Sunday, February 16, 2014


Early this week, the fermentation of our latest batch of wine ceased. You know this when the bubbling sounds cease, and when the baume is zero. Time to press.

We borrow a friend's press for this job. It is small, but all we need. Once the wine is pressed, we decant it into glass demijohns (seen at back in this photo) and let the wine settle for a few weeks. The hardest part of this is not to give into the temptation to taste the wine.

This wine is shaping up to be pretty good. We'll end up with about 40 litres or so. In the last few years, we have bought wine grapes to make our wines, and we still have some about the place, so this will probably be it for 2014.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Crush and ferment - winemaking Step 2

So on Sunday we picked the first grapes from our vineyard for quite a long time. Hooray. But that was only the start of the work.

Now on to the winemaking.

But first we need to step back a bit. How did we know when was the right time to pick. It is not possible to judge by look, but taste gives a good indicator. We knew that we would be close, and checking the sugar content, or baume, of our grapes confirmed that they were ripe for picking. Using a hydrometer, the baume measured 13, which was exactly smack bang in the middle of the ideal reading of between 12 and 14. No need to doctor with sugar (not that we would ever do that!)

Having picked, we then sprinkled 8-10 grams of sodium metabisulphite per 100litres of grapes just prior to crushing. This kills the natural yeasts on the grapes. Some home winemakers skip this step and let natural yeasts do the work. Unfortunately, you have no idea as to how much natural yeast there is, so this method is a bit unpredictable. If you have ever had dodgy homemade wine, this is probably why.

We crushed using our combined crusher/destemmer.

If I had $5 from everyone who has ever asked me whether we crush our grapes with our feet, I'd be buying bottles of Grange! If you are only dealing with a few kilos of grapes, you probably could. After all, the aim of crushing is simply to break the skins so that the yeasts can start their work of converting sugar to alcohol. If you have more than a few kilos, it's easier to use machinery, believe me!

Once crushed we transferred the grapes, skins and all (now called the must) into a food grade plastic drum with a lid. For the first 24 hours or so after crushing, the sodium metabisulphite will continue killing off the natural yeasts. Then you re-introduce yeast. Yes, sounds crazy. The must is inoculated with red winemaking yeasts and yeast nutrients (from a winemaking supplier), according to their directions.

Hopefully, fermentation soon starts at this point. Weird bubbling sounds come out of the drum.

For the last few days, our job has been to regularly punch down the skins that rise to the top so they don't dry out. We also tested for acidity, which should be between 3.3 and 3.4. Our must was a bit too acid, so we added calcium carbonate, and now all is well.

The other thing to monitor is that the wine does not get too warm, which means simply dropping ice bricks into the must, and regularly changing them. You don't want the must to be warmer than 30C. Fortunately, this hasn't been a big issue this week here. We've had a merciful respite from the heat, with nice temps in the low 20s. For once, mother nature is with us in our winemaking.

So that's it for the moment. Next stop...pressing.

Just for interest, here is what our winemaking central looks like:

So here it is. The wine is fermenting in the blue drum at left. If you are wondering what a microwave oven has to do with winemaking, the answer is nothing.
There are a number of commercial wineries around here and it was interesting to read a news report in the local paper about the picking. They noted that this year has been great for grape quality in the area, although quantity isn't massive. Just as we found. It was disappointing to note that the biggest winery here has bought a mechanical harvester. And there goes a few more jobs in this high unemployment area. But I won't go there here!

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask in the comments. Me and Action Man will do our best to answer them.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Grape picking

I haven't fallen off the face of the earth, just haven't been blogging here at Spades and Spoons. I didn't make a conscious decision not to blog. I just didn't, then I got out of the habit, then before I knew it, it was nearly six months since I'd posted.
But I'm back. So let's get on with today's post.
Today was a bit of a red letter day for us. We have a small vineyard of about 100 shiraz and chambourcin grapevines, which we use to make wine. Well, that's the theory. The last time we managed to do this was 2009. In 2010, 2011, 2012 AND 2013, we lost the entire grape crop to excessive rain in the critical time before harvest. We were starting to think whether the whole vineyard thing was a bit of a folly.
But this year has been hot and dry (not as hot as places south and south east of here though) and the grapes have survived. It isn't a big crop, but the quality is definitely there.
The other notable fact is that this is the earliest we have picked the grapes by far. Normally we are looking at end February/beginning March. But the sugar level was perfect a month early. Once it hits the right levels, you just have to pick. You have no choice.
We had a few friends come over to help pick (not that it took too long), and then celebrated with lunch.

A good day was had by all.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Stuff I've been up to lately

Yes, it's been a while, so this is a bit of a compendium post.

The emphasis around here during winter is on the "Spoons" bit of "Spades and Spoons". The vegie garden goes into a bit of a hiatus in winter, apart from growing garlic, potatoes and a few lettuces due to the aspect and layout of our land. Our vegie patch is shaded by our rather large shed for much of the day during winter, so not much grows.

Anyway, here's what's been going on lately...
My parents, and some of their friends, established an Italian social club in Sydney 47 years ago, the Fogolar Furlan. Going there was a big part of our lives as we were growing up. Now the original members are grandparents, and they had a "cooking with the nonnas" day at the club during the school holidays just past. About 50 kids made and ate some great gnocchi that day...
My son was inspired to have a crack at making gnocchi at home. They were dee-lish. Using desiree potatoes is the secret, or something similar like Dutch creams. They aren't as wet, so require less flour and are consequently lighter. If a recipe for gnocchi calls for Sebago potatoes, feel free to disregard this advice...

Vegetarians, feel free to scroll quickly through the next few pictures!

We had a family sausage making day a few weeks ago, at my uncle's place. We've been doing this for about 15 years, with our parents taking charge. This year, though, I noticed that my generation, my brothers and cousins, took the running. The oldies looked over our shoulders, sure, but were content to let us go to it.

The mixture for blood sausage. Believe me, everything was used. Everything, but the oink.

My brother and cousin mincing meat for salami. The mixture for fresh sausages in the foreground.

My brother Laurence manned the sausage stuffing machine.

 Cousin Mark ties up a salami
Natural casings (read, sheep intestines) steeping in water, garlic cloves and lemon halves prior to stuffing.

Mark ties another round of sausages onto the rack. That day we made sausages, cotechino, salami and blood sausage.
We do this yearly as a bit of family bonding and because the resulting sausages are damn fine, but my mother told me a story which underlines how important sausage making and pig raising was to my grandparents in Italy. Mum told me she remembers that as a little girl just after WW2, the pig they had been raising fell sick and had to be put down. My grandmother apparently cried for a week, unsure what and how she was going to feed the family that winter, so important was sausage making to how they sustained themselves. (My grandfather was already in Australia, and eventually was able to send a bit of money to her, so she could buy in meat, something highly unusual.)
Although things are quiet in the vegie patch, it's been full-on with the citrus trees. We've been juicing tons of lemons. This rubbish photo is of lemon cordial in the saucepan, and a batch of tomato chutney (using frozen tomatoes from last summer) in the jars.

This batch of lemon and lime marmalade is the best I've ever made. Even if I say so myself.

And now, for the weird wildlife section of this post. We have a wood stove for heating in this place, so wood-gathering and chopping is one of our regular chores. We often come across these fellas - witchetty grubs. The chickens make a beeline for the woodpile whenever we head there, because they know they are in for a good feed. Anyway, in this particular block of wood we found these guys, and hidden in the corner you can just make out what was the biggest witchetty grub we've EVER seen.

He was hard to coax out, but here he is in all his mammoth glory.

And to put it in perspective, here he is next to a 20cent coin. Yep, he made me feel a bit squirmy. He's still living in the same block of wood just outside the back door. Erk.
And now, to bring us back to things more pleasant - a batch of oat and raisin cookies :) Baking always makes me feel better!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Flooding rains

I haven't been writing here regularly the last few months, and when I do, I seem to reporting yet another extreme weather event.
In January I was writing about our run of 45 degree weather and catastrophic fire warnings. In March, a mini tornado travelled through the bush at the back of our property and turned 20 metre eucalypts to mere sticks.

Today, we are marooned. All the roads into town are cut off with flood waters. And it is STILL raining. The kids aren't in school today, and my plans are shelved. Fortunately, we are stocked with food for a few days at least. Hopefully the floods will drain away by the time I need to venture out.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Experimenting with no-knead bread

After weeks of the most magnificent autumn weather (sans rain, unfortunately), it has finally turned chilly in these parts. Last night I reinstated Friday Night Soup Night. Last night it was daughter's favourite French Onion Soup. To go with it, I experimented with no-knead bread.
I followed the recipe in Kate and Suzanne Gibbs' The Thrifty Kitchen. In turn, they based their recipe on this recipe from the New York Times.
I've made no-knead bread before, but this recipe differs by:
- it has a long rise time - this loaf was risen for 18 hours, and the recipe specifies up to 24 hours.
- you use only a 1/4 teaspoon of yeast. That's all.
- it is cooked in an ovenproof dish with a lid. I used my cast-iron Dutch oven.
- it is cooked for an hour at 240 degrees C - longer and hotter than a normal loaf.
- you don't need to knead, at all. It only requires a bit of mixing. Time requirement from cook: 10 minutes, tops.
The verdict? A big hit. The crust was just as nice as it looks here in the photo. We have a well known woodfired Sourdough bakery in our town, and their loaves sell for $6.50 each. It's the sort of place that Sydneysiders make a point of visiting on their way through. Everyone said that this loaf was better than the sourdough bakery's loaves. I agree. We were also able to eat it warm out of the oven. Yum.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Mulberry Jelly

For some reason, my mulberry tree has always borne fruit in late spring. It did, last year and every year since we've had it (It's about nine years old now). But this year, it's done so again now, early autumn. Checking out my reference books, they tell me this is the normal time for it to fruit. So what has it been doing to date? Mysteries.
We eat some of the mulberries, but most go to the birds. With this "bonus crop" I thought that I'd have a go a mulberry jelly. Here's how it goes:

1. Pick your mulberries, and tip them into a saucepan. Just cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for about an hour, mashing the mulberries so they release their juice.

2. Line a colander with cheesecloth (or muslin, whatever you call a soft, loosely woven cotton fabric). Place it over a jug or bowl. Tip the mulberries and juice into the lined colander, and let the juice flow through into the jug. Don't force the juice through, let gravity do it's work. This ensures your jelly is clear, not cloudy.
3. Once the juice has stopped flowing, gather the cheesecloth up, and tie with kitchen string so you have what looks like a Christmas pudding. Find somewhere convenient for you to hang your "pudding", with the jug underneath to catch the drips. Leave for a couple of hours or overnight.
4. Measure out your juice, and put into a saucepan with the equivalent amount of white sugar. This batch yielded 3 cups of juice, so I measured out 3 cups of sugar. Add juice of a lemon, and a piece of rind too. Bring to the boil, then simmer until you have achieved a set (about 45 minutes to an hour).
To test the set, I put a saucer in the freezer while the juice is simmering. At about the 45 minute mark I pour a spoonful of juice onto the saucer and let it sit for a minute. Then I run the tip of a teaspoon through the jelly. If it wrinkles, it is set. If not, test again - I generally do so at 5 minute intervals.
At this point, you can't get too distracted. I have found my juice has gone from juicy to caramelised in less time than I would have imagined, because I've gone off to do something else.
5. Pour into hot sterilised jars (washed out in soapy water, then placed into the oven - lids too - at 100C while the jelly is simmering does the trick).

Off to Anzac Day memorial service now. Lest we forget.