Oh Honey, honey…..its mead time!

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Exquisite raw local honey

 

So its been a while since I’ve written on here, and I’m aware that a lot of the time its simple procrastination that keeps me from writing.  Recently I went back to New Zealand for a trip and it was while I  was away, that I realised how important it is for me to share the many things that are constantly fermenting in my head.

So while I was away on this trip, I started various cultures, as I do, and led a fermentation evening. It was there that I realised that the ferment people usually like best, is mead.  Yes you heard right, mead!  Honey wine, our most ancient fermented treasure.   

Mead is really nothing more than water and honey left to do its thing.  Very little hands on time and plenty of waiting time.  Mead is a perfect ferment to start your fermenting journey with. Reject the cult of expertise and start experimenting, remembering that only two generations ago everybody knew how to do this stuff! Get all your senses involved, and start collecting a memory bank of skills to pass on to your kids.  It’s also a great idea to do seasonal foraging for the herbs and fruit you’re wanting to add. Elderflower, rose, dandelion and nettle are seasonal just now, if you live in the northern hemisphere, that is!

There are many variations of this ferment and traditionally it was used as a medicinal carrier of herbs.  In fact mead was our only source of alcohol for a very long time and it was revered as a sacred drink.  Recent studies have found that mead, made from raw honey, has antibiotic properties, and because the honey has passed through the gastrointestinal  system of bees, it contains yeast as well as beneficial bacteria from their system.  There are so many health reasons to drink mead and it also tastes damn fine.

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a simple ferment with apple, bubbling after about 5 days

I like to flavour mine with herbs, and my current drinking  brew contains rose, chamomile and lime flowers.  You can make the mead strong by using a low dilution (1:4)  or relatively  light  by diluting it more (1:16).  I tend to use a dilution of 1 part honey and 5-6 parts water.  I also add a quartered organic apple, core and all, as this imparts some more flavour and acidity.  When I brew my mead, I usually only go for a short 7-10 day brew using an open top jar.  This will ensure that the mead is still a bit sweet and only very low in alcohol, my kids love it that way.  Once its finished brewing (you will have to taste it at this point to see if its ready) strain the mead through a cheese cloth and then bottle it in glass clip top bottles.  You can drink it straight away or leave it in the fridge for 1-2 weeks.  This will slowly keep fermenting it, making it less sweet and more bubbly. If you want to properly fortify it, i.e. create more alcohol, you will have to put it into a glass demijohn  for 2-4  weeks.  Then bottle it and drink it straight away.  If you want to bottle it and keep it for longer, like months or years, please ferment it for longer in the glass demijohn, otherwise the remaining sugar might build up too much pressure and explode your bottles.

 

So for some basic honey wine pleasure here is what you need

Ingredients

  • 3 l open top glass vessel
  • 300-500g raw honey
  • 2.5 l filtered water
  • any fruit or herbs ( I like to brew a strong tea from lavender, chamomile, linden flowers, rose )

Currently I am making a mead from rose, boysenberries and elderflower.  All the flowers and fruit are immersed in the mead for 5 days or so, then I will strain them out and leave the ferment for another 5 days.

Method

  • In your glass jar mix the water and honey
  • If your flavouring it with herbs make a strong tea and add as part of the water allowance (rose by itself is delicious as is a combination of lavender, linden flowers and chamomile) or add the fresh herbs straight to the ferment
  • If you’re adding fruit, add them now (I always add a quartered apple but ripe summer berries or peaches etc are also delicious)
  • With a spoon stir the ferment everyday, until it starts to bubble
  • Keep monitoring and tasting it to see when its ready.  It should have a much richer flavour profile than the original honey water, slightly acidic, less sweet and a little effervescent.  You want to avoid a vinegar taste.
  • After 5 days or so filter out the fruit and/or flowers if they were added and continue to brew the mead
  • Once the brew is ready either continue fermentation in a glass demijohn (with an airlock) for another 2-4 weeks or drink green (green in this sense means a very young ferment with very little alcohol content, I expect less than 2%) as it is.  I usually bottle my mead after the 10 day period in glass clip top bottles and leave it to mature in the fridge for another 1-2  weeks.  This will make it more bubbly and less sweet as fermentation slowly continues.
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Blackberry, rose and elderflower mead, day 2.

So when it’s all said and done, mead is like the most beautiful girl at the party…everything about her is wonderful and intoxicating and you can’t take your eyes off her.  Mead is the stuff of life, and   as far as ferments go, mead is a wonderful mistress.  It’s hard to let her go and she will have her way with you.

 With love x

Old remedies for a new world-making ginger beer

11709451_10207091021810933_654293667855352233_nI’m kind of obsessed with all things fermented but at the moment the runaway winner for sure is any kind of fizzy drink I can get my hands on. Especially now that the weather is finally getting hot, and believe me this is an exciting thing as London’s weather isn’t exactly tropical. Sour tonics or traditionally fermented drinks are simply tasty beverages, slightly sweet, slightly sour. Sometimes lightly alcoholic (depending on how long you brew them for) and always teeming with healthful lactic acid bacteria, enzymes and mineral ions.

 Homemade fizzy drinks, or soft drinks as they are also known, bear little resemblance to their commercial equivalents. The latter are mostly laden with glucose or corn syrups, additives, colourings and lack any of the health giving properties a home-brew brings.

In a long continuous tradition, by Peoples all around the world, these beverages have always been produced and we are now seeing a revival of traditional techniques.  All beverages require a starter culture of some sort ( bacteria or yeast based, or mostly both) and a carbohydrate for the culture to feed on.  The carbohydrate can be as simple as sugar-water flavoured with herbs or any kind of juice.  The taste combinations are endless. Once the culture has weaved its magic, you will end up with a delicious bubbly beverage.

There are many different kinds of starter cultures and the culture required for this drink can be easily made in your kitchen.  Its called a ginger bug (see picture above).

GINGER BUG

INGREDIENTS

  • ground or fresh ginger root
  • unrefined cane sugar
  • filtered water
  • old 500ml jam jar or snaplock jar

METHOD

  • Pour 1.5 cups of water into the jam jar, then add 2 teaspoons of sugar and 2 teaspoons of ground or fresh ginger. Close the jar and shake to mix
  • Everyday (for 5-7 days) add 2 teaspoons of sugar and 2 teaspoons of ginger and leave the jar in a warm space, with the lid off
  • After 5 days check to see if the bug is bubbling, if not continue for two more days.  If after 7 days its still not bubbling you have two options: 1. throw it all away and start again or 2. purchase a ginger bug from the internet  (Happy Kombucha is a very good site)

The ginger bug will keep indefinitely in the fridge.  In fact I like to think of it as another member of the family who requires a bit of love and attention. Feed it once a week with 2 teaspoons of sugar and ginger, keep it out for an hour and then pop it back in the fridge.  If your using the culture to make a drink, simply replace what you have used and then store it back in the fridge.

 

GINGER BEER – FOR BIG AND SMALL 

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 litres filtered water
  • 1.5 cups sugar (rapadura or unrefined cane sugar)
  • 5-15 cm of fresh ginger root, peeled
  • juice of 2 lemons

METHOD

  • Make a sugar syrup with 2 litres of water, 1.5 cups of sugar and the grated fresh ginger (5cm will give a mild flavour , 15 cm a strong flavour).
  • Boil it up for 5 min until the sugar has dissolved, then leave it to cool down.
  • Add the juice of two lemons and enough water to make up 4 Litres in total.
  • Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth or a wire mesh sieve to remove the ginger.
  • Add a 1/4 cup of strained culture to the mixture and stir.
  • Bottle in sealable bottles, like old flip top beer bottles or old juice glass bottles.  I like using Kilner home-brew flip top bottles as they give a really good seal.
  • `Leave the beverage to ferment in a warm space for 2-3 days, opening the lid everyday to let out the built up carbon dioxide (which creates the natural bubbles in the beverage).  Once it tastes to your liking put it into the fridge for 1-2 days to set the bubbles.  It will continue to ferment in the fridge, but much more slowly. When you open ginger beer do so over the sink and very slowly as carbonation can be very strong.

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With Love x