covered by a wooden lid tightened again with clothes and kept in a cool dark place. As a kid I was not allowed to be near the concoction for fear of mixing things up. I do remember all members of the extended family being given a bottle or two of the wine as gifts. Grandpa used to take the same exact amount of this sweet red home made wine every single day after dinner. Not a drop more and not a drop less! This still amazes me when I think about it. In those days sweet wine was served during special occasions at Christian homes in wine shot glasses. A piece of soft fruit cake wrapped in parchment paper was often served along with the wine.

Since the store guys were a bit unfamiliar with our grapes for wine making, it was good that we visited the supply store with a plausible list. It was actually not that far from a normal list of required stuff for wine making. The process of wine making involves two stages really. A first stage for fermentation when the container can be either kept loosely closed or air-tight and a second stage in air-tight containers for the sediments to settle at the bottom to bring clarity to the wine. Each stage needs its own container obviously. The second stage can be repeated  if you want more sediment separation leading to more clarity. This activity of clearing the liquid more and more is apparently called racking by the professionals.

List of Necessary Things

6 gal. food-grade plastic bucket with loose lid - 1
nylon bag - 1 (cheese cloth will work as well)
siphon & tube - 1 set
1.5 gal. glass jar with lid for racking - 1 (2 if doing more than one racking step)
wooden spoon - unused, washed -1
hydrometer - 1
food-grade plastic wrap

In The Mix

fresh concord grapes - 10 lb. (any fresh grapes seeded or seedless can be used)
potassium metabisulfite - 1 1/4 tsp (1tsp for sanitizing needs and 1/4 tsp as a preservative)
sugar - 2kg or 4.4 lb. (I used 1 lb. of corn sugar and the rest organic cane sugar, any sugar is ok)
water - 3 1/2 liters
pectic enzyme - 1 tsp (optional, good for concord grapes to bring out the full color)
yeast nutrient - 1/2 tsp
wine yeast - 1/2 pkg. (2.5grams) ( I used Pasteur Red active dry yeast)

for sweetening
sugar  - 1/2 lbs. (optional, add for more sweetness. add after caramelizing for more color )
water - 2 cups

How To Do

Make a sanitizing solution by mixing 1 tsp of potassium metabislufite (hence forth to be known as PMB) in half a gallon of water.  Clean all the jars/bucket and utensils needed first with warm water and then with this solution. Don't rinse again with water. Just sterilizing all the stuff and drying well will also do if you don't have PMB available. This helps to avoid fungal growth or similar issues while the wine sits to ferment.

Wash the grapes well and remove the stems. Molu helped H with her quick little hands in this fun activity.

Drape the nylon bag over the plastic bucket and add the cleaned grapes to it. Wash your hands and crush the grapes while making sure the skin peels off from all the grapes. Better crushed grapes make for faster fermentation. You can also use a potato masher.

Boil 2 1/2 liters of water and dissolve the sugar into it. Once all the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and set to cool. Once cooled, open the lid and add it to the grapes. Add 1 tsp of pectic enzyme and 1/2 tsp of yeast nutrient at this time. Gently stir together with a wooden spoon. The mix is now called a 'must'. The solid portion of the must is called a 'pomace'.  Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 tsp of PMB on top of the grapes and do not stir again. The sugar level should be read at this time ideally but I forgot and did it the next day.

Take some clear juice from the bucket and check the sugar level (specific gravity) with the hydrometer. Less than 1.08 is a reasonable place to start. More of this reading means your alcohol content will also be more since that much sugar will be converted to alcohol by the yeast.
I got 1.16 because I had added all the sugar in one step without accounting for the natural sweetness of the grapes. Best way is to add the sugar solution in steps if you are not sure of the sugar content of your fruit. I added 1 liter of boiled cooled water to bring the reading down to 1.13. Alcohol is a preservative and so it is to be noted that the wine has more shelf life with more alcohol content.

Cover snugly with the lid and set aside for 24 hours. Sitting for 24 hours is for the PMB to remove any wild bacteria and unwanted yeast from the mix. After 24 hours, add the wine yeast by sprinkling on top. Stir gently and note down the date. Close the lid and set aside in an accessible corner.

Wine must fermenting away in the bucket

The yeast will now be busy converting the sugar to carbon dioxide and alcohol. This fermentation can be observed by the gas bubbling at the top of the mixture. The bubbling layer on top will keep the mix from spoiling. Stir gently every day at the same time using the wooden spoon. Close the loose lid back after stirring each time.  When the bubbling stops, the process of fermentation would also have come to an end. Took about 3 weeks.

If you check the sugar content now, the reading should be less than or equal to1.000 indicating the conversion of all the sugar into alcohol. I got 1.03 on the 10th day from when I added the yeast. Got to 1.000 after about 3 weeks.  So 21 days is a good indication of the end of fermentation which was confirmed by the hydrometer reading. The delta of the pre and post sugar content measurements multiplied by 0.125 will give the alcohol percentage of your wine. ~12-14% is reasonable. Wine with more alcohol content may need more aging to taste better.

The next step is removing the solid portion pomace from the must by squeezing out the contents of the nylon bag. Do this using gloves. Lift the nylon bag at the edges and gather together to gently squeeze any remaining juice back into the bucket.

Once this is done, pour the juice into an airtight glass container. The 1.5 gallon glass container that I got was perfectly filled to the top! The mix was at the 2.5 gallons mark in the bucket. I assumed I will loose one gallon when the solids in the nylon bag got removed and bought the jars with this in mind. It was good to be proved right. See the color? That is what concord skins will do for your wine. I would like a nail polish in this exact color please!

Cover the top with plastic wrap and put the lid on in case the lid is not food grade or not fully air-tight. Then cover again with the plastic wrap. At this stage we need to prevent oxygenation of the liquid now that all the fermentation has stopped.

Any air present in the glass container can be cause for concern as you might end up getting vinegar instead of wine. Remaining air space can be filled with cooled boiled water but it might dilute the wine or change its flavor slightly. I didn't need do it.

Keep the jar in a quiet cool place that can be easily accessed so the sediments accumulating at the bottom won't be disturbed when it is time for racking. I just put it in a cardboard box covered in a paper bag and kept it in a quite corner of the dining room so I can have good access.

Wait for the liquid to clear. Another 21 days or so will do it. If you want your wine to be sweeter you can add sugar after the first racking. This can be added as sugar dissolved in boiled cooled water or in caramelized form. Since I had enough color I just added as a sugar solution. Dissolve the 1/2 lbs. sugar in 2 cups of water, boil and cool.

My jar was sitting on a step and so all I had to do was to place the second clean jar at the bottom level and siphon the wine into it. The mini-siphon from Amazon was perfect for the 1.5 gallon of liquid.  Keep the siphon at an angle to the jar so the end of it is not disturbing the sediments at the bottom. Look at the sediments that got removed by waiting all that time!

The second jar now contains clean clear wine. Taste and add the cooled sugar solution in steps, tasting each time. I added all except the last 1/2 cup of the prepared syrup since we decided it tasted pretty good by then. The hydrometer measured 1.01 which put my wine at the cusp of medium-dry to medium-sweet.

Keep for a week to get more clarity and for things to settle in general. I didn't add stabilizers to stop any secondary fermentation before adding the sweetening sugar. Trying to use the least amount of additives here. Luckily the sugar didn't meet with enough leftover yeast sediments to re-start the fermentation. Still got a small layer of sediments at the bottom for the second racking which I did only because I had time. Wine looked pretty clear with the first racking and the second racking got it a bit more clear.

You are ready now to bottle the wine for gifts or take out at parties. Siphon the wine into dark wine bottles and close with cork or other airtight stoppers. I found the zork stoppers pretty good for our little wine operation. Dark bottles help to keep the color of the wine better than clear bottles over time. Store them on their side in a cool dark place until you are ready to drink/serve.

The wait time now is anywhere from a minimum of 2 weeks to years. Up to 9 months is a good enough wait time according to some sites. I will be taking some out to serve this at the thanksgiving party which will make it to about 4 weeks of aging. Tasted plain awesome after adding the sugar. Can't wait to have more at thanksgiving! H was amazed at the professional quality of the wine. I hope to have at least one bottle set aside for real aging. Maybe to take out for a milestone wedding anniversary. Sounds like fun. Eh?

While looking around at the World Market I found some cute vintage wine bottles made in Italy. Printed out custom wine labels on sticker paper with image of the grapes from our own backyard and our name and the year it was bottled. I think it looks neat. It was all fun and the end result is a real cool product that turns out to be a nice handmade gift for friends and family at Christmas!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Caesar Salad

This awesome caesar salad is my son's creation. He had loved caesar salad ever since he first came across it. It is a pleasure to see his happiness when this salad is on the menu when we go out. It got to a point where he simply had to have it whether we go out or stay in to eat. I tried to make it as a chicken caesar salad but the chicken never came out just how he liked it. Later on he started to prefer the salad without the chicken at all. So when he gets a craving for this he will make a special request that we go grocery shopping. He himself will pick the romaine lettuce and the specific brand of croutons and the all important caesar salad dressing. Once home he can't wait to get the cutting board out and get things going. Of course the classic caesar salad differs quite a bit but do we care? No worcestershire sauce here either. When some things are tasty the way they are, there is no need to change. eh? Here is how kannan goes about it.

In The Mix

romaine lettuce bunch - 1 
shaved parmesan cheese - to taste
caesar salad dressing - as needed
croutons - as needed

How To Do

Once the above items are gathered, separate the lettuce leaves, wash and drain well.  Remove unwanted parts if any and slice into salad sized pieces. Place them into a bowl. Add salad dressing by gently pouring over the lettuce. Sprinkle the croutons and the shaved cheese over it. Voila! That was quick. Bring out a fork and go for it!