Pyment (grape-honey fermentation) Experiment

Melomel is mead that contains fruit. If the fruit is grapes, the more specific term is pyment.

This pyment effort consisted of:

  • 1 gallon honey
  • 3.25 gallons water
  • 1 gallon + 3 cups crushed grapes, simply because this is how many grapes I collected
  • 1 packet Champaign yeast
Strained Pyment Fermenting

Usually, I make mead 1 part honey to 4 parts water, but I was trying to fit everything into a 5 gallon carboy. As it was, the crushed grapes floated in a mat, the yeast formed bubbles under it, and I narrowly escaped an over-flow situation and purple stained carpet! Just in the nick of time, I removed 1/2 gallon. Being greedy (ah, thrifty) I added it to a carboy of almost finished mead (the one in back in the picture), so technically I have two batches of pyment. However, most of the color dropped out of the mead with 1/2 gallon of pyment added. It’s actually more like mead contaminated with trace amounts of grape.

As usual, the honey was boiled with one gallon of the water and treated with Irish moss: 1 teaspoon is added once the mix is boiling and the resulting foam is removed. This removes protein from the honey, so when mead makers brag they use Irish moss, it’s kind of silly since premium honey would not require it. I use reject honey to make mead, so repeatedly added 1 teaspoon of Irish moss to the boiling mix until no foam formed.

Harvested late, the grapes were quite sweet.  They can be crushed by hand, but I went old-school and used my (very clean) feet.  First, the grapes were sorted and picked off of the stems. Bugs were removed. In the winemaking process, they use grape clusters. There is no way they can remove the occasional rotted grape or any bugs. Mostly spiders. Let’s try not to think about it. I watched T.V. and stepped on the carefully sorted grapes for 10 minutes.

I found a graph online that showed the color extracts from the grape skins first, then bitterness from them, then bitterness from the seeds. I wanted as much color as possible and wasn’t keen on the supposed complexity from the bitterness.  Evidently, in winemaking, if you leave the wine to ferment and then age on the grape skins and seeds for six months, the wine ages nicely over 20-30 years, but is undrinkable for quite some time. I’d like to live long enough to drink this stuff. Having to wait two years for mead to be drinkable is quite enough! So I took the liquid off of the skins after five days when color extraction is at a maximum, and bitterness is still at pretty low levels.

            

To do this, I put a nylon mesh over the end of a siphon to transfer the liquid into a clean carboy. It was very tedious, as grape sediment kept clogging the nylon mesh. Next time I’ll pour it through a coarse strainer, aiming to remove most of the skin and all of the seed.

 

 

The Virtues of Planting Late?

It’s September 23rd, and the world has not ended (yet), and neither has my West Virginia garden. Today, I collected corn and summer squash. Commercial farmers can’t gamble with cold weather, but maybe it’s worth it for the home gardener to set aside some ground to gamble on extending the fresh-from-the-garden season.

This corn was planted on July 5th. Last year, corn planted at about the same time matured much earlier, but this year we had two cold weeks that slowed down its maturation, and there was dry weather when I should have watered it, but didn’t. We’ve never had garden corn this late before; perhaps it is something to try on purpose next year to extend the availability of luscious fresh corn.

This hybrid summer squash (2016, Johnny’s Selected Seeds but they no longer carry it) was planted June 20th in the midst of the first corn patch planted to conserve garden space.  It limped along in shade, fighting weeds, until I harvested the corn sometime in late July or early August. The sad things were weeded and watered and have been producing squash for a few weeks. There are half a dozen young squash on them and the weather outlook is great (I am the only one in the family who eats squash, so this is more than enough.)

Last year there was so much fennel I had to freeze most of it.  Fennel does not freeze well. It lost flavor and was tough, so this year I planted less, twice. The fennel pictured was planted on June 2oth. Next year I’ll try three plantings.

The last tomato was not planted early, but next year I plan to plant one slicing tomato plant one full month after the others. The best thing about this plan is that I’ll be able to sow the seeds directly into the garden, so much less effort.

 

There is also watermelon maturing, and some Chinese cabbage that was looking good but now looks bug-eaten. I will let you know if either of these works out.

Keeping a Siamese Fighting Fish (Beta)

Siamese fighting fish are ridiculously beautiful and easy to take care of. If their tank is kept at room temperature, they require no heat. Since they can get air from the surface of their tank, they don’t need aeration. They do have to be kept alone, but they are so beautiful, one lovely male is all that you need.

          

This fish’s tank is a two-gallon mason jar, with large, plastic jewel see-through “gravel”(many colors), placed on an ice sculpture light. The ice sculpture light has numerous small LED lights that won’t heat the tank. My ice sculpture light has color-combination choices, and it can be set to shift colors over time: more beauty and a nice nightlight for the hall. I already had all of these things from fishes past.

            

Or use a tank with no lights at all in the living room or on the kitchen table. Far more beautiful and entertaining than any dried flower arrangement!

The only work involved with keeping a beta is feeding him and giving him clean water to live in. I feed mine a crumb or two several times a day. He likes it and it’s fun! It won’t take them long to get excited about food when they see you. Betas can turn their eyes and their heads, making them seem quite smart, for a fish. I suggest using the food that floats on top of the tank in little pellets, not the flakes. They don’t like the flakes and the flakes tend to foul the surface.

Once a week you’ll need to change out about half of their water with fresh–more for a smaller tank. Always leave fish water out for an hour so the chlorine off-gases before pouring it into the tank or putting the fish into it. Also, avoid shocking the fish with temperature changes. A siphon makes this job fairly fast and easy. Or if the tank is small, simply use a fish net to transfer the fish to another container, maybe a quart jar, clean his tank, and put him back. Betas can survive in a very small tank, as you’ll see in the pet stores, but less than a half-gallon for their permanent home seems a little cruel to me.  If the water isn’t changed often enough, the fishes fins will turn ratty.

The cheaper fish at Walmart look awful. But take one home and in a few weeks, it will be a beauty. Betas are tough.  However, Walmart fish will probably never have the full fin structure available for a few more dollars at Pet Co, or a similar fish store. The fish, above, fish is from Pet Co.

This is merely an overview of what having a Siamese fighting fish pet might be like. Read up on how to care for them before buying one.

A few final notes:

  1. These fish are fought for sport in Asia. When males prepare to fight, even the drab, short-finned fighting class of Betas become iridescent with color, and then they fight to the death.
  2. Female betas are a drab taupe with short fins. She will become somewhat iridescent in color and thick through the middle when she’s ready to breed.
  3. When the male is ready to breed, he has created an impressive bubble nest on the surface of his tank. If you want to breed, I suggest putting the male in a 10-gallon aquarium.
  4. Male and female Introductions for breeding must be handled carefully, or the male will kill her. When both are ready–the male with his bubble nest, and the female full of eggs, introduce the female to the male (he has the nest).  If they are ready, the male will wrap his body around the female and squish the eggs out her. As he’s off merrily squirting his invisible seed over them, the female looks like she’s been killed. The male gathers up the eggs (with his mouth) to put in his bubble nest. The female recovers, and they repeat it a lot of times. When it’s over, get her out fast. The male goes into immediately into protective mode and might kill her. The male protects the eggs through incubation and even a few even a few hours after they’ve hatched.

Grape Concoctions 2017

I had in my mind that my grapes were no good until friends at a cookout complimented them. I thought they must be crazy. The grapes don’t usually produce much fruit, and what is produced is in small ratty looking clusters. However, I picked some for them, ate a few myself and they tasted good! What a pleasant surprise. To explain, my grapes are in a shaded arbor behind the house. It wasn’t shaded when I planted them, but trees grew up around them due to bad planning. Japanese beetles eat their leaves all summer. I don’t spray them for anything, and only prune them to keep the area under them clear. I do toss fertilizer at their feet a few times a year. Since the grapes tasted good, I designated last Friday, September 9th, the Day of the Grape.

I started five gallons of pyment (grape-honey fermented beverage) and made over 2 quarts of excellent grape jelly. Then the next day, being so pleased with these successes, I made two quarts of grape drink. The jelly and drink are bursting with grape goodness. I won’t know about the pyment for a few years, as mead needs to age at least that long. I plan to write a separate post on the pyment experiment.

My friends asked me what kind of grapes I had, and I didn’t know. They were planted long ago, some died and were replaced. But now I know some of them since I kept notes. For the jelly I used about half Marechal Foch grapes (planted in ’98), the small grapes pictured, and half red Catawba grapes (planted 11/00). The juice for the pyment included these grapes but was mostly made of two types of large purple grapes with seeds, and I have no idea what they are. My notes say they are two varieties of white seedless grape, which means these grapes died and I replanted and didn’t record what they were…  Note to self, take better notes. Note to you, white seedless grapes may not be vigorous in the West Virginia climate.  (The two types I tried were Ramaily Seedless and Interlaken Seedless.)

It was late in the season, and about half the fruit was on its way to making funky looking raisins. From what I’ve read about wine making, older grapes are sweeter and have a stronger grape taste because water has started to evaporate out of them. Certainly, the jelly and drink were bursting with flavor.

For the jelly, I simply used the Sure Jell recipe–the recipe in the box, not the one on the internet. It calls for five cups of juice, seven cups of sugar and one packet of Sure Jell (pectin). It will make about 9 cups of jelly. Canning seemed like a lot of work, so I simply sealed them hot, put them in the refrigerator and told people to eat them up. They should be fine for a few months.

The drink, recipe is below, strong enough to stand up to a glass full of ice.

Picture Taken with a Flash

GRAPE DRINK

3 cups of strained grape juice. To make the juice, crush the grapes by hand (your fingers) and simmer them on the stove for about 10 minutes, crushing them with a spoon. Then strain. The more fine the strainer, the more clear the drink/jelly, the more frustration you will have, and the flavor will be the same. (If you don’t simmer them on the stove, there will be a little less juice but the main problem is color. The drink will look pale and brownish. Heat extracts the color from the skins.)

1 cup of honey heated and mixed with 3 cups of water.

Mix the grape juice with the water-honey mixture and pour into two-quart jars. Add a pinch of salt to each.

I then used the microwave and brought the jars close to boiling before I put the lids on them so they’d last longer in the refrigerator. (Don’t mistake this for canning as it is not).

Greasy Back Beans

In 2014 I bought heirloom tomato plants from a man at work, and he threw in about a dozen “greasy back” beans, an Appalachian heirloom. So I planted them. I’ve been saving seeds and planting these beans ever since. Next year they’ll be the only string bean I’ll plant. They’re pole beans; I’m done with bending over to pick beans!  As string beans, they’re plump, meaty and their pods stay juicy over a long period of time. They are not greasy! The “greasy” moniker is because the pods are supposed to look greasy, but I don’t get it.

I’ve tried saving various seeds over the years and marigolds, zinnias and beans have never failed me.  Below is the last harvest of the greasy back beans this year, in their pods and shelled.  Cooking dried and younger beans together is a unique home-garden treat, combining the flavor of string-beans with dried beans. Cook like dried beans with ham and/or bacon, and serve, of course, with cornbread. (The brown beans are Kentucky Wonder. A fine bean, but I don’t believe they’re as good as the greasy back beans in any way.)

     

To save beans to plant next year, simply set the biggest and glossiest of the dried beans to one side. I put them in a clean, dry pop bottle with no lid and stick them on the book shelf.

A quick search on the internet shows a number of places to buy “greasy beans” and a number of different types. Some are called “greasy back beans” but they don’t look like these. I suspect all greasy beans are similar. If you try them I think you’ll like them.