Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

. . . scribbled . . . scrawled . . . trimmed . . . typewritten . . . grubbed up . . . squeezed from circumstance . . .

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Raw Wines

"Raw," in our household term for certain wines, refers to the treatment of the essential ingredients in the first stages of wine-making.

While winemakers besides us must have a term at hand that carries the same meaning, we lack knowledge of any such ... so we keep speaking of "raw wines." (I half suspect some passing note in H.E. Bravery or Terry Garey suggested or gave us the term, though.)

The basic ingredients in a raw wine are used in a raw state; in a cooked wine, in a cooked state. The spring wines offer a nice illustration of the difference.

Dandelion wine, as we have made it thus far, is a cooked wine: the water is boiled and then poured, while still boiling-hot, over the flowers. (This stage of dandelion winemaking we do in enamelware, not in a crock; the water-and-flower mixture then cools, while covered.)

Rhubarb wine, on the other hand, is a raw wine: the water is boiled, as a sterilizing measure, then allowed to cool in a covered enamelware pot. Only after cooling is it poured over rhubarb pieces.

As it happens, we have never attempted a cooked rhubarb wine. One early recipe we found -- early in our winemaking, and early in its publication date ... as I recall, around the earlier 1900s -- was a rhubarb wine recipe. Simple though it was, it seems to have pointed us in the right direction for quality home winemaking.

Cheers ...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Strawberry Wine

Earlier this year we tried some of last year's strawberry wine. What pleased us about it was its not-so-strawberryish nature --

Limpid, faintly aromatic, delicate of flavor, with an edge of tang to its dryness.

This last Sunday morning I went looking for a breakfast wine, and thought that with the strawberries in the yard blooming and beginning their fruiting, I should bring up from the basement a bit of strawberry. I found a goodly many bottles of a particular batch, and emerged with a liter in hand. Decanted, it had an amber-tinted red-fruit color, with a definite strawberry smell. The taste was a bit toward the sweeter end of the spectrum, with typical strawberry flavor dominating.

While this wine towered above our strawberry wines of the year before, it was not quite what we wanted to be drinking, beyond the first half-glass or so, on a Sunday morning.

I checked in our records, where I discovered that this batch was a cooked wine. The wine that we started immediately afterwards, however, was a raw-fruit wine. That must have been the one we had tasted and found satisfying, earlier in the year.

Last summer the idea was taking firmer root in our minds that cooked wines were the sort we would rather not drink -- while raw wines offered the prospect of pleasing drinking. And here we had given ourselves a chance for a clear comparison ...

Cheers ...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rhubarb Wine

A five-gallon crock ... plus just an awful lot of chopped rhubarb ... with the crock filled to maybe the four-gallon level.

With there being so much liquid within rhubarb stalks, I figured I might have enough to fill a three-gallon secondary fermenter.

Such was the volume of rhubarb remaining that I had enough for only two one-gallon secondaries, when I emptied the crock two days ago.

For this batch, I had only chopped the rhubarb, not crushing it with a rolling pin as I had last year. The rhubarb pieces were still holding onto a fair amount of liquid within them. By the simple expedient of leaving the chopped, fermented rhubarb in a stainless steel colander overnight, I might have managed to get some of that third gallon. I probably should have had our small fruit press ready, to crush out the remaining juices.

I did, at least, leave the pieces in our largest stainless steel bowl overnight. By morning, it was evident some liquid had settled out. So our refrigerator now has a quart jar of much-too-new rhubarb wine in it. Have I tasted the wine? Strangely enough, no.

I ate a piece of the rhubarb, though: crunchy, tangy. Yesterday was another unseasonable day -- still over 90 degrees after 5 p.m. ... in May! -- so that it was in the evening, some twenty hours after working on the wine, that I dumped the partially alcoholified rhubarb pieces in a patch of dirt that I had been preparing for some planting. Air temperatures had dipped below 90; humidity was such that I sweated away only half my body weight every fifteen minutes. I forked the rhubarb wine remains into the dirt: for were not the rhubarb pieces already biologically composted, to some degree? I plan to plant in that dirt some squash vines that were volunteers in our compost bin.

Cheers ...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Standard Appearance vs. Personality

The severe pruning I gave our two Kay Gray vines and single Canadice vine, last winter, seems to have had its effect; for the new shoots coming up have flower-cluster buds upon them.

While the clusters seem less thick then they are on the other varieties, that they are there at all is a pleasant fact to contemplate. For these three, last year was in essence an extra one for encouraging vine development without obtaining fruit.

In the unseasonable heat, yesterday afternoon, I worked on shoring up wire supports for this trio. My system is the four-arm kniffin system -- more or less. I need actually to add height to the entire set-up, to be following this model correctly.

Earlier in the season, after seeing a vineyard employing the Geneva double-curtain method of growing, I considered reshaping my entire system of wire-supports.

The idea that had prevailed in our first seasons of growing, however, was that we would need to mulch all the vines each winter. Their trunks, as a consequence, have personality. Rather than shooting up straight and perpendicular to the ground, in the manner of your typical well-controlled vineyard vine, these trunks twist a bit, turn a bit -- for they start from the ground at an angle and then bend back toward the vertical in the course of reaching the wires.

The option remains open to re-grow these vines from vertical shoots rising from near the base of the vine. What do I want, though: standard appearance, or personality? Certainly the venerable wild grapes you see ranging up into the trees, in woods in this area, have curvings and bends in their trunks, They trail along the forest floor, or even loop back down to the ground from some high branch before rising back into the forest canopy. Appealing to the eye? Yes, indeed.

It is a vine, after all, not a tree ... although the normal aim in grape culture seems to be the achievement of a treelike appearance. The idea appeals to me, of letting these twisty vines grow thick and gnarly over the years ... yet so does the idea of regrowing them, so that I might set up a better trellis system for coming seasons.

Cheers ...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Another Nod for the C.M. Kornbluth Biography

I am more than a little pleased to have the new book be noticed by the new reviewer for Analog.

For those who do not know, Analog: Science Fiction/Science Fact is a magazine that has published a great deal of fiction close to the core of what science fiction is and has been. While not a showcase for experimentalism or for literary-excellences-to-the-fore fiction, Analog has published fiction of mine which was, for me, challenging to imagine and challenging to execute.

My Analog stories seem particularly important in my quite-minor international literary profile. One story of mine from Amazing Stories was translated and published, without my permission, in Spain (it was a story stellar perhaps in concept but, I believe, less than stellar in execution: so the literary pirates undoubted received their comeuppance in the readers' reaction to their having stolen something so eminently not worth the stealing); and one story of mine from the short-lived Expanse saw translation and publication in China. From among my Analog stories two (to my knowledge) have been translated and published in Russian (in one case it even occurred with my permission), while another was translated and published in French.

In any case, I believe Analog has published more of my stories than any other single magazine ... and it has published several personal favorites from among my own stories ... and so as a magazine it holds reign over a region close to my heart. Never mind that the science fiction field's more lofty-nosed cognoscenti largely ignore the magazine's existence.

The new reviewer working under the banner of "The Reference Library" at Analog is Don Sakers, whom I have not, to my recollection, met in person. He has given quite a generous nod in the direction of my biography of Cyril Kornbluth.

I like this line in particular, from Saker's review: "A scholarly text (with the requisite 40 pages of notes) that reads like a novel, Rich's book is nothing short of a delight."

The review is located on-line at ...

Cheers ...

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Late this afternoon I was wielding a garden tool that is some kind of a recent-design scythe, reduced to garden scale.

Martha and I have an area in our backyard that was once a squash patch ... then a weed patch ... which this year we hope to revert to vegetable gardening. Over the course of the warmish spring that we have had thus far, the grass in this patch has grown high, reaching knee-height already, while the miscellaneous forbs have kept pace.

With my whacking vorpal blade, or perhaps hortal blade, I sheared away a goodly pile of grass, which will become mulch for some garden bed or other. Some of these cuttings have gone already onto Martha's square patch of garlic plants.

In making this mulch-pile, I was fairly careful to keep out the dandelion heads, which are going to seed in these days of early spring heat.

There remained a fair amount of tall green stuff to cut back, in that garden patch -- even after having made that largish pile of dandelion-free mulch. So I scythed down the rest of it, making a point to cut down as many dandelion heads as I could.

Since the finches like them so well, it seems likely that dandelion seeds are rich in protein and nutrients -- and thus perfect material for composting.

We happen to have some rather large clear-plastic bags at hand ... so I stuffed a bag full of this mixture of grass cuttings, dandelion seed heads, and dried leaves. I will let this large, bagged mixture steam and boil in the sun for a few days or a week -- which may be long enough to break down the seeds, or at least to steam-boil them -- and to begin the process of breaking down the cut greens ...

And then, after that week or so, I will add butter and crisped bacon, and will serve it for breakfast. All our friends are invited -- so we will, of course, expect you.

It is, as I noted, quite a large bag.

Cheers ...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wooden Spoon

A rather nice and somewhat accidental purchase at an auction last Saturday is a wooden spoon long enough to comfortably reach the bottom of a five-gallon crock while still leaving ample room for the grip. I had no thought about this spoon's being just a little longer than normal until this morning when I plucked it out of the kitchen crock that holds these utensils (this crock being a salt-glaze with a bottom hairline inside -- so a piece to ease the eye, not one to employ as a tool to help fulfill imbibitory ambitions) and used said spoon for the first time in stirring wines.

The spoon stirred up this thought, at least:

That our second two batches of dandelion wine might go on into their secondaries any time now: for when stirred, their fizz dies soon after the stirring ends.

The rhubarb wine, first batch of the year, is the one in the five-gallon crock. It should stay in that primary fermenter a bit longer. The yeast's work is greater, in breaking down the rhubarb fibers.

Stirring wine in a crock is lovely work. You do it in a few moments -- and in those passing seconds have done so fine a job that you can forget about doing the job again for a day.

Once I move these batches of dandelion into secondaries, I will have no call to be stirring that particular wine again, this year. Around here, the flowers have largely given way to the seed heads that are so pleasing to the seed-eating finches.

Strange, as always, how the riotous season of dandelion shock-yellow brilliance ends so soon.

Cheers ...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Creative Antiquities, Part II

I did go and read my old verse, "Dream-mare," in that on-line zine named Surprising Stories (as you may do here:

It is a piece of verse I remember feeling quite satisfied with -- and somewhat dissatisfied with. On the one hand, it is, to my mind, a good example of a particular type of verse ... you might call it short dramatic verse, since the dramatic element takes precedence over other aspects. This sort of verse suited some areas of the small press, being the staple especially of the dark fantasy and horror-emphasizing zines.

Back in the 1980s I felt I excelled in writing short poems in which some single element loomed over others, within the confines of rhymed, sometimes idiosyncratically metered verse. Oftentimes the verse in these zines took the form of stilted balladry, in which the sentence structures and the line structures were, for all practical purposes, one and the same. In mine I usually held to a pattern of straight rhymes or slant rhymes, while making every effort to de-emphasize the pattern by means of phrasing. I avoided having the sentences align with the metrical line wherever possible -- which is a practice that allows you to instill a strong sense of closure within the final line of the verse.

That last line is the one place in a verse where the end of the sentence and the end of the line can only fall together.

I remember one editor, in writing to me and accepting a poem or two, saying that he finally understood what I was doing in my poetry. He had just discovered that if he read my poems as if they were spoken colloquially, or conversationally, they suddenly "worked," or "made sense." Previously he had been in the habit, apparently, of pausing at the end of each line. The editor's exact words, of course, escape memory. Yet I do recall the surprise I felt, that this should have represented a leap, for him or her. (As I recall it was a him.)

This Surprising Stories, by the way, seems attractive. I was happy to see the index page -- for it is very much the sort of cover you might have encountered, a quarter-century ago, when you opened a large manila envelope sent by one of the many intrepid editor-publishers of those times. The presentation of the poem is quite nice, too -- with an effective illustration by La Joillette.

Cheers ...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Writing Without Payment

As a human being you house within you the potential to do an infinite amount of work for no payment. As a writer, you tend to realize the potential.

The poetry I mentioned, last posting, provides a nice example. The strange aspect of the matter is that we who felt the urge toward poetry, in earlier Age of Masses decades, put out cash in order to even have the whisper of a chance of publication. Back in that strange time, absolute requisites for the poet included the purchase of paper, envelopes, and, above all, a great many stamps.

Stamps! I feel the great philatelic treasure trove of the Modern Century well might be all the self-addressed, stamped envelopes of the greats, the not-so-greats, and the not-great-at-alls, among the poets and other writers of the generations before mine. Those envelopes would have been postmarked in towns and cities where all the presses, small and large, pursued their own struggling lives; and they would have borne the writers' own names and addresses, typed there by their own fingers. As I did in the 1980s, those writers must have thrown all such ephemera away. The latent philatelist in me would love to hold the envelopes that returned rejections to the late greats. What immense histories would be contained within those slender, emptied confines.

Who knew to what a degree matters would change? The stamped, self-addressed envelope still exists -- but in a time when so many small presses and even professional presses accept electronic submissions, their existence must be under threat.

In recent years I have been in the situation of still writing poetry but not, by and large, sending it out. One element playing into this is the rise of electronic submission. I find it hard to bring myself to commit that act. A part of my soul cries out, "What, no postage costs? Where is the expression of commitment? Where is the demonstration of determination? No wonder the world has gone to the wolves!"

Cheers ...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Creative Antiquities Dusted Off for Display

Thursday morning I read an e-mail from Fairwood Press's Patrick Swenson. He wondered if I had any thoughts about which of my various Talebones stories should go into the Best of Talebones collection he is editing.

A nice question to ponder.

Later, in the afternoon, I read a penned note from John Thiel, forwarded to me from Beloit. The Magazine of Speculative Poetry still uses the Post Office box I used for many years; and once in a rare aeon it receives mail for me, sent out of the misty pages of the past.

Thiel edited a small-press magazine named Pablo Lennis back in the 1980s -- an affair of wild, every-inch-used mimeography, as I recall it. I sent him a few poems. His note of yesterday reads, "We have your poem 'Dream-mare,' which I published in Pablo Lennis, up on the Net in Surprising Stories, found at"

To receive a note about a poem being published ... handwritten on a tiny slip of paper measuring only 3 by 4-3/4 inches ... takes me back to the 1980s. I was no Lyn Lifshin in those days ... (Lifshin published in every nook and cranny of the small press, and was remarkably good at producing short free verse, employing lines of only a few feet) ... yet all the same I sent out scads of verse of varying qualities. I felt the call to do so; I regarded it as my writerly duty to press my talents to the utmost, and to pursue opportunities in any mimeographed literary extravaganza that came along -- which included quite a lot of miscellaneous science fiction and horror-oriented zines, besides the general litzines. The scene was a lively one, helped along by Len Fulton at Small Press Review and Janet Fox at Scavenger's Newsletter, among others. Some poems I felt great confidence in; others I doubted.

I am unsure about "Dream-mare," right at the moment. My opinion must await my viewing the relevant pixels.

An interesting aspect is that I am being informed of publication after the fact. I am, I should say, glad to be informed at all. Since the prevailing attitude in electronic presses remains a bit free-wheeling, I applaud any instance of editorial courtesy. At least one earlier Internet publication of mine is a poem republished without notification: some litzine editors of a bygone decade had decided to perpetuate -- or to perpetrate -- their publication online. To find my poem republished in an Internet publication without my say-so displeased me to a degree less than, or equal to, the degree it pleased me. As an advocate of small-press effort, I do understand when a certain fluidity plays into matters of print and reprint rights ... or I do understand, at least, when it happens only on a rare Thursday. In the case of these poems, I feel it to be nice (or at least I hope it is nice) that they have a chance to rise out of their printed obscurity -- even if the method employed in their raising is that of submerging them into a second sort of obscurity.

Cheers ...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

An Arrangement of Ancient Thrones

A friend of ours, Bryan Thao Worra, who is a poet active around Minnesota's Twin Cities, wrote the other day asking how the new book was coming -- just out of curiosity. That there is to be another McFarland book from me is a matter of record; so it seems just as well to munder and wonder about it publicly, as privately. I tend not to talk about works in progress ... but I talk about wines in progress, yes? What harm ... so long as I am speaking of nuts and bolts -- of grapes and wire-bending pliers.

Bryan's question came about when the realization struck me that I had put aside all work on the book a week before the recent family visit, to have time to rearrange the house; and that I had failed to return the book to its somewhat central place in my life since then. The manuscript was supposedly due for delivery (for an already-deferred deadline) around the time of that visit; so I had obtained another extension, giving me a few months more. I will need them -- especially since these are heavy gardening-and-auctioning months.

My typewriters were stashed here and there: that was part of the problem. Finally this week I dedicated a few days to wrestling furniture around, rethinking my main workspace arrangement; and I brought back into the study necessary tools -- the books, the notebooks, the typewriters, even the typing paper.

Early in our time in Cashton, at an auction in a downpour, we paid a fair dollar for an old kitchen table that has crackled white paint on the underparts and a top of bare boards joined in the manner of narrow floorboards. This attractive, somewhat weatherbeaten piece has moved off our front porch and into active use, at last. Somehow its height -- a bit lower than most desks -- suits me: I am writing at it now ... sitting on a wonderful old glass-ball clawfoot organ stool that still has much of its original finish ... with spiral-bound notebook upon the bare boards, which are dark-cedar hue ... and in being here I feel utterly at home. A phrase comes to mind -- "A writing serf who feels like a king." Being surrounded by simple old things aids the flow of thoughts -- while the sterile products of our Age of the Masses global mega-industry tend to steer mental flows toward conformity and imitation.

The genuine creativity found in writings by some literary figures of past centuries flowed not only from their minds and heads. The writer's spirit is a spirit of exteriors as much as it is a spirit of interiors.

Cheers ...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dandelion Wine, Part VI

One bibulous evening last week, having been made curious about Wine 21 (from discovering that transition I had made in winemaking practices last year, between it and Wine 22), I opened a bottle. Martha and I had a glass apiece. The wine was a nicely amber-tinted yellow in color; clear; not sweet but not truly dry ... and having found it drinkable, we had a bit more ... upon which it entered my head that we really must compare it against Wine 22: for while it was quite drinkable we were not so won over that we wanted to go onward much further with that bottle. So I brought up a Wine 22.

Even within the bottle, this wine looked much clearer -- even though Wine 21 had seemed quite clear in the glass.

Decanted, the difference was heightened. In Wine 22, made with Montrachet yeast, the liquid was much more subtly colored, so that it had much less of the rich dandelion-petal color. Held up to the light alongside a glass of Wine 21, it had the look of a white wine, while Wine 21 had almost the look of lager beer. The flavor, in comparison, was also lighter: it was more sprightly in its resting on the tongue, and more delightful in the mind. To make sure how delightful it was, we had a bit more; and while it was more drinking than we needed to do, that evening, for the sake of knowledge and for the sake of clarifying our vinous vision we persevered in the exploratory sipping, so that we could assure ourselves that the rest of the bottle lived up to that first glass.

By this point we agreed upon wanting no more of the first bottle. The rest of Wine 21 sat in its pitcher until morning. I poured it, along with the bottle-dregs of Wine 22, over pieces of chicken in a covered glass dish. This being not quite enough liquid to cover the meat, I opened a bottle of onion wine -- it is our Walking Onion Wine -- to fill the dish to the brim.

The chicken sat in these wines all day -- delighted at its fate, no doubt.

Cheers ...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sunday's Rhubarb Wine and Eggs: a Recipe

After you have had your potatoes cooking for a time in a covered cast-iron pan, open a bottle of rhubarb wine. Decant it carefully, and serve.

In a mixing bowl, put in four or more eggs. If yours are like the organic jumbos we have been obtaining recently, this will mean you will have anywhere from six to eight yolks. If your eggs are the small sort with but a single yolk, you might increase their number, for this recipe. Into your eggs throw the dregs of the rhubarb wine that remained in the bottle. Mix well.

When the potatoes are cooked, take cover off, that they might brown in the pan. Allow time for that, then oil a copper-bottom steel frying pan large enough for omelette-making. Add a bit of butter. When hot, pour in eggs; allow to cook at medium flame. When the eggs are solid across the pan surface, but not quite so at their upper surface, place a half-cup or so of chopped parmesan cheese atop half. Fold the eggs over. Continue cooking for long enough to set the table.

Enjoy, then, with the rest of the rhubarb wine.

Cheers ...

Sugar and Dry Wine

Our first efforts with store yeast may have succeeded as well as they did because of our desire to produce dry wine. I put in a quite low amount of sugar -- at least as compared to the average wine recipe. I used 1-1/2 pounds for the gallon-size fermenter. The yeast was adequate to the job; the results were tasty, clear, refreshing. They were quite citrusy, because I used more chopped lemons than I currently do, per gallon -- and because those wines stayed in the primary fermenter longer than my current ideal of perhaps seven to ten days. (In those first wines, in fact, the primary fermenter was the sole fermenter. This was part of the experiment in primitive wine-making techniques.)

As I understand it, dryness in a wine is not merely a measure of low sugar content. Those first wines we made were low in alcohol ... so while they were "dry" I suspect they were not dry.

Ideally, too, wine should have more body, or "mouth feel," than did those first dandelion wines we made.

Sugar levels have an obvious relation to the ending levels of alcohol -- and I suspect they play a part in that mouth feel, as well.

So the current direction I am taking in winemaking is to see to what degree I can increase the sugar while still keeping to the dry end of the spectrum. Last year's efforts, in which I was using around two pounds of sugar per gallon, seem closer to the ideal. They are dry without seeming too dry; they have a cleanness of taste; and they seem adequately stimulating, in the daemon-alcohol department. I remain curious about how far I can push the recipe -- although I plan to stay well away from the old-fashioned sweetnesss of three pounds to the gallon.

I should reiterate that our "gallon" is approximate -- given the nature of the vessels we use, given the absorbing of some liquid into the flowers ... and so forth.

Cheers ...

Friday, May 7, 2010

Rediscovering Victorian Drinking

What motivated me to attempt the discovery, or rediscovery, of the winemaking techniques available to the pre-automotive farmers and householders of America?

Partly it must have been that very lack of Martha's and mine, of the necessary equipment for Age of Masses winemaking. I was simply making do -- while trying to think how early-Modern winemakers made do.

I was also curious about what it is that they drank. I have studied some of their lives ... but how did their kitchen wines taste? What was it that they served to one another, in their Sunday-afternoon circles of visiting and socializing? What did they sip, on a convivial evening?

Another aspect to the situation is the almost inescapable presence of sulfite additions to the commercially produced wines being sold here in our Age of the Masses times. Did sulfites come into use as stoneware jugs fell out of use? (I would guess not, since books such as Bravery's will include mention of both Camden tablets and jugs that were presumably stoneware.) Whenever the transition did happen, sulfiting became an industry standard, and, perhaps soon thereafter, a household and farm standard.

Sulfiting seems to have made possible the mass-shipping of cheap wine around the globe -- as anyone knows who, like Martha, reacts in the lungs to their presence. Cheap imported wines bring on a worse bronchial reaction than do domestic ones. The sad aspect of the situation is that sections of organic wine, such as found even in our local-boosting Viroqua Food Co-op, are dominated by foreign wines.

We have come to dismiss cheap and inexpensive import wines out of hand. The mega-production that makes the prices possible seems to lean heavily on sulfiting practices that compromise one's chances of enjoying the wine.

What is the use of wasting those fewer dollars per bottle, when you might be fruitfully spending a few more dollars for a better experience?

Cheers ...

Thursday, May 6, 2010

April 2010 Flowers with 2009 Wine

Here's a picture I took in late April after we picked flowers one afternoon. The Old Style pitcher is full of Wine 22, started in early May last year. Decanting the wine carefully is our usual practice, to minimize stirring up the lees.

Cheers ...

Notes on Sugar and Lemons

Sugar: Last year at various times I used organic sugar, organic maple sugar, commercial sugar, and honey. No longer being in a place like Stevens Point where the co-op was a few minutes' walk from our house, and being here where the co-op is fifteen miles off ... and where the organic sugar at the grocery stores is in pricey small packages ... I have resorted to grocery store, standard-grade sugar fairly often. (If I use gasoline to make a special trip to buy sugar at the co-op in Viroqua, I figure the special trip negates the positive qualities and impact of using organic sugar.)

My order of preferences is, in any case, organic sugar, cane or beet; cane sugar; beet sugar. The ordering reflects worries about the increasing possibility of GMO beet-growing. Using much organic maple sugar is not too much an option, given the price. I am undecided about honey -- but would like to experiment with it more.

This year, my cash flow may be such that I can invest in a large bag of organic sugar, which would eliminate further use of standard-grade.

If you follow the just-posted recipe for Wine 61, you might start at 4 lbs. sugar, which is closer to the sugaring level we used last year. I will note in another entry reasons for trying more sugar this time.

Lemons: On co-op trips I buy organic lemons by the bag. (I also sometimes use oranges or other citrus fruit in wines.) I chop them whole -- so the peel is definitely part of the mix.

Use of whole lemons is a Victorian element. While out of necessity I have used some standard citrus in wines, whenever feasible I use organic citrus. Five lemons in this batch is perhaps low; so in batches use more rather than less.

Cheers ...

Wine 61 Dandelion Wine Recipe

1-3/4 lb., or about two gallon bowls, dandelion flowers, with calyxes mostly removed;
2 gallons-plus of water, boiled;
5 lbs. sugar;
5 lemons, organic, chopped;
Montrachet yeast (only partial packet);
1 year's worth of patience.

Martha did all the picking on this batch. While I use a jackknife, she uses small clippers for cutting off the lower green cup, or calyx, of the flower. The tops of the green sepals remain. (Leaving the calyxes on is an option, adding a bit more bitter quality to the end-taste.)

I boiled the water a few minutes, then poured over the flowers. Covered; let sit.

The next day, I sterilized a three-gallon Red Wing stoneware crock. Poured in sugar. Sterilized large sieve; through it, poured dandelion water. Chopped the lemons -- not too finely. Threw them in. Sprinkled yeast. I used an enamelware lid large enough to fit this mid-sized crock.

This batch I plan to leave in the crock, stirring once daily, until the fizzing activity is noticeably diminished -- which may take only a week. I'll move the batch into secondary -- which may end up being two one-gallon jugs, unless I decide to combine it with another dandelion wine batch to go into the three-gallon secondary glass fermenter (assuming it to be available at that time).

The batch will remain in secondary for a month or two or more; then will be in bottles until next spring.

Cheers ...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dandelion Wine, Part V (Yeasts)

A former bandmate of ours, electric-bass player Mark Marti, reports that he is engaged in dandelion-farming -- an admirable place to begin to exercise one's agricultural predilections. This has made him curious about appropriate yeast for relevant happiness-inducing activity, and about recipes. More about recipes later.

Last year I made the transition away from my early experiments, and adopted more contemporary practices in winemaking. The main transition seems to have fallen, by accident, between the two dandelion wine batches of last year, which were Wine 21 and Wine 22. The former, No. 21, was my last "Victorian" wine. I had spent the previous year exploring the question: How did the 19th century farmers and householders make wine? Plainly they did make wine; and likely they did so with plain methods, using materials easily at hand. Early recipes call for "yeast" (except for those recipes that rely on airborne or fruitborne yeasts, and that therefor mention no such thing) -- and plain-old yeast was available at the grocery or general store as prepared by Red Star or other commercial outfits. (One old hardware organizer, or index, that I have in the tool room is made of a wooden box, with drawers inserted that were fashioned from Red Star yeast tins.)

Farmer and household winemakers likely used store-bought yeast cakes. Me ... I took what was at hand, as they did -- which meant I used dry yeast.

The flaw in this quasi-historical reconstruction is that brewing yeasts were likely available in the latter 1800s. My thought, however, was that it was not as readily available -- a situation that remains the case today; and so my question continued to be the same. Was making such a wine doable? And if doable, was it palatable? In all cases the first answer is Yes. In some cases, the second answer is Yes. Store yeast produces an acceptable wine without an undesirable yeasty flavor in the spring wines -- the flower wines, the rhubarb wines. Once you move later into the season, and into fruit winemaking, the situation gets shakier. I am inclined to think it is because the spring wines rely heavily upon added sugar, honey, whathaveyou, to feed the yeast -- whereas the summer wines contain some or all natural fruit sugars. Store yeast may be insufficiently robust to deal with fruit, making it less able to compete against and overwhelm the efforts of natural plantborne and airborne yeasts.

What also seems the case is that grocery-store yeast has less tolerance for an alcoholic environment -- so that it gives up the job before the job is done. In the fruit wines, this results in slightly too-sweet wines -- which fall outside the class of palatable drinking, to our tastes.

The vigor of contemporary wine yeasts is unquestionable. Two or three days after the start of this year's first two dandelion wines, I gave them their morning stirrings with a wooden spoon, causing the batches to release zillions of tiny carbon-dioxide bubbles. They set off a loud fizzing. Even after I had put the covers back on the crocks and walked across the room I distinctly heard the bubbles.

In Wine 21, in any case, I used store yeast. In Wine 22 I used Montrachet yeast -- I believe we had just received our first order of "real" winemaking supplies. Montrachet seems to be a dependable, somewhat all-purpose wine yeast, quite suitable for flower wines. Our friend Terry Garey, a Minneapolis poet and winemaker, in her recipes often calls for Montrachet, as I recall.

I have been planning to try a batch or two with a different yeast. It may yet happen this spring. So far, however, all our dandelion wines have put Montrachet yeast to work at producing the daemon alcohol.

Cheers ...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Dandelion Wine, Part IV

Speaking of organization and reorganization: ... how can you organize your life, if you have no clutter? The one requires the other. It strikes me that the more clutter you have, the greater is your potential for leading a life of organization. Therefore, to make your life simpler through organization, clutter it, first.

I recommend auctions. We re-clutter our lives on a regular basis by that means.

Wine-making offers an example of this principle. To make wine you need a certain amount of equipment. In our case, we pick up vessels and bits of equipment in a piecemeal manner, often counting on chance opportunities to arise at garage sales and auctions. As a result, our winemaking has happened amidst a burgeoning chaos, requiring odds and ends of this and that, scattered here and there through the house.

Gradually as we picked up more equipment (clutter) and know-how (mental clutter) we managed to better use our space and our hours (organization). Organization is impossible without clutter.

I am not saying we have reached an optimal situation. The optimal situation would call for more clutter than we have accumulated, as of yet.

Cheers ...

Dandelion Wine, Part III

While it seems strange in retrospect to have made only two batches of dandelion wine last year, this year having found ourselves thrust into the thick of spring activities makes it easy to know why: garden-plot digging and widening, garden-plot weeding, lawn-mowing, seed-planting ...

If dandelions would only flower more conveniently at mid-winter, we would make more of the stuff.

A greenhouse for dandelions ... not a completely irrational idea.

Retrospective accomplishments often seem sparse. Take my writing record: last year my record of publications will always look sparse, in large part because of the twenty-ton monolithic slab of C.M. Kornbluth biography that planted itself there. Comparable to the meagerness of our dandelion-wine production is the slimness of my poetry-publication record last year ... or of my short-fiction publication record ... victims of the ever-more-complex pie-cutting of my active hours ...

And how will this year look? -- especially after adding one more reason for enlarging the daily pie, to make room for this public journalizing, AKA bloggerie? ("Blog, blog, blog," Martha said to Lorna this morning while I was sitting in the parlor with pencil and notebook in hand. "It's a Blog eat Blog world.") ... but will this year look even more sparse than last?

The method behind the madness of making huge pies of one's life is Organization -- and constant Reorganization. I keep hoping the reorganizing aspect will diminish with time -- although such aspects of the situation as having no guest rooms except my workspace may guarantee forced reorganizations for years to come.

It seems promising, though, that in the course of the present weeks of house-and-life reorganizations, we have started three batches of dandelion wine, which are fermenting away in two two-gallon and one three-gallon crocks.

Cheers ...