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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cider Making the next stage

On the 22nd December the pressed Tropical Apple juice (must) was put into two demijohns and refrigerated to ferment at a low temperature. Neither demijohn was completely full to allow plenty of space for the fermentation in case there was any foaming. The juice in both batches was identical. The difference between the batches was the yeast and the temperature. TA1 had NWS Chardonnay yeast and TA2 had CRU56 yeast. TA1's refrigerating unit has a controller that keeps the temperature at exactly 15C. While TA2's controller allows the temperature to fluctuate between 14 C and 17 C.

That minor difference caused TA2 to stop bubbling today. The next stage in this process was to siphon (rack) the cider called TA2 from its primary fermentation demijohn which has a large airspace into a smaller vessel to eliminate as much surface area. This is done to minimise oxidation and prevent spoilage.

A guess was taken as to how much volume was there was. A visual check indicated more than 15 litres but less than 20 litres. Using simple siphoning tool the cider was gravity fed into a 15 litre container. When it was full the remaining juice filled a two litre demijohn and a 375ml bottle exactly (just luck). With most of the air eliminated airlocks were attached to all three containers. As the cider warms up to the ambient outside temperature these containers will most probably start fermenting again albeit very gently as any residual sugar is converted by the yeast to alcohol and CO2.
The smallest container has a slightly different colour as there are still some suspended solids. As it settles out it will be racked into a yet smaller vessel.
There was some sludge in the original container which is known as gross lees i.e. the expired yeast cells and any pulp which made it through the coarse filter during pressing. As the cider completely finishes its fermentation it will gradually clear as the remaining yeast and any other suspended material settles to the bottom.

Once this occurs the cider will be siphoned into 375 ml bottles with some sugar added and crown sealed. The added sugar will ferment and force CO2 into the liquid creating a sparkling cider. There will be a small amount of debris resulting from this second fermentation. It can be either drunk or as most people do carefully decant their cider into a glass leaving the sludge behind.

The cider will have a distinct apple nose as a result of the cool, slow fermentation. The purity of the original juice provides a distinct apple flavour. The acidity is such that it will have a crisp refreshing finish.
On the baby front the Ferds received this Christmas present and are starting to show interest. One of the five has a voice change and makes a distinct quack. Ahh children growing up.

Monday, December 30, 2013

2014 Vintage Plan, Continuing to get stuff done

2014 Vintage plan is to try and make less wine. We have been making too much and am not getting through it even by giving away samples. The plan is to only make two possibly three whites Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and if we can get it Traminer. Going to try a much longer skin contact time with some of the Chardonnay – about 48 hours just to see what happens. Mount Mary do this and make some superb wine but of course they have a different climate. With the Sauvignon Blanc it'll be no skin contact this time. Just a pressing and slow cold ferment just to get a fresh floral Summer wine. The Traminer will just cold soak overnight, press and slow cold ferment.

The reds plan is Pinot, Shiraz, Tannat, Tempranillo and Chambourcin and maybe Cabernet Sauvignon if it is available. The only experiment this time will be to cold macerate for 3 days where normally it only gets chilled down to 10 C overnight. If the fruit is good quality about 10-20% whole bunches will be included and usually about 10% of the juice is bled off to increase the skin to juice ratio and the extracted juice used for Rose. The fermentation temperatures will be higher 27-32 C and once it gets down to about one third sugar I'll put on an airlock and leave it to get a minimum of 22 days with skin contact. Finally press and add 3gms/l of French Oak chips and 3gms/l of American Oak chips and see what happens. We haven't been racking in recent years just bottling in November /December but its time to get back to racking this vintage and see what effect it has on the flavour.
But back to reality at HHF. The lawns received some attention ahead of the predicated hot weather for the coming week. A batch of Lowenbrau beer was bottled and a batch of Guinness kicked off. Weeding continued and we even managed a few laps in the pool. Being a fast day we started dinner early as we were starving. Just a selection of cheeses with sliced zucchini and sliced Tropical Apple followed by a grilled Eggplant and Tomato stack with left over vitello tonnato sauce and finally the pizza using the sour dough base. We made two pizzas using as many ingredients out of the garden as possible and some anchovies on one and sardines on another. They looked like pizza stacks. Oh and a glass or two of 2011 HHF Shiraz.
Grilled Eggplant and Tomato stack
Not much left

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Weeding, Mozzarella, Tomato Puree

Finally a cool day. A steady breeze blew across the valley and with the humidity it felt like a cool sea breeze. Making the most of the conditions the various bean beds received a weeding. Weeding is something we are not good at performing. Not so much the action but the regularity of the activity. The measure of out laziness was the number of barrows of weeds that went into the compost. At least today we got a start with all the bean beds finished and a good watering afterwards. Hopefully this will provide the inspiration to complete some of the other vegetable beds. The problem is that having taken a few days to relax and read a pile of books it becomes increasingly more difficult to venture out and get stuck into the many outside tasks.

Originally the plan for today was to make the cows milk version of Manchego known as Hispanico. But Jean wanted some Mozzarella for a dish in tonight's meal. It is the last supper for her mum who is catching a late night bus back to Stanthorpe. And so Mozzarella it is. I did cheat and read a few chapters during some of the shorter steps but managed to get other tasks finished or started. The recipe followed was from Neil and Carol Willman's book Home Cheesemaking.
A lot of Mozzarella
Since we are going to have a lot of Mozzarella it seemed necessary to make up some sour dough pizza base to be used in tomorrow nights meal which surprisingly is going to be pizza. Probably the best time of year for pizza since there is so much fresh produce in the garden which is suitable for the dish.

Pizza base dough mixed and souring overnight
Jean and her mum spent a productive hour in the Tomato bed harvesting enough fresh tomatoes for me to puree and bottle. Getting lazier every year. This time the tomatoes were sliced in half to confirm there were no grubs and stuffed into a heavy based pot on low heat. Once there was some semblance of liquid in the bottom a bit more stuffing occurred and then the mix broken up a little more with the stick blender. The entire batch was brought to a slow rolling boil and the stick blender poked about to ensure no oversize pieces that might block the funnel. The bottles for filling were just a collection accumulated from various sources. They have been processed through the dishwasher for sterilisation and the heat from the sauce will now be enough to ensure nothing nasty happens. We still have plenty left over from last year and this years meagre harvest will have little impact on our stores.
One of our best acquisitions many years ago is this simmering pot which has a really thick base and nothing ever burns or sticks

A motley collection of jars but they work and more importantly get used more than once before recycling. Always seems a waste to use a new jar only once or buy jars when so many are thrown out.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Nikita goes to Gloucester

It's been eight months since Nikki has been for a drive. Yesterday he had a bath and the back seat of the work ute was set up with a protective bed sheet and a short restraining lead. And today he wore his jarmies and went all the way to Gloucester and back. He had a great day with his head out the window looking and smelling the passing scents and having a run in the park.

But to start at the beginning. Nikki hurt his neck 8 months ago. It was so bad he had trouble standing as the popped discs in his neck impacted on nerves and caused his front legs to become unstable.

He was prescribed all sorts of medications to ease the pain, assist in mending and keep him quiet (this is a 10 year old active kelpie). Jean thought that he only had a short time to live and was a bit generous with his favourite foods (his “little things” i.e. dried dog food and meaty bones). The drugs increased his appetite and he put on a lot of weight in a short time.

We built a special cage in the living room to keep him confined and comfortable for the first few weeks. He didn't like being in the cage but being a good little boy he would enter when told. Each night Jean would tell him to put on his “jarmies” which was a body harness and short lead. He would stand and wait for the harness to be assembled and then she would lift him onto our bed. The bed treat kept him happy during the night. To stop him from leaping off the bed she wrapped the short lead around her hand and slept with it exposed. As we came into Winter I'd wrap a jumper around the arm. Whenever he needed a toilet break she would get up and lift him off and take him outside.

Gradually he was taken off all the drugs. He had a relapse for a while. The relapse was a result of us taking him for a drive prematurely. The three dogs have always loved going for drives. It formed part of their weekly routine. We were never game to take him on a drive again.

Once he was finally off the drugs his weight began to return to normal. The weight reduction was a blessing as lifting him onto the bed was becoming difficult. Nikki is not all that possessed by food. His main interests have always been sticks and balls. But throwing sticks and balls for him was no longer possible and he was reduced to just carrying them about. He adapted well to the new life style.

Always in the back of out minds was the knowledge that he may be destined for a short life if his mobility failed.

And then today Jean finally felt confident to take him for a drive. He made himself at home on the back seat and enjoyed every moment with no negative after effects.

So this little bloke who Jean never thought she would become attached to when she picked him up from the RSPCA is back to normal. She talks to him constantly and responds on his behalf. Only a mother would understand.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Storing Feed Grain, Ferdies, Cattle

Just before Christmas we collected various grains for the chickens. We were running a bit low and with the holiday break coming up we thought we had better cover ourselves in case the supplier (Wadwells) was closed for a longer than normal period.

Wadwells are an excellent supplier. Not only are they the lowest price on pure grains but your order is packed on the spot from the silos ensuring a fresh high quality product.

The chooks have gone off wheat for the moment and normally that would be the largest portion but this time Barley and Sorghum (Milo) take a more prominent position. Last time we took some cracked Lupins but nobody was interested. This time we picked up just a couple of kilos to see if we could wean the new babies onto this excellent feed.

All the bins containing the last remnants of the previous purchase had to be emptied into smaller containers and the larger feed bins washed out and left to dry in the sun. This minimises the risk of weevils. We try to keep 4-8 weeks supply at all times just in case there is an interruption in supply.

The Indian Runner ducks (Ferdies) continue to grow. They are a very nervous breed and it doesn't take much to put them into a panic.

We let our cattle into the Nuttery every now and then depending on the amount of feed. Unlike the Orchard it can have sections isolated to keep the cattle from damaging or eating some of the more flavoursome varieties. It seems that Avocado and Mango are favourites.

Feeling sorry for them I opened the gate before all the fences were up. And it is uncanny how rather than leap at the succulent green grasses they immediately try to pull off the Mangos. They just can't help themselves.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Harrowing Pastures

The purpose of harrowing is to spread the the manure mounds more evenly across the pasture.

Without harrowing there are resultant green patches which cattle will avoid eating unless forced by the lack of other feed in the paddock. In order to force the cattle to nibble at these green mounds they must remain in the paddock for a longer period. This additional stay results in overgrazing the areas between green patches until finally they have no alternative but to nibble around the decomposing manure. The overgrazing slows down the recovery rate of the pasture (think of it as solar panels) and can lead to the dying out of some species and the increasing dominance of less palatable species (unwanted weeds).

Cattle manure is “free to good home” fertiliser. All that is required is to spread it evenly around the paddock and encourage a rapid incorporation into the soil. Leaving it as mounds over stimulates those patches while leaving the remaining pasture short of the free nutrient.

The harrows below are dragged behind a lightweight 4WD RTV and are small enough to work behind a quad bike. The paddocks on this property are about a hectare in size and the harrowing activity takes very little time and is performed as soon as the cattle have exited the paddock while the manure is still fresh and soft and spreads like butter.

Chain harrows in need of some repair
The harrows have a metal ring at the apex of the chains that is dropped over the tow ball for a quick connection. Once the harrowing is finished they are left at the entrance to the next cell. A white electric fence post is used as a marker for their location. Without the marker they are known to disappear in rapid growing grass.

The typical pattern left after harrowing. The manure is spread over  much larger area. These streaks disappear in just a few days.
A close up of the manure pat after harrowing
If there is excessive woody growth in a paddock and it needs slashing the slashing is completed first and then the paddock harrowed. Using a mulching mower rather than a slasher negates the separate step of harrowing.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Temperature Control in Cider making

Don't try this at home unless you are prepared to see a spike in your electricity bill.

Our first attempts at controlling temperature began with frozen plastic bottles being dropped into the fermenting liquid (called must). This worked to a small extent but required a lot of effort and lots of bottles being re-frozen. It was useful to prevent the temperature becoming excessive but not effective to maintain low temperatures of 15-20 C or even maintain a consistent temperature. And there was the associated risk of contamination by leaking bottles or frozen debris from the freezer.

We then slowly acquired a number of previously discarded refrigerators and freezers. The internal shelving is removed and most of it recycled except for doubling up on the bottom shelf for reinforcement. Sometimes the containers may weigh in excess of 50 KG.

We purchased some inexpensive timers like the one above. The must is allowed to begin fermentation and then the fridge/freezer activated. Once the internal temperature of the cooling unit is close to the desired level the timer is activated. By trial and error the desired run time is ascertained. initially it may be 15 minutes every hour and as the activity of the yeast diminishes it may run for only 15 minutes every 3 hours. If the temperature gets too low the rest time is extended and if too hot the run time is extended. A bit fiddly but after a while a rhythm develops. The attraction of the timers at the time was their cost - 2 for $10.

The downside of the timers was that we also needed to buy these min/max thermometers with a long lead on the probe. Sitting the digital readout on top of the fridge/freezer and the probe inside the unit or even the must meant the situation can be assessed at a glance and it was also easy to look at the temperature fluctuations during the night. Accuracy was much better than frozen bottles.

But seeking perfection we came across a cheap ($20) digital temperature controller. The downside was that it runs more frequently attempting to maintain the temperature setting. It also has an annoying manufacturing fault. When plugged into a power point the readout is upside down. By using an extension cord this is alleviated.

Now we finally found a better controller ($20 also). The readout is larger (great) and there is  setting for temperature variation e.g. The ideal temperature for Cider fermentation is 13-17 C. The controller is set for 14 C with a upper variation of 3 allowing the must to rise to 17 C before power is restored to the fridge/freezer. Bliss.

The downsides of this unit is it comes with only the probe and the power the connectors must be purchased and wired in. Not a complex task but a bit of care is required to make sure no bare wiring is exposed and the leads are secured well to prevent pull out. Fortunately we had some male plugs from old recycled appliances and only the female plug needed purchasing. It also has a short probe lead.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Chocolate making and Blood Donation

Christmas Eve and the Blood Bank is in Clarence Town. We ran into some of the regulars who turn up every three months and make their contribution. Over the years because our appointment time varies you get to see most of the local donors. A lot quieter than normal as people are away. Often visitors staying in the camping ground will turn up. It's good to see people give a little of themselves and the timing is perfect in many ways.

We are going to have lunch with friends tomorrow and one job is to make some healthy chocolates for the event. We've been experimenting with the quantities. Less Dextrose and more Cocoa powder. 5 scoops of Coconut oil, 2 scoops of dextrose and 7-8 (and maybe a little more) scoops of Cocoa powder. Just done to taste.
For the occasion some experimentation with additives. One batch with Ported Prune centres – a little bit messy. Three separate batches with roasted nuts, Almond, Hazelnut and Peanut. A batch with toasted Coconut chips. And finally Sultanas which have been soaking in (home made) Grappa for 5 or more years. Apart from cleaning windows and other surfaces this may be the only other safe use for home made Grappa. 

These are not artisan style perfect in every way chocolates but they are home made.
And since we're at it a couple of standard un-fancy blocks for us.

Jean knocks out a Panforte. This can be a tedious preparation event but is made a lot easier by using her visiting mother as a kitchen hand. Lots of chopping involved. I'm hoping they have enough strength remaining to make one for us keep.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The other half of Cider Making

This applies to Cider, Beer and Wine making equally.

It's the cleaning. Before starting the scratter was hosed out to remove any dust, the press was also rinsed and the demijohns had a sulphur solution which needed rinsing out.
The scratter drum
Then afterwards the process is repeated. The afterwards cleaning is really critical and must be timely. In hot weather the pulp particles and sugars dry quickly and adhere like glue. As soon as an item is freed from duty it gets a quick rinse if there are other tasks going on. Then later it gets a good scrub before drying and storing. With wood articles (or anything porous) the surfaces are rubbed with Potassium Metabisulphate to ensure all bugs die. The demijohns are stored with sulphur solution just in case something is missed in the cleaning. That way it doesn't take long to bring it back into service.

Once the press is finished its service and dry it gets a coat of paint on any scratched metal to prevent rust being in contact with the acidic juice. Nothing worse than a metallic taste in the wine or cider.

I've found that most of the time involved in making something is engaged in cleaning. A lot of people have a romantic idea about wine making but the reality is it is the worst product to handle from a cleanliness prospective. Grapes leave a sticky residue wherever they have travelled. Often grapes will turn up months later under fridges and cupboards where they have rolled during processing.

Performing the cleaning as you go makes the chore a little more palatable. It also has a side benefit in that it provides a chance to reflect on the making tasks. Just mentally going through the processes and making sure that each step has been executed. Something akin to to a quality control process. When multi tasking with multiple batches it's easy to overlook something and a silent review while working on a less demanding task helps. Having a check list is important but sometimes in the heat of the moment it can be easy to forget to tick a box.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Making Cider

Today we harvested all the apples off the Tropical Apple tree roughly about 50 KG. This is the best harvest ever. Partially because more fruit was bagged against fruit fly and partly because of the dry weather that assisted in fruit set and growth. 


The scratter that was made from information on web a couple of years ago is designed to process a large amount of fruit. And today it received its first volume test. What a great machine. The task was completed very quickly and the whole unit taken outside (it is on wheels) and hosed clean in minutes. The scratter is almost completely made of recycled material. The timber is harvested from old pallets, The motor and pulleys from old washing machines and the drum holding the stainless steel teeth is an old Ironbark fence post put through a lathe.

Normally the volume is so small we only use a small press but for once we were able to utilise the larger wine press. The only difference was using a cloth liner for the smaller pulp. An old nylon curtain worked perfectly.

The scratter in action. A bucket of apples emptied into the feed in tray and about a dozen apples dropped into the hopper, then adding a few at a time as the stainless steel teeth shred the apples.

The pulp is pressed and the juice loaded into the demijohn. Roughly about 60% yield of juice. After the first hard pressing the pulp is loosened and pressed a second time. This produces a few more litres.

The pH was tested at 3.48 which is perfect as the ideal is between 3,.0 and 3.8.

The Brix was 11.5 and ordinary sugar was added to chaptalize to 16.5. This will produce an alcohol level of 9% which is the minimum recommended for flavour and aging. It is possible to make a lower alcohol but it will not mature as well and requires higher levels of Sulphur. Potassium metabisulphite was added at the rate of 50 ppm to kill off any bad bugs and the yeast will be added in 24 hours.

Two different batches will be put down with different yeasts and once the yeasts start their work the demijohns will be refrigerated to 15 C. The fermentation at lower temperatures produces better nose and mouth flavours. Higher temperatures can boil off the better esters.

A few apples were put aside for eating fresh. They go really well with blue cheese.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Watering, Havarti, Ice Cream, Cleaning fermentation equipment.

The hot weather is back with a vengeance and we are spending a lot of time ensuring our fruit trees are not suffering. A lot of the trees are laden with fruit and it would be a real shame to lose it at this late stage when harvest is so close. The watering method we have chose is to give each tree a good hours soaking with a fine 360 degree spray. Drippers are great in the right soil type but our soils need something that provides time for the water to soak in to the ground as opposed to dropping straight through to the shallow shale bedrock. Therefore every hour one of us goes out and relocates the dozen or so sprays mounted on flat pieces of wood. These are nothing fancy just a small piece of 12mm poly pipe nailed to an offcut with a hose adapter at one end and bent double at the other with a spray nozzle mounted in the middle. There are a number of different nozzles depending on how far the spray needs to be thrown.

In between watering movements a batch of Havarti is produced from the latest batch of milk. Although we love all types of cheeses Havarti is a staple. A lovely texture and flavour and an excellent melting cheese (melted cheese and tomato). In addition it is easy to make and almost devoid of complexity which allows other tasks to be co-ordinated with its production.

A lazy light pressing for the Havarti

A little bit of cream was pinched from the last batch of milk and Jean knocked out a Green Tea ice cream. We'll save this for Christmas when her mum visits.

One of the important tasks associated with beer making is cleanliness. This lack of hygiene struck home this week. I thought I'd given the fermentation containers a thorough clean and in addition they had been stored with a Potassium Metabisulpate solution. But not so. In one batch as it neared the end of fermentation a small amount of white mould had started to form on top of the brew and in the other even closer to completion the surface had a whitish film on the surface. This is not a complete disaster as the mould is surface formed and if the batch is bottled carefully only a small amount of beer needs to be discarded. Having bottled the worst affected container yesterday it went through a very thorough cleaning process. First scrubbed and rinsed then a heavy application of Destainex and soaked overnight. It will then sit in a strong SO2 solution for a number of hours just to ensure every part of the fermentation container is sterile. It is so easy when things are going well and you are in a bit of a hurry to skip over some important aspects of brewing. The lesson can be a hard one.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Beer, Tropical Apples and other fruit and Vegetables

German Dark wheat Bottled - 60 stubbies

The Tropical Apple with exclusion bags

The problem when too many pieces of fruit mature in an older cotton bag

As usual the Tropical Apple is always ready for harvest just before Christmas

And it never stops flowering

A fresh hand of Bananas ripening on the bench seat

The Quince fruit looks good but still a month or two off perfection

Isabella table grapes ripening slowly on the fence

Chambourcin further advanced

Rattlesnake climbing beans so prolific we struggle to keep up
And finally the Ferdies almost doubling in size each day. They follow Jean around but are very timid birds and frightened of me.