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.
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.
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 The wavy loaf and the five pots are the Orange and Vanilla soap, the big slab is the Five Oil soap.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
The gooseberry wine is still bubbling away at the same rate, although it has now absorbed all the sugar. The recipe instructions said to re-rack it last Friday, but it was nowhere near ready then, and there is no sediment to take it off yet. I’ll wait until it slows down or the yeast starts piling up at the bottom.
The question is – what to try next? I really would like to give a Rumtopf a go, but I would need one of those special jars that are made best in Germany. Oh, well. I may have to eBay it!
Last night I took the gooseberry wine juice and yeast mixture off the fruit pulp and tried to add the sugar as per the recipe. However this was not easy. I have been left with a demijohn full of pink juice resting on a bed of white sugar stubbornly sitting at the bottom of the jar. So either I have to stir it regularly and risk spoiling it in some way, or wait for the remaining yeast to slowly munch its way through the sugar layer.
To be fair, the carbon dioxide is chugging out of the airlock rather nicely, and there are pretty bubbles chasing up the sides. This never happened with the blackcurrant wine.
The final concern is that because the sugar did not dissolve properly, I couldn’t take a specific gravity reading for the “before fermenting” reading. It has sort of fermented with the sugars in the fruit, but not a lot. I can only hope that the “before the sugar” reading is sufficient.
I suppose that after all I am experimenting, and if I find that either recipe does not work, I can always start again with a new batch. There are plenty more blackcurrants, and Tim found that I had stashed some gooseberries in his freezer!
The weekend has seen a lot of work done in the freezer and the baking department! I made my special chicken and vegetable pizza (from scratch – no jars of pizza topping, bread from the recipe not a packet). Then simultaneously I made a rather last-minute blackcurrant meringue pie, trying desperately to use up the 6kg of blackcurrants I found when I cleared the freezer out… And to top it all, I finally had room to put the peas away.
The peas that I first planted this year, at around the normal time, failed abjectly to sprout. So in July I was so disappointed that I planted a whole new batch, including some Heritage Seed Library hand-me-downs from Tim’s garden. These are no longer commercially available so it is illegal to sell them, but in their day they were sold under the name Stephen’s Pea, and have bright purple pods. Marvellous plants to look at! The peas are lovely, and there are loads in each pod.
The peas have been sitting in the bottom drawer of the fridge in their pods waiting for room in the freezer, so they are not at their absolute best but should be okay in stews or similar. I will, of course, be saving some to sow next year.
If you are interested in the Heritage Seed Library, follow the link. Tim’s mother bought him a membership one year for his birthday, and you get a set of five seed types (or did) when you join. You can pick plant types that you are interested in or get a random selection. The idea is that you sow the seeds, make sure you keep them true (by not planting things they could cross-pollinate with nearby) and when you finally grow enough to spare, you give some back to the HSL for them to pass on again. It is all about protecting old varieties that were once commercial, but whose seed patents have lapsed.
I am into week two of my first attempt at making wine. I decided that this would be the most efficient and pleasant way to empty the freezer, so once I am sure that the blackcurrant wine is working, I’m going to try some red gooseberry wine as well. I have a lovely little book called First Steps in Winemaking by CJJ Berry to help me. The author has a real sense of fun – he was probably tipsy when writing it!
The wine was started on 15/09/12 with 3lb blackcurrants, 3lb sugar and 4.5litres of boiling water. It had to be treated with pectin-destroying enzyme for 24 hours, and then the yeast and nutrient went in to brew for six days. It is now in a demijohn to let the yeast settle out, so that I can rack it properly. Tonight I need to work out whether it is okay or has stuck.