Tomato Wine

Yes indeeeedy, you did read the title of the post correctly! Today we’re talking about making wine from tomatoes. Turns out that you can ferment pretty much anything. My tomato wine adventure actually took place last year, but now that I’ve had a chance to try it I’m ready to share. Last year when I had so so many tomatoes in late summer/early fall (over 300 pounds from my little garden!) I was looking for ideas on what else to do with them. I made so much sauce and salsa and wanted to try some new ideas. Of course I thought to myself, “I bet I could make wine out of these.” Turns out there is a guy that commercially makes it (as I found on this blog), and I also found a smattering of recipes online on how to make it. So here’s what I ended up trying based on a few things I saw, and based on my experiences with fruit wines. It turned out pretty nicely!

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4-5 pounds of tomatoes – the sweeter the variety the better
3 lbs dextrose
2 tsp acid blend
1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
1/2 tsp diammonium phosphate
1 tsp yeast nutrient
2 campden tablets
Lalvin K1-V1116 yeast    

For full and complete procedures, see my post on making fruit wine. But here is the short version of what I did to make it.

Combine all ingredients except the yeast in a sanitized primary fermenter. Mash up the tomatoes a little bit. Put on the lid and wait a day.

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After 24 hours add the yeast. You only need about half the package. Put the lid back on and let it ferment away. Punch the cap daily with a sanitized spoon, and after about 5-7 days when the cap is broken up a lot and fermentation is starting to slow, strain off the solids, and move to secondary fermentation. Allow the wine to sit until all solids settle out and it becomes clear, and fermentation ceases. Bottle, age a few months, and enjoy!

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Again, this is the super short version of how to do this, so if you want to try another fruit or get more details, click here. Now, I know what you’re thinking. How does it taste? Will I like it? Well, it’s actually a really interesting flavour. I’ve only had one bottle so far, but basically it tastes like white wine when it first hits your tongue, then you get the tomato flavour after that. Its faint, but is definitely there and tastes mildly like tomato juice. It’s also a bit more acidic than white wine, or at least mine seems that way. The blogger I cited above said she would have just thought it was a white grape wine, but I can’t say I fully agree with that. However, the flavour would also vary depending on what variety of tomato you used, and that wine maker was a professional. It’s not the kind of wine where you would probably want to drink a few big glasses of it, or maybe it will be, but it’s a nice compliment to a tomato based meal, and could also be used in cooking in place of white wine. 

Are you going to try it?


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Small Batch Homemade Fruit Wines

Making homemade fruit wine is such a satisfying experience – watching your fruit transform into something completely new and delicious. The length of this post may make it seem like a difficult process, but it’s really not that hard to make a small, gallon batch. So pour yourself a glass of wine, settle in, and read on. For the printer friendly version, click here.

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Last winter we decided to try our hand at home brewing. We started with beer, and you can read our first brews adventure here. Then we tried some kit wines which you can read about in this post. The next stage of the adventure was to try some small batches of fruit wines, which we started this spring. They are actually surprisingly delicious! And I say surprising because I normally am not a lover of fruit wines because I find them too sweet. However, these “first wine” recipes, copied with permission from Joel, the owner of our local brew store, Corvallis Brewing Supply, are designed to be dry wines and they are really tasty.


Before I get into the details of how to get brewing, I just wanted to quickly (ish) list and describe the ingredients that you will be adding to your wine and why. These can all be purchased at your local brew store (if you have one) or by clicking on the links attached to them. Skip ahead if you just want the hows and not the whys.

Fruit! – OK this one is obvious, but the one thing I wanted to point out is that you can use fresh or frozen fruit for this. Use only the best quality fruit. Nasty fruit will make nasty wine.
Yeast – These little guys are what is going to turn the sugars in your fruit into alcohol. There are a large number of yeasts available on the market, but you don’t just want to use bread yeast for making wine. They are cheap, so buy a packet of the kind called for in your recipe. A few common ones for wine are Montrachet, K1V-1116, Cote de Blancs or Lalvin D-47.
Dextrose – Dextrose is fermentable sugar that is added to feed the yeast and produce alcohol. Some fruits don’t have as much sugar content as others, so extra sugar is added to balance the sugar and acidity and produce a good product. Grapes, for example, require a lot less added sugar than cane berries, such as raspberries and blackberries. This is due to the properties of the berries themselves. Table sugar, which is sucrose, can be used instead of dextrose, but it can produce a different quality product. Dextrose is a simpler sugar that can be broken down faster by the yeast, which can lead faster fermentation and to a crisper and cleaner tasting end product. I haven’t personally done a side by side comparison yet, but when I do I will let you know what people preferred. I’ve only so far tasted wines using dextrose. When using table sugar in a recipe that calls for dextrose, use 0.8 pounds for every pound of dextrose that is required.
Pectic Enzyme – This is added to your fruit wines because it will help break the fruits down and make the sugars available to the yeast to ferment. Pectin is a compound found in plants cell walls, and what this enzyme does it help to digest that for the yeast, making more sugars available. You could certainly still make wine without it, but it aids in the process. It also can help produce a clearer product by digesting the pectins.
Yeast Nutrient – This is added to give some other nutrients to your yeast so that they aren’t surviving on sugar alone. It contains vitamins and minerals, think of it as giving your yeast a multivitamin. I like the way Joel put it – think about how you would feel if all you ate was sugar. This is why you add some nutrient.
Diammonium Phosphate – This is another thing that is just a helpful nutrient to give your yeast. It’s a nitrogen source which helps the yeast along. If you are getting a rotten egg type smell from your wine, it could be because you should have added some D.A.P. Some recipes do not call for it, and I think it’s one of those things that’s not always necessary, but it only takes a very small amount so I figure why not use it. Also, as a side note, some of the things labelled “yeast nutrient” on amazon and elsewhere have this in them already, so check the ingredients to see what you’ve got.
Campden Tablets – These tablets are made of Potassium Metabisulfite, and they serve a couple really important purposes. They are not something you want to be leaving out of your recipe. Sulphites in your wine prevent a few things – the growth of bacteria and wild yeasts and oxidation of your wine. All things that you really don’t want to have happen. But as a sad side note, the suphites in wine are often the thing that give people that red wine headache. Fortunately I don’t have that issue.
Acid blend – This is a combination of three acids – citric, tartaric and malic, which come from citrus, grapes and apples. They are used to lower the pH of the wine and give the wine balance.

DONE! I know that was a lot of ingredient listing, so I’m sorry if that bored you, but I for one don’t like blindly throwing things into a recipe not knowing what they are for, so I wanted to lay out for you why we need a tiny amount of a bunch of different things. So there we go. Now on to the making of the wine. In the table below are 8 options for good first recipes to try. Already have one of these fruits in the freezer? Awesome! What are you waiting for!?!

Each of the recipes below makes a gallon of wine. They all have the same ingredients, just in slightly different proportions based on how acidic the fruit is, and based on its relative sugar content. The method will be the same for whichever recipe you try. And as a side note, before you begin I highly recommend keeping a brewing journal of dates and ingredients etc. Especially when you are brewing multiple things at a time. I must confess that I am currently not 100% sure which jug is blueberry wine and which is blackberry.

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Home made wine is really not a lot of work, you actually only have a few active days when you are doing something to the wine, and the rest is a waiting game. Considering that the cheapest fruit wines I really ever see are $25 and you can make a pretty good wine at home for far less than that, I think it’s well worth it. So here is how it’s made:

Day 1:

On the first day what you’ll be doing is preparing the fruit and mixing all the ingredients together except for the yeast. Remember, when picking fruit only use the best quality fruit. Crappy fruit will make crappy wine. Also use nice ripe fruit, but not overripe. Think about when you taste a berry that’s not quite ripe. It is less sweet because it does not have as many sugars as when it is fully ripe, so a fully ripe berry will make a better wine.

Step 1: Clean and sanitize your equipment. All you’ll really need day 1 is the primary fermenter and maybe a masher or spoon to stir with. For the dos and don’ts of what to use as a fermenter, head here. I made mine, and the reason for that was because I planned to do a bunch of small one gallon batches, and we own only a huge 8.5 gallon primary fermenter for beer, so it made sense to have a little one too. Anyways, that can be sanitized either by dissolving a campden tablet in a gallon of water and letting it sit for a few minutes, or I like this sanitizer. While the equipment is drying, prepare the fruit.

Step 2: Give your fruit a good wash, check for any bad spots and remove them, and remove any stems and pits. Things like strawberries, blueberries and raspberries basically just need a good wash. For the peaches I would blanch and peel them first. Chop and remove the pits and place them in your primary fermenter.

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I like to then give the fruit a light mash to release the juices.

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Step 3: The next thing you’ll do combine all the ingredients except for the yeast. I top it off with water to just above 1 gallon in my 1.5 gallon fermenter (4.5-5 quarts), but go ahead and top the water up to 1.25 gallons if you’re using a larger fermenter. Give it a stir to dissolve the powders and cover it. Leave it for 24 hours. This gives the campden tablets time to kill yeasts and bacteria already in there, and the pectic enzyme to start breaking down the fruit for the yeast you’ll add the next day. Don’t wait longer than 24 hours though, or you may have your ingredients spoil. You need to get the fermentation going or other things will colonize your fruit. And that is just plain nasty. And sad.

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Day 2: 

On day 2, you will open up your primary fermenter and pitch the yeast. Half of those 5 g packets is enough, so if you are planning on making another wine with the same yeast in the near future save the other half in the fridge. All you need to do is sprinkle the yeast on and close the lid back up. Make sure you have an airlock on your fermenter, and fill it will sanitizer or alcohol.


Now we wait for a few days. Within 12-24 hours you will notice bubbles coming from the airlock as fermentation begins. You can probably hear the yeast working too.

Day 2 or 3:

About 12 hours after you add your yeast, you want to give it a little stir. Sanitize a spoon and stir the must (that’s what wine that’s not wine yet is called).

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Days 2-5:

While your wine is fermenting, you will notice that the fruit is constantly floating to the top. To make sure that all the fruit gets fermented, and you don’t get massive air bubbles building up underneath the fruit, you need to break that mass up a couple times a day. This is called “punching the cap.” This is my favourite stage in the process, not only because of its silly name, but also because every day you get to open the lid and smell the fermentation in progress. Using a sanitized spoon or masher, gently punch the cap, then place the lid back on. This is also a great time to make sure you don’t have any weird or nasty smells. It should smell strongly alcoholic but not like acetone, or rotting eggs, or burning rubber, or anything weird. Take note if it has any unappetizing or strange odours.

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 Day 5ish: 

Around the fifth or so day, you’ll notice the cap not floating quite as much, and the bubbles have begun to slow in frequency. At this stage it is time to strain off the solids. There are a couple of ways that you can do this, but this is the setup I have rigged up. If you are only doing one gallon, just straining it without additional equipment is reasonably easy. If you have a full 3-5 gallon batch going, a fruit press or something more suited to 20 or so pounds of fruit may be necessary.

What I do is use a funnel (it’s actually the hopper from my food strainer) covered in a dampened layer of muslin, and strain the wine into a half gallon jar. This funnel happens to fit perfectly into the mouth of the half gallon jar.

Clean and sanitize the funnel, 2 half gallon jars and a one gallon glass jug (this is where your wine is going next). Dampen a section of muslin or cheesecloth and drape it into the funnel. Carefully dump the wine from your primary fermenter into the funnel. It won’t all fit at once of course so let it strain and add some more.

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Once one jar it full you will want to transfer the funnel carefully to the other jar. When almost all the liquid is drained through, you can squeeze more out of the fruit if you want. Since I use a cloth that lets very little solids through, I give it a really good squeeze at this point. The cloth I use isn’t linked to here since it’s from a craft store and I was having a difficult time finding exactly what I wanted to show on amazon. Anyway, if you are using a coarser (bigger holes) mesh you probably won’t need or want to squeeze it a ton or you’ll have solids coming through. Now, if you don’t have a funnel set up, you can probably get away with straining it with your kitchen strainer and a layer of cheesecloth, again if you are doing a small batch. A jelly bag would work well too.

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Now you have your wine strained. It’s time to transfer it into the gallon jug where you will finish the fermentation and age the wine. Make sure the jug is cleaned and sanitized. What I do at this point is actually just pour it carefully into the jug using a smaller funnel. This is not necessarily the best way to do it, but I’ll explain why I do it this way. If you just strained the fruit through a much coarser funnel or press, you will have larger particles that need to settle out. These are called the “gross lees.” If you use a coarse strainer, strain all the wine into one container, and allow the gross lees to settle out. I don’t really have any issue with this because I strain it through super fine cloth. However, if you have gross lees, or chunky bits, in your wine, let them settle, then rack the wine into the gallon jug instead of pouring it. You also mix in less oxygen this way, but I figure we’ve already mixed it in when straining it so it’s probably no biggie. Also, in this next waiting stage, any sediment is going to settle out, so if you get a bit it’s OK. Once your wine is in the gallon jug, top it off with a bit of water if you don’t have quite enough. You shouldn’t need to though if you had 1.25 gallons or squeezed the fruit well. Add another campden tablet to the wine. Place the airlock into the jug. You want only a tiny bit of space between the airlock cork and the wine to avoid oxidation of your wine. I would at this point recommend vodka or something in your airlock since at least with my iodine sanitizer, once the iodine evaporates you can get mould growth in your airlock. Mould = BAD. Awesome, now you are done for  a while! Place your jug somewhere cool, out of the sun, where it won’t be disturbed.

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Day 5ish until ???

After the transfer day, wine making is just a waiting game. You will continue to have some fermentation for a while, but eventually the bubbling will slow and cease altogether. Admire your wine and patiently wait. Good wine does not happen over night. At this point, it’s up to you when you want to bottle the wine. At the very minimum, you want to wait until the wine is clear and all the sediment has settled to the bottom. You also don’t want any more fermentation occurring, so if there is any activity in the wine, do not bottle it. You will have to wait at least a couple of months. Joel’s instructions suggest between one and nine months. Yes, that’s a huge range. One is probably not going to be enough in many cases for it to be crystal clear, and in nine it’s probably drinkable (aged enough to be tasty and ready). I think 3 or 4 is probably plenty. Remember, as long as it’s clear, and done fermenting you can bottle it because it will still age and mature in the bottle. But wine that is bottled without good clarity isn’t going to clear anymore in the bottle.

From left to right, peach, blueberry, and raspberry wine during the aging process.


Day 100 ish

Wow, has it really been 95 days? Time flew by! It is time to bottle our wine. We haven’t seen a bubble in 2 months and the wine is crystal clear! Today what you will need is 5 regular sized wine bottles (750 ml). I don’t buy these because I think that would be insane when I already drink wine. Just save your bottles and rinse them out. You will also need 5 corks (number 8 or 9), a corker (they make two main kinds of basic ones – this round compression one, these double level ones and these floor ones), a racking cane with tubing or mini auto siphon and preferably a bottle filler.

Sanitize all your equipment and your bottles and let them air dry. Very gently rack your wine into each bottle. Don’t disturb any of the sediment on the bottom of the jug. Fill your bottle up enough that you will only have a very small amount of space between the wine and the cork. I like to actually hold a cork up to the side of the bottle and see where it will sit so I can adjust the level of the wine. Once you fill all five bottles, cork them up and you are done! Store the wine in a cool dark place and enjoy your wine whenever you desire.


If you are going to gift them, it’s super fun to make adorable labels for them (shipping labels actually work great – you can design any decorative label you want using the template in word) and add the fancy shrink wrap to the tops


Unfortunately, a gallon of wine just barely fills five bottles, so you don’t have much left over, but be sure to sample the wee bit that remains, even if it is the sediment filled stuff at the bottom of the jug. Happy brewing!

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My mini primary fermenter

We have recently ventured into the realm of homemade fruit wines and are love love loving it. However, I have learned at least one lesson the hard way, which of course I will share with you so you don’t make the same mistake. I hope you can learn from my dumbiness, and perhaps get excited by the prospect of making your own wines. I think it’s easier than you might expect. I’ve now posted the full instructions on how to make it, which can be found here.

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Our first fruit wine was strawberry, pictured below. To make a gallon batch (of which we made two), we used about 4 pounds of berries, and placed them with the other ingredients into a gallon glass container. It seemed from the instructions that we were following from our local brew store like this was what they had in mind, but I think we were mistaken.


Now, I’m a scientist, and not an idiot (at least I thought not), so I’m not sure why I thought this would be just fine, but I did. The problem with making wine like this is that fermentation produces a lot of carbon dioxide bubbles. Especially in the first few days after pitching the yeast, and especially when there is a lot of added sugar, as with these. With a fruit wine, these bubbles get stuck below that mat of fruit floating at the top (called the cap)… pressure builds up… and… yaaaaa I think the photo below says it all (sorry it’s rather blurry). Narrow neck plus mat of fruit plus carbon dioxide equals kaboom! Strawberries on the ceiling. I noticed pressure was building up a bit, so I put them in the kitchen sink thinking that the pressure might cause the top to pop out, but I never expected it to happen with such force. Yes, that’s a whole strawberry on the ceiling. I wish I could say we were home for the incident, but we had to go to school, so sadly I am not sure how loud this was, or when it happened, but both of the corks were violently launched off the bottles and fruit chunks hit the ceiling. We did just top it off with water and still saved the wine (it actually still tastes surprisingly good), but it was time for plan B before attempting raspberry or blueberry, which were about to come into season.

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Enter the homemade primary fermenter. I bought these containers on amazon actually originally for making dough for bread. This is a whole other story, but I just bought these two books, Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day and Healthy Breads in 5 Minutes a Day, and needed a 6 quart container for that. The one I saw came in a 2 pack, so I was inspired to use the second one to make a mini fermenter. It’s 1.5 gallons, so it’s perfect for filling it to the gallon mark, and leaving a 2 quart head space. If you just want to get them for brewing, this 8 quart version might be even better. All we did was drill a hole in the lid the size of the stopper we have. But as you can see we didn’t have the correct sized bit and kind of burned the edges of the hole to try and fix it and now have an oval, so it’s a bit sketchy, but with a little glue around the edges it’s now perfectly air tight! Really any food grade plastic tub with an air tight lid would work, get a 2 or 3 gallon one! Another thing I love about this one though is that it’s translucent so I can see the brewing in action.

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Ta-da. Now brewing is a breeze! After about a week in the primary fermenter, we strain off the big chunks of fruit and age it in the gallon glass jugs, so you really would just need one or two little ones and multiple glass jugs if you wanted to have a number of things brewing at once. I think this is also great to have for trying out a small batch of a new beer, wine, whatever, of which you aren’t sure you want a full 5 gallons. I love these little batches, a gallon is about 5 regular bottles of wine, then we can decide to make more if we love what we’ve made. Not sure how other people do it, but this has been working great for us! Just don’t fill it too full or you will still get fruit sneaking into the stopper and airlock. Have you ever made fruit wine? What do you use?

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Making a mini primary fermenter on Punk Domestics


Sauerkraut is actually surprisingly easy to make, as it turns out. All you need is cabbage, pickling/canning salt, and a little bit of patience.

The first thing you need to do is prepare the cabbage. Wash it, remove the outer leaves, cut it in 4 and shred it. This can be done either by chopping it by hand, in a food processor, or with a mandolin.

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If you are doing it by hand it is a little harder to get nice even shreds, which is why I really liked using the mandolin for this purpose. Plus it gets to be a crazy cabbagey mess pretty fast.

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In clean and sterilized container, combine 5 pounds of cabbage with 3 tablespoons of salt. Sprinkle the salt evenly over the cabbage, and with clear hands mix it in well. Leave it until it starts to wilt, and release its juices. At the very least 15 minutes. Don’t reduce the salt in the recipe.

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Next you want to transfer it into the container you plan to ferment it in. In class, and when I made it at home later, we just used large mason jars. I think this is easier than a pickling crock, but it’s up to you. The crock is of course nice for a gigantic batch. Push the cabbage tightly into the jar or crock, getting it to release more liquids. It should release enough that you don’t need added brine, but if you do, top it off with a brine that is 4.5 teaspoons of salt for every 4 cups of water. Leave at least 4-5 inches of headspace in your pickling vessel.

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The thing that I liked about doing it in the jars was what we did next. We filled a plastic bag with the brine, and placed that in the top of the jar to hold the cabbage down. With the crock you need to weight it down with a plate or something, and it just seemed a little more difficult. The bag trick totally rocks. If you start to get a bit of scum, just remove the bag, wash it, clean out the scum, and put it back in. It seemed to me like you got a lot less though too with this bag method. Ball says you’ll have to skim it daily, and like this that is definitely not the case.


Now comes the patience part. Fermenting your cabbage will take a few weeks, so now we wait, and let the magic happen! OK, it’s not magic, it’s science! Bacteria will get to work on that cabbage, making the lactic acid that give sauerkraut its tart flavour. It can take up to 6 weeks, so be patient. Keep it at room temperatures, about 70-75F (21-23C).

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The way that you know your sauerkraut is ready is that it will be sour when you taste it. Do not can it until it tastes sour, or it is not acidic enough, and not safe to can. As you can see below, when it’s done it is a little lighter in colour, and loses a bit of the green colour.

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So now that it’s done what do you do? Well you have a few options. It keeps for a few months just fine in the fridge, so that’s a good option, especially if you only made a small batch as I did at home. I did 4 cabbages and filled 3.5 quart jars to give you an idea of how much it compacts. You can also can it though, if you so desire. It can be raw or hot packed. For both, prepare the canner, jars and lids. For the raw pack, you pack the kraut into hot jars, remove air bubbles, leave a half inch headspace, and process pints for 20 minutes and quarts for 25 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. If you hot pack it, you bring it to a simmer with the brine over medium high (don’t boil), then fill the jars, again leaving a half inch head space and removing bubbles. For the hot pack though, you only need to process 10 minutes for pints and 15 for quarts, since you already warmed it up. For both of course process at a full rolling boil with the jars covered by at least 1-2 inches of water. After the processing time is done, turn off the heat, remove the canner lid, wait 5 minutes and remove the jars. I have no pictures, however, because I plan to just keep it in the fridge. So, there you have it – you can choose from three ways to store it, and it’s super easy to make. Now get out there and kraut!

Master Food Preserver Class – Week 4

Week 4 of Master Food Preserver class was all about pickling!

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What is pickling anyway? Well Janice, our awesome instructor, had a funny quote up on the board: “A pickle is a cucumber soured by a jarring experience.” HA! Well, I was entertained at least. But this is not entirely true; A pickle doesn’t need to be a cucumber, and it doesn’t always need to be jarred either! In fact, there wasn’t one cucumber in class, we did all sorts of other types of pickles instead. Pickling is basically the process of adding a high concentration of acid to a food to prevent the growth of microorganisms.

There are 4 basic types of pickles – you can pickle a lot more things than just cucumbers!
– Fresh pack or quick pickles
– Brined of fermented pickles
– Fruit pickles
– Relishes and Chutneys

Quick pickles are made when you combine the ingredients and immediately process, versus a fermented pickle that sits for a few weeks and ferments, producing its own acids. Fermentation in vegetables and fruits is the anaerobic breakdown of sugars into acid. In veggies, naturally present bacteria breaks down the sugars, and in fruits, it is yeast that converts the sugar first to alcohol, then to acid. The acid formed is lactic acid, as opposed to the acetic acid from vinegar which we use in quick pickles.

Relishes are seasoned sauces made from chopped fruits or veggies, and chutneys are fruit relishes with fruits and/or veggies and nuts. They are a sweet and sour blend of vinegar and spices.

The first thing we did in class was asparagus pickles. This is a fresh pack or quick pickle, because what we did was combine the asparagus with spices, water, vinegar and salt, put it into jars, and immediately process it in a boiling water bath canner.

Asparagus ready to be pickled.

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Mmmm. Now we wait a few weeks for them to absorb that vinegary deliciousness.

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We then split into four groups and each made a different pickled product. One group was in charge of this mango chutney.

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Chutneys are a little weird to me. I haven’t actually tried it yet, but I will let you know if I find an amazing use for my jar of this.

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All prepared and in the jars.

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Another group made this corn relish.

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I was on team beet pickle. If you know me you know I love me some beets.


It looks like a bit of a murder scene when you cut up beets. Especially precooked ones.

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I would definitely recommend gloves, unless you love having red hands. It doesn’t really bother me, but it does stain quite nicely. Helps you understand the term “beet red” 😉


I would not recommend doing this in half pints. This was simply so that the whole class got a jar to take home. Go pints or even quarts for sure. If you are looking for a recipe, I actually posted one a little while ago here.

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And finally, we pickled some onions.

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They made for a pretty attractive pickle.

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Pretty good haul! I never really used to be a big fan of pickles, but they sure are growing on me.

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OK now that you’ve enjoyed the picture show, we’ll finish with some pickling rules:
– Always use at least a 1:1 ratio of water to vinegar making quick pickles. It’s not safe to use less vinegar or more water. If it’s too tart for your taste, add a teeny bit of sugar
– Use vinegar with 5% acidity, there are some tricky brands out there that are only 4%
– When making fermented pickles, don’t reduce the salt. And if you want to can it, don’t do so until they have a sour flavour.
– Always use pickling/canning salt rather than regular table salt
– You can swap the type of vinegar, as long as it is 5% acidity. Some people prefer the milder flavour of cider vinegar, go for it!
– The spices can be changed to taste. Adding more garlic or dill to your pickles is a-ok. This is one thing that is not a safety issue.

The last thing we did on pickling day was make flavoured vinegar. And this is a nice way to end, because as Janice said – there are no rules. When you make flavoured vinegar, it’s basically safe to chuck in whatever you like. Buy some cheap white wine vinegar in bulk and flavour it yourself by filling a jar with whatever spices you like and cover with vinegar. We tried some delicious berry ones as well, and I am super excited to make some this summer for some delicious vinaigrette. These are fine stored at room temperature. Once they have steeped to your satisfaction, they can also be processed in a boiling water bath canner if you really want to.

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My white wine vinegar, full of herbs, and a chive flower.

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Makin’ my Merlot

Wine. Wine. What can I say about wine? The nectar of the gods. Wine is a delicious fermented beverage that people have been making and drinking for thousands of years. While the art of making phenomenal wine may be a skill that takes time to perfect, it’s actually not very hard to make pretty darn good wine at home. And for the cost comparison it can be well worth your while!

If you read my last post you know that we already invested in a beer starter kit, so we bought a few additional things, but mostly the kit will work for both.  Typically the wine kits (the ingredient kits as opposed to the equipment kits), which are a great place to start, make 6 gallons , so you need a 6 gallon carboy rather than 5 with the beer. This starter kit would be enough to get you started. Personally, I’d go for a glass carboy just because I feel like they are easier to clean and I’d prefer my wine to be sitting in glass than plastic for extended periods of time (although the primary buckets are plastic). But some “fancier” wines sit a lot longer. Anyways, start with a wine kit to try your hand at wine, everything you need is included right there in the box! Pictured below is my primary fermenter with everything that came in my first kit! yay!

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The first step for homemade wine is about as easy as it gets. You stir bentonite into warm water. Then add in that big sack o’ grape juice concentrate once it is dissolved. We could not figure out how the heck to pull off the cap without exploding it everywhere so I recommend one person holding it over the fermenter while the other cuts a hole in the corner.

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For this merlot there were also dried grape skins, which you put in a sack and add to the bucket. Then, you top it off to 6 gallons with water. Next, throw in some wood chips. Aging wine in fancy wood barrels, psshhh we just throw the wood in the wine instead of putting the wine in the wood.

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Take a hydrometer reading so you know your starting sugar content and can calculate percent alcohol at the end. Stir it all up, add in the yeast. Presto!


And then we wait. Put on the lid and watch it bubble away.


After about 6-8 days this wine was transferred to the secondary fermenter. This is because of the wood and peels in there. We’ve done a second one (Pinot Noir) where it stayed in the primary 14 days, until fermentation was complete, so it varies by wine.

The next stage for most kit wine occurs after about two weeks when fermentation is complete. At this stage we racked it back into the primary bucket where we added some chemicals for clarifying and stabilizing the wine. Sulphite and potassium sorbate are added as preservatives and kieselsol and chitosan are added as fining/clarifying agents.

This stage is also about degassing the wine, so after the addition of the different preservatives and clarifying agents you use a sweet drill attachment to stir the wine really vigorously. You could also just stir it really fast, but why not use a drill on your wine if you get the chance!? The chemicals have to go in a certain order to properly clarify the wine, so follow the instructions in your package and stir for the appropriate amount of time in between.


Once finished we racked the wine back into the cleaned and sterilized secondary fermenter to stabilize for a few more weeks.

Then when the wine is clear, it’s bottling day! For this we transferred it into the primary bucket, then bottled from there, but I’ve since decided that is totally unnecessary. Just bottle from your secondary fermenter. I let it clear at a height though so I didn’t have to disturb it at all bottling day.


In advance of bottling day you will have cleaned some old bottles and accepted bottle donations from your friends. If you are going to get into wine making, it’s time to stockpile bottles! Don’t buy them, that’s ridiculous. Buy full bottles and drink them and then clean them up 🙂

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Bottling is easy as pie. Fill each sanitized bottle to right about where the neck of the bottle begins.

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Then comes the final challenge. Corking. Here is our first attempt at that. We decided it just gives the bottles personality. We did get better after this one though. Corking it kind of a 5 handed job, so if you are two people, well… ya.

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Ta da! 30 bottles of wine. Leave it upright for a day or so, then store it on its side to keep the cork moist. Kit wine usually recommends aging the wine 2-4 months, so in a few months I’ll let you know how it tastes. The glass we had left over tasted pretty good, and it’s only supposed to get better from here. Total cost – about $2 a bottle!

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First Brews

What’s an obsessed canner and babbling botanist to do in the winter when canning opportunities are few and far between? Well take up a new hobby of course. Add some drink to all that food in the pantry! So the next skill I decided to add to my repertoire was beer brewing. Spoiler alert, next up with a post coming soon will be wine! This post is coming a few months after the making of our first brew, in fact we only have about five pints left! But what a perfect time to share it, now that I can reflect on the whole process and the deliciousness of the final product! Making beer is maybe not as difficult as you may think, you should try it! We bought our starter kit at the local brew shop, but this kit is basically what you need to get started if you don’t have a local shop. Just add ingredients and bottles! OK, pull up a chair, I included the whole process in this post so it’s gonna be a long one!


I don’t intend on making this a full detailed step by step because I’m not an expert (yet), but I’d like to make this a taste test into the brewing world and share the experiences (good and bad) of a first brew. If you really want to get into this, the best two books are How to Brew by John Palmer and The Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian. I have both, and once I’ve finished this dang master’s degree will get back to reading them ;). The introductory instructions that we followed are from our local brew store, and can be found here

OK let’s dive in. How does one make beer? Everything you need for a first brew is pictured above. We did an IPA so you’ll see above 4 oz. of hops, 8 pounds of pale malt extract in the white tub, caramel steeping malts on the left, yeast, gypsum, and Irish moss (which strangely enough is not moss at all but seaweed) in the middle. And of course water and a notebook to keep track of everything.

Day 1:

The first step on day one is steeping the grains in a few gallons of water and heating to 170 F.
Day 1, lesson 1: Don’t let the grain bag rest on the bottom, it can melt. We did not have this happen luckily, but had read that it can so our solution was to tie it to the fan assembly thing above the stove with twine. Best solution? Probably not.
Day 1, lesson 2: See that floating thermometer below? Take a good look because that’s the last you’ll see of it. Those babies are fragile. Don’t drop them on the tile floor.


After you’ve reached 170 F and waited 10 more minutes you’ll remove the grain bag, push out as much liquid as you can, turn off the heat, and add the malt extract. Most beginner like us start out with malt extracts. Make sure the heat is off and stir in that gooey deliciousness.


Check it out. Now we have wort! That’s fancy brewspeak for the brown water that will be beer. Turns out brewers like to use a lot of fancy words. Doesn’t look too appetizing just yet. Now we’re going to bring our wort to a boil. A lot of beers boil for an hour, some an hour and a half, and add a few more ingredients along the way.


Hops! Once the beer was boiling, it was time for the hops. Hops get added at different times depending on the flavour you are going for. For this recipe, IPA, 2 oz went in a the very beginning. These are the “bittering hops.” Basically, the longer hops boil, the more bitterness is imparted on the beer, and the less flavour and aroma. So to also get the flavour we added an additional half ounce at 20, 15, 5, and 0 minutes (with 60 being your start time and you are counting down). That’s about as tough as it gets! Now you just watch it, make sure it’s not boiling over, and stir so nothing burns to the bottom. Oh, and add some gypsum and Irish moss at about 30 minutes.

Day 1, lesson 3. Have the fan on. If you are brewing on the back burner as we were, watch for condensation on the fan unit that can drip into the wort. Preferably brew on the front larger burner, if yours works, unlike mine….don’t get me started. Anyways, it’s getting boiled so whatever, but it’s gross if steam condenses on there and drips back in your wort. Eww. I don’t even know. Now that’s a solid piece of advice I bet you won’t find in Palmer 😉


After your hour boil is finished, you need to cool the wort as quickly as possible. The easiest way, without buying extra equipment, is with an ice water bath like this. However, it cools a lot quicker if you send $50 or so on a wort chiller. It seemed silly at first to get one, but we did after a couple more brews and it was well worth it, the beer cools much more quickly. It sucked waiting and waiting and spending a few bucks on ice each time since we only have a couple of trays and it takes a lot of ice.


Once it’s cooled to about 70 F, room temp, you’ll dump it into your sanitized primary fermenter. We found this sweet strainer at bed bath and beyond that fits perfectly to catch the hops. You then top it off with water so you have a total 5 gallon volume. It’s ideal to have a huge pot so you don’t have to top it off, but when you first start out this might be how you do it. I can’t say my palette is refined enough to really notice a difference between topping it off and boiling the entire volume. 


Last thing to do today is take a hydrometer reading. Yay more fancy chemistry terms! Basically a hydrometer is a floaty device that you use to measure how much sugar you have in your wort. The yeast you are about to add will eat the sugar and therefore you need to know how much you have so you can calculate the final alcohol percentage. Lastly, you pitch the yeast! Pitch means, dump that yeast in there. Now we put on the lid and wait.


Wooo fermentation! For about 7-10 days it stays in the primary fermenter. After a day or two you see vigorous bubbles in the airlock. That means it’s working! The bubbles are carbon dioxide from the yeast eating up your sugars. nom nom nom.


Day 10

Once you are down to about one bubble every minute, it’s time to transfer containers. Or to use fancy brewspeak, we are racking the beer into the secondary fermenter. Now we’ll take another hydrometer reading to see how much sugar is left.
Day 10, lesson 1. The higher the primary container the better. Gravity people, she can be your friend or your enemy. The table or counter is better than this stool.


mmm check out that nasty sludge left over.


Now we wait some more. 7-10 days again minimum. You basically can bottle once you’ve taken a few hydrometer readings and it hasn’t changed. That means all the yeast food is gone and they will be sad and die. Leaving you with delicious beer though of course. Don’t be sad for them, they lived a very fulfilled life in beer. And a few of them will live on a little longer to carbonate your beer.

Be sure you are giving it a taste test every step of the way! 🙂


Day 20 ish

It’s bottling day yipee! The hydrometer readings are now steady and below what is specified in the recipe you followed, so its time to bottle your beer. First you’ll dissolve 3/4 cups of dextrose in water and put that in your sanitized primary bucket. This will be eaten by the yeast to carbonate the beer. Then you will rack the beer into the primary bucket.


Clean and sanitized bottles ready to be filled. We bought a 12 pack of flip tops for fun but just reused the rest from store-bought beer.


Next the primary bucket goes on the table and you fill up your sanitized bottles with beer!

Today’s tip: the cool little bottle filler is totally worth it. It’s got a little valve on the bottom that’s only open when you press it against the bottom of the bottle, so when you lift up the flow of beer stops.


Taking care of a few leftover sips.


Cap them and ta da! Store at room temperature until they carbonate (2-3 or so weeks) then enjoy!


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First Brews on Punk Domestics