Archive for November, 2012

The last of the garden kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala ‘Cavolo nero’) clings on and needs harvesting before falling to flowering and a spring onslaught of cabbage moth and aphids; fat hen (Chenopodium album; ‘lamb’s quarters’ or ‘goosefoot’ to some) is coming through all over the place (plenty enough in vegie gardens to weed it from where you can best trust dirt); the self-sown seed amaranth (Amaranthus hypochondriacus) that is now essentially a weed in my allotment (and, embarrassingly my fault, some neighbouring ones) is practically leaping out of the ground; the native spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides) along the coast is flush with tender new growth.

They are thrown in a pot together to boil, then cooled, squeezed out, chopped and frozen in blocks, each one a roundup of the world of people and plants, with the various components in them being: from all around the world; from across the full spectrum from wild to highly selected cultivar grown from carefully tended seed; from different botanical families (if we can sneak the chenopods back out of Amaranthaceae) but all commonly compared to spinach (which ironically went to seed unharvested in the herb garden outside the front door).

And for those reasons alone I post on this otherwise fairly unremarkable harvest of kitchen greens.

Native spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides): A wild plant from much of the Pacific rim although most associated with Australia and New Zealand; cultivated occasionally there, rarely in Europe and commercially in Brazil; but in my case wild and flourishing in huge stands along Sydney’s coast.

Fat hen (Chenopodium album): While grown commercially in India at least and related to quinoa (whose grain is a South American staple), this is resolutely considered a weed across much of the world.

Grain amaranth (Amaranthus hypochondriacus): Amaranths were a staple crop of pre-Columbian America, popular in India and Greece and include species that range from valued food to despised weed; I grew some of this type as an experiment a few years ago and now just harvest whatever pops up – so it is both crop and weed to me.

Tuscan kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala ‘Cavolo nero’) is about the only cooking green I grow on purpose (thinning out young beetroot excepted); a carefully selected cultivar carefully tended from seed imported from Europe and grown determinedly in rows for the better part of a year.


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Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) gazpacho

Wild watercress (Nasturtium officinale) – sharper and hotter than the cultivated version, to be used sparingly in salads but great for soups

Hugging a clean little trickle of water on the steep side of the Wollondilly Valley between Bullio and Goodmans Ford, there is a lovely little patch of watercress (Nasturtium offininale). I’ve known it was there for a few years, struggling away through the seasons and our rainfall variability; and struggling away was about all that I thought that this patch of watercress did. But it has been a wet year, I have been checking more regularly, and for a fairly brief Spring window between Winter quiescence and flowering, the struggle was over. It was harvest time.

Foraging watercress in the Wollondilly Valey

I am not a stranger to wild watercress, with the same stuff growing well in little pockets of sandstone filtered seeps along Sydney’s coast, but that is the stuff of little snippets taken here and there; more a peppery spice collection than a serious vegetable harvest. This time I gathered bags full.

Bulk harvested greens to me are a thing for blanching, chopping and freezing in friand or muffin trays for later use (most commonly with amaranth, native spinach or mixes including them). Then the obvious watercress recipe to me is a soup; but there is a seasonal problem here – a spring harvest loads my freezer ready with a soup ingredient… just in time for summer. And our summers are rarely soup weather. Enter the idea of watercress gazpacho, one of those ideas that is new when you think of it and feels like your own invention; but the eureka moment quickly gives way to knowing that if it really is such a sensible seasonal idea it is very unlikely to be an original one. A few minutes in the near infinity of internet recipes confirmed it, with enough variations to mix to suit the ingredients available, and there it was – spring watercress gazpacho.

It starts on a base stock of celery, bay, dried sea lettuce and parsley, with zest of 1 lemon added towards the end of a 10 minute simmer.

Once strained, the stock joins the juice of 2 cans of tomatoes through the food mill (passata or bottled tomato juice are also an option).

Frozen blocks of blanched chopped watercress go in along with a few peeled cucumbers (de-seed if you like) and some stale bread (I trimmed the crusty bits into the soup and diced the white parts for croutons to add at the end).

It all gets a blitz with a hand blender, is left to fully cool, and then served with a garnish of croutons, sour cream, Worcestershire sauce and parsley. A nasturtium (Tropolaeum majus) flower, also known as ‘Indian cress’ is an optional fancy touch. The fanciness is a nice ironic twist because it then tastes and looks fantastic while remaining composed entirely of things foraged, cheap and left-over; and it brings back a reminder of peppery cress taste largely lost with the watercress now diluted and made mild with cooking.

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Mulberry (Morus nigra) wine; made in Spring as a perfect light Summer red

There is surprisingly little out there on making mulberry (Morus spp.) wine given their abundance and that I think it makes a very passable light red. Perhaps it is because they aren’t as common in the fruit wine heartlands of the northern hemisphere like England and America (English language ones at least).

Hank Shaw (blogger and author of Hunt, Gather, Cook) takes his foraged winemaking pretty seriously and has a couple of recipes that could work for mulberries if you add some extra acidity (perhaps a meld of his elderberry and raisin wine recipes here would work. Jack Keller, of the American country winemaking online bible, has some mulberry wine recipes but doesn’t rave about it (see here).  Don’t be put off though, because for one thing he is talking about the American red mulberry (Morus rubra), which I suspect doesn’t carry as much body as the black mulberry (Morus nigra).

Frederick Beech’s book Homemade Wines, Syrups and Cordials suggests using blackberry wine recipes, but I think this will still leave the low acidity unaddressed. Gloria Oxford’s Australian Make Your Own Wine has a recipe that is fairly standard (which for her includes adding some tannic and citric acid at the start), with the exception of also adding some red grape juice concentrate to increase the body. In my view if you are going to do this (unless you wake up in Prohibition-era America when it was at the heart of home winemaking), you might as well skip it at the fermenting stage and blend with a shop-bought red wine if you still feel it lacks oomph at the end – don’t knock until you’ve tried it; I think that you can often blend a homemade country wine with a bought grape wine and do better than either on their own.

Accepting that there is a low acidity issue to address, but still knowing from past years that a black mulberry wine can be great, I have had success with two different starting blends. One is to save up frozen mulberries until autumn and then blend with the sometimes excessive body of an elderberry wine (and last year, the meager handful of foraged blackberries I came up with). For now though, with my last big mulberry harvest possibly behind me for the year, it is time for the Spring wine: Mulberries given some added acidity and flavour by the other Spring favourites of rhubarb, strawberries and lemon.

Even the simplest country wines are blends in their own way, even if just by a few additions of lemon for citric acid, a cup of black tea for tannin or a handful of sultanas for yeast support (these are genuinely orthodox ingredients). Complexity is a sought after thing in wine; blending is how you get it and very much at the heart of the art and experimental adventure of it in country wine. If you want the ingredient and winemaking in pure form, eat mulberries and buy a Pinot Noir.


2 demijohns (4.5 litres each) with airlock fitted corks, and 1 extra demijohn for racking (you can use other options with big jars, big bottles, buckets covered with cloth, or adjusted volumes in other brewing vessels, but a demijohn or three from a brewing shop (or second hand) are worth getting); a really big pot or two; a funnel (I’m still on plastic but stainless steel would be better for sterilising); bottles and lids for 9 litres (swing tops, beer bottles if you have a crown sealer, wine bottles if you have corks and a corker or want to try sterilising used screw caps).


You can get powders to add to water for sterilizing but I have come around to thinking that everything can, and should, be done with boiling water – any contrary view is just in the absence of a big enough pot or the presence of too much plastic.


The amounts partly come down to a feeling for what will make a good mix and the amounts that the Spring yielded. Below is not a recipe in the normal sense because you would inevitably have different ingredients. This was for 2 demijohns to ferment at the same time, so 1 batch would be half quantities

  • 2.5kg  mulberries, which comprised:
  • 1100g fresh mulberries;
  • 750g frozen mulberries;
  • 650g mulberry skins (a by-product of making the cordial, sharab el toot)
  • 400g rhubarb, sliced;
  • 200g strawberries;
  • Zest and juice of 3 lemons;
  • 6 litres of preservative free apple juice (you can just use water with extra sugar, but I have taken to basing all my berry fruit wines on apple juice these days)
  • 1kg white sugar (this the simplest, rawest stuff for yeast to work on)
  • 400 g honey (honey is a mix of glucose, fructose and sucrose and is harder to work easily as the sole sugar source for the yeast to make alcohol from, hence blending with the other sugars; honey also tends to make the wine need more aging for some reason);
  • 200g palm sugar (because it was there and I have successfully used it in higher proportions before);
  • Good wine yeast (not ale yeast, lager yeast, baker’s yeast or anything other than a wine yeast; you can mail-order it online)

Rhubarb and strawberries stockpiled frozen, lemons for zest and juice, and a lot of mulberries

Preservative free apple juice as a base

Everything goes in a pot, along with the sugar and honey, to be heated just enough to sterilise it


My winemaking heats the juice; some might frown, but I am happy with the results and am unhappy with the common alternatives of adding chemicals or the risk of spoiled wine. The trick is to not boil it, it just needs to get over 70-80 degrees for 5 minutes or so; if it does it hit the boil, turn it off and the total time at bacteria-killing temperature should be alright.

Put everything in the pot and bring to something just under a boil and turn off with the lid left on – it is a balance between getting sterility and trying to lose as few complex flavours and aromatics that may boil off as possible. Put the lid on while it cools down. When it dips below 30 Celsius (in the absence of a thermometer just get something closer to room temperature than body temperature), add the wine yeast. Put it somewhere with the lid still on at a stable temperature of around a steady 20 degrees C (the low teens will be too cold for the yeast and up towards 30 too hot). Hopefully within a day you are able to lift the lid a crack and hear the tiny hiss of the yeast’s respired CO2 bubbles (the by-product of sugars becoming alcohol; the same puff that makes bread rise).

A good wine yeast is sprinkled over the cooled down must

After two or three days with the solids in the must you should have a raging yeast population amid which the chance of rival fungus or bacteria getting in is low. Now you can strain it. Ideally get a wine bag inside another big clean pot, otherwise some kind of muslin / cheesecloth arrangement and pour the must into it. Let it drip through, give the last of it a bit of a squeeze. Let the yeast rebuild their strength open fermenting again with the lid on until it seems vibrant again in maybe a day.

All going well, the yeast will get so busy in a day or two to give an audible fizzling sound as it respires CO2

Now it’s time to put it in the proper fermenting vessels. This wants to have an airlock and be sterilised. It may ferment away for a month in here, depending on how much sugar you started with, the temperature, the yeast, the amount of other nutrients that yeast like, and a good few more variables. The recipe above was done for me in two weeks, but this seemed strangely quick. It is a good idea to rack it at least once before the end. This involves pouring it into a new vessel, slowly and carefully so as to leave the sludge on the bottom (you can siphon it to do this using a tube with the intake just above the sludge and get even better separation). In the current case, I confess to not racking at all other than bottling carefully and discarding sludge – I was away and it was fully done when I got back and I don’t like to risk racking full fermented musts as they can spoil unless boosted with more sugar into renewed fermenting vigour.

Once in the demijohn, you continue to keep an eye on fermentation by the bubbles through the airlock on the lid and fizzing up the side of the glass

Leave to ferment somewhere with a stable temperature and out of the light – this is only on the window sill for the photo

When you are sure that fermentation has stopped, bottle it. You can give it a taste at this stage and if it tastes fully dry you know that the sugars are all used up and it is safe to bottle. If it is still sweet, either the fermentation is still going or it has become ‘stuck’; this could be because you started with too much sugar and the alcohol level has gotten up to yeast killing levels or because it has failed for another reason (rather than try to cover all contingencies here, I’d suggest you look online under ‘stuck fermentation’). You may actually want a sweet wine, but don’t let yourself be fooled that a stuck fermentation is the sweetness you wanted. If it is still fermenting when it goes in the bottles the pressure from the CO2 buildup could blow them up (unless you are lucky and instead it gives you a sparkling wine). Anything intentionally sweetish I would recommend putting in the fridge for a few weeks after bottling to knock any yeast down (hopefully that is – they may wake up again later). You can also use something sweet (intentionally or otherwise) as the base of a fortified wine and add a clean white spirit like vodka (pisco is great for this too) – this will stop fermentation as well as using extra sweetness as a mask of the final potency.

As a guide, you want about 1 kg of sugar to a 4.5 litre demijohn batch – my quantities above (for 2 demijohns) do something like this between the cane sugar (1kg), honey (400g), palm sugar (200g), sugars in the apple juice (600g; apple juice being typically about 10% sugar) and sugars in the fruit (negligible in the whole scheme of things, but maybe 100g); allowing that I will lose some liquid at straining. This a complete guess, educated by experience but not any sums, that I will end up with a wine of 11-13% alcohol with just a little residual sweetness.

Once bottles, it wants 3-6 months aging (but both patience and impatience have their own rewards)

You then want to store the bottles for 3-6 months. Some wines want different aging and some winemakers (me for one) are more impatient than others. When I did once store a couple of bottles of almost everything we made when I was first getting into country winemaking in England (stockpiling for the farewell party), I was generally disappointed by many that were a year or more old.

The wine above came out very drinkable right at bottling, which tells me that it will be great in 3 months and a treat if I am able to keep any lids on for six months. As a red, it is light, more coloured red than of the long-aging body one associates with grape reds – after a year I would be making sure to get it off the shelf and into a glass in case it started to head downhill from its peak.

This wine drank well enough out of the fermenter to know that at least a couple of bottles won’t see it past Christmas

Original mulberry post here

Mulberry jam post here

Mulberry cordial (sharab el toot) post here

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