Saturday, 21 May 2011

Guilty pleasures

I haven't posted for a month and I've missed it.  The reasons being that I took a couple of weeks holiday over the Easter/Royal Wedding/Bank Holiday period to see various family members, plus my internet connection has been a bit dodgy at home recently and, to be perfectly honest I've been too tired in the evenings after work to sit down in front of another computer screen and start typing again.

So it's going to be hard to write this one without it ending up being a small novel.  I'll do my very best not to waffle........but I'm making no promises! So, what shall I begin with? ah, yes, the plum wine.

A few weeks ago I finally bottled my plum wine. All 3 bottles! Yep, out of a gallon initially made I ended up with half a gallon which made the grand total of 3 bottles.  People had warned me that you get a lot of sediment in making plum wine but I wasn't prepared for how much.  Still, it's made a good wine and I'm pleased with the taste and the look of it.  I will make more in the future but

a) I'll make a much bigger batch and
b) remember to add more sugar (the initial tasting revealed an extremely sharp wine, so I added an extra 5ozs of sugar and went through the fermentation process again; making a total of 5 'racking' sessions)

It's slightly sweet, not too sickly though, and has a pale peach colour. I usually like my wines dry but this isn't a bad drink at all!  Slightly thicker - if that's the right word - in consistency than the elderberry I made last autumn, which apparently means it has a higher alcohol content. When I tip the glass there's a little delay in some of the liquid sliding back down; something to do with evaporation and surface tension?  Yeah, that's getting far too technical for me too.

Next on the list? I think I'm going to have a go at making carrot wine.  I've made wine from berries and it's time to have a go at the root.

I began this blog mainly to keep a record of the development of my garden; alongside that I'll occasionally ramble on about other things - usually around the subject of outdoor spaces - that I feel like sharing.  So here's some ramblings about some places I visited whilst away.  I'll get to the status of the vegetables towards the end - something to look forward to.

During the two week break I did nothing in the garden.  Instead I took time out to visit various family members.  I did have a slight guilty feeling about not using the time to crack on with jobs outside, which lasted around half a day before being pushed firmly to the back of my mind. Sometimes it's not just work I need a break from.

First stop - Northamptonshire branch of the family; my younger brother and his girlfriend. We took a picnic to Stowe gardens, a National Trust property near Silverstone. If you've never been it's definitely worth a visit.  Although you pay an entry fee into the gardens, the parkland is free....oh and don't forget to take a picnic. Your food will definitely taste better in these surroundings! It's full of lakes, rivers, fabulous old trees, temples, ornate stone bridges, spectacular, scratch that....... vistas is a better word to describe the vast open landscape of rolling hills, wide paths meandering through ancient woodlands and broad riverbanks where groups of families and friends sit chatting, eating or play games together.

A bottle of the plum wine had travelled with me and we opened it during an impromptu music session one afternoon.  I swear we played so much better after a couple of glasses each!

Surely, this has to have been in a film?

Mr. Darcy will be appearing out of the water,
any second now

A few days later I was in Exmoor with more family members, staying in a holiday cottage.  Lynton, Lynmouth, Dunster and the moor itself were all part of the itinerary.  I've never been to Dunster before and was seriously impressed with the castle and grounds which stands overlooking the town (you can see right out to the coast from its battlements). Not to mention the town itself (not a mobile phone shop, MacDonalds or Tescos in sight!) which has numerous places to eat and the best triple layer Victoria sponge cake I've tasted in a long time.

Oh and the second bottle of plum wine came to Exmoor and went down well with a large chocolate birthday cake. It seems to go with everything!

Dunster town viewed from the castle
Dunster Castle and the coast beyond

The first thing I did when I returned home was to plant out all my vegetables, except the tomato plants, in the raised beds. The leeks, sweetcorn, cauliflowers, broccoli and brussel sprouts are planted out with mats around the bases of the brassicaceae to prevent cabbage root fly getting in. I've also sown carrot, parsnip, red onion, beetroot, peas and dwarf bean seeds and sadly resorted to sprinkling slug pellets (safe to use around children and pets) sparingly in between all the plants.  I try not to use chemicals in the garden but broken egg shells and crockery only do so much to keep the pests at bay.

Two weeks on and there are signs that things are growing.  The peas were the first to show but now I can see tiny leaves along the rows of carrots and beetroot.  It looks like I'll have to do some thinning out soon too.

The leeks, sweetcorn, broccoli and brussel sprouts seem to enjoy being in the beds, however the cauliflowers aren't looking so happy...............wait for the bad pun......................... they're hearts just don't seem to be in it! And I mean that literally, joking aside.

Beetroot popping up
Mind your peas in queues!

The leeks are doing well... are the sweetcorn but.....

.....the cauliflowers? not so good
I have a little suggestion before I go. Are you looking for a good read? something a bit different from the usual '101 things to do with your parsnips'?  Add this on your birthday/Christmas/Anniversary wish lists....'Minding My Peas and Cucumbers'.  The author, Kay Sexton, takes you through her story of owning an allotment plot and all the ups and downs that go with it.  Full of humour, recipes, quirky characters,  handy tips and, of course, the trials and tribulations of growing crops, it's a great read.  A nice, easy read. In fact, you don't have to be into growing your own to enjoy this book. I was bought a copy by my sister for my birthday and I've enjoyed reading it 'in drips' in the evenings. If you don't receive it as a present then I suggest you treat yourself to a copy..........curl up on the sofa on a drizzly Saturday afternoon and enjoy the read; it's working for me!


Ben Hardy said...

Though a small essay, this blog post was definitely worth a read. Whenever I get a large sediment (currant wine tends to have a huge deposit) I top up the racked demijohn with a sugar/syrup solution, so that I end up with a full six bottles. I suspect this dilutes the flavour a little, but it has never destroyed the wine. It has, often, made the wine fizzy, though - but that is another story. And best of luck with carrots - I'll be interested to know how that goes, and may experiment with them sometime next year. Beetroot and parsnips are good root vegetables for wine. Potatoes are not!

Sensory Dragon said...

Morning Ben, thanks for the tip about the sugar solution; what ratio of sugar to water do you use? Can't wait to have a go at beetroot or parsnip wine. Hopefully I'll have enough growing in my garden to drink as well as eat. As you can probably tell by now I can't write short blogs; as hard as I try sometimes there's just too much in my head that needs to come out!

Ben Hardy said...

I generally use a ratio of 1 pint of water to 6 oz sugar. But it is worth having a small taste of the wine before deciding how much sugar to put in. The ratio above is that recommended by CJJ Berry, but it often makes the wine too sweet. My 'small tastes' at the racking stage are miniscule, and are the result of me tipping out the liquid from the bund at the end of my plastic tube - and this gives me sufficient idea.

My parsnip wine is actually 'prune and parsnip' and tastes very much like a sherry. My beetroot wine is 'spiced beetroot', and has a colour which is amazing - flourescent purple.

Sensory Dragon said...

Hi Ben, I guess Mr. Berry liked his wine sweet. I'm more a fan of dry wines although the plum wine was way too sharp to begin with which is why I added more sugar to it - which turned out to be a good thing to do. I love the idea of a spiced beetroot wine and the colour sounds amazing...will keep that in mind for a later date! Thanks again for the tip on the sugar solution.

Claire said...

Hiya, how was the wine, have you drunk it all now?!!! Sounds yum!! Oh and Stowe Gardens sounds fab and a bit like Stourhead in Wiltshire (another NT garden and really beautiful!). Hope you are enjoying your garden despite the recent rain! Have a good weekend x

Sensory Dragon said...

Hi Claire,

Just back from spending a few days in Northern Ireland - a bit of work followed by a weekend break - perfect! The plum wine has gone already! Next wine attempt will be carrot....when I get a chance to get it started. I've never been to Stourhead but the Sensory Trust (who I work for) have done a Seasonal Trail there for the National Trust; about 3 or 4 years ago I think. I'm behind with my garden clearance because of the weather, time away etc so I'm going to have to get cracking again this's looking a bit overgrown again. Nature doesn't wait does She!! Hope you, the family and growing number of pets are all well!

Kay Sexton said...

Thank you for the endorsement - I'm really glad that the book was a good choice (some people know their sisters well, others don't, your lovely sister seems to have the knack of choosing the right present, which is wonderful!) and I look forward to following your horticultural progress!

Sensory Dragon said...

Hi Kate, word is spreading about your book and a work colleague of mine has since bought the book for her sister, who is now enjoying reading it on her sofa! Seems to be a favourite present between sisters! Thank you for such a great read and I hope you'll be writing more allotment stories before too long.