Monday, May 29, 2017

Nettle beer and boozy cherries

Just sent the following email to Fr. Prior in Norcia:

It all came to about 25 litres, in all sizes of bottle. Need more bottles!
A bit disappointed by the colour. I was hoping for a nice dark green. 

"Dear brewmonks,

I couldn't have done it without y'all. If he's off the innernets, please tell Br. Augustine that I took all the advice I could remember, and that I used the hops I collected and dried last summer in Norcia. They are still very fragrant, and nice. (And that a walk along the ferrovia will reveal that the stuff just grows like wild-crazy all over the area, so go get some!) About a pound and a half of fresh nettles came from the big patch in the garden.

I couldn't find any beer yeast in the village shops, so I used this thing, "lieveto madre" that I think is the equivalent of our sourdough starter, but it said on the packet that it was made from beer yeast, so I figured what the heck. It smelled a bit like pizza at first, but soon smelled nice and beery. It sat in the big bucket for a week, until, as per instructions, it had mostly stopped its mighty fizzing, but I could see it was still active. Tasted like beer too. Into each bottle I put a few little pieces of this super-strong fresh organic ginger we've got around here, and I mixed up a little more yeast with some honey and spooned it into each bottle.

Bottled it up last night, about 25 litres worth, I think. (All the bottles were different sizes, so I don't really know.)

Also, the rosehip wine that I made last May with the last bits of the monk-beer yeast has turned out beautifully. It's quite tart because rosehips are incredibly acidic, but its really refreshing and got quite fizzy, and rather alcoholic. No more than two glasses for me! But the work involved in picking, boiling, mashing, straining (3 times) through cheesecloth made the 7 litres I got not really a good investment. I'll stick to making them into jelly."


Boozy cherries, stewing away. 

Pity I missed elderflower season. Last year's elderflower champagne (using yeast the brewmonks gave me left over from their operation) turned out gloriously, and I did up about ten litres of non-alcoholic elderflower cordial and kept it in the freezer all summer. But the nettle beer took every bottle I had.

But we'll have elderberries by mid-July, and I can make some more elderberry cordial. The last batch I did was ages ago in England, and I followed a medieval recipe that called for cloves (it was a medicinal thing - medieval cough and cold remedy) but I didn't care for the cloves and I think I'll leave them out this time.

Clearly need more bottles.

The recipe for the boozy cherries is kind of complex and tricky, but I encourage everyone to give it a go. Nothing like lovely cherry cocktails, warmed up with about a half teaspoon of honey, in the cold weather.


a kilo of fresh, ripe local cherries
two litres of el-cheapo vodka
two large preferably hinge-top jars

Wash the jars. Rinse the cherries under a cold tap. Put them in the jar.

Now, here's the tricky bit: pour the vodka into the jars over the cherries. Stick on the lids.

You may be tempted to experiment and stick on the lids before you pour the vodka, but I'd recommend against it.

Put the jars somewhere out of the way for six months.

Share and enjoy.

(I've tried it both with and without a little simple sugar syrup, and I find I prefer it without. If you want it sweet, the honey can be added in when you drink the cherry juice.)

(I'll spare you the ten-hour version)

I'm also digging like a dwarf in the garden. The big patch that's exclusively mine to play with is really just a huge patch of bare earth. A complete blank slate. It's got about ten small fruit and ornamental trees in it, but needs to have the soil improved and get some ground cover plants in there. The soil here is river silt, which means it's pretty dense clay and sticky, but extremely fertile. But if it's left bare it gets very dry and packed down. I have yet to figure out why the extremely lush grass in the orchard just stops abruptly at that line.

I'm digging big round raised beds around each tree, using the length of my big spade to measure the diameter, with the tree as the centre point. These I'm ringing with some big, weathered and mossy squared masonry stones that are piled up along the fence. I'd also like to try my hand at making some wattled fences. There are bundles of cut twigs from trimming the fruit trees just lying about, and apparently not being used for anything. They belong to my neighbour, but I'm sure he won't mind me taking them off his hands. Like any farm, there is loads of unused spare stuff lying around.

I know it's way too late in the season, but I'm working like mad on this book and if I don't have something physical to do my brain will melt. And really I don't think I've found anything that gets the cobwebs out of your brain quicker than taking huge, round overhead swings at the earth with a big iron mattock! (And I'm losing all that podge I put on by sitting around on the sofa in Santa Marinella, sulking for six months.) I'm just levering up the big clods, hacking them into smaller clods, and then watering the soil to soften it up. Then I loaded a big thick layer of cut grass over it to keep the moisture in. It seems to be working. Next, when the whole ring is finished, a layer of soil goes on top of the grass cuttings, and I keep it covered and keep watering it.

I'm just going to seed it, I think. I've got a load of wildflower seeds I collected in Norcia, and a bunch more in packets. We have a sort of second spring in September when the temperature drops and the rain comes back, so a lot of the wildflowers and plants that can't take the heat and dry weather spring back up, so maybe we'll see a blooming. If not, we can wait. Gardening is really all about patience and long-term planning.

Country life. It's the only life worth living.



Kathleen1031 said...

It is my dream too, and God willing, a home awaits for me somewhere next summer. I don't know if it will be a country home, but a home where I will try to find some measure of peace, which we have a right to try to pursue as we travel through this vale of tears.

Marianne said...

Your nettle beer sounds wonderful, but it might have been a mistake to add more yeast and sugar to the bottles. There's a good chance these will explode! A safer bet would have been to gently mix in a little (~5oz) sugar or honey to the full batch prior to bottling. In my experience, there is usually enough residual yeast still alive to fully carbonate the brew.

Hilary White said...

I follow Br. Augustine's instructions carefully, and burp the bottles every morning, precisely with avoiding this outcome in mind. Way ahead of you.

Maureen said...

Have you considered writing a cookbook? With your illustrations? Chock full of wonderful stories about your explorations of the Italian countryside? With all kinds of wonderful herbal things like this. It would sell well and you can,have money to buy a wonderful old house for you and the kitties.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Actually, I've been waiting for a chance to start my Hilary in Umbria Youtube cooking/travel show. I really need someone to hold the camera.