Thursday, October 9, 2014

How to Dehydrate Marigold Petals

Some time ago, I found out that marigold petals are the poor man's alternative to saffron. I can make a rich broth to cook rice in, but that beautiful orangy color is hard to come by with normal spices. Since I grow marigolds in my garden and at this time of the year, there are hundreds of blooms, I decided to collect some. Sure I can go out a pick a few now for tonight's dinner, but in the middle of winter my garden will be empty. Solution? Dry some now to add to my stash of dried herbs.

Pick your blooms in the morning after the sun has had a chance to dry off the dew. Of course, you can only use flowers that are grown without any insecticides. I just use my fingers and give them a slight twist. In just a few minutes you will have a good basketful of gorgeous brightly colored flowers.

Now the seed part of the flower is bitter and needs to be removed. I found that using a pair of scissors made the job easy to separate the petals from the seeds.

Sort the petals from the seeds by placing them in different containers. Keep the petals in a clean container as you don't want to contaminate them.

By the time you are done with the basket, you will have a nice fluffy pile of marigold petals and a pile of seed pods. I gave the seeds to our chickens but you could also add them to your compost pile.

To dry the petals, you need to place them on a tray lined with a paper towel to help absorb the moisture. Don't make the layer too thick or you will run the risk of mold developing between the petals.

Place the tray in a warm oven of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Every couple of hours, give them a little stir with your fingers to make sure the heat is circulating between the petals.

When they have shrunk considerably in volume and feel dry to the touch, turn off the oven and let them cool down to room temperature.

Pour them into a dry sealable container and store in a cool and dark cupboard. Now you are ready to experiment with using marigold flowers in your cooking.

They look beautiful in a fried rice dish and add a rich color to soup broths.

Why not use marigolds? They are full of carotenoids, antioxidants and so easy to grow and have a pleasant almost citrusy flavor.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Making Apple Wine Without Added Sulfur Products

This is October and I am busier than ever. Not only do I have massive projects going on, like painting all my cabinets and furniture one piece at a time, but cold weather is slowing moving into the area. I have apples I bought for ten cents a pound bubbling away in a bucket, herbs drying, birthday cards to write, a story to finish and the holidays to plan for - but don't get me wrong, I love it!

This morning, I will explain how you can make a beautiful wine from apples. I use bruised whole apples and save the good ones for eating.

Toss your whole apples into a large stock pot with just about an inch of water at the bottom. This will prevent the apples from scorching until they heat up enough to release their own juice. Cover the pot and heat it up on medium for about 20 minutes or until the apples are starting to split open and soften.

The boiling will kill off most of any unwanted bacteria or yeast spores that might grow during the fermentation process. Stir the apples with a large spoon and crush them so that the heat permeates through to the inside of the apples. They will turn into a soft mush and smell delicious. Turn off the heat.

Now I take the pot and dump the contents into a five gallon fermenter bucket. Add enough cool tap water to cover the apples by about an inch and stir well. Pour in enough cane sugar to bring the specific gravity up to about 1.075. Since I am using a bread yeast, I don't want to make it too sweet or the yeast will stop growing. I believe wine yeast can handle a little more sugar, but you can do a little research to see just what your yeast can handle. The whole point of using the yeast is for it to convert the sugars in the apple into alcohol. Now, I realize that some folks might not know how to measure specific gravity. You have to buy a hydrometer from an online site such as Amazon or your local beer and wine making store. Expect to pay anywhere from 6 to 20 dollars, depending on the quality and size. Follow the directions or try to remember back to chemistry days in school when you probably had opportunity to play with one. Once you get a reading, write it down so that later on, you can see how much sugar the alcohol has used up. By the time the wine is done fermenting, you can compare the specific gravity measurements and know just what the alcohol content is.

Check the temperature of the mash and wait for it to come down below 100 degrees Fahrenheit before you add your yeast. A candy thermometer works well here. For this recipe, I am using a yeast that I have growing in my refrigerator for making bread when I need to. It grows on flour and water so I will now have a little wheat flour in the mash but I don't think it will matter. As you can tell, I am not a purist but rather an experimenter. I like to throw in a black tea bag to add a little tannin into the mixture. And that's it for now.

I marked the date that I started the wine, noted the specific gravity and then installed the airlock into the cover of the bucket. Slide the bucket into a corner of your kitchen and let the yeast go to work.

After about twelve hours, I opened the lid and was pleased to see a nice fermentation going on. Each day I will stir the mash to break up the 'cap' of fruit that rises to the surface.

I didn't mention it before, but always keep everything super clean when you are working with fermenting foods. I prefer using boiling water to clean any utensils that come in contact with the fruit, but there are a number of commercial products that will also kill any bacteria or fungi spores that might be around.

I will come back in about a week and let you know how this is progressing...

Day 3: This morning, I opened the bucket to find a cap of apple mash as you can see here,

I stirred it up gently and as you can see there is a good bit of foam, showing me the yeast is working.

 I took a sample of the liquid and measured the specific gravity and it looks like it has dropped a little. However, although I am sure the yeast is working and there is a bit of alcohol in this, there are too many solids suspended in the liquid for me to get a real reading.

As far as the taste - it is sweet, foamy and appley. Stay tuned...

I forgot but I looked to see how warm my house is as that will also affect how quickly the fermentation happens and I guess it is a little cooler than I thought at 62 degrees Fahrenheit. That's okay, though. This will be a gentle fermentation.

Week 1: After letting the apple must ferment away in my cool kitchen for a week, I decided to filter out the juices and let the fermentation continue. To do this, I did NOT stir the mixture as I had been every morning. Placing the bucket on the counter, I lifted off the bucket cover and set it under one corner to cause the contents to tilt to one side.

 I set my gallon jug on the floor so I could use gravity to siphon off the liquid. You can see I placed a wire sieve on top of the funnel to catch any large bits of apple that might make its way down the tubing.

Of course, never forget to use spotlessly clean equipment in each of these stages.

Now slowly slide one end of a piece of flexible tubing down past the cap of fruit mash in the bucket until it hits the bottom. Give a gentle blow into the other end of the tube to blow out any apple that may have lodge during the tube placement. Now hold the bucket end of the tubing steady as you gently suck the juice from the bucket until you see it reach about halfway down the tube.

Quickly place your thumb over the opening and drop the free end of the tube to drain into your glass jug. You will see as you do this that the juice will only flow if you are putting one end of the tube lower than the position of the end in the bucket. Just let the juice drain until the apple mash clogs the tube. Dump the leftover mash into a sieve over a large bowl to collect a little more fluid and add to the gallon.

Take another reading of the specific gravity. Mine has dropped a little more to 1.065. Cap off the bottle with an air lock and set aside to continue fermenting.

 A little extra bonus. Instead of tossing the leftover fermented apple mash, I put it through my food mill to remove the seeds, peels and stems. The apple puree leftover I then boiled down to half its volume to make apple butter. It was plenty sweet for my taste and only needed a sprinkle of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and clove.

The chickens enjoyed the apple peels, seeds and stems...

7/8/2015 Update: Yesterday, I racked all my wines and found that the apple wine made with bread yeast was still very sweet and smelled yeasty. So I did a little research and learned that I should never have used bread yeast as it will only ferment to a tolerance point of 8% alcohol and wine needs to ferment until almost to 14% alcohol is reached. So now I have ordered some good wine yeast to restart the fermentation. Stay tuned....