New soap moulds and colours

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The new soaps curing next to the last of the previous batch.

After a long while using the soaps I last made, I decided that it was time to make some more so that it had time to harden into better bars before I needed it.

A casual browse on the internet brought up a website in the UK selling loads of fancy moulds for soap and bath bomb making. Hah – watch the last sentence trigger the security services…

I was a bit unsure about justifying spending a lot of money on silicone moulds, and almost as unsure about how easy the cheaper plastic moulds would prove to be when it came to getting the soaps out.

However I can attest that a light smudge of cooking oil applied to the moulds first gets the soaps out easily without making them feel greasy. Or at least, within a few hours they were no different to soaps that I have made without greasing the moulds. The patterns are beautiful!

I have to admit that I was too impatient to make two batches of the solid soap to put the colours in. All I did was half-fill the moulds, dye the second half, then drizzle it on top of the still fairly liquid first layer. At least the layers should not separate in use.

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The minute he saw them, Tim said that they looked professional and pretty enough to sell. High praise indeed. I have loads of ideas for making scent and colour patterns with new batches.

I also tried a liquid soap based on the same oils and butters but using potassium hydroxide lye instead of sodium hydroxide (as for solid soaps). It made WAY more soap than I had expected, necessitating an emergency trip to Ikea for more soap containers! It is very foamy too. It works beautifully as hand soap, but isn’t the consistency I wanted to achieve. Not yet pretty enough to sell, for definite.

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Maple Leaf Shawl finished

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This is the first shawl I have knitted, and a rare thing in that I don’t usually use lace weight wool or knit lacy patterns. I get bogged down if there are too many holes!

I started the project three weeks ago when I fell ill with a bad cold, and sitting on the sofa knitting in between sneezing was about all I was good for…

I finally washed and shaped the shawl yesterday, and given that it is knitted in whole rows – there are no short rows or bits cast on or off to make the points of the leaf shape – I am fascinated that it turned out so well.

So it feels great to have a piece of work completed that is not my usual kind of project. The pattern is by Maria Magnusson and came free with a copy of The Knitter. There was a slight error at the end of the pattern as it was printed, but I fixed it by looking at the excellent photographs.

Now my wrists are trashed, as anyone else with hypermobility will understand, but it was well worth it!

New soap batches

On Sunday I finally found the time to make the new soaps I have meant to make for some time now. I made two batches – one to the coconut oil, olive oil and Shea butter recipe I have used in the past with my five essential oils blend. The five oils are Frankincense, Mandarin, Lemongrass, Orange and Ginger. The second batch I didn’t have enough coconut oil left, and I discovered that I had accidentally bought cocoa butter instead. So after a panicked visit to the Mystic Mountain Sage site to check what the revised recipe would need in terms of lye, I got cracking on an Orange and Vanilla essential oil soap. I thought I had been over generous on the essential oils, but I think they will be quite subtle when it has cured. Here are some pics image image image The wavy loaf and the five pots are the Orange and Vanilla soap, the big slab is the Five Oil soap.

This Summer’s Blackcurrant Wine

This summer I have started off about 36 bottles’ worth of wine, after a fantastic year last year.  18 bottles’ worth was re-racked last night, and I was surprised to find that it has progressed so far – nearly finished in fact! – within about three months.

Now I feel that I ought to start a serious double or triple batch of gooseberry wine, and perhaps get adventurous with the recipes some more.  The nectarine wine I thought had gone badly wrong last year is a sweet and heady success, so I feel emboldened.

Driving in Bradford – part 1

Many people these days know perfectly well that driving in my home town is becoming somewhat of a trial. In fact, insurance in Bradford can be not only expensive, but some companies will not accept applications for a policy from anyone with a BD postcode. This is entirely down to the overall state of driving in this once great city.

Decent drivers from outside the city who have tried it have said to me how fraught, how frustrating and how bloody scary it was for them, and even very competent and experienced drivers have said that they avoid it if at all possible. It is an embarrassment to me as a Bradfordian, and I have long since realised that I am increasingly singing a solo in trying to drive legally, neatly and politely here. Elsewhere, the relief of driving among like-minded people is physically measurable on a heart rate monitor. It not explained by weight of traffic. Leeds is also very busy but there is a collective and co-operative mindset that I really appreciate.

I wrote “- part 1” in the title of this post because quite simply there is no way that this will be the last time I ever get steamed up about the frustratingly bad driving in Bradford, and ideally I would get some kind of campaign started. I just don’t know where anyone could start, short of banning all taxi drivers currently living or working in Bradford from EVER getting behind the wheel, for work or personal purposes, again.

The Highway Code in Bradford is essentially either completely ignored, or used as a sort of target, as in “let’s see how many of these rules we can break in one ten minute journey”, or similar.

The chief crimes against driving are, in no particular order:

1. Completely ignoring all indications of the right of way or give way signs. For instance, if exiting a side road – especially if turning right – pushing your way into the flow of traffic whether or not there is a gap and expecting everyone else to get out of the way. This is because the people who do this assume that if they are hit from behind, the rearmost driver will be automatically blamed by the insurance companies.
This particular crime is now reaching a point whereby if you are driving on the main road and prevent someone from making this illegal manoeuvre, perhaps by making it politely and firmly clear that you will not stop suddenly to facilitate it and risk being hit from behind, the driver attempting the illegal move will beep at you, gesticulate and shout obscenities out of the window.

2. Cutting across lanes without indicating at all, leaving no gap so that everyone else has to make dangerous avoidance manoeuvres left right and centre. A classic taxi move, and the scum even have the cheek that should you be brave enough to beep at them to indicate your presence (under the Highway Code, the only legitimate use of the horn) then be prepared to find that they will then deliberately drive even more erratically in front of you, blocking you from changing lanes, and even throwing coins and stones at your car to damage it and try to intimidate you right off the road. Think I’m exaggerating? It happened to me. Taxi number 1515, a large silver MPV, if you must know. And the only reason I didn’t report it is because neither the police nor the council will do a thing about it. “It’s his livelihood, we can’t ban or even prosecute him.” That’s the whole reason he should be off the road, you pillock!

3. Taxis. These drivers are, in Bradford, the worst possible bunch of types to be allowed to drive anything. At all, at any time. They should collectively be forced onto public transport, a very fitting punishment in my book because I hate catching the bus almost as much as sharing the road with Bradford taxi drivers.
If you book a private taxi in Bradford, or are picked up by one at a rank, more than likely the driver is not the person registered to drive that vehicle or as a taxi driver. “I’m covering for my cousin, he’s had to go home.” Not only that, the chump at the wheel does not appear to have passed any kind of driving licence, has no idea of the geography of even the major roads in the city centre, and you will have to be pretty darned good at orienteering to make sure you aren’t taken for a ride in every sense of the phrase. Expect – “Eccleshill. Is that Bradford topside?” Which it is, because the city centre is essentially a bowl shape, and therefore most of the outlying villages that merged into it are “topside”, i.e. up the hill. By the same token, Wrose, Clayton, Allerton, Queensbury, Bierley, Bolton, Heaton, Wyke, Idle, Fagley, etc are all “topside”. Don’t confuse the driver by mentioning the points of the compass, or using road names or numbers. Just be prepared to say “right filter lane here – no, other right”, “second on the left, not this one the next one” and so forth. Do not get into any taxi except PERHAPS on a good day a City taxi (white cabs, not general car models) unless you know your way around or have a smartphone with GPS and a map function.
They speed, they don’t wear seatbelts – I totally disagree with the idea that because they get out a lot they should not wear them, that’s pandering to lazy people who cannot be bothered and just want to have special status – and private hire cars often are not roadworthy. It is slightly better than in the past in that they don’t get away with using string to hold the bumpers on any more, but flat tyres, missing headlights, etc are common.
Most of all, they use their work cars for personal use with the taxi plates still on, thereby using bus lanes and so on with impunity as private drivers. I believe that taxis should NOT be allowed to use the bus lanes at all. These lanes are also for cyclists, and taxi drivers are utterly unsuitable lane companions for cyclists.

4. Creeping, and failure to use the handbrake. Many drivers in Bradford automatically park over cycle lanes at traffic lights, and will cheerfully let their cars creep over the white lines and so forth, impatient for the lights to change. However, the worst of the creepers are also least likely to set off promptly and tidily when the lights actually change, often delaying their progress or sticking in first gear for an inordinately long time. I have come to consider this a tactic to try to cause an accident by playing mind games with the driver behind.

5. MSM is not “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre” in Bradford, but “Move, Signal, then look in the Mirror to witness the carnage your poor driving and lack of timely indication has caused”. The number of people who signal what they have just done rather than showing their intentions first to give other drivers a fair opportunity to move co-operatively is staggering. Are they all paranoid that they are being followed by the police, and therefore do not want to give away their tactics too soon? Are they all shaking off undercover agents? No, they are just rubbish drivers.

6. Mobile phone use at the wheel is the norm, not the exception, and the police are so rarely in evidence and dealing with it that such illegal behaviour has a carte blanche, pretty much. This probably contributes to several of the other things that annoy me so much, like taking ages to set off from a junction with no other apparent reason, or swerving on the A647 doing 30mph on the 70mph stretch but insisting that other cars are not allowed to pass… Either text or drive, you cannot do both, legally or physically. No ifs, not buts, no nothing.
I heard someone claiming that young people are so good at texting that they can look elsewhere while they do it, but they don’t when they are behind the wheel – their eyes are firmly on the smartphone screen, checking out which word the auto-text suggestion has thrown up this time. Touchscreen virtual keyboards do not have a position sensor like the pip on the 5 on old mobiles, so it is impossible to type without watching your fingers.

7. It is impossible to cycle or motorcycle safely in Bradford on the roads. Anywhere. Motorbikes are seen as being less worthy of road space because they only have two wheels, and push cyclists have no genuine status at all in Bradford beyond cannon fodder. “But there are cycle lanes and stopping places, and bike racks and everything in Bradford” you say. Yes, there are. However, the average Bradford driver pays not one jot of attention to other road users, entirely bound up in preparing a justification as to why they have more right than anyone else to do whatever the hell they like, and everyone else can go hang.
I have even been the victim of a deliberate targeting by a car, when a vehicle full of youths tried to run me off the road while I was cycling the half mile home from my allotment. I was not jumping a red light, or weaving, I have lights and everything on the bike and the journey was made in broad daylight. I will not ride my bike ever again in Bradford, unless and until there are some serious changes made. I doubt the changes necessary will ever be made.

8. Marijuana is quite commonly smoked in public, and particularly at the wheel. Cars stinking of weed and with clouds of grey smoke emanating from the windows have caused me on at least 10 occasions this year alone to have to shut off the air intake for the cabin of the car so that I don’t inhale the confounded stuff as well. I work in the NHS – I could theoretically be asked to pass a drug test at any point. I would hate to find that passive smoking caused by another driver could lose me my job – these idiots should be stopped.
I reported one of the cars because the only occupant was the driver and so there was only one person who it could be; a 20-something girl with Asian roots. She was the only car in front of me for easily three miles, from Hall Ings right the way to Morrison’s on Thornton Road. I never heard back whether anything was done about it, so I assume the answer is bugger-all…

So there you have it. You are now prepared to drive in Bradford, having been forewarned. Try to maintain your dignity. This sort of appalling driving does tend to lead even the most mild-mannered to eventually shout something like “Well sod that, if he’s doing it, I bloody will too!” and they find themselves driving badly as a sort of counter-attack or self-defence. Those bastards have had more practice – just stay safe as best you can!

Second go at soapmaking – going slightly mad!

Today I have had another go at making soap, and I decided to try several different things with the base soap. This may or may not turn out to be a good idea, but at least the experiment should teach me something.

I only have two pieces of soap left from my previous batch, so I needed to make some more now and give it time to cure. Here it is:

Two pieces of homemade soap

Homemade soap

To make the new soap, I got my equipment together and put newspaper down to protect as much of the area as possible. Here are the items I used:

Sodium hydroxide, olive pomace oil, solid coconut oil and shea butter

Soap ingredients


Essential oils in several small vials

Quite a few essential oils


Optional extra soap components - red, blue and yellow dyes, and pumice powder

Optional extras for soap


A Pyrex bowl, electric whisk and thermometer

Essential equipment


Two bottles of mixed essential oils

Oils I mixed ready for the soap making


A small digital kitchen scales for weighing soap ingredients

Small digital scales for ingredients

The scales are particularly important! I protect mine by covering the plate with a piece of cling film. Then, if any really nasty chemicals such as the sodium hydroxide get on the cling film, it does not matter – that can be thrown away more readily than anything else bar the newspaper.

I measured out the oils and then heated them in a pan until they all melted. Note that the coconut oil is a solid – there are other types that are liquid at room temperature, but this is the best kind for the soap. They don’t look too promising at first:

Soap oils - some as solid lumps of white  - ready fo melting into soap

Soap oils in the pan

Then, once the oils were slowly warming up, I weighed out the cold water (the recipe I have uses weights rather than wet measures) and put it in the pyrex bowl. I then weighed out the sodium hydroxide (or lye) on the scales on top of some cling film, and added it to the water. This reaction is exothermic, which means it generates a lot of heat. By the time the oils have melted, the lye was be nearly boiling hot, all from the chemical reaction.

The next bit I couldn’t photograph because it all either goes far too fast, or needs both hands to be constantly on the job! Once both the oils in the pan and the lye in the water were at about the same temperature – about 45 degrees Celcius – I added them together in the pan and used the electric whisk to mix them. They should reach “trace” – a bit like doing meringues where the egg whites start to leave a trail if you lift the whisk out of them. This took about 15 minutes even with the electric whisk, so I am very glad I did not try to go old school and do it by hand!

I made up a third of the mixture with a seven-essential-oils mix involving Frankincense, Lemongrass, Lemon, Orange, Mandarin, Cinnamon and Ginger. This is quite close to my first ever batch, though I don’t think I bothered with the Cinnamon that time. The second third, I added red dye, and an orange and vanilla mix. The third part, I went silly. Two small cupcake moulds were given some poppy seeds, red and blue dye and lavender oil and then topped up with soap, and mixed. A third cupcake mould was given some pumice powder, blue and yellow dye, and tea tree oil then topped up with soap. I did the same again but making one soap with each of Rosemary and then Tea Tree oil. These should make fancy foot soaps. The last scraps I repeated the lavender and poppy seed mix.

Needless to say, there was a lot of washing up to do! The soaps are now curing quietly in the bedroom, where they should cool slowly to make really nice soaps. I can’t wait to try them out.

Holiday to see the Northern Lights – Iceland 2014

We spent last weekend in Iceland, on a three day trip to tour a few interesting sights and try to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights. We booked this holiday way back in July, after seeing a package deal. Seeing this fantastic natural phenomenon for myself was a long-term dream, so we even went so far as to plan our holiday for the new moon, so that the sky would have the minimum interference.

We arrived in Reykjavik to rain, which quickly turned to heavy snow. This was a mixed blessing. When we had landed, the sight of miles of black sand and ash, rocks and dead grass had been a little depressing. The snow made everything look magical. However, the rain and snow meant that the weather was totally unsuitable for seeing the Aurora. We were concerned, but not too much so.

On the second day, we went on a full day tour, scheduled to take in the Thingvellir (pronounced “Thingvetlir”) National Park, Gullfoss (the Golden Falls, again the ll becomes more like tl) and the Fontana Spa at Laugarvatn (locals seem not to pronounce the tn at the end that much). However, as the dawn takes until about 10 o’clock to give enough light for part of the tour, they made a stop at Alafoss (pronounced something like Orlafoss). This was a surprise to everyone, and a very nice surprise for me as it is the historical home of the traditional lopi Icelandic wool! So we browsed around the shop for about 20 minutes, mostly spent trying to convert Icelandic kronur into pounds sterling and realising that everything is very expensive, except balls of wool. Reader, I did hold back from buying out half the stock in the shop, but I did manage to get a business card with details of a 15% discount on first online purchase. 😉

Thingvellir is right on the edge of two geo-tectonic plates, which are slowly pulling Iceland in two, stretching it in the middle by about 3 centimetres a year. The tour guide, in a lovely deadpan with classic Scandinavian humour, explained that this is Iceland’s long-term world domination plan… We reached the place itself in time to take some fantastic photos of the sunrise and the snow, the colours so reminiscent of the wools at Alafoss.

We passed through Laugarvatn and Geysir on our way to Gullfoss, which was icy, windy and beautiful. The trick was keeping the camera lens dry and not getting blown sideways on the ice while taking pictures. I took a video or two, and all that was picked up as sound was a deafening roar from the wind, whichever way I pointed the camera. The path up to the falls was started by a rather doughty and single-minded young lady and her sisters in the 19th century, and she is commemorated there.

We returned to Geysir to the roadside cafe and gift shop in time for lunch, and to walk over the road to see the geysers. Many of these are just potholes full of roiling hot mineral water, and many are just jets of steam and water vapour coming out of the ground. However, one, called Strokkur and referred to as if it was a person – “he” – spouts a huge plume of hot water every 5 to 10 minutes. It was possible to stand within a few metres as the underground activity powered this terrific natural water feature.

We ended the tour at Laugarvatn, where the staff showed us how they cook rye bread in an old-fashioned manner by burying it for 24 hours in a sealed steel pan in the sand by the lake. The sand is very wet not from the lake water but from another of the many hot springs in the area. The heat cooks the bread beautifully – we all got to test it!

The spa uses the heat from the hot vents and springs in several ways to create a full experience. The steam is channelled into steam rooms, the water is fed into various pools to keep them at temperatures from 32 degrees Celsius to 41 degrees, and the pools are all outside. It seems somewhat crazy at first to sit outside in winter in a swimsuit, but it is lovely.

On our third full day, we spent the daytime wandering around Reykjavik 101 district, the maritime museum and the frozen lake, anxiously watching the clouds and wondering whether the evening tour would be cancelled. It was not cancelled – the clouds finally parted enough to make Aurora hunting worthwhile. This was the first time in a week that the conditions had been good, so there were lots of tour buses heading away from Reykjavik that night, all hoping to get away from the city lights.

We first saw the lights south of Reykjavik but looking northward, in a layby next to a fairly busy road. It wasn’t ideal, but these phenomena are so random that you have to take whatever chance you get to witness them. Several interesting and frustrating photos later, the coach driver decided that far too many other coaches had stopped alongside us. Our slightly mad tour leader thought he knew a much better spot for watching, and he was right.

We stopped again at Hellisgerdi, a small nature area near a geothermal beach. It was much darker and quieter than the layby, and with a tripod we got some really good long-exposure photographs. I found it almost difficult to believe my eyes when I was watching the ephemeral lights, because the way they move is a bit like a slow gas flame; it is as if a constant optical illusion is at work. The camera is not fooled, and can only show what turns up on the CCD. Taking the photos helped prove to myself that I had actually seem what I thought I saw!

It was a great night – we had an early flight, but at least we had seen what we came for, and we were so grateful. So many people can stay somewhere for weeks on end and not see the Aurora once, and we took a chance on a three day trip and were rewarded.

First Steps in Soapmaking

Well this summer I gave cold process soap-making a go, having read a couple of websites and deciding that I want to stop using palm oil in my life as much as possible.  I love orang-utans, as my favourite author does, and it is heart-breaking to see the “person of the forest” increasingly become the “person with no forest left”.  These highly intelligent and interesting apes are far more important than the convenience of the palm oil.  And I do not believe that it is as good in all the uses it is put to as is claimed. It is in just about any processed food you can buy, and also in loads of cosmetics.

The soap was a great success, using olive pomace oil, coconut oil and shea butter as the basis and then going slightly mad with all my favourite essential oils!  I am nearly at the end of the first loaf-tin-full, and so this week I shall try to get in another batch. 

Here are some of the websites and so on that I found useful when making my soap:

http://www.soap-making-resource.com/cold-process-soap-making.html was great for a basic instruction for the cold process.  There are loads of typos that I found distracting – took ages to work out that “leaf mold” meant “loaf mould”!  But the instructions were essentially spot on.

https://www.thesage.com/calcs/LyeCalc.html was a fantastic tool for working out the recipe I wanted, especially given that I have not made soap before.  It helps you to work out important things like “super-fatting”, where you put in more fat than the lye can convert, both for safety (no nasty lye left over at the end), and for skin moisturising.  You also get an indication of how the various types of fat work singly or in combination, with useful information included.

https://www.thesage.com/calcs/FragCalc.html And this is their calculator to try to indicate how much fragrance or essential oil to add.  This is probably not going to be pin-point accurate, as the grades of oils and their strengths can vary, but it should get you somewhere near.

I can add a couple of tips of my own:

1.  Cover the main processing area (apart from the cooker of course!) with loads of old newspapers.  This will make tidying up much easier. 

2.  If using an electric device to spare yourself having to hand-whisk for up to an hour, choose a cheap stick blender rather than a whisk type machine.  Otherwise, you are going to have a terrible time trying not to cover the kitchen in blobs of half-made soap…!

3.  I found that the colourant I wanted to use was wholly inadequate.  Maybe it was meant to do a smaller quantity, but after sticking in half a bottle I decided it was unnecessary anyway. 

4.  Choose fragrances or essential oils that will work for everyone who will need to use the soap.  My boyfriend would not want to smell of lavender, so a bath soap cannot contain it.  Frankincense, however, is suitably “blokey” and very good for the skin, so that is a winner.  Mandarin and Roman chamomile are supposed to be sufficiently benign that they can be used in baby products, so they should be fairly safe too.  I love lemongrass, orange and ginger, and fortunately most of those blend well with each other.  I got a lovely well-rounded scent in the end.

 

Further adventures with wine

Well, it has been nearly a year since I started the wine I blogged about, and I haven’t kept up with the blog very well.  The wine, however, has matured nicely. 

The wine is lovely – it tastes almost fizzy, though it is not a sparkling wine, and there are very nice blackcurrant flavours. Tim says this is nicer than any of the commercial rose wines we have ever bought, and I agree! I think it is about 11% alcohol, so it should store quite nicely.

Six bottles of rose wine in green bottles

Bottled Blackcurrant Wine

I bottled the wine last week, in anticipation of storage issues when the freezer cannot cope with the output of my blackcurrant bush.

It is just one bush, but it is a Ben Lomond.  This variety just sounded nice when I bought it, but I don’t think I could have found a better variety for my allotment.  I read up about it recently at http://www.blackcurrantfoundation.co.uk/varieties.html and it seems that with the need for a very cold winter to make it fruit well, and a late flowering, it is perfect for the Yorkshire climate!

The bottling also meant that I had the ideal wedding gift for a friend of mine who is heavily into gardening fruit and veg, guerilla gardening, wine and beer brewing, and similar.  To be able to say “this is one of only six bottles, and it is my first go at wine” was pretty special.  She seemed pretty pleased, anyway.  Another bottle went to my Mum, who has been hinting heavily that she wouldn’t mind trying my wines out…  Hmmm, perhaps she likes wine too much.

So that freed up another demijohn.  I have started a new batch, double quantity this time, and with a slightly different yeast.

Here’s the stuff I used:

Notebook, recipes, sterilising powder, yeast, nutrient and pectolase

Notebook, recipes, sterilising powder, yeast, nutrient and pectolase

The recipes are a very popular book “First Steps in Winemaking” by CJJ Berry. Just reading it, you realise how long the book has been going, and the author!, and there is a lot of practical advice. Last year I used a super-fast general yeast, but this year I am using VR21 as suggested by the brewing shop at Morley Home Brew Centre near Leeds. Apparently it should not strip out as much colour or flavour as the fast yeasts. The pectolase is vital because blackcurrants have a lot of pectin, which yeast doesn’t like.

Water trap, siphon and cork pusher

Water trap, siphon and cork pusher

The siphon is for moving wine gently between containers, as too much oxygen will spoil it. The cork pusher comes into its own at the end of the process. The water-trap airlock is vital to allow carbon dioxide to escape while the wine brews without allowing infection in.

25 litre plastic mashing bin

25 litre plastic mashing bin

All the kit – including the funnel and silk/muslin I use to filter out the pips and dead yeast – is sterilised using sodium metabisulphate granules first, so that no wild yeasts or bacteria can get into the wine.

This is where the fun starts!

6 pounds of frozen blackcurrants

Frozen blackcurrants – 6 pounds here

The essential part – I keep them frozen as much because I cannot always make wine right away as because it helps the fruit to mash and reduces wild yeasts.

cane sugar

cane sugar

This is Fairtrade cane sugar, but I am sure that most true sugars (not Splenda, sweetex, and the like) will work. There were 6 pounds of this to add to the 9 litres of water, which is then boiled. The whole lot is added to the fruit once the sugar had dissolved completely. The heat helps to unfreeze the fruit. When the temperature is under blood hot the pectolase is added. This is given 24 hours to work, and the yeast – half a sachet – is added. The sachet claims to be good enough for 2.5 times the volumes I have described here, but it is better to have slightly more yeast that slightly too little.

A clear glass 5 litre demijohn with thermometer strip attached

Demijohn

When the main mashing/brewing stage has passed, the wine is siphoned off into two of these sterilised glass demijohns for the last of the yeast to eat the last of the sugar much more slowly. The siphon still needs to pass the wine through the funnel and silk filtering arrangement to get rid of pips and dead yeast. An airlock will protect it from exploding or getting infected, also indicating whether brewing is still taking place, and the thermometer strip allows me to see whether it is warm enough. Once the yeast sediments settle firmly at the bottom of the jar, the wine will be very carefully siphoned off into another sterile jar to fully clear before bottling. This stops the dead yeast from spoiling the wine.

Rumtopf just in time for Christmas

Tonight I hope to start a fruity and boozy treat called Rumtopf that is very popular at Christmas in Germany and Denmark.  It was traditionally a way of making sure there was fruit to eat during winter, using nature’s most reliable preservatives – sugar and alcohol!

The recipe I have is supposed to start as soon as the strawberries are ripe, and then more fruits are added as they come into season.  You need a glazed ceramic jar, or a glass jar with a cover to block out light so that the colours do not fade,  with a tight-fitting lid.  Enamel, or any metal container, will spoil the flavours of the contents with a taint.

The first pound (or half-kilo) of fruit is mixed with a pound of sugar, then rum is added until the fruit is submerged.  Every subsequent pound of fruit gets half a pound of sugar, and the rum gets topped up until the jar cannot take any more.

This grows over several months, usually, so that by Christmas everything should be a wonderful, sweet and colourful mix of all sorts of fruits.  Starting with strawberries, there are loads of other fruits that should be compatible with this storage method, including de-stoned and quartered plums (or any large stone fruit such as peaches, nectarines, apricots), de-stoned cherries, raspberries, blueberries, grapes, even pineapple!

I need to find out whether fruits that would usually be cooked will work, like blackcurrants or gooseberries.  I also need to find out whether it is possible to use a spiced rum, or add some spices, and if so when it is best to add them.  I suspect that they might be best at the end of the process.

I saw plenty of  jars on eBay, but most were in Germany, so I was concerned about the shipping.  If we go back there on holiday again in the campervan, I will definitely try to buy a Rumtopf jar on the way back.  Instead, I found a smart clear glass jar in a fantastic store in York – it has fluted sides and a silicone lid seal, which will hold up to 5 litres of liquid.  I don’t want to make so much Rumtopf that we get too sick of it to finish it!

It does look as though rather a lot of my work recently in the kitchen – beyond the daily meals – has involved alcohol…  I will have to redress the balance soon.

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about women who do amazing things

Rachel E. Moss

Blogging on feminism, medieval studies, teaching and learning

the inquisitive vintner [ + His Daughter]

A Yooper, psychology professor, amateur winemaker...and his daughter

The Contemplative Mammoth

ice age ecology, early career academia, and diversity in STEM

braintofingers

This is all the stuff that happens in my brain, translated to my fingers.

The Nerdy Farm Wife

All my random interests in one place

The Rookie Allotmenteers

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow (Audrey Hepburn)

Winemaking in west Wales

Brew brew brew brew brew brew brew brew brewwww

Ben's Adventures in Wine Making

All my random interests in one place

Hiking Photography

Beautiful photos of hiking and other outdoor adventures.

Sarah's Patterns

A place for me to document all the projects in my head

Prudhoe Gardeners' Association

Prudhoe Town Allotments