What the heck is a Blog?

Who is Jack Keller?
Jack Keller lives with his wife Donna in Pleasanton, Texas, just south of San Antone. Winemaking is his passion and for years he has been making wine from just about anything both fermentable and nontoxic.

Jack has developed scores of recipes and tends to gravitate to the exotic or unusual, having once won first place with jalapeno wine, second place with sandburr wine, and third with Bermuda grass clippings wine.

Jack was five times the President of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild, is a certified home wine judge, frequent contributor to WineMaker Magazine, creator and author of The Winemaking Home Page and of Jack Keller's WineBlog, the first wine blog on the internet, ever. He grows a few grapes, now works at being retired, and is slowly writing a book on -- what else? -- winemaking.

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Some Other Wine Blogs

There are hundreds of wine blogs. According to Alder Yarrow (see below), none have been around as long as Jack Keller's WineBlog, but 99% of these newcomers are for wine consumers, not winemakers. They have anointed themselves the official "wine blogosphere." You can count on both hands those of us bloggers dedicated to actually making the stuff they write about, and yet our blogs are largely ignored by this elite. Still, they exist and are important. There are some who write for the buyer / consumer but still occasionally talk about the making of wine, even if they usually are talking about making it in 125,000-liter stainless steel tanks. Or they might talk about grape varieties, harvests in general, the cork-screwcap debate, stemware, or other subjects I think you might find interesting. They're worth reading even if you aren't interested in their tasting notes. Then again, that just might be your cup of tea. Here are a few of them I like, listed in a loose alphabetical order (by blogger):

Alder Yarrow's
Vinography: A Wine Blog

Ben Evert's
Making Homemade Wine and Beer, about home winemaking

Ben Hardy's
Ben's Adventures in Wine Making, a very fun read from across the Atlantic

Charlie Short's
Clueless About Wine

Chef Neil's
A Wine Making Fool's Blog, a lot of fun to read

Chris Nuber's
Texas Wine Blog, a good, unbiased read

Darcy O'Neil's
The Art of Drink

Eric Asimov's
The Pour

Washington Winemaker

Frugal Wine Making

Ian Scott's
The Home Winery, about home winemaking

James Jory's
Second Leaf, about home winemaking

Jamie Goode's
Jamie Goode's Wine Blog

Jeff Lefevere's
The Good Grape: A Wine Manifesto

My Wines Direct

Chez Ray Winemaking

Karien O'Kennedy's
New World Winemakeer Blog

Ken Payton's
Reign of Terrior, lots of good interviews

Ken W.'s

Wine Amateur

Marisa D'Vari's
A Wine Story

Mary Baker's
Dover Canyon Winery

My Wine Education

Mike Carter's
Serious About Wine

Mike McQueen's
Life on the Vine

Noel Powell's
Massachusetts Winemaker

Noel Powell's
Random Wine Trails

[no name]'s
Budget Vino...for the $10 and Under Crowd

[no name]'s
Two Bees Wine, about home winemaking

Russ Kane's
Vintage Texas, searching for Texas terroir

Sondra Barrett's
Wine, Sex and Beauty in the Bottle

Steve Bachmann's
The Wine Collector: Practical Wine Collecting Advice

Vines & Wines

Thomas Pellechia's
VinoFictions, interesting variety

Tim Patterson's
Blind Muscat's Cellarbook

Tim Vandergrift's
Tim's Blog, a humorous and enjoyable flow from Wine Expert's Tim V.

Tom Wark's
Fermentation: the Daily Wine Blog

Tyler Colman's
Dr. Vino's Wine Blog

Who is Jack Keller?
How to contact Jack Keller:

Remove the patriotic colors and replace the parenthetical items with their symbols.


WineBlog Archives

Blog entries are generally presented in reverse chronological order, with earlier entries at the bottom and recent ones at the top so the newer can be read first. An archive is more useful if the entries are presented chronologically. I have thus rearranged them as such.

July 8th, 2013

Like us on Facebook

I have at long last put up a Facebook page for this blog and my Winemaking Home Page, which you can visit here and hopefully "like." Since there are no public stats on visits to a Facebook page, the number of "likes" is the only metric that gets attention. I'm still trying to figure out how to place real content on it, so it's a "work in progress." Your comments are welcome.

If you have read this blog for a while you know I am a huge fan of the Doo Wop genre of rhythm and blues and early rock and roll. What appeals to me is the simple beat, the overriding harmonies, the usual purity of message in the lyrics, and the emotions the whole composition and delivery evolk.

Doo Wop is a style of vocal-based rhythm and blues developed in the '40s and achieving mainstream popularity in the '50s. According to Wikipedia:

Built upon vocal harmony, doo-wop was one of the most mainstream, pop-oriented R&B styles of the time. Singer Bill Kenny is often noted as the father of Doo-wop for his introduction of the "top & bottom" format used by most doo-wop groups. This format features a high tenor lead with a "talking bass" in the song's middle.

As a musical genre, doo-wop features vocal group harmony with the musical qualities of many vocal parts, nonsense syllables, a simple beat, sometimes little or no instrumentation, and simple music and lyrics. It is ensemble single artists appearing with a backing group.

Wikipedia continues:

At the outset, singers gathered on street corners, and in subways, generally in groups of three to six. They sang a cappella arrangements, and used wordless onomatopeia to mimic instruments since instruments were little used: the bass singing "bom-bom-bom", a guitar rendered as "shang-a-lang" and brass riffs as "dooooo -wop-wop". For instance, "Count Every Star" by The Ravens (1950), includes vocalizations imitating the "doomph, doomph" plucking of a double bass.
– "Doo-Wop" in Wikipedia

One of my favorite songs of the genre is "Deserie" by The Charts, a true classic of the genre. It rose to number 3 on Billboard's national R&B charts. The group, from Harlem, was comprised of teenagers Joe Grier (lead), Stephen Brown (first tenor), Glenmore Jackson (second tenor), Leroy Binns (baritone), and Ross Buford (bass). Here is their classic:

Most historians of modern popular music agree that 1963's "Denise" by Randy and the Rainbows was the last true Doo Wop recording to chart in the top 10, although some give that honor to "Da Doo Ron Ron" by The Crystals. Whichever assertion you subscribe to, the fact remains that the genre faded from the popular charts in 1963.

As an aside, many historians cite the 1953 hit "Gee" by the Crows as the first rock 'n roll hit and the most influential Doo-Wop song to cross over from R&B to the popular charts, making Your Hit Parade in 1954. It was the first '50's Doo Wop record to sell a million copies, with infectiously upbeat vocals, wonderful harmonies and use of nonsense syllables Doo Wop is so famous for. In 1966, my Drill Sergeant at Fort Ord was a former member of the Crows and he encouraged a group of the black members of my platoon to do impromptu Doo Wop songs. He would simply start snapping his fingers to a beat and they would gravitate together and someone would fit a song to the beat and they would go at it like professionals. It was wonderful to watch and listen to.

Doo Wop's demise is attributed to several factors. Among these are the rise of the teen idols such as Ricky Nelson, Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon, Annette, and Fabian, the ever-presence of Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers and Jerry Lee Lewis, and the emergence of "the California sound" epitomized by Dick Dale, the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. The final nail in Doo Wop's coffin was the 1964 British invasion and America's musical response to it. However, Doo Wop's influence continued and is strongly evident in the vocals of Dion & the Belmonts, Jan & Dean and the Beach Boys.

Many of the old Doo Wop classics were rearranged and re-recorded in the following years. Some were popular as mainstream rock and rock ballads and some were molded into other genres. Compare The Charts original with Laura Nyro's 1971 remake, re-titled "Déseree":

Call me old fashioned, but I like that old time music where singing was a vocal art and the music was sophisticated compared to rap's monotonous repetition. But, while I like the older sounds, your mileage may vary.

I will be out of town for a few days. Hope to see you next week.

Blackberry Melomel

Blackberries and honey, photo from Little Seed Farm blog under Fair Use Doctrine of 1984, no commercial value derived from this publication
Blackberries and honey, perfect for melomel

I received an email from an Army Sergeant in Afghanistan only weeks shy of rotation back to the States. He is already planning his return with a blackberry melomel. He sent me the recipe he plans to use and asked several questions worth sharing.

His recipe is sound and is as follows, slightly edited (the personal comments are his):

  • 15 lbs of Clover Honey (artisan grade)
  • 2 cans of 96oz. Blackberry fruit wine base
  • 2.5 tsp of pectic enzyme
  • 5 Campden Tablets
  • Fermaid K (staggering nutrient)
  • DAP (staggering nutrient)
  • 4184 Wyeast Sweet Mead yeast (11% tolerance)
  • Distilled water to fill to 5.5 gallons

Ensure everything is sterilized. Add both cans of blackberry base to ferment bucket (catching fruit pieces in mesh bag). Add Campden Tablets and wait 10-12 hours. Add the pectic enzyme after the 12 hours. Heat one gallon of water to approx. 130° (helps dissolve the honey). Add water and approx. 15 lbs of honey to bucket (enough to get 1.100 S.G.). Stir until honey is dissolved. Add distilled water until the level is right at 5.5 gallons (make enough room for headspace when fruit is removed). Mix in Fermaid K and DAP (staggering nutrients so that the yeast stay healthy). Place cover on bucket and let sit until it cools down enough to add yeast. Aerate must with .5 micron air stone and medical grade O2 for 15-20 seconds (ensure yeast have oxygen to multiply). When at correct temperature add yeast (it is a smack pack so I'll start that roughly 9 hours after pectic enzyme). Stir daily to remove CO2 and add in nutrients (do this up until 1/3 sugar break). Let ferment up until roughly 1.020 (which is where I expect it to almost complete fermentation). Sir and transfer to 5 gallon carboy and let finish fermenting and wait for the dropping of the gross lees. Then transfer to another carboy, add sorbate, flavor to taste if needed. Add french oak medium toast cubes (I do not know how much to add due to never using oak before. if you have any suggestions, that would be greatly appreciated). Let sit on cubes until it acquires the taste I prefer, then transfer to another carboy and let age for approx. 6-8 months. [recipe source unknown]

My comments are as follows:

Before any comments on my part, I want to thank you for your service. I served 3 tours in Vietnam, but I wasn't in a volunteer Army. I know what you have done to be where you are and I greatly respect that. Keep your head down and make it home healthy and whole. I will pray for you.

The recipe and intentions look sound. Don't rush things. Mead takes longer than wine to ferment and one can grow inpatient.

As for oak, look at my comments at the end of my piece on "Dried Elderberry Mead" (only a 1-gal batch, but easy to scale up from there) in my October 15th, 2012 entry of my WineBlog.... Patience with the blog. It is slow loading right now because it is loading a year and a half of blog entries – I need to archive 2012 soon.

Also look at the 24 April 2012 entry on "Aging With Mesquite" and further down on "Oak". This should give you ideas.

He then replied, in part, "I read that you like to stir before you add your wine/mead into the secondary fermenter. I never thought about that, as I am still new to this hobby, but I am sure going to give this a whirl! You have a lot of great advice on your page. Thank you for your help. I might buy a smaller can of puree after it ages and clears to get some of the original blackberry flavor back into the melomel. I like to let my wine set for an average of 4-6 months before I make any attempts to back sweeten or flavor. I do that so I have a better idea of the end flavor and helps me judge how much to add....

"One last question. How long should I leave the blackberry fruit pieces in the fermenter during primary? I have read that leaving it in there for too long makes the melomel very harsh and it wouldn't be good to drink for years."

To this I answered:

I shoot for 3-5 days in the must, but have kept them in for as long as 13 days because I was travelling. It was a little harsh and I aged it 3 years, but by then it was absolutely fabulous.

I seldom add juice/concentrate to my finished meads because I like the flavor of any residual honey, but we all have different tastes. Just don't overwhelm it or it will taste phony. It's supposed to taste like blackberry mead, not blackberries.

He then replied, "My yeast strain, from Wyeast, has a tolerance of 11%, so I am expecting roughly for it to complete fermentation at roughly 1.020. Its going to be sweet, but I believe that a mixture of honey and blackberries will be excellent.... Do you recommend I wait until the fermentation is complete to rack or should I stir just before it is over and rack? What is your preference on this when making mead?"

I answered:

I remove fruit as soon as it is prudent to do so, transfer to a secondary as soon as the vigorous fermentation begins to calm, and rack 3-4 weeks after transfer to secondary. I'll rack as many times as needed to get a crystal clear wine, but I space them out 30-60 days apart to reduce oxygen exposure. Ideally, I rack no more than 3 times, but sometimes another is needed.

I provided the whole exchange, minus nonessential comments and military talk, because I thought it might be instructive to anyone thinking of making a blackberry melomel. I know I'm thinking about it...!

July 15th, 2013

I drove to Lafayette, Louisiana and back this week. The drive there was uneventful, but two things happened on the way home that made me realize how lucky I am.

I intended to call one person on my cell while driving west through Beaumont, Texas, but while quickly glancing at the phone I misaligned the name I intended to call and called another, an old friend. Surprised to hear his voice, I was quickly lost in conversation. Soon we were making plans for a flyfishing trip in the Rockies in 2014. Suddenly, the car sputtered and I glanced down and saw that I was out of gas. Losing speed and thinking I had to call AAA when I stopped, I terminated the call and spotted an exit up ahead. I shifted into neutral and rolled to the exit, which had a slight decline. Up ahead was a Shell station but I didn't think I could make it. I rolled to the first pump at 2 miles per hour. That's when I confirmed my tank held exactly 12 gallons of gas. I thanked the Lord for His provision and continued my journey.

Not more than 15 minutes later, doing 80 in the left lane, I spotted an accident occurring between 3/4 to a mile in front of me. While I could not see the details of actual cause, I saw a vehicle's front end move abruptly to the right and the rear-end swing to the left, then it rolled at least once and ended up with the driver's side against the ground and the top against the restraining cables along the median that protected traffic in both directions from each other. Everyone braked and by the time I rolled past a woman was climbing out of the damaged vehicle's upward facing passenger window and two children were scrambling out an open rear door. It looked like a van long enough to have two rows of rear seats. Pulled over ahead of it was a truck pulling a flatbed trailer with shot side rails that looked damaged. While I have no positive knowledge of how the accident happened, it looked like the truck pulling the trailer might have changed lanes, from left to right, without the trailer having cleared the vehicle it was passing. If it struck it, that would explain the abrupt front-end movement to the right and speed could have driven the rear-end's momentum to the left, resulting in the roll-over. At least 10-12 cars had stopped and people were rushing to the damaged vehicle, so I could add nothing to the scene. I said a brief prayer and continued westward, reducing my cruise control to 75 – the posted speed limit.

The latest issue (August-September 2013) of WineMaker magazine is out and contains my article on "Berry Country Wine Making: The Best Berries To Start Fermenting This Summer" on pages 28-35. It includes 17 berry wine recipes, so get it and get those yeast working for you.

If you don't subscribe to WineMaker, perhaps it's time you did. Just click below....

WineMaker Magazine

I want to thank all of you who have visited my page on Facebook. If you haven't yet, please take a look at Jack Keller Winemaking and "like" it if you do.

I work hard to provide you, the reader, with content that hopefully appeals to a wide readership. You won't like everything I write but it is doubtful you'll like everything in any publication. My Facebook page offers you an opportunity to provide public feedback. I only ask that you please keep it civil even if negative.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Jack Deshotels making jelly
Jack Deshotels making Backberry Pepper jelly at Lafayette
(photo by Jack Keller)

Laissez les bons temps rouler is Cajun-French for "let the good times roll," and that's what happened when I arrived at Lafayette, Louisiana. Gib DeLisle treated me to a couple of wine tastings within minutes of my arrival and before I left I had more wine, beer, hard lemonade and moonshine. I ate well but tried hard not to stray too far from my one meal a day and five snacks. But Cajun food is not easy on the beltline, so I gained three pounds – without regret.

My visit was to attend a meeting of the Louisiana Wine Makers' Guild - Acadiana Chapter, which I continue to think of as the Central Louisiana Wine Guild even though that has never been its name. It's a geography thing.

Before the meeting, I had time to visit Jack Deshotels and Jim Leonard's large and varied orchard and jelly-jam making facility. Jim grows the fruit and Jack makes some of the best sweet and spicy jellies one could enjoy. He makes both fruit and fruit-pepper jellies. I've eaten them before and bought a mixed case of Muscadine Pepper, Mayhaw Pepper, Satsuma Habanero, Blueberry Pepper, Fig Pepper, and Blackberry Pepper jellies. The pepper is jalapeno and the habanero speaks for itself. These are not only delicious on breads, biscuits and crackers, they each have numerous potentials for glazing or garnishing various meats and in other culinary entrees. I have used the Blueberry Pepper on both lamb and pork chops and the Satsuma Habanero in rolled and tied veal and think the Fig Pepper will also meld well with veal. The Mayhaw Pepper flavors quail and chicken wings like no other glaze and I injected some into a meatloaf that completely changed its character. I'm dying to experiment. If this tickles your saliva, give Jack a call at 1-800-745-9491 or visit their website here.

Gib DeLisle and Reno Duhon
Gib DeLisle & Reno Duhon discussing the merits of a
particular grape (photo by Jack Keller

We also visited the home vineyard of Reno Duhon. Reno is a true Southern gentleman and grows a wide variety of grapes, paper shell pecans, citrus and figs. The grapes are various standard muscadine varieties grown in the South, but also include Victoria Red and hybrids M-52, Q21-B17 and SV-2-66, promising cultivar breeding stocks reported to resist Pierce's Disease. As far as I know, Reno has the last surviving specimens of SV-2-66, which just begs to be crossed with Blanc du Bois. Reno admits he is not a grape breeder, but enjoys the grapes for their own character and is preserving the hybrids in case a grape breeder desires some of the wood for rooting or grafts.

My old friend Barry Comeaux joined us at Reno's and we four had a wonderful time walking among the vines and talking about grapes, vineyard management and wine. Barry has forgotten more about "the vine" than I'll ever learn, so listening to his poignant observations was truly instructive to all of us. And, of course, his wit was both entertaining and infectious.

Gib and I visited Marcello's Wine and Liquor, which is a combination homebrew and liquor store. We found Kevin in the back helping a customer, who I'll simply call Andre, who was getting ready to bottle a blackberry wine. After introductions, Andre had some questions about watermelon wine. I suggested he make a potent yeast starter solution and explained how to do it. After a bit, he asked us to meet him outside after he completed his purchase as he had something he wanted to "share" with us. Gib and I both thought we were going to sample one of his wines, and so were surprised when he opened a cooler in his vehicle and gave each of us a bottle of a golden liquid."

Andre said it was "apple pie moonshine" but would say no more about it. All he promised us was that we would think we were drinking real apple pie. he moment we got into Gib's vehicle we tasted it. Glory be to God for the gifts he has allowed mankind to fashion. This stuff was smooth, incredibly delicious, and not only tasted like liquid apple pie, but you could even taste the crust of the pie. More about this below, I promise.

Matt Turlak, Helen Williams and Bill Hausman
Matt Turlak (L) and Helen Williams (C) listen to Bill Hausman
(R) at Louisiana Wine Makers' Guild - Acadiana Chapter
meeting. Jack Deshotles sits in the background talking to
Jack Keller (hidden) (photo by Carole DeLisle with permission)

The meeting of the Louisiana Wine Maker's Guild - Acadiana Chapter could rightly be divided into four parts. The first hour or so was socializing and sampling the many wines brought to share. The next 30-45 minutes were spent eating and then eating some more, then the meeting was called to order by President Bill Hausman. The meeting and associated program lasted about an hour or so, and then there was a 30-minute period of clean-up, making plans or sharing contacts and saying farewells. It was a very warm and natural affair which I enjoyed immensely.

For me, the highlight was the food and fellowship. The people were all as friendly as could be and totally unreserved. I felt at home within moments of arrival. But while I was meeting people, engaging in wine talk and sampling wines the unmistakable aroma of Stanley and Annetta Lee's Chicken and Sausage Gumbo invaded my consciousness. This was going to be my one meal of the day and I was ready for it.

There are few staples of Cajun cuisine as sacred as gumbo. I grew up on it but had not had a really good one in perhaps two years. Yes, I was ready.

Chicken and sausage gumbo with two scoops of potato salad
Stanley and Annetta Lee's Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
with two scoops of Carole DeLisle's bodacious Potato
Salad (photo by Carole DeLise with permission)

Gumbo can be as simple or complex as the cook wishes. Traditionally, one adds to it what one has on hand, but chicken and sausage are traditional staples although squab, duck, rabbit, squirrel, crab, crawfish, shrimp and other shellfish are all ingredients that grace the dish and give it its character – shellfish gumbo rarely has fowl or other meats in it unless there is a scarcity of shellfish.

Central to gumbo is a thick brownish-black roux – flour cooked in butter, lard or fat until it is almost burnt and then quickly diluted with just enough water or stock to stop further browning. Then the Holy Trinity of Cajun Cuisine is added and allowed to cook to tenderness – onions, bell peppers and celery. At that point more stock is added along with any meats or shellfish requiring extended cooking. If a shellfish gumbo, shrimp are added a few minutes before serving. Traditionally, gumbo is served in bowls over rice.

Gumbo's success or failure rides on the quality of the roux. Roux is a thickener that gives the stock body. Okra can be added to provide additional body as it is a natural thickener. If someone feels the stock is not thick enough, they may sprinkle filé over the gumbo, allow it to hydrate for a minute or two, and then stir it slightly to add flavor and body. Filé is dried and ground sassafras leaves and was a spice gift to Cajuns from the native Choctaw Indians of the region.

Meat is usually deboned and may or may not be browned in a skillet before adding to the gumbo. Gumbo is not rushed, so uncooked chicken, sausage, rabbit or squirrel will have an hour or more (usually several) to cook in the pot. I've had chicken and squirrel gumbo at Barry Comeaux's three times – cooked in an iron pot suspended over an open fire in the back yard for a couple of hours – and each was a culinary delight.

As seen in the photo above, one does what one has to do. Lacking room for separate dishes, Carole DeLisle's delightful potato salad went into the gumbo which enriched the flavor of each. A second potato salad, made more in the German style, graced a second helping of the main dish.

Jack Keller addressing the Louisiana Wine Maker's Guild - Acadiana Chapter
The author addressing the Louisiana Wine Makers' Guild -
Acadiana Chapter (photo by Rick Fontenot with permission)

The "program" of the meeting was an unscripted talk by me about the origins of my website and tales of unusual wines I have made in the past. I am known by anyone who has met me as a story teller. The answer to any question asked of me usually includes a story of some sort to illustrate or decorate the answer. I actually had no conscious recognition of this mannerism until a few years ago when I retired from Government service and one person after another got up and said they would miss my endless stream of stories. And so it was at this occasion.

My talk was followed by questions which I tried my best to answer. Fortunately, none involved detailed organic chemistry, my weakness. But I was struck by the quality of the questions asked. These folks are serious winemakers and it enlivened my heart to be engaged by them. I've said it before and will say it again: if you want to enrich your winemaking experience, join a winemaking club even if you can only attend meetings infrequently. There is no substitute to collective wisdom and even the most difficult problems or challenges can be overcome when many minds and scores of years of collective experience are brought to focus.

My sincere thanks to the generosity and fellowship I enjoyed in Lafayette. I especially want to mention the kindness and time extended to me by Gib and Carole DeLisle, Jack Deshotels and Jim Leonard, the members of the "Wednesday night supper club," Barry Comeaux and Reno Duhon, Rick and Debbie Fontenot, Matt Turlak (for an incredible desert and poignant questions), Stanley and Annetta Lee, President and Secretary Bill and Gayle Hausman, and last but not least the members of the Louisiana Wine Makers' Guild - Acadiana Chapter. I'll be back if the Good Lord allows it.

Apple Pie Moonshine

Apple pie moonshine
Apple Pie Moonshine (photo from Inside NanaBread's
under Fair Use Doctrine of 1984, no commercial
value derived from this publication)

I mentioned previously having been given a bottle of Apple Pie Moonshine by a winemaker named Andre. I sipped this stuff and was amazed by its smoothness and distinctive yet complex flavor. How can one possibly taste apple pie crust in a drink? It's amazing to say the least. I had to have the recipe!

I have Andre's phone number and called him. He works for a living so I really wasn't expecting him to answer at mid-afternoon on Monday. However, his number is a cell and so it travels with him. I explained that the internet is full of recipes for this potent beverage, but there seems to be as many ways to make it as there are roads to Rome. I really wanted to narrow the field if I could. I also explained that I intended to publish the recipe, so if there were any secret nuance he didn't want to share I would understand.

It turns out that the secret is not Andre's to share. A friend actually makes the stuff and is, in fact, rather secretive. However, being a good mannered Cajun Andre said he would call his friend and ask him to call me. When he did call, he was not at liberty to tell me specifics because his father held the actual recipe. So, I had been reading dozens of recipes online and could see the strengths and weaknesses of each. I put this knowledge to use, did some math and came up with the following recipe. This one is mine and unlike any other I read. Although I have not made it yet (all the ingredients are in my kitchen and it will be started tonight), I am confident it will be as good as or better than any recipe I've read online.

Apple Pie Moonshine

  • 1 gal Martinelli's Gold Medal 100% Pure Apple Cider *
  • 1 gal unsweetened apple juice
  • 8 4-inch cinnamon sticks (or 10 3-inch)
  • 1 cup Zulka Pure Cane Sugar (or use raw sugar)
  • 1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tblsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 liters 190-proof Everclear or Diesel grain neutral spirit

*NOTE: Apple cider is unfiltered apple juice and is usually cloudy, not clear. Using cider is essential for the flavor desired. Martinelli's is a clear cider. If you use organic or most other ciders, do not expect a clear product. The choice is yours.

In a large stockpot combine the apple cider, apple juice, sugar and cinnamon sticks. Bring to a soft boil, stir until sugar is dissolved, place a lid on it, reduce heat just enough to hold the soft boil (watch for a few minutes to be sure it doesn't boil over) and hold it there for 15 minutes. Remove any scum that forms on the surface, if any. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Remove the cinnamon sticks and add vanilla extract and 190-proof spirit. Store bottles from 2 weeks to 2 months to smooth out the bite and refrigerate 3-4 hours before serving. Always return opened bottles to the refrigerator. This stuff is very smooth, very tasty and will sneak up on you, so don't drink it and drive.

This recipe will make about 10 quarts or almost 13 750-mL screw-capped wine bottles of Apple Pie Moonshine at just under 20% alcohol by volume. Most recipes found online use an additional cup or two of sugar and 1 liter of 190-proof spirit and result in a brew just over 9% alcohol, but some use 80- to 100-proof vodka which puts it in the realm of beer.

July 24th, 2013

I received about a dozen emails between 10:18 p.m. Monday (July 15th) and 4:35 p.m. Tuesday (july 16th) that the WineBlog was down. I knew it, but there was nothing I could do about it.

I've said before that I do not use blogging editing and publishing software because I started blogging before these appeared. I did not want to spend the time converting old blogs and use a backbone structure I did not build. As a result, it takes me a lot longer to write, encode and test my blog entries than it takes most bloggers. Yes, I know I am making life difficult for myself, but at least I know what I'm doing and not troubleshooting code I did not write. That said, when I published my last blog entry, the whole WineBlog crashed.

I spent the whole of Monday writing and formatting the July 15th entry. At 10:18 p.m., I published it and my blog disappeared. For those who don't know how this is done (or at least how do it), there is a backbone file that contains certain permanent elements of the blog and numerous "includes" – calls to include and integrate other files into the blog.

To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a computer. - Paul Ehrlich

The main content of WineBlog is in an "include" file called "blogentries.html". When I published Monday night, I uploaded that file and upon calling up the blog's URL got an error message saying the include file, "blogentries.html", on code line 134 of my backbone, did not exist. Clearly that was wrong because I could see it on my server.

I spent 5 hours – until 3:10 a.m. – looking and relooking at every byte of code in the file and could find nothing in it that broke the file. Finally, I called my hosting service and told them there was a problem on their end. It took them 25 minutes to verify that it was, indeed, a problem on their end. It then took three different teams spanning two work shifts on their end 13 hours to find and correct the problem.

The reason it took so long is because the problem was isolated to the very top tier of their server software – Windows itself – and they had to make sure that when they corrected the problem for me it did not cause hundreds of thousands of problems for their other clients. At 4:35 p.m. on Tuesday, by WineBlog reappeared.

This is a worse-case example of what I go through to present the WineBlog to you. No need to thank me – 99% of the time it is an enjoyable and trouble-free experience.

Popcorn. I love the stuff. It isn't in my diet, but I don't care. Since I am usually up long after midnight (I usually retire between 2-3 a.m.), I sometimes pop a mini-packet of popcorn around the witching hour and share it with my dog Reba. I get 2-3 popped kernels and she gets one. She loves it as much as I do but I have opposing thumbs and thus get to control the distribution.

A couple of weeks ago I happened upon G.H. Cretors brand of pre-popped corn. What a selection! While I usually prefer to pop my own, these looked inviting. They have "Chicago Mix" with both cheese and caramel corn mixed together. If you prefer "Just the Caramel," they sell that. But the "Just the Cheese" is even cheesier than the cheese in the Chicago Mix, or at least tastes like it is. But my favorite (I don't share this with Reba) is the "Caramel Nut Crunch," a gourmet blend of caramel corn, toasted almonds and cashews. At least the nuts are in my diet.

In Texas these can be found in United Market Street stores, Brookshires, Fiesta Marts, and Rice Epicureans. They have a store locator on their website. Good stuff!

I received numerous great reviews on my trip to Lafayette to visit the Louisiana Wine Makers Guild - Acadiana Chapter, with several requests for a recipe for gumbo. While there are many recipes on the internet, very few Cajuns actually follow a written script unless trying to recapture a legendary memory the cook happened to write down – my brother Barry makes such a gumbo and I have his notes. But generally, it's just too versatile a dish to confine to a recipe.

But let me think on it. I might be able to synthesize making the heart and soul of gumbo – the roux, the Cajun Holy Trinity, and the spices. Everything else that goes into it is collectively referred to as the "dis and dat." More on another day.

The Genius of Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, Virginia House of Burgesses

My favorite president since I was in the sixth grade and read the biographies of "the great three" – Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln – has always been Thomas Jefferson. Despite his ownership of slaves and other imperfections by today's standards, Thomas Jefferson was a very remarkable man and a recognized genius in his own day. He started learning very early in life and never stopped. He was a self-taught surveyor, architect, engineer and inventor, and he read books like a starving man eats.

At 5, he began studying under his cousin's tutor.

At 9, he studied Latin, Greek and French and became proficient in each.

At 14, he studied classical literature and additional languages.

At 16, he entered the College of William and Mary. Also could write in Greek with one hand while writing the same in Latin with the other. Think about that. Very, very, very few people can do this using only one language.

At 19, he began studying Law for 5 years, starting under George Wythe.

At 23, he started his own law practice.

At 25, he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses and began construction of Monticello.

At 31, he wrote the widely circulated "Summary View of the Rights of British America" and retired from his law practice. He also invented the swivel chair.

At 32, he was a Delegate to the Second Continental Congress and wrote "Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms."

At 33, he wrote the Declaration of Independence.

At 33, he began a three-year revision of Virginia's legal code, wrote a Public Education bill and a statute for Religious Freedom.

At 36, he was elected the second Governor of Virginia, succeeding Patrick Henry.

At 40, he was elected to Congress, serving for two years.

At 41, he was the American minister to France and negotiated commercial treaties with European nations along with Ben Franklin and John Adams. He also began his legendary wine collection.

At 44, he invented a machine to extrude macaroni, a pasta he brought to America from Europe.

At 46, he served as the first Secretary of State under George Washington. He invented the cipher wheel to encode State Department messages.

At 49, he invented the Great Clock, built at Monticello, which is gravity powered and marks the hour with a gong that can be heard many miles away.

At 51, he redesigned Monticello based on architectural styles he studied in France.

At 53, he served as Vice President and was elected president of the American Philosophical Society.

At 55, he drafted the Kentucky Resolutions and became the active head of the Democratic Republican Party.

At 57, he was elected the third president of the United States.

At 60, he obtained the Louisiana Purchase doubling the nation's size.

At 61, he was elected to a second term as President.

At 65, he retired to Monticello.

At 66, he invented a spherical sundial accurate to 5 minutes year-round, at Monticello.

At 72, he owned the largest library in America and sold it to the Library of Congress to replace the Library's holdings of half that size which the British burned in 1814 during the War of 1812. He immediately began collecting a comparable personal library.

At 80, he helped President Monroe shape the Monroe Doctrine.

At 81, he almost single-handedly founded, designed and over-saw construction of the University of Virginia and served as its first president.

At 83, he and John Adams died exactly on the 50th anniversary of the publication of the Declaration of Independence.

President Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson knew about government because he himself studied the previous failed attempts at government. He understood actual history, the nature of God, His laws and the nature of man. He was well read in the natural sciences and could identify almost any plant he encountered in Virginia and later in France. That happens to be way more than what most understand today. He synthesized the wisdom of his past and present to frame a social, cultural and political future unmatched in the history of the world.

John F. Kennedy held a dinner in the White House for a group of the brightest minds in the nation at that time. He made this statement: "This is perhaps the assembly of the most intelligence ever to gather at one time in the White House with the exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined here alone."

We could do far worse than to contemplate and learn from Jefferson's own writings:

When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe.

The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.

It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.

I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.

My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.

The greatest danger to our American freedoms is a government that ignores the Constitution.

No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.

The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.

– Thomas Jefferson

During the 20th Century our leaders consciously chose to ignore Jefferson and impose upon us an income tax to pay for more and more government, but they rarely chose to check spending to that which was actually collected. In other words, they rarely balanced the federal budget, an action Jefferson would have considered a crime against our children and their children. During the past four years, federal spending skyrocketed far beyond our ability to repay what is being borrowed, furthering the magnitude of the crime.

Thomas Jefferson also warned in 1802:

I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.

If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property – until their children wake – up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.

– Thomas Jefferson

We stand at the abyss between all that this country has stood for and achieved and the corrupt, tyrannical government Jefferson warned us against that would "...take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not." Do not take my word for it. Just look at free and subsidized benefits including payments for being unemployment that extend far beyond the period it reasonably takes to find new employment, outright welfare, housing, utilities, cellphones, school breakfast and lunches, Aid for Dependent Children, child care, medical care, food stamps, commissary food, prescription and non-prescription medications, education, education testing, and refundable "tax credits" to those who pay no taxes. There are lengthier and more detailed lists than this. Why would parents of two children work when they could collect in excess of $47,000 a year for not working? If one of them claims a disability their income for doing nothing is even more.

The pragmatist might look at those pushing us toward the abyss turning a blind eye from Jefferson and the architects of our republic and say,

The only thing we learn from history is that it is inconvenient.
– Bill Kincheloe.

Re-read what Jefferson wrote and tell me I'm wrong.

There are more books and websites on Thomas Jefferson than I care to list, so just look for a good one. I sincerely ask that you stay clear of unbalanced and biased revisionist histories, whether praiseworthy or condemnational. Of those I would recommend, my personal favorites are as follows:

Mark's Strawberry Wine

Fresh strawberries

I saw a huge display of strawberries at the market this morning and was hit in the face by their aroma. I looked over the display and saw that they had placed a strawberry air scent at the top of the display. Good marketing ploy, because my mouth began salivating and I picked up a quart of the deep red berries. But something about the scent reminded me of an email I received three years ago. Back at home, I searched and found it.

In 2010 I received an email from Mark Baich, a long-time confidant and reviser of the artwork at the top of the WineBlog. I am including his email, with only minor editing, because it says it all.

I bottled my strawberry wine today which is largely based on your SB #2. I made some modifications to eliminate the raisins and replace with Welch's Niagara, and tweaked the sugar to be 50/50 white/light brown. I sweetened it with 1 cup of sugar (in 1/2 cup water) per gallon but didn't add the citric acid because there is plenty of acid in there already. I used more strawberries per gallon, so my ABV is a little high (and hot) at about 13.6%. But the sweetness, aroma, flavor, acidity all complement each other quite nicely.

There is mouthfeel to the wine, but I would've liked a little more. I'll open a bottle in June when we go and pick strawberries again and determine if adding bananas would be beneficial. The only other "fault" is that the wine is more orange than red, but I figure it is likely due to the varietal of strawberries.

I sampled it before going out to the store, and I could still taste it in my mouth when I returned an hour later. Now that is staying power!

The truly amazing aspect to this wine is the bouquet. When I returned to the basement after rinsing the bottles upstairs, the whole room was enveloped in strawberries! It was as if I had a large bowl of freshly picked and cut strawberries sitting out in a bowl.

This is the strawberry wine I plan on mixing with the Cab/Merlot & Chocolate Vodka. It is going to be a winner!

Just wanted to say "Thank You" again for all your wonderful recipes. Your tutelage has significantly improved my winemaking ability! Here is the recipe I used for 6 gal:

- 22 lb very ripe you-pick strawberries (4 baskets, 5.5 lb per basket)
- 6 cans Welch's 100% White Grape Juice (Niagara) frozen concentrate
- 4.5 lb white sugar
- 4.5 lb brown sugar
- 4 Tablespoons acid blend (I didn't have citric on hand)
- 1.5 teaspoons grape tannin
- 30 pints water, boiled (added 1 cup for evaporationƑ
- Cotes des Blancs yeast

- 6 cups sugar in 2.5 cups water, heated until clear syrup, then cooled

I'm STILL tasting strawberries!

– Mark Baich in email to author

My reply to Mark was much shorter than Mark deserved, as often is the case when I am pressed for time. I mentioned that strawberry often does come out more orange than red (blush), but some varieties set the color very well. Strawberry wine is the flagship offering of Poteet Country Winery and I have never seen better color in strawberry than in theirs. Their secret is that they very slowly stir the whole berries by impeller in a 750-L slow cooker, pasteurizing the berries/juice and then cooling quickly and adjusting the must before adding yeast. I have brought my berries to 165° F. once, but the whole process made me so nervous I never did it again. But it worked fine and produced great color. flavor and aroma.

But what Mark says about the smell is very important. Not only is the underlying aroma of freshly sliced strawberries preserved marvelously, strawberry wine develops beautiful bouquet. The latter is often temporarily lost when the cork is pulled, but the suction of pulling the cork fills the room with both aroma and bouquet of this intoxicating berry. You just can't easily separate them.

To isolate the bouquet, open a screw-topped bottle of strawberry wine if available and very gently pour about two fingers into a wine glass (a depth about the thickness of two fingers stacked horizontally) and immediately place your nose into the glass and inhale sharply but not too deeply. You are smelling the wine's bouquet. After exhaling, smell it again, only deeply this time. What you smell now is the aroma of the underlying fruit.

With a pulled cork, you can recapture the bouquet by pouring two fingers, cupping the glass bowl's bottom in your palm for a minute – slightly warming the wine – and then swirling the wine so it rides up the sides of the glass for about 15-20 seconds, releasing more of the volatile acids, alcohols and esters we call bouquet. Now smell it again. Heavenly!

Also worth noting is Mark's movement away from raisins to white grape concentrate for body and complexity. I myself did that long ago except for a few specific wines. You don't know how fresh the raisins you buy actually are and they do oxidize and degrade over time. Thus, old raisins do terrible things for wine but are beneficial in making a sherry. Frozen concentrate solves this aging and oxidation problem.

Mark mentioned possibly adding bananas next time to bolster body. A ouple of tablespoon or three of light dry malt extract (DME) per gallon integrated into the must before pitching the yeast can accomplish the same thing. Be careful not to overdo it. I initially used a half-cup of DME in several wines, but except for ports and other heavy bodied wines I now use no more than 1/4 cup per gallon.

I want to thank Mark for his own contributions to my WineBlog and this contribution to winemaking. Small tweaks to existing recipes are expected as it is unlikely your base will be exactly the same as mine. Reporting tweaks to me helps me understand diversity in base ingredients and also how the tweaks affect the wine. I actually made Mark's wine, but only a gallon. Thanks, Mark.

This Blog and Computers

Problems with this blog?

Several people have called or written with complaints that either (1) my WineBlog is still down or (2) it takes forever to load. Both of these problems have been attended to, but you may not be able to take advantage of these fixes because you aren't maintaining your computer. This is real easy to do.

If you were seeing a message that the WineBlog had an internal server error (ergo, was "down"), unless you were persistent you might not even be reading this explanation. That message was created during the period I described above (15-16 July), and if you saw it after the late afternoon of the 16th you need to clean out your cache.

Your computer has several caches', but the one you need to be concerned with is your browser's cache. It stores the contents of any page you visit so the next time you visit it the browser can deliver it to you very quickly. Ideally, if the content changes your cache will incorporate the changes. But not always. In some cases the cache keeps a static image and keeps loading the same thing.

Cache's usually refresh themselves periodically, discarding sites you don't return to after a defined period. If they didn't, they would eventually fill up your hard drive. You can also clean it out manually or set up your operating system to clear your browser's cache at defined times, events or intervals. I have mine set to clear it (dump the content) every time I shut down my computer.

So, when folks wrote or called saying my WineBlog was still down after it was back up, I suggested they go to Goggle and type "How to clear the cache in [name of browser]" and follow the instructions. It isn't rocket science.

The second complaint requires an explanation. As time passes, the current content of my WineBlog grows and takes longer and longer to load, especially since I started incorporating more photos. You might wonder why I don't just archive older content after, say, six months. There are reasons.

First and foremost, I hate breaking out (archiving) content, and when I do it is a year's worth at a time. It takes nearly a full day to do it because, as explained before, I do all of my own coding. When I archive content, I have to reverse the order of entries from latest on top to chronological order. Sounds simple, and is, but very time consuming and requires total concentration.

Second, I carry about 30-35 items in my rss feed. As I add topics to the feed I also delete topics from it. I will never archive a period (6-months) as long as there is still an active feed item in that period. If I did the archived material couldn't be found without me going in and editing the rss.xml file containing all the feed links. We are talking about more work than I have time for, so that isn't going to happen.

Third, I don't just archive a 6-month increment when it clears the rss feed because I archive a full year at a time in two increments. It's a matter of symmetry (a complete year rather than a half year) and programming focus. I once broke out a January-June increment and left the July-December active in the current content area and later, when I went to archive the latter period, I got confused in the programming and wiped out the previous 6 months. Luckily, I had it backed up and could recover the lost archive, but the panic that hit me when I saw my error nearly caused a third heart attack (one I don't look forward to as my heart is weaker now than when I had my second heart attack). Life is uncertain and I'm trying to postpone the inevitable. Bear with me, please.

I was planning to archive 2012 in May of this year, but April-May were terribly busy for me. My father passed away in California at age 90, I had to fly back to Texas just to do my taxes and then fly back to California later (I was executor of his estate and had a lot of legal hurdles to negotiate). I also had a 50th high school reunion in California and a trip to Rochester during that period. The blog suffered because I didn't have time to archive 2012 until recently.

If the WineBlog is still loading very slowly for you and you can scroll down and see any 2012 entries, clean out your cache. You're still loading last week's WineBlog.

Thanks for bearing with me. I'm trying....

August 6th, 2013

Some of you both appreciated my advice to clear your cache to resolve problems loading my (and other) pages and reminded me you have to restart your computer to apply the fix. My bad. My own browser told me to restart my computer to effect the clearance. I simply forgot to pass that on in case your browser wasn't as friendly. You folks rock! Thanks for keeping me straight.

Linkedin Logo

I get a kick out of social networking. I love it, really, but it is a time sink. I can't even check in on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Linkedin without spending a half hour. And forget about inviting me on all the others. There aren't enough hours in the day....

I don't know about the others I didn't mention, but Linkedin has this thing called "endorsements." While endorsements, in my opinion, should be handed out judiciously, I'm not sure they are. I look at my own endorsements and wonder about the validity of the practice. They do, however, reveal some interesting things.

I am endorsed first and foremost as a Blogger, then Online Marketing, Social Networking, Social Media Marketing, and then a tie between Historian and Copywriting. Way, way down on the ladder, not even in the top 20, is Winemaking. Someone even endorsed me as a Chef. Now that is flattering.

I have no problem with the first place being Blogger, but I really don't know why Winemaking (or Winemaker) is so low. Well, it might be because many of my contacts know me through former work associations and I did not talk winemaking (much) while doing my job. They remember me for many things, most of which are not listed among the suggested endorsement categories. That many of them remember the historical perspectives I tried to inject into my writings is very flattering. That many of the winemakers I am "Linkedin" with do not think of me as a winemaker is, well, unflattering. It is not something I will lose sleep over but is curious.

Slow-churned ice cream, 1/2 cup, a 100-calor snack

It is altogether pleasing to me when someone reaches out unexpectedly to offer recommendations that might assist me and those recommendations are ideal for sharing. This was the case when Keith Burfield, whom I met and shared a morning with in Rochester, New York, sent me an internet link. He wrote:

My wife just gave me this and I thought I would forward it to you. Maybe one of these will be a new snack for you on your diet.

I have been on a diet for 6 weeks now and so far I have dropped 24 lbs. It is working and I am sticking to a nice salad once a day and a mild dinner or a small lunch and then a salad for dinner . It is working so I am not changing it.
– Keith Burfield, Rochester, NY

The link is 25 Super Snacks With 100 Calories or Less, a slideshow on the WebMD website. For the diet I am on, which entails one modest meal a day with five snacks spaced to ward off hunger during the rest of the day, this was pure gold.

During my first run-through of the presentation I estimated I already incorporated a little more than half of these into my variety of snacks, but on second look I realized the number was slightly less than half. For a sampling of some of the snacks I eat, see my WineBlog entry of May 4th, 2013, "5 Daily Snacks for Belly Fat Weight Loss". My weight loss is now down to 45 pounds. I want to lose another 2 pounds and then level off.

What I like about the WebMDlist of 25 is that some of them never occurred to me. Examples include the above-pictured 1/2 cup of slow-churned chocolate ice cream, baked apple with cinnamon, a graham cracker and frozen yogurt sandwich, 6 cups of unbuttered popcorn (SIX cups?), ricotta cheese-stuffed whole-grain pita pocket, 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt with honey, smoked salmon-cream cheese pinwheel-roll-up, and one cup of jicama sticks and salsa (only 54 calories!).

These are practical yet tasty and healthy snacks. They add a variety of tastes to my already long list of snackables and include a few things I assumed I should not eat but can. When I start to try leveling off, those multi-grain carbohydrates will be welcome. The secret, of course, is that they be whole grain at least and preferably multi-grain.

A bonus is that this presentation is followed by one entitled "Food Cravings That Wreck Your Diet ." Together, they offer more than a bit of wisdom to a growing, overweight populace. But will overweight people even read them? I tend to doubt it.

Thank you, Keith, for sharing (and way to go on the diet!).

I appreciate talent, but I especially appreciate it when it's exhibited by a very young person. That's why I was so blown away in 2010 by 10-year old Jackie Evancho when she appeared on America's Got Talent. To view her performances, just Google "Jackie Evancho America's Got Talent." Actually, just type her name and you should be offered a Youtube search category.

But this entry is not about Jackie Evancho. It is about another 10-year old's performance on the drums. Yes, drums.

I knew as soon as I watched the following video (I've watched it at least 25 times now) that I would post it here. Her performance is truly amazing for someone so young (and yes, I've seen the 9-year old Australian drummer, Jagger). Here she accompanies Kelly Clarkson's "My Life Would Suck Without You" and she is a joy to watch.

Try as I did, I could find little else about the identity of this gifted young talent except that her name is Pau, has two guitar-playing sisters (one a year younger and one a year older than her), and this performance was in or before May 2012 in Bateria, Mexico.

I love this song by Kelly Clarkson, but it will never sound right to me again without this little girl on the drums. I mean it. Thank you, Pau.

What Is A Native Grape?

Wine label (Mustang x Berlandieri)

My local friends and I make a lot of native grape wines. By native grape, I don't mean Concord, Catawba, Norton, or Niagara, all of which have Vitis vinifera in their genes, or Ison, Fry or Noble muscadines, all of which were created by man. I mean native grapes, those that have grown in the wild long before Columbus landed on the wrong continent.

Native grapes are intriguing to me. With the exception of some V. aestivalis and its subspecies, some V. riparia, V. californica and V. labrusca, few North American native grapes taste like good candidates for wine. True, almost any unpleasant species can occasionally produce good tasting grapes, but usually they don't unless you work at it.

Vines that produce good tasting grapes while those around them do not should be tagged (I use a lime green piece of ribbon – yellow, red and orange, which are much easier to see, will often be spotted by county road crews who think it means to cut them down) so they can be easily identified in February or later when they are leafless but their buds begin to swell. This is when the sugar stored in their roots has begun to be released as sap and cuttings can be taken for propagation. If the vines that result from the cuttings, which are clones of the original vine, produce good tasting grapes, the vines should be further propagated for their own goodness and/or shared with interested grape breeders.

Strict Interpretation

The San Antonio Regional Wine Guild (SARWG) takes a strict interpretation of what we allow to be entered in competition as a native grape wine. We do not allow any grapes with Vitis vinifera in their gene pool. In most cases, the history of the grape and the physiological characteristics of the vine place the grapes into the [native] × vinifera category, but some grapes, such as Norton/Cynthiana, have had to await DNA analysis to be certain. But we go a step further.

We also exclude grapes resulting from human engineering within a single species. The many muscadine cultivars – Ison, Fry, Carlos, Noble, etc. – that were developed by selective breeding, are among those we exclude. The reason for this is simple, two-pronged, and easy to appreciate if you make muscadine wines. First and foremost, it confers an unnatural advantage to those who buy and grow the best cultivars over those who scout the backroads and woods for their grapes. This argument is analogous to why we don't force native grape wines to compete with vinifera wines – they would seldom, if ever, place. The second reason is slightly more complex.

When a breeder cross-pollinates selected vines within a species and then plants hundreds or thousands of resulting seeds and ultimately selects one as the best, either for future cross-breeding or as a releasable cultivar, he is doing something it is very unlikely nature would do on its own. The guys roaming the woods collecting wild grapes haven't got a chance of placing against such engineered selections.

Native-Vinifera Hybrids

So where does one enter Concord, Norton and Carlos wines? In SARWG competitions, they compete against wines in table grape, blends or dessert wines. If you think this is unfair, think again.

SARWG's judges are experienced in tasting these wines and both trained and educated in using this system. They are just as adept at appreciating and scoring a well made Concord, Norton or Carlos as they are of appreciating and scoring a well made Riesling or Cabernet Sauvignon.

The proof is that these wines not only place, but have walked away with Best of Show honors. The key, of course, is the experience, training and appreciation of the judges. This system will not work among judges who adhere to a bias that only vinifera makes good wine. Unfortunately, too many judges across the country refuse to broaden their experience and develop an appreciation for diversity.

The Secret of Great Native Grape Wines

While there are notable exceptions, in general the best native grape wines, like the best vinifera wines, are blends of two or more species or varietals.

With one exception, every single Cabernet Sauvignon in my wine rack has some amount of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot or other red grape included, even if the blending wine is but a small percentage. The reason is complexity. What Cabernet lacks, other wines can provide. The same is true for many other wine grapes.

Makers of muscadine and mustang grape wines tend to rely on the single grape, but this is not require. One of the best native grape wines I ever made was about 60% mustang and the remainder a blend of V. cinerea var. helleri (formerly known as V. berlandieri), V. vulpina (formerly known as V. cordifolia) and V. monticola of unrecorded percentiles. I have tried to replicate that blend several times and have come close but not quite gotten it right. This is what happens when you don't take time to create a wine log.

Similarly, back in 1999 I happened upon a white muscadine in the woods east of Jasper, Texas – a total rarity in this area. I was only able to harvest enough grapes for a 2-gallon batch, but my closest carboy was 2.5 gallons. So I crushed some white mustangs from my own fence, combined the two grapes in the primary, and made a killer white native grape wine that tasted like neither grape and yet was better than either.

But one must be careful in labeling native grape wines. Several times I have blended mustang with Dog Ridge, a V. × champinii grape discovered by the late T. V. Munson in Bell County, Texas on the Dog Ridge geographic feature. Dog Ridge softens the wild taste of mustang considerably, so much so that one judge disqualified one of these wines from the native grape category claiming it contained vinifera. Since I did not declare the Dog Ridge in the wine's entry tag (but did list it on the entry form), my discovery after the fact was too late to rectify.

I see nothing wrong (although technically incorrect) to use old names like V. champinii, V. berlandieri and V. cordifolia in labels to help us older folks identify the grape. One should just be aware of the correct names and that these names are no longer accepted in scientific literature.

I live too far from the East Texas natural range of V. aestivalis and V. aestivalis var. lincecumiii, but if I lived closer I would be aggressively experimenting with blends of these grapes with mustang, Dog Ridge, V. cinerea and V. monticola. There are more possibilities than I can imagine if one blended the native grapes of different regions and states.

Absolutely Simple and Fast Dessert!

<i>Delish Just Four Ingredients Fast</i> cookbook

I have mentioned this cookbook before (June 30, 2013), but now I am flat-out endorsing it. If you want to throw together easy, quick and economical dishes that are absolute winners, the Delish Just Four Ingredients Fast! cookbook is invaluable.

I have already mentioned Watermelon and Berry Salad (seedless watermelon, strawberries, blueberries, mint leaves) in my above-mentioned previous post, as well as:

  • Scrambled Eggs with Asparagus (asparagus, eggs, skim milk, tomato)
  • Spiced Plums with Yogurt (canned whole plums, cinnamon, cardamon, Greek yogurt)
  • Fresh Peaches with Lemon and Mint (peaches, fresh mint leaves, lemon juice, honey)
  • Raspberry Coconut Creams (heavy cream, vanilla pudding, coconut macaroons, raspberies)
  • Beet and Feta Salad (canned baby beets, mixed greens, fresh mint leaves, feta)
  • Roasted Mushrooms with Ricotta (portobello mushrooms, ricotta, flat-leaf parsley, green onions)
  • Warm Red Cabbage and Bacon (bacon, red cabbage, red wine vinegar, brown sugar)
  • Prawn and Miso Soup (prawns, instant miso soup, baby spinach leaves, red chili)
  • Sticky Chicken Drumettes (tomato sauce, plum sauce, Worcestershire, chicken drumettes)

Now I'm adding White Chocolate and Macadamia Parcels to the list of easy and fast recipes (I could add 20 more, but this one is a super winner). These bake in 10-12 minutes and are an incredible dessert. At 407 calories each, you'll have to skip desserts for a couple of days as penance, but these are worth it.

Make them when you have three others at the table. Otherwise, the temptation to eat them all will be too great.

White Chocolate and Macadamia Parcels

  • 4 sheets filo pastry
  • 1 cup soft ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped, roasted, unsalted macadamia nuts
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped white chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 ° F. (325° F. convection). Lightly grease a baking sheet and line with parchment. In bowl, combine ricotta and macadamias and mix to combine.

Lay out one sheet of filo pastry dough and spray with oil-spray. Lay second sheet of filo on top of first and repeat spraying. Then third and fourth sheets. Cut the stack of sheets crosswise to make two halves.

Place a quarter of the cheese-nut mix in the center of each half and fold the ends in toward the center to cover mixture. Roll from one unfolded side to enclose filling. Place the two parcels on the baking sheet, seam side down. Repeat process to make two more parcels.

Bake 10-12 minutes in center of oven or until pastry is golden brown. Serve hot (or at least warm) with honey drizzled over pastries if desired.

The second time I made these I tweaked the recipe and added a fifth ingredient – three diced Medjool dates. I love these both ways....

If you are interested in this book, you can order it at Delish Just Four Ingredients Fast! or by clicking on the picture above. It isn't as expensive as it should be. And if you do yourself a favor and get it, be sure to try the Italian-Style Lamb Cutlets on page 90...um, um, good.

August 12th, 2013

I've been having mystifying computer problems for 2-3 months. Despite all my system settings having been set to never allow my CPU or monitor to go into power saving "sleep," my monitor has been going into power saving mode at very random and inopportune times. When it does that, the monitor goes black and nothing I can do will awaken it.

Friday it did it three times within 3 1/2 hours. My thanks to Lance Gibson, a Facebook friend, for patiently walking me through the steps to replace my video driver and monitor cable and discussing further steps I might take. Thanks, Lance.

The next day I did some serious PC-cleaning and tuning. I cleaned out all my temporary files, my antivirus quarantine files, my downloaded setup files for programs already installed, pieces of programs left behind after programs had been uninstalled, removed 541 "dead" entries in my registry, defragged all my drives, and found and removed two malware routines hiding in my root directory. I also uninstalled and reinstalled the Chrome browser and Avast Internet Security Suite as my previous actions had altered both programs' behavior.

After all of that, my computer is now booting fast again and is acting snappy. Most of the tools used to perform these tasks are at Free PC Services, my own website.

Screenshot of Mars from email

I'm sure some of you have received an email claiming that Mars will be closest to earth on August 27 that it has been in over 5,000 years. It further says that it may not come this close again until 2287.

I certainly do encourage you to go out and examine the night sky if city light pollution permits it, but not because of this email. Do it because it is worth doing. Viewing the night sky at various times of the year can be most rewarding for the pleasures it brings if you do just a little research.

Back in 1958, aa a young teenager, I earned my Boy Scout Astronomy Merit Badge. It was a proud achievement for me, as I then had a working knowledge of sky navigation where I had none before. I could identify the major and some minor constellations, point out our closest stars, find the Andromeda Galaxy, and find the observable planets. What's more, I could (and did) chart the planets' relationships to background stars over a few weeks and show that they moved relative to their background, proving what the ancients and early astronomers figured out, that they "roamed" about in the sky – were actually in orbit around the Sun.

If you can star-gaze, you should do it to learn and then apply what you learn, not because of this bogus email about Mars. The email seems to get recycled back into circulation every August. The event it describes – the close passage of Mars to Earth – already happened on August 27, 2003.

I watched it then. Did you? Mars was very bright but not abnormally large to the naked eye. I did not have my telescope then, but even my 25X binoculars allowed me to see it clearly as a disc. And Orion Nebula (in Orion's belt) can be clearly seen using just the binoculars. But with a telescope – oh boy!

Remembering Stephen Zellerbach's Wines

Talk about flashbacks! In the early 1980s I was stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco and many Saturday mornings drove north into the wine country to taste wines and add a few to my collection. In those days there were no fees to taste wines and it was a great way to spend a day. Often, after a morning of tasting and then a lunch, I'd find a place to park in the shade and take a nap in the back seat of my Mazda RX2, then go taste some more wines.

One Saturday I drove up to the Alexander Valley in the Healdsburg-Geyserville-Cloverdale area of Sonoma County. I drove past several wineries and saw some balloons at an entrance of a new winery and pulled in. I walked inside and a man was on a ladder stapling bunting to an upper wall. I asked, "Are you open?"

Stephen Zellerbach 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon

The man turned and said, "Well, since you're here, I guess we are. You're our first visitor." He climbed down and found a guest book under the counter and I was the first to sign it. The man was Stephen Zellerbach. This was Zellerbach Vineyard's new tasting room. Everything was new and I felt a little odd as he pulled a glass from a shipping carton, washed and dried it and placed it in front of me. He started pulling corks and I tasted six wines.

One was a very nice, very intense 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon. It sunk in the mouth with full, heavy suggestions of currant, dark plum and black cherry, then rose and did a little spice dance over the tongue. Finally, its acidity and tannins sucked the mouth dry as I swallowed. It was something I wanted to taste again and again, but at $12 a bottle I could only afford one. But I also bought two bottles each of the more reasonably priced 1981 Cabernet Sauvignon and 1980 Zinfandel – $6 and $8 a bottle respectively.

I visited Stephen Zellerbach several times and each time the price of the 1978 Cab was a little more. Finally, when he informed me he only had two cases left, I caved in and paid what was then the exorbitant price of $18 each for two bottles. I could be thrifty tomorrow.

My wine collection rested on shelves I built in a sloped-ceiling closet under a staircase in my flat in the Richmond District of The City (San Francisco to the uninitiated). I kept an inventory of my wines on pages taped to the inside of the closet door, crossing them out as I drank them and adding new ones below the last entry.

Collapsed buildings in Marina District, San Francisco, October 1989
The Richmond District has subsurface bed-
rock and fared better than the Marina District,
built on landfill

At 5:04 p.m. on October 17, 1989 a 6.9 magnitude earthquake (Richter Scale – surface-wave magnitude was 7.1) occurred near Loma Prieta Peak It shook San Francisco for 10-15 seconds, ending in a mighty jolt that tossed my collection onto the floor. One hundred and nineteen bottles of wine broke and a well-fitted wooden door jam confined most of the wine to the closet where the red elixir soaked through the oak floor into the garage below. But two so-so bottles survived.

That evening, me and all my neighbors were sitting in clusters on curbs and stoops eating whatever people had in their refrigerators. The power was out and nobody knew for how long so in all likelihood the food would spoil. A team of residents quickly moved from building to building turning off the gas – San Francisco burned after the 1906 earthquake and we weren't going to be responsible for a repeat. I produced my two bottles of wine and we passed them around, wiping the mouths and drinking from the bottles.

I have an incredible insurance company. Because I was not a homeowner, I did not need earthquake insurance. My USAA household goods policy was enough to cover most of my damages, which were fairly extensive. My collection of Ming ceramics and artifacts suffered the most because I did not have an art or antiquity rider. But, because I had a wine inventory, they replaced every commercial bottle of wine I lost except eleven that were no longer available anywhere, including the 1978 Zellerbach Cabernet Sauvignon. The value of those eleven were included in the check they sent me several weeks later.

In 1992, after moving to San Antonio, I wrote to Stephen Zellerbach to give him my new address. He periodically sent me notices of new releases. Although he had sold the winery, his name still appeared on the wines until a reorganization changed the name. But in 1992 I still had his personal business card with his Healdsburg address. In my letter I told him how I had lost my wines in 1989 and among my biggest disappointments was the loss of the last bottle of the 1978 Cab. To my amazement, he sent me a bottle of the wine in early 1993 with a note saying this was from his private stash. It was in a nice box and I left it there. In 1997 we moved to Pleasanton. My wife did most of the packing.

Saturday I was looking for a magnifier – a stand with a fantastic magnifying lens I used to examine my stamp collection. I knew it was in one of the cartons hidden away in a closet. As I rummaged through one of the cartons I came upon the box with the 1978 Zellerbach Cab with Stephen Zellerbach's note. I sat on the floor and just stared at the bottle, reliving memories tucked away in the recesses of my mind. After what seemed like a long time but probably wasn't, I went into the kitchen and carefully opened the bottle.

I hesitantly poured a glass and knew immediately that the wine was long past its drinkable life. Thirty-five years is a long time for any wine with an average cork. I stood there looking at the rusty-colored liquid, trying to decide whether to spoil good memories by tasting it or just pour it out. I smelled it. No vinegar, but strong oxidation.

Stephen Anthony Zellerbach passed away in November 2011 at his home in Healdsburg, at age 84. I remember him well, standing on that ladder stapling bunting, taking out a new guest book, cleaning glasses and pouring wines, talking about the grapes, the harvest, the unbridled smell of fermentation in the winery. And I remember his wonderful 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon.

I won't tell you what I did with that glass of '78 Cab, but instead will ask – what would you have done?

Improved Apple Pie Moonshine

Apple Pie Moonshine, from blog entry of July 15, 2013

I have gotten a good deal of feedback on my Apple Pie Moonshine recipe. Some offered alternative recipes, some asked questions, but most were laudatory or constructively critical. I took the latter very seriously, studied the other recipe offers, and made two other batches since my first. I've improved the taste considerably.

As an aside, I also made a mini batch (not counted above) by scaling everything down a bit but increasing the alcohol to 27%. It was far too hot to appreciate as a sipping liquor. I subsequently sweetened it with simple syrup (2 parts sugar dissolved in 1 part water) until it smoothed out. I won't publish that recipe, but I am enjoying it.

Apparently, most makers of this liquor believe it requires more sugar. Every one of the offered recipes also use more sugar. Thus, I am increasing the amount by 1/2 cup of each type. That amount worked well for me.

Secondly, after long telephonic conversations with three folks, I am adding additional spices to the recipe below. These spices should be mixed together and placed inside a paper filter container capable of allowing them to infuse the liquor.

I have pre-made tea bags for bulk teas that fold over and are sealed with a staple (glue won't work as it will leech out into the liquor and the seal will be lost). As an experiment, I made a container by folding coffee filter paper into a container, folding it until sealed, and securing it closed by tying it with a piece of thread. It is quite easy to figure out and works well.

Martinelli's Gold Medal 100% Pure Apple Cider

I used Martinelli's Gold Medal 100% Pure Apple Cider in my first recipe because it was clear and I did not want a cloudy liquor. However, I have been in contact with Martinelli's and they tell me their 100% Pure Apple Cider and 100% Pure Apple Juice are the same exact product. Since the success of the taste is that half the apple product should be pure apple cider, which by definition is unfiltered apple juice, I have switched to a cloudy, unfiltered cider. This produces a cloudy finished product, but once again I've turned to my email and found clearing procedures.

Amy from Biloxi, Mississippi writes, "Just leave it in the carboy for a month or two and it will clear all by itself. Rack it off the sediment."

Roger Lane wrote that he just adds Sparkolloid according to its instructions and sets his carboy in a closet for a month. It comes out brilliantly clear and the Sparkolloid compacts the lees considerably and makes it easier to rack.

Payton and Julie wrote that adding pectic enzyme to the cider and letting it work before adding sugar and cinnamon sticks and boiling it will reduce any pectin haze, but otherwise they just mix the cooled ingredients in a carboy and let it clear by itself.

You can use whichever procedures you want, but below is my third batch's recipe. It uses a combination of the above advice and my own instincts and is a bit more complex than my original. But one of my subsequent batches cleared nicely in 2 weeks and the other is almost clear after not quite 2 weeks (I'll let it sit another few weeks because I don't have empty screw-cap bottles available).

Let me know how yours turns out. My email address is linked in the upper left column.

Improved Apple Pie Moonshine Recipe

  • 1 gal 100% pure, unfiltered apple cider *
  • 1 gal unsweetened apple juice
  • 8 4-inch cinnamon sticks (or 10 3-inch)
  • 1 1/2 cup Zulka Pure Cane Sugar (or use raw sugar)
  • 1 1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tblsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 spice packet (see below)
  • 2 liters 190-proof Everclear or Diesel grain neutral spirit

*NOTE: Apple cider is unfiltered apple juice and is usually cloudy, not clear. Using cider is essential for the flavor desired. I previously used Martinelli's clear cider, but it is really filtered apple juice and I no longer use it except to drink alone. I've used organic apple cider in my last two batches.

Spice Packet

  • 2 tsp powdered allspice
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 3/4 tsp finely crushed or powdered cardamom**
  • 1/2 tsp powdered ginger

**NOTE: If you absolutely cannot find cardamom, either ground (powdered) or seeds (which you crush in a mortar and pestle before using for a much fresher taste), you can use 1/2 tsp of ground cloves (or slightly less) instead, but the cardamom taste is what you really want.

Open the gallon jug of cider and stir in 1 teaspoon of powdered pectic enzyme. Recap the jug and set aside 24 hours.

In a large stockpot combine the apple cider, apple juice, sugar and cinnamon sticks. Bring to a soft boil, stir until sugar is dissolved, place a lid on it, reduce heat just enough to hold the soft boil (watch for a few minutes to be sure it doesn't boil over) and hold it there for at least 15 minutes but not longer than 30 minutes. Remove any scum that forms on the surface, if any. Remove from heat, add the spice packet immediately, and allow to cool completely.

Remove the cinnamon sticks and spice packet. Transfer to 3-gallon carboy and add Sparkolloid according to instructions (mix for 3 gallons). Stir and seal carboy with a solid bung or plastic wrap secured by a rubber band and set aside at least 2 weeks (may take a month) to clear. Rack into another carboy and add vanilla extract and 190-proof spirit. Stir and allow an hour or two to integrate. Rack into bottles or quart mason jars, leaving as little ullage (headspace) as possible.

Store bottles from 2 weeks to 2 months to smooth out the bite and refrigerate 3-4 hours before serving. Always return opened bottles to the refrigerator. This stuff is smoother and tastier that my first batch and will really sneak up on you, so don't drink it and drive.

Thanks to all who shared their experience with Apple Pie Moonshine with me, and thanks to all who made constructive criticisms.

August 23rd, 2013

My friend Bob Wehner wrote that the first five days after the weekend are always the hardest. Keep a stiff upper lip, Bob. Those five days are almost over.

If anyone out there has a recipe for bunchberry wine, please send it to me and I will pass it along to a gent who needs one. Look at the top of the left column for the link to my email address.

Twitter users, if you tweet about homemade wines or winemaking, use the hashtag #homewine to flag your tweet for the rest of us. Hashtag #homewine pertains to all things relating to homemade wine or home winemaking or home winemakers.

Vodka Zinger loaded with fruit

I have this gadget called a Vodka Zinger that makes infused vodka in a jiffy. It consists of four pieces that fit and screw together easily and is quite ingenious. The bottom-most piece is a compartment that has vertical blades. You insert berries, fruit, mint leaves or a combination of all three, being careful of those blades. Another bladed piece slips down inside it and has a sieve-top that allows the vodka to get into and out of the bottom compartment. It also has a handle to allow you to twist it so that the blades chop the contents. A metal cylinder screws onto the bottom, you fill it about 3/4 with your favorite vodka, screw on a lid (in the photo the cylinder and lid are screwed together and upside down), and put it in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes. When ready for a drink, you shake it up and down about 15 seconds and voila! It's ready to pour without any pulp. After you've consumed the contents, you can refill it with vodka and go for seconds...and thirds.

My first experiment was with blueberries. I was amazed at how many drinks I got out of a small handful of blueberries. I used the same berries four times and the vodka was still well flavored and lavender in color. I then used strawberries and after two uses added in two peach wedges without removing the strawberries. Great stuff.

When cleaning out the fruit (which are loaded with vodka), I stirred them into plain Greek yogurt. It just doesn't get much better than this.

Reused blackberries.
Recycled blackberry pulp has lost its dark, black-
berry color but still makes good jam, delicious on
English muffins

In this part of Texas June was the month for picking wild blackberries, although some ripened into July. Just 75 miles north of here in the Hill Country the harvest was later and I found (and ate) some late berries last week along a river bank.

I picked my berries for blackberry wine along Salado Creek in June. The wine is ready for its second racking and this harvest gave me a double bounty. After a 3-day maceration and fermentation in a nylon mesh bag, I removed the pulp, let it drip drain about 20 minutes, and then emptied the bag into a pot and made blackberry jam. Traditional jam recipes don't work for these recycled berries. They require more sugar, more acid (lemon juice), more pectin, and one had better test the jam's setting power before canning or you might end up with just a tasty topping for pancakes, waffles and ice cream.

My mother used the "sheet test" to gauge when her jam or jelly was done. I've never had much luck using this method. My wife taught me another way to test jams and jellies after I canned 8 jars of prickly pear cactus syrup instead of jelly (but it was great syrup!). You simply put a large soup spoon in the freezer beforehand and when you think the jam or jelly is ready you drip some of it into the frozen spoon. It will quickly cool and display the consistency it will have when you open a jar of it later on. If it is still more liquid than you hoped, stir in some more pectin and cook it just a while longer. But don't overcook it or the heat will break down the pectin and you are back to syrup.

I have seen several references that say that fruit that has "started fermenting" cannot be used in jams or jelly because the taste is objectionable. I've been making jams and jellies with fruit that has most certainly been fermented and the tastes have never been objectionable. Color loss and reduced flavor are the greatest criticisms. Just do it right and it will be fine. If you want to boost the flavor with a little blackberry flavoring (most homebrew shops sell it), do so. I've done it, as the one thing lacking in recycled fruit pulp that can be fixed is the flavorful juice. But it only takes 2-3 teaspoons to correct the flavor for a batch.

When using recycled berries or fruit like this, measure the pulp to coincide with traditional batch amounts when the recipe calls for "crushed" berries. In other words, if your jam recipe calls for 8 cups of crushed berries, use that amount. If you have 12 cups, for example, just use 8 cups and either make a reduced batch later on or find another use for the additional 6 cups – like pie or tart filling. We have so many cookbooks that we can always find a jam recipe that uses just 5, 6 or 7 cups.

Pulps that have macerated and fermented more than three days tend to be too broken down to use for jams, but might still be processed as a decent filling for tarts. You have to use your judgment on this.

Finally, a word to the wise. You cannot reuse the pulp from strawberries or kiwi fruit. Use them for your compost pile instead.

Pin Cherry Wine

Pin cherries, photo by Ellen Zachos (see link below)
Pin cherry clusters in the wild (photo credit in
link below)

A request for a pin cherry wine recipe, also known as fire cherry and bird cherry, sent me reminiscing. These small berries, with little pulp and a hard, central seed, are nonetheless extremely flavorful and make an excellent wine. A gallon of pin cherries will yield a gallon of you'll-be-glad-you-made-it wine.

The pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) spans the breadth of Canada, north until frigid winters are prohibitive and south into New England, the Great Lakes region, and in north-south belts following the Appalachians, Smokies and Rockies. While most pin cherries grow in thickets as shrubs or small trees, isolated specimens can grow to impressive heights and live twice as long as the usual 20-40 years. In their shrub form their berries are easy to harvest, but as they transition to trees their crowns rise and their bounty grows out of reach of human gatherers. Birds love them and spread their seeds.

The berries are most often used in jams, jellies and syrups (the latter is wonderfully flavored and a real treat on pancakes), but as a red or rosè wine it is quite delicious. I am puzzled why more people in their areas of prolific growth don't make it. My suspicion is that most folks are just too lazy to go out and pick them.

Hopefully, some will be inspired by this entry to try it. It takes a couple of extra steps to make, but isn't rocket science. Pioneer women have been making it for centuries so anyone can do it.

Pin Cherry Wine Recipe

  • 1 gallon pin cherries
  • 2 cups maraschino cherries, drained and chopped (canning liquid saved)
  • 3 1/2 quarts water
  • 2 pounds very fine sugar
  • 1/2 cup dry malt extract (for body)
  • 2 teaspoons acid blend
  • 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
  • Any general purpose wine yeast

Place cherries and 1 quart of water in a pot, bring to a simmer and hold for 20 minutes. Mash the cherries in the pot using a flat-bottomed wine battle filled with hot water. Do not use enough force to crack seeds. If uneasy to mash, add a cup of hot water and simmer another 10-15 minutes and repeat. When satisfied, add chopped maraschino cherries and their liquid, stir to combine, cover the pot, remove from heat and set aside for 12-24 hours.

The next day heat 2 1/2 quarts of water and dissolve sugar. Remove from heat, cover and allow to cool 1 hour. Stir in dry malt extract, acid blend and yeast nutrient until dissolved.

Holding a fine meshed nylon straining bag inside your primary, pour the mashed cherries and their liquid into the bag and tie it closed. Add water with dissolved sugar, acid and nutrients. Add yeast as a starter solution and cover the primary.

After 48 hours, remove bag and allow to drip drain 30 minutes, then gently squeeze bag to extract additional liquid but not so hard as to extrude pulp through the mesh. Discard cherry residue*, re-cover primary and ferment to1.010. Transfer to secondary, attach air lock and set aside 30 days. Carefully rack, top up and reattach airlock. Wait 60 days and repeat. After additional 30 days, bottle as a dry wine. Best when aged 1 year and served chilled. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

If you sweeten at all (not recommended, as this is an excellent dry wine), stabilize first with 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. You must wait at least 30 days after stabilizing and sweetening before bottling.

* It is possible to get a weaker second wine by reboiling the residue, but if you do this I would add a can of pie-cherries to strengthen the flavor. Two cans would be better.

September 1st, 2013

Today I am 25,082 days old. Yep, 3,583 weeks and 1 day old. In other words, 825.03 months young. If I say 68 years and 35 weeks old, well, that sounds much older. I like the other measures better. Want to know how old you are? Just go to How Many Days Old Are You? and enter your birth date. Kinda fun....

Jicama (photo from

If you've read this blog for the past year and a half you know I have changed my eating habits to lose a third-trimester belly and its accompanying weight. I refer to it as my "diet" but it is no such thing. It is simply the way I eat now – one moderate meal a day and 5 healthy snacks throughout the day to prevent any feeling of hunger. One of my fairly regular snacks is 3/4 cup (about 2 ounces) of jicama cubes or sticks eaten with a dip (see below).

Jicama (pronounced hic·uh·muh, or, hi[as in hit]·ka·ma, which sounds Japanese to me) is the tuberous root of the Pachyrhizus erosus, a member of the bean family, from Mexico. This relationship (tuberous root of a bean-producing vine) gives it its nickname, yambean. The root is large, like a big sweet onion or slightly flattened turnip, with a brown skin and white, solid, crunchy interior that is moist without being juicy. The taste is slightly sweet and refreshing %like a water chestnut – and remains crunchy even when baked.

Jicama is a very healthy alternative to potatoes in certain applications (see below). Extremely low in polyunsaturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, it is a good source of Vitamin C, folate, and choline (an essential dietary requirement within the B-complex vitamins), traces of Vitamin A, calcium, iron and protein, and an excellent source of a soluble dietary fiber called inulin. According to Annaliisa Kapp, "Inulin is a zero calorie, sweet inert carbohydrate and does not metabolize in the human body, which make the root an ideal sweet snack for diabetics and dieters."

The root is best managed by cutting in half vertically. An unused half can be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for a week or more. The skin is best peeled by using a paring knife to get under the skin and pulling it off. Once peeled, it can be prepared many, many ways – shredded into salads, baked into casseroles, sliced and oven baked into chips, or used as a potato substitute for hash browns or French fries.

I prefer to eat jicama raw in bite-sized cubes or cut into sticks like French fries and eaten plain, drizzled with lime juice and lightly spiced, or with a dip. My favorite dip is equal parts of light mayonnaise and Colman's Original English Mustard, a deliciously spicy mustard and, in my opinion, the best mustard there is, period. I also like it with guacamole. But a ZipLoc bag of plain jicama sticks makes a great snack while hiking or on long drives – crispy, juicy and satisfying, and much healthier than a bag of potato or corn chips.

Shredded or diced finely, jicama can be cooked in a skillet with diced onion, bell pepper, garlic and spices in a very small amount of coconut or olive oil to make wonderful (and healthy) hash browns.

Tossed with a tablespoon of coconut or olive oil, dried chipotle (or red chili) powder, dried cilantro, and pinches of garlic powder and sea salt, thin jicama sticks can be oven baked at 375-400° F. for 30 minutes and then drizzled with lime juice for delicious oven baked fries. Although baked, they will still be crunchier than similarly baked potatoes. Why the lime? It just goes good with jicama.

This is a great food item, folks. It can be cooked into soups or stews, added to salsas (including guacamole for a crunchier treat), omelets, an endless entourage of salads, and more casseroles than one could list. Try it – write me if you don't like it. That's a double-dare....

Blueberry Pomegranate Wine from Frozen Concentrate

Old Orchard Blueberry Pomegranate frozen juice concentrate

Mark Witmer recently wrote me that he won a double gold at the Indy International Wine Competition with a blueberry pomegranate wine "loosely based" on my Welch's Frozen Grape Juice Concentrate Wine. This information bounced around in my head until I found myself at the freezer aisles at my supermarket and my eyes locked onto Old Orchard Blueberry Pomegranate Frozen 100% Juice Concentrate. I just had to try it!

Old Orchard also sells a Premium Pomegranate Blueberry Frozen 100% Juice Blended Concentrate, but it has more pomegranate than blueberry and I wanted it the other way around.

Blueberry juice has a subdued flavor when compared to pomegranate juice, so to get the most blueberry-forward flavor in a blend of the two juices blueberry must be the dominate juice. U.S. laws require that blends must list blends in order of percentile dominance, although you might have to read the ingredients label to be sure. This allows you to buy what you prefer, and that is important when selecting from Old Orchard's 23 frozen juice concentrates (and then there are Welch's, Minute Maid, Tree Top, Hawaii's Own, Coloma, ShopRite, Peake's Pick, Cascadian Farm, Dole, and many others in the U.S. market).

I did not ask Mark his exact recipe. If he wanted to share it he would have and I would have published it and his double gold would be up for grabs. But I did devise my own recipe. There is no guarantee it will win a double gold, but it should be really good drinking a year from now. Pomegranate, especially, is best at two years while blueberry tends to peak earlier, so a year to 18 months is a good compromise.

My recipe takes into account the measured sugar and acid in the reconstituted juice. If you follow the directions on the containers you might think I added too much concentrate for the amount of water added. I'm betting this extra concentrate will make a nice flavor statement.

Blueberry Pomegranate Wine Recipe

  • 3 12-oz cans Old Orchard Frozen Blueberry Pomegranate 100% Juice Concentrate
  • 1 lb 13 oz very fine granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/4 tsp powdered grape tannin
  • Water to 1 gallon
  • 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Lalvin RC212 wine yeast

Bring 1 quart water to boil, remove from heat and dissolve sugar, acid blend and grape tannin. In primary, combine Frozen Blueberry Pomegranate 100% Juice Concentrate, sugar water and yeast nutrient. Add water to make 1 gallon and stir in yeast nutrient. [Tip: If you add one gallon of water to your primary and mark the water's edge with a scribe, then after drying it out trace the scribe mark with an indelible marker, you will always be able to "add water to make 1 gallon."] Cover primary until cooled to under 100° F. Add activated dry yeast in a starter solution, re-cover primary and set aside. Stir daily until specific gravity drops to 1.010, then transfer to a secondary and attach an airlock. Allow 30 days to pass before racking. Stabilize with 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and a finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet; rack again after additional 30 days. Sweeten wine to taste if desired, then wait a final 30 days and carefully rack into bottles. Wait 1 year to 18 months for best enjoyment. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

Waiting to Bottle the Wine

I have explained this several times but still people ask why I wait 30 days to bottle after sweetening if the wine has already been stabilized. Stabilizing with potassium sorbate renders live yeast incapable of reproducing, but it doesn't kill them. Neither does the potassium metabisulfite in the Campden tablet, which is added to protect the wine from harmful bacteria which can spoil it or turn it into vinegar.

The yeast live on and metabolize any available sugar into energy for themselves and emit carbon dioxide and ethanol as waste. So you stabilize and wait 30 days before adding sugar in order to give the yeast time to die off. Most will, but some won't. You can wait longer, but in any case after adding sugar you wait an additional 30 days to see if there are enough yeast present to continue fermentation. A steady pressure on the airlock, even if there isn't enough to push a bubble, is a sign it isn't yet time to bottle.

The 30 days are a minimum. If there appears to be fermentation you wait however long it takes to be safe. A friend recently uncorked a bottle of very young Concord and not only was the wine carbonated, but you could see bubbles rising in the bottle itself. Bottled too early....

I understand the desire to bottle quickly. I experienced that desire for several years, only losing it when I had enough wine on hand that I didn't need newly bottled wine for near-term consumption. Since then I seldom have empty spaces in my wine racks begging to be filled, so I typically wait 90 days or more after sweetening a wine (just enough to bring it off bone dryness) before bottling it. Prudence is better than sorrow.

September 8th, 2013

noun a division or contrast of two mutually exclusive or contradictory groups, entities or ideas
synonyms: contrast, difference, polarity, conflict, gulf, chasm, division, separation, split, rare contrariety
Example: We are encouraged not to judge all Muslims by the actions of a few lunatics, but we are encouraged to judge all gun owners by the actions of a few lunatics.

Enough said.

Sausage, Vegetable & Bean Stew (photo by Jack Keller)

I got ready to begin making Cassoulet today and discovered I was missing a key ingredient (forgot I had eaten it and not replaced it), so I decided to make a stew instead in my slow cooker. I just threw it together, so don't really have a name or recipe for it, but I guess I could call it "sausage, vegetable and bean stew."

It contains carrots, green beans, white kidney beans, onion, garlic, Herbs de Provence, basil, oregano, and pepper – and good old smoked country sausage (a mix of beef, pork and turkey), more than slightly spicy, and lots of it. I used too much oregano but the other flavors still bleed through. I used corn meal and pureed navy beans to thicken it, and it's good. I wanted to add celery, bell pepper and tomatoes, but I used the small cooker and got carried away on the sausage and other ingredients, leaving no room for the extras.

The actual recipe I was going to use is referenced at the end of this entry, but when I discovered I hadn't replace the eaten pork tenderloin I put away the kielbasa, took out the country sausage and did my own thing. Cooking is, after all, a creative endeavor.

Wisteria Bonsai, on my Pinterest board Bonsai Trees

I have seen the word Pinterest many times associated with social media sites. Facebook and Twitter eat up enough of my time, so I didn't want anything to do with another one. Thus, I avoided it without really knowing what it is.

One day last week a friend wrote me and attached a photo of an antique airplane. In the body of the message he had a link saying "more". I clicked and was on his Pinterest board of antique airplane photographs. It was pretty cool and I explored his other boards, then clicked on a photo and was on someone else's board. I looked at their other boards and before you knew it I had opened a Pinterest account – no boards, no pinned photos, just a portal.

Pinterest is a site where you can "pin" to your board just about any photo you find anywhere on the internet, either directly as a "repin" if it has already been pinned or through the use of ancillary software if it has not already been pinned.

I now have four boards – Gardening with Succulents, Recipes to Try, Bonsai Trees, and Recipes I've Tried and Recommend. In the latter, several are previous posts in this WineBlog.

These are all areas that interest me, and I'm sure there will be more. I grow some succulents and plan on planting a succulent garden; I raised bonsai trees when I lived in San Francisco, having 48 different planters with single or multiple trees in them; I wanted a place to reference recipes I want to try, so that was my first board; and the recipe recommendations are really for my family and friends (but you can try them).

If you're on Pinterest, follow me and I'll probably follow you back.

Short Answers

Questions and Answers

I get a lot of email. If the answer is on my website, I tend not to answer or will reply with a hint of where to find the answer. Or I will point to my on-site search engine where they can find the answer's location. But sometimes I do answer and that becomes the nuclei of a future blog post. Short answers rarely get shared here But here are some short answers to questions that deserve sharing because they might help a greater number of people.

You sometimes say in your recipes to squeeze the pulp to remove the juice and other times to strain without squeezing. I know that sometimes squeezing can make the wine cloudy, so what is the rule with when it's safe to squeeze and when it's not?

Squeezing or not squeezing the pulp is both a perception and experience thing – not really a rule of thumb. For really fine pulp (like from strawberries or kiwifruit), I use a lady's knee-high nylon stocking and after it drip-drains I twist the top to exert pressure. The trick is to twist and wait, twist and wait, as each twist tightens it more but it takes a number of seconds for the internal moisture to work its way to the outer surface. At some point the yield is not worth the effort and it's time to stop. With regular nylon mesh bags found in homebrew shops, very fine pulp will ooze out if too much pressure is applied and that very fine pulp becomes a problem in clarifying and racking. Use your instincts and observations. If very fine pulp begins to ooze, stop.

My closest homebrew shop is more than 60 miles away and I seldom visit it except to buy new yeast and additives. Last time I was there they were out of nylon mesh bags and the one I have is really showing wear. Is there any other source for them without shopping on-line? I don't have a credit card and don't want to get one.

Almost any paint or hardware store sells paint straining bags, used by painters to strain lumps out of paint that was opened previously and resealed. These are much cheaper than bags at homebrew shops but not as deep or as durable, so buy several and discard when the mesh shows signs of fatigue.

Some ingredients you regularly use in your recipes are not available here on Leyte [Philippines]. I cannot find pectin enzyme or frozen grape concentrates and shipping from anywhere is international and expensive. Is there a substitute for pectin enzyme? Can I use bottled grape juice instead?

Save the peelings from all your papaya and freeze them in sealable plastic bags or containers for later use. The inner peeling contains natural pectinase. A 9-inch strip of peeling 1/2-3/4 inch wide will provide enough pectic enzyme for a gallon of wine. Leave the peeling in the must during primary fermentation and the yeast will extract the pectinase for you.

You can use bottled grape juice, but most of those contain preservatives that make them impossible to ferment. Read the ingredients label very carefully and do not use any that contain sorbate, sorbic acid, benzoate, or benzoic acid as these prevent yeast budding (reproduction). Pasteurized juices containing sulfites or ascorbic acid as color preservatives are generally okay if they do not contain the previously listed ingredients.

You will have to use four times as much juice as you would concentrate. If the recipe calls for a 12-ounce can of frozen concentrate, use 48 ounces of juice. Adjust the amount of water you add to the must accordingly.

I'm making my first wine, but have been making homebrew beer for several years. Can I use beer bottles instead of wine bottles and caps instead of corks?

Absolutely. Many people find a beer bottle a perfect size for two glasses of wine with a meal. But if you are single, resist the habit of drinking from the bottle and use a wine glass. It is the combination of drinking and inhaling the bouquet and aromas that produce the most enjoyment of drinking wine, and wine glasses are designed to deliver both at once.

I made some wine from strawberry/kiwi/banana nectar and it won't clear. What can I do?

Nectars are flavor intensive but are generally problematic when it comes to clearing. Some will clear but many will not, which is why I never include them in my recipes. But if you do use nectars, then follow the following protocol for clearing them.

First, be sure to add and appropriate dose of pectic enzyme to the must at least 12 hours prior to introducing the yeast – 1 1/2 teaspoons of powdered pectic enzyme per gallon, a bit higher than for fruit juice. If you have liquid pectic enzyme, follow its instructions but use 1 1/2 times as much as for juice.

Second, not sooner than a month after fermentation, use a two-part clarifier like Claro KC or Super Kleer K-C (there are others, but these are the two I use) according to the manufacturer's instrutions. The KC stands for kieselsol and chitosan, two fining agents that are negatively charged and positively charged respectively. The negatively charged kieselsol attracts (and thereby binds with and removes) proteins and some metallic compounds, while the positively charged chitosan attracts and removes excess tannins, phenols, anthrocyanins, yeast cells, and bacteria. These agents are populat because they are fairly gentle on the wine – don't strip it of its color, aroma, body, or character. Use these according to their instructions, racking the wine about 2 weeks after their use.

If the wine is not clear enough after their use, and assuming you used pectic enzyme as instructed, then and only then can you resort to filtering. Rarely does this protocol fail, but a very few nectars simply defy clarifying to brlliance.

How much will a gallon of juice increase when you add a pound of sugar?

A pound of very finely granulated sugar, which volumetrically is 2 1/4 cups, dissolved in a gallon of fruit or grape juice (or just plain water) will increase the volume by 1 3/8 cups. That is the displacement volume of the sugar when dissolved. If we make a simple syrup with that one pound of sugar, we add 2 parts sugar to 1 part water, or 2 1/4 cups of sugar into 1 1/8 cups of water. The displacement is still 1 3/8 cups, so the final volume of simple syrup is a whisper under 2 1/2 cups – 1 1/8 cups water + 1 3/8 cups displacement = 2 1/2 cups (but it will be a teeny, tiny bit less). For our purposes, 2 1/2 cups is close enough.

My local homebrew shop operator talked me into buying some Metatartaric Acid and I cannot recall what it is used for. Can you tell me?

All grape wines (and any country wines to which acid blend was added) contain tartaric acid and potassium. These combine in the finished wine to form potassium bitartrate in solution. If there is too much of both, the excess will precipitate out over time in crystalline structures which are usually clear, odorless and tasteless, although in red wines the crystals can contain some of the pigment. In barrels the crystals can grow onto the inner surface in a coating, but in carboys or bottles they usually appear as tiny crystals on the bottom surface (a side if the bottles were laying down). They are harmless even if accidentally swallowed but could really freak out the wine drinker who might perceive them as pieces of glass.

Any wine displaying potassium bitartrate crystals should be decanted before serving, but most winemakers would rather their wines not drop the crystals at all. There are two methods of prevention.

The first involves cold and time – the wine is brought to a temperature just above freezing and held there for a period of time – several weeks to several months depending on the severity of the excess tartaric acid and potassium. It is then racked off the crystals and bottled.

The second method involves adding an appropriate dose (read the directions) of metatartaric acid. The latter, which is a polymerized form of tartaric acid, prevents the dissolved potassium bitartrate from forming crystals for a period of about a year and a half if the wine is stored below 68° F or 20°C. If you cannot store the wine at this temperature, the metatartaric acid is useless to you and you should return it for a refund.

How do you remove labels from recycled wine bottles?

I fill each bottle with very hot water and stand it upright in a 5-gallon pail. To the pail I add 1/2 cup of Clorox Advantage Bleach – you have to look for the word "Advantage" on the label. This bleach has an oxidizer that I find makes it more effective than other bleaches. I then fill the space around the upright bottles with hot water to an inch or so above the highest label, but do not bring the water level quite up to the rim of the bottles. I simply don't want to worry about removing bleach from the inside of the bottles, which can be disastrous if any remains behind..

I allow the bottles to soak for a while. This may be two hours or may be overnight. Longer is generally better and many labels will simply float off, but some labels use stronger adhesives and will come off easier if the water is still warm. Try peeling the label off. If this doesn't work, use a paring knife or a single-edged razor blade to help separate it from the glass. A scouring pad or metal scrubbie will help remove most residual glue, but some adhesives defy this treatment and are best removed with Goo Gone or another adhesive-remover product.

One such product is zylol (zylene), available at many hardware stores. Wearing rubber gloves, put some zylol on a paper towel and rub it on the stubborn adhesive. The gunk will come off. But be sure to do this outside, as this stuff is volatile and not good for your lungs.

Treating Oxidation

Oxidized wine (photo by Mark Fisher and used under Fair Use Doctrine of 1984, educational with no commercial gain received from this publication
Two wines, healthy and oxidized (photo by Mark
Fleming, published under fair use doctrine of 1984

Wines oxidize for any of several reasons. The juice or concentrate used to make the wine may have been oxidized before the wine was made (the first kit wine I ever bought contained an oxidized Chardonnay concentrate). This, of course, is completely beyond the winemaker's control. Then there are juices that simply oxidize quickly, such as apple juice. But here, the winemaker can act to slow the process down.

Simply adding sulfites (SO2) to the must is not enough to combat oxidation. The dosage has to be correct. The dosage is determined by the pH of the must. The higher the pH, the more SO2 is required to protect the wine. The classic discussion of this, by Daniel Pambianchi, is linked at the end of this entry. I strongly suggest you read it. The winemaker is entirely responsible for sulfite additions, calculations and measurements and Daniel lays it all out for you.

Also, the must can be oxidized by accidental, careless or negligent means. I have had airlocks knocked loose of their carboys by carried articles, by my pet dog, by visitors, and I suspect by myself. These are accidents.

I have also had bungs lose their seal – especially the so-called "universal" bungs which the manufacturers claim will seal almost any jug, carboy or demijohn. While their failure is blameless the first time it occurs, using one after one failed is just plain carelessness on the part of the winemaker. I've been there and know. Similarly, failing to wipe the inside of the mouth of a secondary after adding dry additives directly is also carelessness. A single grain of yeast nutrient, acid blend, potassium metabisulfite or potassium sorbate will prevent the bung from sealing.

Finally, it can only be considered negligence when the winemaker allows the water seal in an airlock to go dry, allowing air to pass uninhibited into the secondary.

But wines also naturally oxidize over time. Indeed, the fate of all wine is to oxidize in their old age. Whatever the reason, when a wine oxidizes, you can remove some – but not all – of the oxidase from the wine. An oxidase is any of the enzymes that catalyze biological oxidation either directly or indirectly. These enzymes may be oxidoreductase, oxygenase or peroxidase, but identifying which is present is not important. Whichever, you can remove some of the enzyme responsible for the oxidation.

First, correct the wine's SO2 level commensurate with its pH. Then measure 1/2 gram of non-fat powdered milk per liter of wine and dissolve this in 5 mL of cold water per liter. In other words, to treat 5 U.S. gallons of wine (approximately 19 liters), you would dissolve 9.5 grams of powdered skim-milk in 95 mL of cold water. This should be added to the wine by injecting it with a basting bulb abruptly under the surface and then stirring. The wine may foam, but will soon stop doing so. The reconstituted skim-milk solution must be thoroughly integrated into the wine or it will accomplish nothing. After it is added and integrated, small brown curds will develop in the wine but will eventually settle as lees.

About three days after adding the reconstituted skim-milk solution, rack the wine carefully off the oxidase-laden curds into a clean secondary. You may want to tie a piece of fine, sanitized nylon over the intake end of the racking hose (or racking cane, if you use one) to prevent the small curds from being siphoned into the clean secondary. While racking the wine, add the required amount of second fining agent you should use (see below) to the transferred wine (the clean secondary). Allow this to settle under airlock for about 10-14 days, then rack again. The wine will be greatly improved, but not as good as if it had not oxidized at all.

There are several choices of second fining agent to add. Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (PVPP) is a synthetic, insoluble polymer that can reduce tannins, but it is more useful in removing some of the taste, odors and browning of oxidation.

Similarly, Polyclar Ultra K-100 and Polylact are products that combine casein with PVPP for tackling browning problems. Casein is a protein found in milk. Commercially, it is usually sold as potassium caseinate and used in red wines to reduce tannins and in white wines to remove brown color from oxidized wine. It is the active ingredient in the powdered skim milk already used so you might want to use PVPP alone.

If oxidative odors persist, a fining of activated charcoal usually does the trick. It absorbs the browning and off-odors of oxidation, but if not used in the correct dosage will strip the wine of its color, flavor and character. Be sure to use it according to the manufacturers instructions.

September 11th, 2013

It was 12 years ago today that we first heard that a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center, and a year ago today that we learned the US Consulate in Benghazi was under armed attack. These were two very different attacks and were handled very differently by our leaders.

September 11, 2001

Hearing it on the radio, both the announcer and I thought a small single or twin engine plane had done the deed. Only television viewers quickly realized that a much larger plane was involved. It took a while for me to realize the same thing – it was a commercial jetliner.

Although I had no TV available at work, as soon as I heard a second plane had crashed into the second tower I knew it was terrorism. Then came the news that another plane had hit the Pentagon. No one knew the breadth of the attacks but an additional hijacked plane seemed to be involved. When it crashed in rural Pennsylvania en route to Washington, DC we were still unsure if more attacks would follow.

But events continued to unfold even as authorities assured us no more commercial aircraft were unaccounted for. Unthinkably, one of the towers collapsed, then the other. It was like the sinking of the Titanic. It simply couldn't happen. But it did.

Only after both towers collapsed were I and my coworkers sent home, in shock like the rest of the country. Seeing it at home on TV was more than just emotional. I kept thinking of the firemen in the second tower who bravely climbed those many stairs knowing what probably awaited them...who willingly climbed those many stairs into the arms of the Lord.

The most surreal event(s) of that day for me was the grounding of every airplane inbound to or aloft over the United States...at airports ill-prepared to receive them or their passengers. A somber TV announcer said the FAA had just confirmed that the only aircraft flying anywhere over the United States were combat air patrols. It was a profound statement.

Throughout the day we were told President Bush spoke with the Vice President, various Cabinet members and agency heads, the Mayor of New York City, and many others. He was very much engaged. He addressed the nation that very day. And within two months we had made a pact with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and had people in-country looking for Osama bin Laden & company.

I still get emotional thinking about it all. Terrorists declared war on the United States of America. They have not yet surrendered or declared a truce.

September 11, 2012

A year ago today the terrorists reaffirmed their war against the United States at Benghazi, Libya. The attack began at 3:42 pm Washington, DC time. The final attack on the CIA Annex began at 11:15 pm Washington time.

During that entire time Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met once with President Obama (at 5 pm). Once.

According to Panetta, he did not communicate again with the President during the entire period of crisis. Not once. It was – and continues to be – a shameful display of apparent non-interest.

The next day President Obama declared the U.S. would bring those responsible to justice. "Make no mistake," he said, "we will bring justice to the killers who attacked our people." He then left for Las Vegas and Colorado for a round of campaign fund raisers.

One year later, not only has no justice been served, but we still don't even know what Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton did during that prolonged attack. "The most transparent administration in history" continues to hide its non-interest and inaction behind a veil of secrecy.


My elders always got very emotional about December 7th. I thought I understood their reaction even though it didn't affect me quite the same way as it did them. It was not until the attacks of September 11, 2001 that I reacted emotionally to a date in a similar fashion. Now, I suppose I always will.

But September 11, 2012 conjures very different emotions. Your mileage may vary.

Scaling Up from a 1-Gallon Recipe

Scaling up from 1 gallon recipes – various carboy sizes

I am often asked how to use one of my 1-gallon recipes to make larger batches, say 5 or 6 gallons in size. When making a larger batch, you do need to make some changes.

Never assume your fruit and mine will be the same. Mine may be sweeter, have more juice or be more acidic than yours, or vice versa. Our fruit may vary in ripeness or may be slightly different cultivars. Assume nothing, but verify by measuring key parameters if possible. If you can't, making a 1-gallon batch from my recipes will probably be okay – both you and I assume it will, and experience has shown that is usually good enough.

But when you scale up, small differences get magnified and often matter a great deal more.

First, in my 1-gallon recipes I usually say to use a finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. I say this even though I don't use them. I use 1/20 teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite. The few times I have actually said to use 1/20 teaspoon potassium metabisulfite I received a rash of emails asking how to measure that. I said you place 1/4 teaspoon of the material on a flat glass surface (a mirror?) and use a razor blade to divide it into 5ths. I got more emails saying that was too difficult to judge, so I simplified it to 1/16 teaspoon – just cut the 1/4 teaspoon in half and then each half into halves to yield 1/16ths. More emails, so I went back to saying a finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet.

If you make a 5-gallon batch, use 1/4 teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite. If you make a 6-gallon batch, use just under 1/3 teaspoon or a slightly heaping 1/4 teaspoon. If you want to be more exact, use 3/10 (6/20) of a teaspoon. Switching from Campden tablets to pure potassium metabisulfite is a step in the right direction. You'll see at once how much inert filler material there is in a Campden tablet, as a full 1/4 teaspoon of potassium metabibulfite equals a ot less bulk than one finely crushed Campden tablet.. If you measure pH, you can be more exact (see my WineBlog post of Sep 8).

Second, measure the specific gravity of the must and add sugar as required rather than what is in the recipe. What worked for my base may well work for yours, but if there is a small difference between them it will be compounded by 5 or 6 times for larger batches and that could be disastrous. Prepare the base. add the potassium metabisulfite, and allow it to macerate in the added water, if any, for 12 hours. Then add pectic enzyme and wait another 12 hours. Then measure the specific gravity and add sugar as requited to reach 1.090 or your own target level.

Measuring applies to acid as well as sugar. If you can measure your acidity, do so and adjust it according to your must's needs. Acid can be measured as TA and pH. If you can only measure one way but not the other, do it. If you can measure both, all the better. pH is a better measurement for many reasons, but you have to have a pH meter to do it reliably. Most home winemakers do not, but it would be a nice Christmas or birthday gift.

The amount of water used is always an estimate based on what I used in my recipe but is totally dependent on the amount of juice in your fruit or berries or how much sugar you added (which affects volume), so it might very well vary. Add water as required to make your target – 5 or 6 gallons.

Some think that when I use a packet of yeast to make 1 gallon they should use 5 or 6 times that amount to make 5 or 6 gallons. This simply isn't true. I use a packet because once it is opened the yeast will not survive long. If I don't have another wine to start within a few days, I use the whole packet on one batch.

Begin a starter solution 24 hours before it is needed and feed it every 2 hours if practical so that one packet of yeast will grow to the equivalent of over 4000 packets when needed. It will grow to this amount because yeast populations double about every 2 hours during the first 2-3 days – until their density causes them to stop reproducing at such a rate. One packet is plenty enough for 5-6 gallons if husbanded appropriately as I've described so many times in this WineBlog.

Remember, a yeast starter solution adds volume. If you have exactly 1 gallon of juice and add a pint of starter solution it isn't going to fit in a 1-gallon secondary. Subtract the volume of the starter solution from the amount of other liquids up front to get it right. It sounds like common sense but even I forget to do it occasionally.

All other ingredients of a 1-gallon recipe should be as stated and then multiplied by the number of gallons to be made. Remember, the Sumerians could do it, so you can too.

Dried Fig Wine

Dried figs, photo from www.driedfruits.com.cn under fair use doctrine of 1984, educational intent with no commercial gain derived from use

My first ever fig wine was made with dried figs. Not having a recipe, I used my date wine recipe. The wine was thin and not very good, so I made a second batch using 3 times the amount of dates. This wine was very full bodied, so I blended the two batches together and liked the result. By comparing the two recipes, the correct formulation became evident.

Fresh fig wine and dried fig wine are not the same in taste just as the fresh and dried fruit don't taste the same. But both are worthy of the effort. The good things about dried figs are that they extend the fig winemaking season considerably and don't take up as much room as frozen figs.

Fresh figs are modest in sugar content, being 6.9% – less than fresh plums but slightly more than average fresh strawberries. Dried figs, however, contain 66.5% sugar by weight – a huge difference. Four pounds of dried figs contain 2 pounds 9 1/2 ounces of sugar, although some is not fermentable. If the figs are sliced in half lengthwise, the fermentable sugar is instantly available to the yeast and little sugar needs to be added to the must.

The recipe below is not my original or its successor, but one I made several years ago that worked better than my previous attempts. The body is improved even more without increasing the figs. This is accomplished by using light dry malt extract. Do not over-do it. Use the amount called for.

Dried Fig Wine Recipe

  • 4 lbs dried figs
  • 6 3/4 oz very fine granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup light dry malt extract
  • 3/4 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • water to one gallon (about 7 1/2 pints total)*
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet Lalvin K1-V1116 wine yeast

*Total water includes the volume used in yeast starter solution.

Put 1 quart water on to boil and remove from heat when boiling. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Meanwhile, destem and halve the figs lengthways. Place in primary and pour hot sugar water over figs. Add remaining water (see * above), dry malt extract, acid blend, tannin, yeast nutrient and Campden. Cover primary and set aside for 12 hours. Stir in pectic enzyme, re-cover primary and set aside an additional 12 hours. Add activated yeast in a starter solution, re-cover primary and stir 2-3 times daily until specific gravity drops to 1.010.

Remove the fruit to a colander placed securely over a bowl to catch the drippings. Press lightly with a large spoon to extract more juice. Use fruit for preserves or tart or pie filling (or discard) and return drippings to primary. Transfer liquids to a secondary (do not top up) and attach an airlock. Ferment to absolute dryness (about 30 days) and rack, top up and reattach airlock. Rack again after 45 days and, if clear, bottle (if not clear, rack and wait an additional 30 days), or, if desired to sweeten stabilize with 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and a finely crushed Campden tablet; top up, reattach airlock and set aside 30 days. Sweeten to taste and allow another 30 days (to proof against refermentation) before bottling. Allow at least 3 months before tasting, but will improve with time. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

This wine has great body and could actually be started with more sugar to achieve a higher alcohol content but this would necessitate some sweetening at the end to attain balance. I made this one year as an 18% port style wine and drank it over the year-end holidays with great relish.

September 17th, 2013

The other day my keyboard stopped working. Being wireless, I changed the batteries – twice. No luck. I went out to the car to drive to WalMart for another keyboard and discovered I had a flat tire. Suffering a bad back from over-exertion the day before, I went back in to call AAA and discovered my land line was dead. I found my cell phone to call AAA about my car and AT&T about my phone and discovered it too was dead. I plugged it into my wall charger and realized right away that it wasn't sending a charge to my phone. I took the cell out to the car and plugged it into my car charger. I ran the engine for 30 minutes to charge it enough to make the calls. You'd have thought it was Friday the 13th but it was only Thursday the 12th. Some days are like that....

Hummingbird at feeder, photo from internet, fair use doctrine

As I look out my window from my computer, two of my four hummingbird feeders are in sight. I often pause and spend many minutes lost in the amazing antics of these small creations as they approach a feeder and then feed. Quite often, another playfully approaches and the two do amazing aerial spins and twists, darting every which way at incredible speeds.

I cannot begin to imagine life as a hummingbird, or the world as it appears to them. I have read quite a bit about them, and yet knowledge does not decrease the wonder they evoke.

I am only too happy to feed them, for it brings them into my view so very often and that pleases me. Yes, their aerial antics and sheer beauty please me very much.

Crafting a Chocolate Mead

Hershey's Cocoa Special Dark, a blend of natural and Dutched cocoa

Last year I got a very good buy on honey and made several 1-gallon batches of mead. One began as a traditional mead – just honey and water – but several days into it an idea formed in my mind and I transformed it into a chocolate mead. Now, 11 months later, I can say it was a roaring success.

Traditional meads are just honey, water, some acid and nutrients, and of course yeast. If the honey is a pure varietal, such as clover, orange blossom, sage or tupelo, the mead is usually named after the varietal. The color, flavor and aroma of the mead is, when best, that of the flower the nectar came from that made the honey.

The honey I got a good deal on wasn't named, so it was a blend of many different nectars and possessed no specific character. It was that fact that got me thinking about changing the mead shortly after fermentation had really started. I searched among my bulk herbs for an idea but none excited me. Suddenly, the word "chocolate" appeared in my mind – in neon.

I had an unopened can of Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa, a blend of natural and Dutched cocoas. Perfect.

2 pounds honey
2 heaping tablespoons Hersey's Special Dark Cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons acid blend
1 teaspoon Fermax yeast nutrient
3 1/2 quarts water
Mead or Champagne yeast

Water boiled, honey added, low boil maintained 15 minutes while
skimming off foam with strainer, cooled, acid blend and nutrients
added, then yeast as starter solution. Cocoa added as stated.

I drew off three cups of the must into a sanitized 1-quart mason jar and spooned in two heaping tablespoons of the cocoa. I inserted a whisk into the jar and spun it between my palms as one spins a stick when making a fire without flint and steel. When the powder was well-integrated, I stirred it into the primary. I did not want to over-do the chocolate. Meads should be subtle.

I stirred it 4-5 times a day for about 16 days (mead ferments slower than wine) before the specific gravity was down to 1.020. I stirred it again, immediately transferred it to a secondary and crowned it with an airlock. Then I left it alone for three months.

The color was not inspiring but neither is the color of coffee wine. But the mead was almost clear. I racked it carefully so as not to disturb the cocoa-lees and added some sulfite before reattaching the airlock. Then it sat for another three months.

A very fine dusting of lees coated the bottom of a very clear mead. I should have racked again and left it another three months but did not. I racked it very carefully straight into bottles in one continuous operation so no backflow between bottles would disturb the lees. I did this by placing all the bottles in a roasting pan on the floor and quickly moving the siphon hose from one bottle to another without stopping the flow. Messy, yes, but I finished with the lees undisturbed and that was my goal. The bottles were cleaned and dried before corking.

Because of spillage between bottles the last bottle was not quite full. I let it sit until last night and opened it. When I taste something real good it takes real willpower not to over-indulge. Last night I lost my will and drank the whole bottle while watching recorded reruns of Duck Dynasty. The show is funny enough by itself, but even funnier after the third glass of chocolate mead.

Asparagus, Polenta and Egg

Asparagus, Polenta and Egg, photo by Melissa Camero with permission, from <i>Bitchin Camero</i>

About two months ago I made an incredible dish from the breakfast section of The Low-GI Slow Cooker Cookbook by Snyder, Clum and Zulaica. I tweaked the recipe a bit and moved it from breakfast to bunch and could not be more pleased by its simplicity and satisfaction. I call it Asparagus, Polenta and Egg, and it only takes an hour and a half to slow cook after 10-12 minutes preparation.

By the way, this is a very useful cookbook, built around the glycemic index (GI) as the name implies. It contains a great appendix listing foods and their GI load. No GI is listed for asparagus so its GI must be very low (the GI for arugula, which is listed, is only 5).

The actual recipe I tweaked used no asparagus but served the polenta (with blended diced onion) with egg on a bed of arugula flavored with olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt. The book gives each serving a GI load and the value of this breakfast dish is 14, which is very low and very good, especially for diabetics and pre-diabetics. I cannot imagine the GI load of my dish being higher but I'm no expert at this. All I know is that my dish is very good.

Asparagus, Polenta and Egg Recipe

  • 1 lb fresh asparagus
  • 1/4 cup diced white onion
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 3 cups water
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 Tblsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Spray the inside of the slow cooker with olive oil (it's available) or another no-stick spray. Spread 1/4 cup diced white onion over the bottom. Arrange the asparagus spears in a closely packed layer over the onion as best you can (I alternated the asparagus end to tip to even out the layer) and create a second loose layer crosswise if you have extra asparagus. In a bowl, mix a slurry of the cornmeal and water and pour it over the asparagus. Some will soak through the asparagus and onion, but if the asparagus is tightly layered not all of the cornmeal will.

Place the top on the slow cooker and turn on high for 1 hour. Remove the top and use a spoon or ladle to make 4 evenly spaced depressions. Crack and deposit an egg into each depression, return the lid and allow to cook another 20 minutes. Turn off heat but leave the lid undisturbed for 5-10 minutes (until the yoke is the consistency you want. Use a knife to cut the dish into quarters between the eggs, being careful not to damage the bottom of the slow cooker. Use a spatula to remove the quarters to serving plates. Season to taste with sea salt and cracked pepper and then sprinkle the Parmesan. It's a great main dish.

I have made this with chopped pepperoni sprinkled in with the onions, with precooked (but not yet crisp) bacon chopped and added to the onions, and with smoked mackerel broken up and mixed with the onion – each before the asparagus is laid down. Each was delightful. The smoked mackerel was my favorite, but smoked salmon would also work.

There are many possible tweaks to this idea. The polenta mix (cornmeal and water) could be placed over a layer of corned beef hash (the glycemic load would rise), or the onions, cornmeal and water could be cooked, the eggs added as before, and the finished dish could be served over steamed asparagus (very similar to Melissa Camero's photo above featuring a poached egg over polenta and asparagus%see link following today's entry for this different approach), over endives, cabbage, bok choy, arugula as in the cookbook, or over whatever you can imagine. And of course, the polenta can be spiced in any number of ways. I do love experimenting with food.

Boatlift, An Untold Tale of 9/11 Resilience

Boats evacuating people stranded on Manhattan on 9/11/2001

One should, if possible, give tribute to those who do what the moment requires to serve the needs of others. I recently was passed a URL that made me aware of hundreds of unnamed people who came together on September 11, 2001 to do what the moment required. It is a story that needs retelling.

I was aware, somewhat, that many people got off of Manhattan – an absolute island – on 9/11 by boat. I knew no details and assumed they used the ferries, as all other ways off the island were closed – the bridges, the subways, the automobile tunnels. It really never occurred to me what really happened.

The following 12-minute film, produced and directed by Eddie Rosenstein and narrated by Tom Hanks, tells the story of what happened that day when a half-million commuters and residents wanting off the island found themselves stranded on Manhattan. What happened in the next nine hours is truly staggering. This short documentary is well worth watching. Please do yourself a favor and watch it.

The documentary has been out for three years, so many of you may have already seen it. Watch it again. It will do your soul good.

It humbles me to recognize the monumental scope of what those people did that day. I can only try to imagine how grateful I would be – if I were one of those evacuees – for those who came to help. In truth, I really doubt my imagination is adequate to the task.

If you were one of those who were evacuated off the island that day I would love to hear from you. Click this link for my email address and let me hear from you. Please....

September 25th, 2013

According to a new study by researchers at Harokopio University in Athens, Greece published online in the July 1, 2012 issue of Nutrition journal, a pint of beer a day improves blood flow to the heart. Just 2/3 of a pint (400 L) of beer per day reduced aortic stiffness and pressure wave reflections while aortic and brachial pressure and endothelial (blood vessel) function were improved.

The study compared 400 mL consumption of beer, non-alcoholic beer and vodka/water and their effects on these aspects of cardiovascular function.

Subjects were healthy, non-smoking male volunteers with average age 28.5 who randomly consumed one of the three beverages on three occasions at least one week apart after fasting. Measurements were taken at fast and one and two hour intervals after ingestion.

All three beverages reduced aortic stiffness, but only beer improved endothelial function, and did so significantly. The constituents of beer (alcohol and antioxidants) are assumed responsible for the results.

This is but one of many studies that suggest that moderate drinkers, as compared to non-drinkers, have a lower risk of heart disease. The key words here are "moderate drinkers."


Roy Rogers and Dale Evans
Roy Rogers and wife Dale Evans

I received an interesting email the other day about the closing and sale of the contents of the Roy Rogers Museum. To those under the age of 50, or maybe it is 55, this would have little meaning, but to my older readers it probably conjures up memories.

Roy Rogers was one of the heroes of my childhood, above even Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, Sky King, and Superman. In my 1st and 2nd grade class photos, I was wearing two different Roy Rogers T-shirts.

Roy always came out on top because he embodied righteousness. He always stood for doing the right thing, helping your neighbors (or even complete strangers who were in need), faith in God and country, a belief in both good and evil and that only the former was God's will, respect for one another, our animals and especially women, honor, loyalty and absolute honesty. Roy Rogers was a greater influence on me during my preteens than any other man except my father. I feel sorry for the kids of today who have no such stellar role model to follow.

Roy's horse Trigger, Dale's horse Buttercup and their German shepherd Bullet were their real pets. Trigger, a golden palomino (the only horse breed's name I knew for many years), won at PATSY Award in 1953, for the movie Son of Paleface. Roy and Trigger made 106 movies and 82 TV episodes together. Trigger was also the horse Olivia de Havilland rode on in the 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn as Robin.

Roy's stardom was huge during the 1940s and early '50s. These fact from Wikipedia:

In the Motion Picture Herald Top Ten Money-Making Western Stars poll, Rogers was listed for 15 consecutive years from 1939 to 1954, holding first place from 1943 to 1954. He appeared in the similar Box Office poll from 1938 to 1955, holding first place from 1943 to 1952. (In the final three years of that poll he was second only to Randolph Scott.) Although these two polls are really an indication only of the popularity of series stars, Rogers also appeared in the Top Ten Money Makers Poll of all films in 1945 and 1946.
Roy Rogers in Wikipedia

Roy's passing in 1998 was a sad day for me. The passing of his wife of 51 years, Dale Evans, three years later was equally sad. It was the end of an era, and that is even sadder.

Jack Keller and Wayne Key judging wines at Victoria, Texas.  In the background, Martin Benke and Bill Christopher are also judging wines.  Photo by Martha Tarkington.
Jack Keller and Wayne Key, judging wines at Victoria, Texas.
In the background, Martin Benke and Bill Christopher are
also judging wines. (Photo by Martha Tarkington)

Last Sunday I traveled to Victoria, Texas to help judge the Home Wine Competition at the Czech Heritage Festival. This is always a fun event for me, as the Festival is colorful, lively and varied, with good food, good music and good people. And there are the wines, of course.

Various communities in Texas celebrate their heritage with festivals of one sort or another. My wife and I have attended German, Polish, Alsatian, Italian, Mexican, and Czech festivals, but the one in Victoria is the only one I know of that includes homemade wine and beer competitions.

I only tasted two wines that I wish I hadn't and many I'm glad I did. I try to write comments on my judging forms that either encourage or guide the winemaker. In the latter case I try to identify any faults or defects that cost the wine judging points. If your wine doesn't do as well as you hoped, you should know why. It takes longer to judge the wines, but it is the right thing to do.

Selecting the Best of Show wine was difficult. After tasting the winners of each wine category, we narrowed it down to two – a Dewberry and a Blanc du Bois. This was a tough decision, as each wine was superb. But having made each wine many times, I knew that it took more talent to craft that Blanc du Bois than the Dewberry.

The biggest challenge in making the Dewberry is managing the acid and balancing it against the sugar, tannin and alcohol, which in my experience is fairly straightforward. Building body is a subtle challenge, but usually accomplished through balance. Selecting a yeast that metabolizes some of the malic acid and produces more than average glycerol helps all around with Dewberry, but these are winemaking techniques that any winemaker can master. Crafting a great Blanc du Bois (BdB) is another matter altogether.

Picking the grapes at the peak of ripeness is a given, but birds love these grapes so it is not easy to let them hang until optimal ripeness is achieved. But these grapes are finicky. The juice and pulp begins browning as soon as the grapes are crushed and continues to darken during pressing, necessitating that crush and press be accomplished as quickly as possible. Chilling the juice quickly to about 34° F. slows the browning and changes it from a permanent to a transitory problem. Exactly how long the juice should be chilled is a matter of preference, but I usually chill my BdB juice for three days. It takes courage to keep it in refrigeration longer, as it appears to continue to darken. However, after a vigorous fermentation the brown pigments settle into the lees. Both sugar and acidity can be a problem, with natural sugar usually low and acidity high if the grapes are not at optimal ripeness.

It was a tough call, but I voted for the BdB over the Dewberry for the reasons described above. The other judges agreed, but both wines were wonderful.

Purple Sage Mead

Purple sage blossoms

On the drive home from Victoria Sunday I stopped on US 59 about 8 miles east of I-37 and picked Texas Sage blossoms for inclusion in a mead. Having made this several times, I know what awaits me in a year or two. The fragrance of the blossoms was heavenly. I ate several as I picked. The mead is going to be fantastic.

Several days of off-and-on rain about two weeks ago triggered the blooming. It has done so every year but one for the past several years. It takes about 30 minutes for me to pick about a quart of packed flowers. Sunday, I picked for 50 minutes.

Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) has several other names, with Texas Ranger and Silverleaf Sage being the two most common. After observing it in bloom, many people mistakenly call it Purple Sage, a name I give to my wine or mead made from it even though I know it is incorrect. True Purple Sage has leaves with a purplish upper surface, which this does not have. I combine the names and call it Texas Purple Sage Mead for popularity's sake, not for strict correctness. I beg the botanists to forgive me.

As in the past, I tried not to pick any leaves. This is an impossibility but that is okay, as a few (but not too many) leaves add flavor and tannin to the mead. One does not want the leaves to do more than add a tiny bit of complexity. It is the blossoms that must drive the flavor.

In the recipe below I add acid blend and tannin to the must. I do this to please my wife's tastes. She likes mead less than I do because, according to her, it lacks a little "something" that wines have. That something, I long ago decided, was both sufficient acid and tannin. When I began adding these ingredients to my meads she liked them. This batch follows that practice. After this batch is finished I might decide to add a bit more acid blend to it. I'll judge that by taste after it bulk ages but before bottling.

Texas Purple Sage Mead Recipe

  • 2 qts Texas Sage flowers loosely packed, or 1 qt tightly packed
  • 2 lb 8 oz non-varietal honey
  • 2 1/4 tsp acid blend
  • water to 1 gallon
  • 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/8 tsp yeast energizer
  • 3/16 tsp powdered grape tannin
  • 1 pkt mead yeast [alternate: Lalvin 71B-1122]

The night before, begin a yeast starter with 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, a pinch of yeast nutrient and 1 drop lemon juice (best delivered with an eye dropper) dissolved into 1/2 cup lukewarm water in a mason jar. Sprinkle the yeast on top, cover the jar with a napkin held in place with a rubber band and husband it every 2-3 hours by adding the same amount of water, sugar, nutrient, and lemon juice.

Add the honey to 2 quarts water and stir while bringing it to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a low boil for about 20-25 minutes. Use a metal mesh strainer to remove any foam/scum that forms on top. This contains the unseen particulates in the honey (pollen, bee parts, dust) and removing it will greatly aid the mead in clearing.

Meanwhile, place the flowers in a colander and rinse under a cold spray while tossing them with your clean hands for several minutes. This will remove dust, small insects, pollen and various droppings. Again, this will aid the mead in clearing. Transfer the flowers to a nylon straining bag, tie shut and place in the bottom of your primary.

Measure the volume of your honey-water (I cannot accurately predict it because some evaporates during boiling) and write down the number for later use. Pour the boiling honey water over the flowers and cover the primary. Subtract the volume number you wrote down from 1 U.S. gallon and write down the difference (the answer of the subtraction). Allow the honey water to cool for two hours. Subtract the volume of your yeast starter (a pint, pint-and-a-half, etc.) from the difference you wrote down earlier. The answer to this subtraction is the amount of water you need to add to the honey-water, now cooled. Add the water, the acid blend, the yeast nutrient and energizer, and the tannin and stir to dissolve. Now add the yeast starter solution, cover the primary and set it aside to ferment.

Stir twice daily, punching down the bag (I place about 30 marbles in a quart jar, fill it with water, cap it, and place it on top of the mesh bag to keep the flowers submerged) for about a week. Remove the bag and squeeze it gently over the primary to extract any liquid. Discard the flowers and re-cover the primary. When specific gravity drops below 1.020 transfer it to a secondary and attach an airlock.

Rack, top up and reattach the airlock after 60 days, adding one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet (or 1/16 teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite). Rack again 60 days later. Wait 90 days and rack again, adding another finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet (or 1/16 teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite). Set aside another 90 days and carefully rack into bottles. You can drink this in 2 months but it really does improve with age.

September 29th, 2013

The beauty of the Second Amendment is that it will not be needed until they try to take it. – Thomas Jefferson

My opening notes in my last entry about the health effects of beer produced several emails asking for a comparison with wine. Sorry, but I didn't design the research study or surely there would have been at least one wine in the line-up. That doesn't take away from what we already know about the health benefits of drinking red wine, which I have reported on over the years (ya gotta read the archives, my friend).

But here are some brief comparisons that show that both contribute to health in moderation. These are not definitive lists, by any means:


  • Resveratrol in Red wine is good for the heart
    • Helps prevent blood vessel damage
    • Helps prevent blood clots
    • Reduces bad cholesterol
  • Procyanidins in red wine reduces risk of diseases
    • May help reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes
    • May help prevent or slow the formation of cataracts
    • May help reduce the risk of colon cancer
  • Flavanoids in red wine stop the skin's chemical reaction from excessive sun exposure


  • Silicon in beer is associated with increased mineral density in bones
  • Beer boosts vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid, reducing risk of heart disease and easing stress, anxiety and depression
  • Beer's highest water content among alcoholic beverages is easier on the kidneys
  • Sugar in beer-marinated pan-fried steak helps block carcinogens from pan-frying

I know I could list more health benefits of wine, but I'll leave that to another time (although there are many listed in my WineBlog archives).

Worldwide, approximately 189 billion (with a B) liters of beer are consumed each year, compared with 24 million (with an M) liters of wine. That means that 1 glass of wine is consumed for every 3,500 bottles of beer.

Vatican City holds the record for annual wine consumption per capita, at 365 bottles of wine per person (a bottle a day!). Norfolk Island is second with 363 bottles, Luxembourg third with 350, France fourth with 304, Italy fifth with 281, and the United States 56th with 63 bottles per person per year.

If that sounds dismal for the USA, beer consumption in America has steadily declined while wine consumption has steadily increased. In 1992, 47% of Americans drank beer, while only 27% drank wine. Twenty years later, in 2012, 36% drank beer and 35% drank wine. The shift away from beer is most pronounced among younger Americans and minorities. I'm not sure I trust these numbers, but I trust the trend.

Top selling wine brands in the world

The oldest known bottled wine is a 1,650-year old bottle in Pfaz, Germany excavated from a Roman grave. The bottle is sealed with wax, preserving the wine inside. Despite the intact seal, I fear this wine has passed its peak.

The world's most expensive wine is the Penfolds 2004 Kalimna Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Edition Ampoule from Australia, worth $168,000. Only 12 bottles exist worldwide, each one uniquely marked and can only be opened by the Penfolds winemaker, who will fly to wherever a bottle is that needs opening and perform the ceremony with style. Penfolds 2004 Block 42 is a rare, single-vineyard wine, only released in stellar vintages and produced from the oldest continuously-producing Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the world. The 10-acre Block 42 was planted only 30 years after the great 1855 Bordeaux Classification.

Top selling beer brands in the world

The oldest continuously operating brewery in the world is in Weihenstephan Abbey, Bavaria, Germany. The abbey was originally founded as an Augustinian monastery around 725. The monastery proper was dedicated around 811 but in 1021 was rededicated as a Benedictine abbey. Within is a brewery that can trace its roots to 768 and was officially "licensed" as a brewery in 1040. Weltenburg Abbey, also a Benedictine monastery in Bavaria, was founded in 620, but its brewery was not founded until 1050, placing second as the oldest.

The world's strongest beer is Armageddon, from Brewmeister in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, which is 65% alcohol by volume and currently sells in the UK for about $129 a bottle (half that at the brewery). Reviews have not been all that nice.

These and many more interesting facts are from an infographic by Alex Hillsberg called "Beer vs. Wine: Surprising Facts, Popular Brands & Big Festivals – The Great Drink Debate Rages On," augmented with my own research and comments. The link to the presentation is at the end of today's entry. Check it out. Fun stuff....

Old Farmers Almanac 2014 cover

The Old Farmer's Almanac was first published in 1792, during the first term of George Washington, and is the nation's longest continuous published periodical. From its first printing, it has always predicted the weather. Their long-range weather forecasts are traditionally 80% accurate, an impressive number, and they are predicting a bitterly cold upcoming winter.

The Farmers Almanac, only 197 years old, predicts a winter storm will hit the Northeast around the time the first outdoor Super Bowl is played at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. It also predicts that two-thirds of the country will experience a colder than normal winter, with heavy snowfall in New England, the Great Lakes and Midwest regions.

These publications are not alone. The National Solar Observatory and NASA have both made similar predictions based on an ill-behaving celestial body. The culprit is the Sun.

Our sun goes through an 11-year cycle and right now we should be experiencing the effects of a solar maximum – a period of increased sunspots and resulting solar radiation. By all rights this should be a very mild winter. But the Sun did not flare up as predicted. In fact, it is experiencing its lowest activity in 100 years. Although the reasons for this inactivity are not understood, the affects can be predicted and have been, as indicated above. Get ready for a cold winter.

The solar maximum cycle is just one solar cycle solar physicists are aware of. Back in the early '70s I attended a public debate by a panel of experts in Colorado Springs. The subject was "The Coming Ice Age," as the Earth was experiencing colder than usual temperatures. After several speakers issued their dire warnings of doom and gloom, a tall gentleman from a new organization, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, stood, pointed upward and said something like this: "It's the sun. It goes through cycles and we're experiencing one. In 25 years they'll be telling you the Earth is going to burn up. Don't believe it. It will pass and it will get colder again. It's a cycle."

Having experienced "The Coming Ice Age" hysteria and that lone gentleman from NOAA's prediction of coming global warming followed by global cooling, I rode out the "Global Warming" hysteria with utter contempt. To watch Al Gore make millions of dollars and collect a Nobel Prize for politicizing a natural phenomenon that true climatologists understood but were ridiculed as being politically incorrect made me realize what an enormous herd of sheep we are.

Global temperatures have stabilized for the past six years and the cooling has begun. It takes time for the ocean currents to absorb the shift in ambiance, but they will. It will cool and continue to cool for about another 20-25 years, then it will warm again. I doubt the absence of this solar maximum will have a long lasting effect on our climate – with or without it the Earth will cool – but it could.

During the Maunder Minimum – the period 1645 to 1715 which has been dubbed the "Mini-Ice Age" – there were no solar maximums observed although they were well known by then and expected. But if we miss another solar maximum in 2024 I would certainly start planting more cold hardy grape varieties just to be safe....

Questions About Making Mead

My Texas Purple Sage Mead is fermenting away and smelling good. I did receive two emails about boiling the honey and pouring the boiling water over the flowers – both emails from the same person but very thoughtful.

Darren in North Dakota pointed out that I have not boiled honey for some meads and have boiled it for others. Why?, he asked. Great question.

I sometimes buy superior grades of honey. The honey is crystal clear and sometimes costs almost twice what regular Grade A honey costs. I generally don't boil it.

High grade, crystal clear honey (image found on internet, fair use doctrine for educational purposes)

There are four grades of honey in the United States (A, B, C, Substandard), but there are substantial differences in Grade A. Grade A honey is pure honey that has been filtered or strained to remove particulates we can see with the naked eye – bee parts, small insects, air bubbles, bits of comb wax, etc. It is supposed to be clear but grade labeling in the U.S. is voluntary, performed by the producer, and so it is not uncommon for Grade A honey to be slightly hazy. That haze is caused by the tiny particulates still in the honey, chief among them pollen dust and microscopic air bubbles. If at all hazy, I boil it and the particulates rise to the top in a dense foam.

I use a small wire mesh strainer (I bought it to strain tea leaves from my tea) to remove the foam in two steps. The foam starts forming early, but I bring the boil down to low (stove-top setting is just a hair under medium high) and after about 10 minutes use a silicon scraper to remove the foam from the sides of the pot and the strainer to carefully remove it from the surface. I perform the same removal at the end of the boiling, after the heat has been turned off.

To boil or not to boil honey-water is your choice, but there is another reason to boil it if it looks suspect. Many microorganisms grow in honey due to its low water content. Honey typically contains dormant endospores of the microorganism Clostridium botulinum, which might be dangerous to infants and young children. Although not generally a threat to healthy adults, I prefer to kill it and any other microorganisms with heat if the honey is not really high grade. It's a case-by-case decision on my part. I don't think many microorganisms survive 12-14% alcohol but....

Daren also stated he had read that pouring boiling water over fruit, berries and flowers destroys some of the aromatic and taste components. I have read the same thing, but I like to know for sure.

I do research before I pour boiling water over a base ingredient. I read any recipes already published to gain insight if any is offered. When I find experiential evidence that a cold pour yields superior results to a hot pour – which means the author has done it both ways – I adopt the lesson learned.

When an author states something to the effect that he doesn't boil his honey because has heard that hot pours are detrimental to the outcome, I dismiss him. No rule fits all and he has not learned this simple truth but is just following the herd.

When I cannot find evidence either way, I have to use my own judgment or make two batches and find out.

I have found that heat sets the colors of certain bases without degrading the taste or aromatic development of their wine or mead, but it does affect other bases negatively. Unfortunately, I have not run side by side comparisons of more than a dozen or so bases because heat is not involved as much in winemaking as it is in mead making. Although I have made a lot of meads, I rarely have enough base or honey to make side by side batches using both methods.

The first time I made Texas Purple Sage Mead I took a chance and did a hot pour. The resulting mead was exquisite. Having also made wine from this flower, I knew the hot pour took nothing away from the mead.

Having said all of that, if you are making a flower mead and don't want to risk pouring boiling water over the flowers, all you have to do is let the honey-water cool and do a lukewarm or cold pour. After all, you are making it. I'm only offering guidance you are free to accept or ignore.

Avocado Chocolate Mousse

No-Cook Avocado Chocolate Mousse (photo by Matt Kadey, courtesy of Ulysses Press, with permission)

I'm always looking for ways to to keep off the 45 pounds of belly fat I lost, so when I recently obtained the No-Cook, No-Bake Cookbook I was delighted with what I saw inside – healthy, wholesome dishes that in most cases can be easily made and in all cases without a stove or oven. One of the first dishes I made was this delicious Avocado Chocolate Mousse. I've now made it four times.

I am at the point where I am simply trying to maintain the weight lose I've already achieved, not lose additional weight. This means adjusting my carbohydrate intake and possibly allowing some of the no-nos of the past 18 months in minimal amounts – like a piece of fried chicken or catfish every now and then. But there are some recipes in here that might change my mind. You can expect to see more recipes from it in the future.

I already eat avocado (and olives with nuts) every day, so when I saw this recipe I had to give it a try. I'm not at all tired of eating the raw fruit, but a little variety is good, and once I tried it I was hooked. And it's easy to make and cleanup is simple.

The recipe is supposed to serve 6. I've adjusted the portions to get four servings from it. The left-over portions refrigerate for up to two days without decline in an airtight container. They rarely last that long, as each of my portions only contains 1/2 an avocado and I'm used to eating a whole one each day.

Avocado lends this no-fuss chocolate mousse a rich, creamy texture that will have you coming back for more. You could try the same recipe with pumpkin puree or soft tofu, as the author suggests, but I'll stick to avocados. Why change a good thing?

The secret to this dish is to buy avocados that are neither too hard nor too soft. This takes a little practice, but when you have bought as many as I have it becomes second nature. And the large banana should be ripe. That means there should be brown or black spots on the skin. They are sweeter when ripe and more easily processed in this recipe. Trust me on this.

The only ingredient I had to buy for this was coconut milk. The recipe only uses 1/4 cup, so you might be tempted to substitute regular milk for the coconut. Don't. Coconut milk is very nutritional and adds unique flavor to this mousse. Do what I do to save the extra coconut milk for future use. Freeze 1/4 cup quantities in small containers and when frozen empty the containers into a freezer storage bag....

Avocado Chocolate Mousse Recipe

  • 2 large avocados, flesh scooped out
  • 1 large ripe banana
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or chocolate extract (but not both)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder or cayenne powder (optional, but you'll be glad you added it)
  • pinch of sea salt

Place all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. You can serve immediately, but I chill mine for 45 minutes before digging in.

Garnish as desired. The photo shows raspberries and orange zest, which I've tried. I've also tried blackberries, chopped strawberries, and kiwi fruit with orange zest. Other ideas I am playing with are mango, dark chocolate shavings and coconut flakes.

If you're interested in this book, you can order it here, at The No-Cook, No-Bake Cookbook.

October 11th, 2013

About two weeks ago a dove hung from the bottom of one of my hummingbird feeders and arched up to feed from one of the feeder ports. I have never seen a dove do this, but it does it several times a day every day. It is doing it now.

I wish I could get a photo of it, but the two photos I took through my window are terrible – the screen degrades everything and the backlit sky washes out the bird and feeder with glare.

"Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand."
– General Colin Powell

Don't you wish we had one?

I have always loved the quote:

In this life
be kinder than necessary,
for everyone you meet is
fighting some kind of battle.

I have not always acted in this spirit, but I try.

I recently decided to find out who wrote this. It was a frustrating endeavor. Various people attribute a version of it ("Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.") to either Plato or Philo, but no one seems to be able to find an original citation from either.

Several sources attribute that version to 18th Century Scottish author Ian MacLaren, pen name of Reverend John Watson. He offered it in several versions over the years, but the central idea was clearly important to him.

It may well be an amalgamation of two separate quotations. One source attributes "Be kinder than necessary' to James M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan). It is altogether possible that this has been substituted for MacLaren/Watson's "Be kind."

As for the opening "In this life" and the reworded ending, "... fighting some kind of battle," I can find no clue. But someone assembled the various parts into a very nice piece of advice to live by. Attributing it to Anonymous seems so inadequate....


An airlock with positive pressure (photo from E.C. Krause website, displayed for educational purposes under Fair Use Act of 1984)

I have a Strawberry-Chocolate wine that has been bulk aging for three months. It was very still, but had dropped a fine dusting of dead yeast lees and so yesterday I racked it. Today it is bubbling away. This has happened many times with many wines and meads, so what is going on? Why are wines still for months and then fermentation revived after racking?

Yeast need oxygen to reproduce. Must has that oxygen when the yeast culture is introduced and they reproduce like crazy. As their density increases, they settle down and metabolize sugar into energy, expelling ethanol and carbon dioxide as waste byproducts. As oxygen is depleted, CO2 gets absorbed and the ethanol quantity builds, together creating an increasingly unfavorable environment. Under these conditions older yeast begin dying of age. But there are still young yeast in there.

As the environment becomes more and more unfriendly due to O2 depletion, CO2 absorption and ethanol build-up, the young, viable yeast either die prematurely or go dormant. When the wine is racked O2 is absorbed and some CO2 expelled (degassed), changing the environment. True, the ethanol content hasn't changed but the stranglehold on the yeast has been lessened just enough for the dormant yeast to awaken. They begin reproducing and metabolizing sugar. Fermentation restarts.

The danger for the inexperienced or impatient is that they see a still wine and think it's time to bottle it, then wonder why they have problems. One novice reported a bottle literally split in half (better than a grenade-like explosion with flying glass – and wine – going everywhere), but most simply report popping corks and stained flooring. I cannot stress enough that wine takes time. If you want a quick ferment, brew beer.

Fermentation probably would not have ended had I racked the wine before it went still. The only negative from the 3-month hiatus is that the wine will take longer to finish fermenting. That doesn't bother me because at this time I have more wine than I can drink or store. If it were someone else's wine, it might be a different matter.

I have developed many recipes where racking is extended to 45-60 days. These periods are generally not too long for wines in general and the wines they were imposed upon specifically, but each base and the wine it produces is different. And occasionally, I do indeed specify a 90-day period between racking. This is always at the end of fermentation and the intent is that the yeast die-off will be near total and the lees dropped will be the last or next to last. Meanwhile, the wine bulk ages, and that's a good thing.

October 15th, 2013

I keep getting emails asking when my next post will be. I send each of them the same thing. If you want to be sure to catch my next (and every next) posting, instead of checking here daily just subscribe to my RSS feed by clicking this button:

rss button

This is painless. You do need an rss reader, but they are numerous (276 free readers at last count are listed here). When you click the "RSS" button above it will ask you to identify your reader, and the ones they list for you to choose from (this changes from time to time) currently are My Yahoo, Bloglines Reader, Netvibes, Feed Demon, NetNewsWire (smart phones app), NewsFire, NewsGator Outlook Edition, RSS Owl, and Shrook (for MacIntosh), and Universal Subscription Mechanism (USM). Click the button, select your reader and rest easy. You'll be notified when there is new content.

Yes, I've said all of this before in February, but some people don't read older content....

Still image from the movie <i>Gravity</i>, showing astronaut Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock)  being cast into space

I was drawn to see Alfonso Cuaròn's Gravity by the trailer. I opted to see it in 3D. I'm glad I did. I cannot imagine it being as intense in 2D. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are the only characters whose faces are in the movie, so essentially they are the cast. It was worth seeing.

The plot involves two astronauts on a Hubble Telescope maintenance mission when debris from a Russian anti-satellite test destroys their space shuttle (and the Hubble telescope). Tethered together in open space with dwindling oxygen, the movie is a drama/thriller of a race for survival. Despite the impossibility of the actions taken, the whole plot is an impossibility since there are no more flying space shuttles. But it is good suspense.

I'll give no spoilers here. If you want to know what happens and how it turns out, go see the movie – in 3D.

I was a kid when the first major wave of 3D movies hit the theaters in the 1952-53 timeframe. The only three I distinctly recall seeing were House of Wax, 13 Ghosts and It Came From Outer Space. I believe I went to see House on Haunted Hill but have no memory of it. My late father claimed he took me and my sister to see it and I fell asleep before the movie even began, so.... What I remember about these early 3D movies was that you wore cardboard glasses with one red and one green lens.

In 1954 the second wave of 3D films hit the theaters. These were much better technically – easier to watch, less strain on the eyes, and the film-making was better quality. The three films I remember were Creature from the Black Lagoon, Taza, Son of Cochise and Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder. Creature from the Black Lagoon remains in my memory the best 3D film I ever saw until I broke down in 2009 and went to seeAvatar for the fourth time, only that time I went for the 3D version. What a trip!

I know a lot of 3D movies were made between the mid-1960s and 2009, but the medium held no interest for me. I had cemented the experience of the early 1950s – the cardboard frames and red and green lenses – into my consciousness and simply was turned off to the whole concept of 3D. What an eye-opener the Avatar 3D experience was. The technology had evolved immeasurably. It killed my bias within minutes and I embrace 3D today if the movie itself attracts me. Gravity was such an attraction and worth the elevated price of admission (a hefty $6.50 [seniors] matinee in Pleasanton, TX – regular $4.00 [seniors] matinee). I love living in Pleasanton.

I admire talent. That's a very broad horizon. Let me narrow it down. What follows is a video, a collage of dance routines. I admire most of the routines because of the talent inherent in creating and executing them, but that is secondary to what I like about this clip. I admire the talent of the person who searched hundreds of films, spotted, extracted and spliced specific clips and ordered them to fit the music, "All These Things That I've Done" by The Killers. I cannot imagine how long that took. The person behind this 5 minutes of enjoyment is Barbara Collins.

Unfortunately this is YouTube and it doesn't work on iPads and mobile devices unless something has changed I don't know about. But if you are using a laptop or desktop, click the frame below and see if you agree with me. Despite the opening, this is not a ballet....

I had never heard of this song before, but I'm glad Barbara Collins had. For the record, the images were all gathered from public domain sources. I'm old enough to have recognized the performers for all but three of the clips:

1) Svetlana Zakharova - Swan Lake
2) Riverdance - Reel of the Sun
3) Michael Flatley - Lord of the Dance
4) Michael Jackson - Beat It
5) Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse - Singing in the Rain
6) Elvis - Jailhouse Rock
7) Charlie Chaplin - Modern Times
8) John Travolta/Olivia Newton John - Grease
9) Jimmy Cagney - Yankee Doodle Dandy
10) Debbie Reynolds - Singing in the Rain
11) A Chorus Line
12) Patrick Swayze - Dirty Dancing
13) Natalie Wood/Richard Beymar - West Side Story
14) Al Nims & Leon James doing the Charleston
15) Maxim & Mel B - Dancing with the Stars
16) Elvis and Ann Margret - Viva Las Vegas
17) Michael Jackson from TV Special
18) Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers - Swing Time
19) Gene Kelly - Singing in the Rain
20) All That Jazz
21) Three Stooges get a dance lesson
22) Flashdance
23) Shirley Temple & Bill "Bojangles" Robinson - Just Around the Corner
24) Anne Reinking - All That Jazz
25) Nicholas Brothers - Stormy Weather
26) Wizard of Oz

The dance steps aren't always an absolutely perfect match to the beat, but they're so darn close as to be "good enough." I've watched this about 8-10 times without tiring of it. I hope you enjoy it once.

Honey Lover, Hummel #312, an M.I. Hummel Club 15-Year Member Exclusive.

It has been 18-19 years since my wife and I first saw this figurine and fell in love with it. We tried to buy it but it was unobtainable. It is an exclusive release of the M.I. Hummel Club for 15 years of membership. You had to have an entitlement card from the club to buy it. We joined the club a few years later and finally, this year, were able to buy it. It is called Honey Lover.

Collecting these figurines has given us immeasurable pleasure. Each has its own beauty or at least cuteness and most display an underlying humor of role-playing, exploration or affection that seem to accompany healthy childhood. Honey Lover, catalogued as Hummel #804 (mold #312), is an exception.

The little boy sitting before a crock of honey and helping himself conveys a sense of self-indulgence many – if not most – of us have probably yielded to while growing up. Instead of a look of pleasure, which Sister Hummel was quite capable of rendering, he has a look of apprehension after two bees land – one on his left shoe and one on the honey pot. It is the expression of being caught raiding the valuable honey.

It gives me joy every time I glance at it, and most glances invite a longer and appreciative gaze. More simply put, it appeals to me. It is also one of my wife's favorite Hummel pieces.

As a child, I had my own experience of "raiding the honey pot." In my case, it was not honey, but a meringue-topped lemon custard pie. My father was a baker – the cake decorator at Noyes Bakery in San Bernardino, California. He often brought home pies, usually apple, cherry, mincemeat or pumpkin. Seldom was it peach (my favorite), pineapple, or anything with meringue on it, and never strawberry (my brother Keith was allergic to strawberries). But one day he brought home a lemon custard meringue pie. After dinner, my mother cut us each a small wedge (there were seven of us), leaving an extra one for my father in the morning before he went to work.

The taste of that lemon custard pie stayed with me all night, and after everyone had gone to bed I sneaked into the kitchen and sliced a small sliver off that extra piece thinking no one would know.

A pie cut precisely into eighths results in pieces of an exact size. If you slice off a portion of one, no matter how thin, it is apparent to an educated eye. My mother has two such eyes. She called us kids together and confronted us. We all denied it, but I thought of George Washington and the cherry tree and finally confessed. The results of confessing (after initially denying it) did not go as I hoped. When my father got home from work and was briefed by my mother, I received three sharp lashings across the butt from my father's belt – not for taking a piece of the pie, but for first lying about it. Lesson learned....

Ah, childhood. It is what the Hummel figurines are all about. What more can I say?

Watermelon Jicama Salad

No-Cook Watermelon Jicama Salad (photo by Matt Kadey, courtesy of Ulysses Press, with permission)

It occurred to me that watermelon season will soon end. Despite their high cost these days, I broke down and bought one. I was glad I did, both because it is nice and sweet but also because I wanted the opportunity to make one of my favorite salads a few more times.

Six weeks ago I mentioned the No-Cook, No-Bake Cookbook by Matt Kadey and promised you'd be hearing more of it. This is one of those times.

This salad is a sure winner for any occasion, but I eat it as one of my 5 daily snacks to maintain my 45-pound weight loss. It not only tastes good, but nutritionally is very healthy. It is cool, crunchy, salty-sweet, and juicy. It contains protein, far more healthy unsaturated fat than saturated, good Omega-3/-6 fatty acids, an excellent distribution of essential vitamins and minerals, good fiber, and plenty of good flavors that go surprisingly well together. Try this once and you'll make it again.

This recipe makes 4 servings.

Watermelon Jicama Salad Recipe

  • 5 cups seedless watermelon, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 cups thinly sliced (into strips) jicama
  • 1 medium avocado, cubed
  • 1 cup cubed feta cheese (about 3 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted raw or roasted whole cashew nuts
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or ground chipotle)

In a large bowl, gently toss together the watermelon, jicama, avocado, feta cheese, cashews, basil, and mint.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and pepper flakes. Dribble this over the watermelon and jicama mixture while tossing. It helps to have a third hand doing the dribbling while the other two toss. It is best served if refrigerated about an hour.

The first time I made this I substituted cubed semi-soft tofu for the feta and sprinkled grated parmesan cheese over the salad during the final tossing. It turned out very good. But using the feta this time is better. Trust me on that.

This really is a great tasting salad, pulled from the pages of a great no-cook book of recipes Check it out at The No-Cook, No-Bake Cookbook.

Pie Pumpkin Wines

Pie pumpkins on display

I received an email pointing out an error in a recipe I posted some years ago and that got me thinking about all the variations I've heard of and tried over the years for this wine – pumpkin. Two are worth highlighting. As the name implies, they are made using pie pumpkins, those small pumpkins about 5-9 inches in diameter.

I have always assumed that pie pumpkins have more sugar in them and therefore make better pie as well as better wine. While it is true they make better pie and wine than large jack-o-lantern pumpkins (which lack full flavor), the elevated natural sugar content, which is actually only a small elevation, is only part of it. The quality of the flesh texture and the accompanying richness of flavor is the main reason for their selection.

The sugar content of pumpkin is only about 1%. Pie pumpkins typically have a fraction of a percent more natural sugar so the increase is negligible. But the flavor is better.

As a food, the glycemic index (GI) of pumpkin has been reported between 64 and 75, which is considered moderately high. However, the glycemic load (GL) of pumpkin is very low (3), which indicates good fiber content and the carbohydrates in pumpkin are absorbed slowly. In other words, there is no spike in blood sugar that the GI might suggest but rather a slow, steady delivery of energy and good absorption of nutrients.

After reading much on this specific food, I emphasize that the GL is more important than the raw GI. Pumpkin is one of the more nutritional foods out there, extremely rich in vitamins and minerals and extremely low in fatty acids, sodium and cholesterol. All it really lacks is protein. A cup of boiled pumpkin is very filling, keeps you feeling full for quite some time and is good for belly fat weight loss.

Most of the nutrients in pumpkin are carried over into its wine, which is a good thing.

The first recipe below is a spiced wine and uses whole cinnamon and cloves. You might be empted to use prepared pumpkin pie spices, but do not as the wine may require a fining agent to remove them. Also, do try to find the Demerara (or Turbinado) sugar, as this imparts a very desirable flavor. If you absolutely cannot find either one, use light brown sugar lightly packed.

The second wine is a straight pumpkin wine, should turn out sweet, and is very good with age.

Pumpkin Pie Wine

  • 5 lbs peeled and cleaned pie pumpkin, grated
  • 2 lbs Demerara (or Turbinado) sugar (or light brown)
  • 11-oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 1 tsp finely diced fresh ginger
  • zest and juice of 3 small Valencia oranges (or 4 clementines)
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 3-inch cinnamon sticks
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1/8 tsp grape tannin
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 Campden tablet, finely crushed and dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
  • Water to one gallon
  • 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Champagne wine yeast

Put water on to boil. Meanwhile, cut the pumpkins into manageable pieces, peel them and grate the pieces with a food processor. Put pumpkin, sugar and juice of citrus fruit in primary. Combine zests, tannin and spices in jelly bag, tie closed, and place in primary. Pour boiling water over ingredients in primary and stir until sugar is dissolved. Cover primary and allow to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, thaw the grape concentrate. When the must is cool add grape concentrate, yeast nutrient and pectic enzyme. Set aside 10-12 hours, add one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet and stir briefly. Cover and set aside for 12 hours. Add activated yeast in a starter solution and recover the primary.

To strain the liquid from the must, I pour mine through a
nylon straining bag and let the bag drip drain without
squeezing. Squeezing will only force starches into the
wine and complicate clearing. You can discard the
pumpkin flesh, but I use it in pumpkin bread and cookies.

When fermentation is vigorous, ferment three days, stirring twice daily while punching down the cap of grated pumpkin. Remove spices and strain the liquid into a secondary. Attach an airlock and ferment 30 days. Rack, top up and refit airlock. After 60 days the wine should be clear. If it isn't, wait until it clears. When clear, stabilize with 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate and one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, rack again, top up, and refit airlock. After additional 60 days, sweeten to taste if desired and rack into bottles. Allow to age one year; two is better. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

This is a wonderful spiced wine. Start it now for the holidays next year, although it will be better the year after next. If you don't think you can stand the wait, make two batches and enjoy one next year and one the year after. If you do this every year you'll be glad you did – the second year you'll be able to taste a 1-year old wine next to a 2-year old one and see the difference yourself.

Pie Pumpkin Wine (Sweet)

  • 5 lbs grated pie pumpkin flesh
  • 3-1/2 lbs finely granulated sugar (or light brown, lightly packed)
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/2 oz citric acid
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/4 tsp yeast energizer
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • 6-1/2 pts water
  • Lalvin 71B-1122 or Lalvin ICV-D80 wine yeast

Cut the pumpkins into manageable pieces, peel them and grate the pieces using a food processor. Do NOT place chunks in a blender and attempt to chop them. Bring the water to a boil and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Remove from heat. Place grated pumpkin flesh in primary and pour boiling sugar-water over pumpkin.

Allow to cool to room temperature and add finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Cover primary and allow to sit 10-12 hours. Add pectic enzyme and allow to sit overnight. Next morning add citric acid, yeast nutrient, energizer and activated yeast in a starter solution. Cover primary and stir twice daily for three days, submerging the cap as necessary to keep moist.

Pour through a nylon straining bag and let pumpkin drip drain. Transfer liquid to secondary and fit airlock. If you did not recover a full gallon of liquid, wait 5 days and top up as necessary. Rack after two weeks and again after additional 30 days, topping up and refitting airlock each time. Set aside for 3 months and then rack, stabilize, sweeten if desired (unlikely you will need to but...), wait 60 days for dead yeast to fall out, and rack into bottles. Set aside to drink next year at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Allow a second year for best results. [Adapted from Leo Zanelli's Home Winemaking from A to Z with major modifications by Jack Keller]

This wine is very different from the first, but very good. When I first posted a version of this recipe (around 1998) I had not made it and pumpkins were not in season. I made it the following autumn and it turned out very nice after a year. I had set aside one bottle to enter in competition and forgot about it. I found it the following October and feared it might be past its prime, so did not enter it in an upcoming competition. Instead, I hesitantly opened it at Thanksgiving and was sorry I had not entered it – it was fabulous after two years of aging.

October 22nd, 2013

I'm not big on interpreting dreams. Long ago I was introduced to several theories of dream interpretation in college, but none seem consistently relevant for all dreams. I've had many, many dreams that fit none of the theories I studied.

Last night I had one that was so real I was sure I was living it, until the phone rang and reality intruded. And yet while I was on the phone, I thought back over the dream and realized it made no sense, that the world in which I inhabited in the dream was populated by people I actually know (or once knew) but who would never occupy the same social space together. What's even stranger is that this dream had a musical sound track.

I assume we all have dreams like this at one time or another...or maybe not. Life is sometimes very strange, but our dreams can be stranger still. Just thoughts that occupy my mind today....

Heirloom roses, variety unknown

Many years ago I pondered what to do with lees from my wines. It seemed a shame to keep washing so many down the drain if they actually had a use. I finally decided to pour them on my compost pile. And so I did for many years.

One day I was watering our roses and the idea of applying the lees to the roses blossomed in my mind. Pouring them on the ground seemed possibly perilous, as I had no idea how any alcohol in them might affect the roots. So I devised a method and experimented.

We had a large round cake pan -- 15-inches -- which saw little use and had a nice, rust resistant surface. The next time I racked wines I deposited the lees in the pan and set it in the garage, which is quite warm during the summer. I checked on it several days later and the liquid content had evaporated. What was left was a layer of semi-hard clay-like material. I broke this up and poured it into a plastic bag for later use. Many other deposits went into the bag and eventually I kneaded the material together, reducing it to fine powder.

I sprinkled this around several of the roses and used a 3-pronged hand cultivator gardening tool to work it into the soil, then watered the ground. Within days I saw new growth and new rosebuds. The dead yeast and organic residue seemed an ideal fertilizer.

One still has to apply balanced fertilizers, the best of which is pure, reduced compost. My compost consists primarily of oak leaves, seedless grass clippings and chipped grapevine cuttings, with coffee grounds, tea leaves and non-meat kitchen scraps. I have to buy manure to add to it and occasionally add some fireplace ash and some of our characterless sandy soil while turning the pile. The gray ash and light sand are soon lost in the dark organic compost, but the ash balances the pH from the oak a hair's width and the sand adds granularity to it. I still add lees -- in the winter, when the garage is cold.

More on compost later....

Colman's Original English Mustard

I love Colman's Original English Mustard. I never did care for that bright yellow stuff Heinz, French's and other American companies pass off as mustard. I turned to Dijon because I didn't know where else to turn, but it lacked a spiciness I crave. I used to mix cayenne or horseradish with it to give it some life, but that was time-consuming and tricky when I just wanted a little for a hot dog or hamburger bun.

I didn't know what real mustard could taste like until the U.S. Army decided to send me to Japan. The Japanese know how to spice up their condiments and their mustards did wonders to my taste buds. In San Francisco, I Japanese mustard was readily available due to the many Japanese markets.

One day I was shopping for mustard in a market that didn't carry Japanese mustards and saw one that looked different. It wasn't exactly yellow but it wasn't exactly brown either. It came in a small jar so I decided to try it. I could always doctor it up the way I liked if it tasted flat. To my surprise, it was exactly what I was craving -- a spicy mustard loaded with flavor. It was Colman's Original English Mustard. You might notice it mentioned in a lot of my food recipes.

If you want this mustard and live in Pleasanton, Texas you have to wait until you go into San Antonio to find it. We have two full-size supermarkets here, but neither one carries Colman's except one sometimes carries their powdered mustard. It's a 30+ mile drive to get the prepared stuff. And I don't go into San Antonio all that much these days.

So, when I recently found myself scraping the bottom of the mustard jar I went to the internet and bought a 12-jar case of the stuff. I figure the shipping would be less that the gas to high-tail it into San Antonio and back twice. It arrived Saturday, two days after the empty jar went into the recycling bin. I am a very pleased man.


An open compost pile

Composting takes more time than work, but it does take some work. The raw materials have to be gathered, managed and turned, but as time passes they transform into one of the best things you can add to your garden or vineyard.

Think of compost as a time-release fertilizer and soil builder for your plants. Trace minerals and elements slowly leach into the soil over an extended period while insects, earthworms and watering slowly integrate this enriched organic material into the soil itself.

I once spread a 1-inch layer of compost over a patch of unimproved soil. My soil is a light-colored, very fine, slightly alkaline sand. My intent was to turn the compost into the soil with a shovel and plant a garden, but health problems intervened and I left this plot alone. A year later, I weeded the plot and started digging it up for a garden. I was surprised to see the top 7-8 inches of soil were dark and much more granular than the fine sand beneath. That was the moment I was sold on compost, which I readily applied to the same patch before planting the garden.

For the average person, a compost pile consists of raked leaves, grass clippings, kitchen garbage, seedless weeds and their roots, vine and landscape clippings, aged manure, and possibly a little soil. The pile is watered initially and moistened occasionally. It also needs to be turned occasionally with a pitchfork so the constituents are mixed and surface material is internalized. Billions of microscopic bacteria, fungi and microbes break down the raw organic matter, reduce it and convert it to a nutrient-rich, soil-like organic material.

While the process of conversion is done by the unseen microorganisms, it does require our help. Our beneficial partners in this process require air, moisture, heat, and food.

Getting air to the microorganisms requires us to turn the pile periodically, break up chunks of compacted material, bring bottom material to the top, and work topmost and side material into the mass. My back aches after dong it but that simply means I need more exercise. Two naproxen sodium (Aleve) and a parafon forte (muscle relaxer) take care of the back and the effort takes care of the compost.

Multiple compost bins allow rotational feeding<br>and harvesting (photo from <i>okijimm's eggroll emporium</i>, fair use act of 1984)
Compost bins allow rotational feeding and harvesting

If there is not sufficient rainfall to keep the pile uniformly moist, spraying the pile with a garden hose as needed and several times while turning it keeps all portions moist, an essential requirement. Moist does not mean drenched, but simply damp. Too much moisture drowns the beneficial organisms, while complete dryness results in dehydrated and dead organisms. You have to find a suitable balance.

A compost pile will generate its own heat. As the microorganisms metabolically break down the raw materials, they generate heat that becomes concentrated in the core of the pile. The optimum temperature at the core is 145°F. This temperature causes moisture evaporation. It is not unusual to see steam rising from a compost pile on cool mornings. Heat can build up too high and the result is a burned, ash-like compost. Turning the pile when the internal temperature rises above 155°F (garden centers sell thermometer probes for composters) helps dissipate the heat, aerates the pile and offers an opportunity to add cooling moisture that heat is driving out.

I know people who cover their compost piles during the winter with tarps to contain the heat. For better or worse, I have never done that, relying on a thick layer of autumn leaves and clippings to provide a natural blanket. They get turned under or raked off and used to start a new pile in the spring and are rapidly integrated.

The ingredients one adds to the pile feed it. Some elementary knowledge and common sense is required. Oil and fat should never be added to the pile. Salted table scraps add unwanted salt to the pile. I solve this problem by placing salted food scraps in a colander and rinsing them before adding to the compost pile. Orange and lemon peelings are difficult to compost, but if you chop them into smaller pieces they integrate fine. I used to dry out my egg shells and break them up before adding to the pile but learned this is unnecessary.

Wood chips, sawdust and bark chips decompose slowly and rob the compost of needed nitrogen, so I spread these on the ground and cover them with a layer of cow manure, which is rich in nitrogen and helps them break down. Their moisture must also be maintained and I use a shove to turn them and slowly consolidate them into a small pile. After 6-8 months they can successfully be added and worked into the main compost pile.

I do not add seeded weeds to the pile, but their leaves, stems and roots (all but the seed-heads) are fair game. The roots especially should be placed on top of the pile to dry out and die before they are turned under. Some sources say weed and grass seeds will be "cooked" when in the core of the pile, but I have had weeds (and tomato plants) grown both in the pile itself and in the applied compost, so I simply put the seeded parts and raw tomato scraps in my trash bin and let them fight for life in the landfill.

I once chopped up some shriveled potatoes and tossed them into a pile just before turning. I was surprised a few weeks later when potato plants started growing all over my pile. Nature is surprisingly stubborn.

I have both a contained and a couple of open compost piles. The contained bin (it needs mending) tends to compost faster and needs turning more often. Turning it is more labor intensive, especially when the raw biomass is significant in depth. But the result is worth the effort. The open piles compost more slowly, and at some point they are reduced enough that I combine them into a single pile.

Compost, no matter how acidic the raw ingredients, tends to age to a fairly pH-neutral biomass. It may be a tad acidic when applied, but tends to neutralize quickly after application so don't lose sleep worrying about all those oak leaves and pine needles in the compost. Spend that time having good dreams....

Some Health Benefits of Cacao (and Dark Chocolate)

Cacao pods in various stages of ripening (from Wikipedia, in public domain)
Cacao pods in various stages of
ripening (photo from Wikipedia, in
public domain)

The story of the health benefits of wine is never concluded. Some time back, while researching the never-ending publication of scientific studies on this subject, I ran across an article mentioning the health benefits of raw, cold-processed cacao, the species name of the tree (Theobroma cacao) that gives us cocoa and chocolate. That sent me on a separate line of research that continues to this day.

Chocolate's medicinal benefits were postulated and documented at least as far back as the reign of the Aztecs, but undoubtedly they go back further. Archaeological evidence of cacao beverages date back to 1900 BC. Cortez was introduced to cacao beverages in 1519 when he met Montezuma. The introduction of a cacao beverage to the Spanish court occurred in 1544 by Mayan nobles brought from the New World to meet Prince Philip. They brought with them claims about the medicinal benefits of this flavorful drink. Proving those benefits has taken almost five centuries and the story is not yet finished.

Just so everyone understands from the outset, the medical researchers and I are not talking about 98% of the chocolate you'll find on the candy aisle, which is rich in saturated fatty acids, sugar and filler products. The studies concern high-quality dark chocolate and the raw cacao products it is made from. Yes, it is pricier, but read on before you decide to get your chocolate fix on the cheaper candies.

There are three products that come from raw cacao processing -- butter, powder and nibs. I've snacked on the nibs for several years without ever developing a strong affinity for them and until I encountered this research I have only bought cacao powder -- not to be confused with cocoa powder -- once. After doing a few hours of research, I've now embraced the cacao powder and, to a limited extent, the cacao butter.

Cacao (pronounced ka-cow) powder differs from cocoa (pronounced ko-ko-a) powder in that it is made from cold-pressing the raw cacao beans to remove the fat (cacao butter), with the temperature never allowed to rise above 115° F. The importance of cold-pressing should not be under-estimated.

Raw cacao beans are allowed to undergo a natural fermentation with the pulp from the pod in which they grow, then dried completely and finally roasted, pressed and made into cocoa butter, powder or made into chocolate. The roasting heat reduces the levels of antioxidants and other healthy constituents of both the butter and powder, minimizing the many health benefits found in the unprocessed, raw cacao. Raw, non-roasted cacao products convey the greatest benefits to health.

What's in the cocoa bean?

The raw, cold-pressed cacao products offer the highest health benefits, most of which come from their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. But this does not appear to be all. In the examples below, when you see "chocolate" think high-quality dark chocolate or, better still, raw, cold-pressed cacao powder.

Cardiovascular health: Raw cacao products are high in polyphenols called flavonoids, antioxidants with multiple health benefits. The dominate benefit may be to the heart. A 9-year study in Sweden of over 30,000 women found that those who consumed up to an ounce of high-quality chocolate 1-3 times a month had a 26% reduced risk of developing heart failure, while those who had 1-2 servings a week had a 32% risk reduction. No risk reduction was found in women consuming 1 or more servings daily. But the truth is that dark chocolate consumption has been associated with lower incidence of myocardial infarction, stroke and mortality from coronary heart disease.

Blood Pressure maintenance: Numerous studies have linked blood pressure reductions with as little as 0.2 ounces of daily chocolate consumption. Flavanols, especially catechins, which stimulate the production of endothelial nitric oxide and cause vasodilation, are thought to be responsible for the blood pressure lowering properties. An editorial in the Lancet warned that one should not rely on dark chocolate to improve health because the beneficial compounds may have been removed due to their bitter taste; this is not the case with raw, cold-pressed cacao powder.

Cholesterol control: Dark chocolate with at least 60%-70% cocoa (high-quality dark chocolate is that with 70%-85% cacao solids) appears to have a positive affect on cholesterol levels. Although cocoa does contain saturated fatty acids, it is primarily stearic acid and believed to be cholesterol neutral. It is believed that the antioxidant affects of flavonoids reduce oxidation of low density lipoproteins (LDL, the "bad" cholesterol), thus lowering overall cholesterol,

Inflammation reduction: Raw cacao products and dark chocolate decrease the levels of C-reactive protein (an inflammatory marker) and thereby reduce inflammation.

Cognition improvement: A recent study found that those who had consumed the largest amount of cocoa flavanols in liquid form had significantly improved verbal fluency scores, cognitive function and flexibility. Although still speculative at this point, it is thought that the flavanols improved glucose-insulin metabolism, while flavonoids help keep blood vessels healthy, enhancing circulation in the brain.

Body Mass Index reduction:A 2012 study reported that frequent chocolate consumption is associated with lower body mass index. Overall diet, exercise and chocolate's antioxidant properties are cited as potential contributors to these surprising findings.

Mood regulation: Cacao contains tryptophan, a precursor of serotonin, which may reduce the onset of depression, possibly mediated by an increase in dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. I say "may reduce the onset" because the jury is still out -- one review reported that the benefits are not sustained. The latter could be attributed to heavily processed chocolate negating the potential benefits. Finally, alkaloids, proteins, beta-carotene, leucine, linoleic, lipase, lysine, and theobromine, all present in cacao, may all work together to improve overall physical and mental health. For example, theombromine helps to stimulate the central nervous system, relax smooth muscles, and dilate blood vessels, allowing the body a boost of energy that could contribute to a sense of well being.

Glycemic Index vs. Glycemic Load: The glycemic index of dark chocolate is reported between 23 and 70, depending on the data source and quality of the chocolate. But the latest data I have for dark chocolate (70%-85% cacao solids) is that the glycemic load is only 15, which is very good compared to the caloric intake.

These are but the most studied health benefits, but there are others. I lost the reference breaking the studies into benefit groups, but there have been hundreds of studies conducted over the past 30 years into the health benefits of dark chocolate and raw cacao powder. Again, hundreds.

Think portion control. All cacao and dark chocolate comes with a caloric price to pay. A 3.5 oz bar of Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate (72% cocoa) contains about 500 calories. If you cannot reduce that caloric intake elsewhere in your diet, just one square can satisfy your chocolate craving for only about 70 calories. A single Dove Dark Chocolate bite only has about 40 calories.

All things are relative. The kind of dark chocolate, the age of the person, the blood pressure of the person before eating chocolate, daily exercise, and balancing the caloric intake by reducing calories elsewhere all have relevance. Milk negates the healthy affects of chocolate. Dark chocolate with caramel, nougat, marshmallow, cream filling -- all taste good but increase your health risk.

My focus is on raw, cold-pressed cacao powder and, to a lesser extent, cacao butter, so all of the above is relevant (or perhaps simply more relevant). Ordinary cocoa powder or cocoa butter do not convey these benefits.

As in the research into the health benefits of wine, this story is not finished. All we can say for sure at this point is that a bite-size portion of dark chocolate consumed three times a week is both good tasting and good for your overall health. I'm just saying....

November 1st, 2013

My apologies to all for the lapse in posting and answering the few emails I actually answer. I've been experiencing severe problems with my computer, My Dell flat screen monitor continues to go into power saving mode for no reason whatsoever and nothing I can do brings it back into service. Powering down and restarting after a prolonged period usually solves the problem, but for 3 days this did not work. I bought (and returned) 2 different monitors but each failed to display a signal when connected. Upon reconnecting my old monitor after returning the second monitor it came on.

This is most frustrating, but when I searched for similar problems (and solutions) I found hundreds of similar problems and no clear, universal fix. Almost all involved Dell computers and monitors but a few involved HPs. Like everyone else, I have turned all the energy-saving settings to "Never" in Windows and my BIOS so theoretically neither the CPU nor the monitor should ever do what it has been doing. I have replaced all drivers (some 3 times) and have installed all Windows updates. This seems to be a mystery that has been plaguing Dell products for at least 5 years and they are not very helpful in solving the problem. Needless to say, this is the last Dell I will ever buy.

I've gotten good feedback from my entries on composting and the health benefits of cacao and dark chocolate. Thank you all for your emails and posts on my Facebook Page.

I also received a couple of good ideas for new wines -- spicy chocolate (using fresh cayenne chilies or jalapenos for the heat) and nasturtium. I've already started a spicy chocolate wine using an orange-chocolate wine as a base. I've used my Mandarin-Chocolate Wine recipe as a jumping off point (see links following today's entries). The nasturtium wine will have to wait until next year, as I have no plants at the moment. But, they grow readily from seed and I'll plant them next Spring.

Thank you all for your input, questions and suggestions. I'll be running a contest soon on my Facebook Page, so you might want to put it in your Favorites List and check in on it every now and then (and "like" it if you haven't).

I keep getting email about yeast starter solutions. There is nothing complicated about them, but some folks have gotten confused because I have published different instructions for making one. The differences are slight, but there. So below I will publish a final version. This version from here on out will be posted on my site as How to Make a Yeast Starter Solution. From here on, when I refer to making a yeast starter solution here in the WineBlog I will simply link to it.

John McAfee on Fox News

I've deleted a long entry I had already written because it was dated after this long delay. It involved security of the Obamacare exchanges. There are many spoof sites out there designed by hackers simply to obtain your name, date of birth and Social Security number -- all they need to steal your identity. This was made possible because the site designed by the government was not a portal to all exchanges.

An explanation of this and criticism of the security aspects of the HealthCare.gov website were made by McAfee Antivirus founder John McAfee in an interview by Neil Cavuto. If you haven't seen it already, I invite you to watch the interview yourself and put your caution antennas up. I personally expect this to be fixed in the future if they delay the drop-dead deadline for signing up or incurring a fine (the Supreme Court called it a tax). That would give them plenty of time to redesign the whole architecture, but it doesn't protect those trying to sign up now.

How to Make a Yeast Starter Solution

Yeast starter solution in mason jar

It is always a good idea to make a yeast starter solution to introduce yeast to your wine must. There are several reasons to do this, but the most obvious are:

  • Prove the viability of the yeast without having to wait two or more days
  • Dramatically increase the yeast population before pitching the yeast
  • Initiate fermentation almost immediately after adding the yeast to the must
  • Help fermentation with problem musts such as blueberry, huckleberry, etc.
  • Help watermelon must quickly reach high enough alcohol content to prevent juice spoilage

Packets of dry active yeast, averaging 5 grams of yeast, contain hundreds of millions of yeast cells. There are many reasons those yeast cells may not be viable.

The packet may be old. I have seen yeast packets in local homebrew shops that were 7 years old. Never buy an old packet. If it is 2 years old you should not expect more than half the yeast cells to still be viable, especially if the yeast was sitting on a shelf at room temperature.

Yeast should be stored refrigerated, but at the local homebrew shop and at your home. The yeast will be viable many times longer if refrigerated.

Yeast should be transported refrigerated, but usually is not. The metal trailer of a 16-wheeler can get mighty hot in the summer. Even parcel shipped via aircraft ar at risk. I have seen hundreds of parcels sitting on blistering hot tarmacs in June, July, August and September. Yeast are at risk above 105° F. and certainly won't survive long on a hot tarmac.

Even after purchase, yeast are at risk if they are not taken straight home and refrigerated. I, myself, have bought yeast and then stopped to have lunch, leaving the yeast in a hot vehicle interior. After lunch, I've entered the vehicle only to find the interior at an uncomfortable 120+° F. The yeast left in the vehicle had very low viability when used, but making a starter solution with them 24 hours in advance resulted in good fermentations. Here's why.

Yeast bud (reproduce) about every two hours under the right conditions. We create those conditions in the yeast starter solution. When you add the yeast to the starter solution you begin with X number of viable yeast cells, whether only 10 or 150,000,000. Let's call that number, whatever it really is, "1". After 2 hours, that number is approximately "2" (it doubled). After another 2 hours that number is "4" (it doubled again). This doubling can be seen in the chart below:

As you can see, if you husband the starter solution for 24 hours before you intend to add it to your must, you will be adding over 4,000 times as many active yeast cells to the must than you would if you just sprinkled the packet of yeast into the must. If the packet of yeast is old (I have packets of yeast that have been in my refrigerator for 5 years and I expect some of the yeast within to be viable), you can husband the starter for 48 hours, in which case the active yeast will have expanded to 16,777,216 times as many. This is the power of doubling.

Making the Starter Solution

There are many ways to make and husband (care for) a starter solution. Here's one way:

In a sanitized 1-quart mason jar, combine 1/2 cup of preservative free* white grape juice, apple juice or pulp-free orange juice, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and a pinch** of yeast nutrient. Stir until sugar is dissolved completely and then sprinkle a packet of yeast onto the liquid. Do not stir. The yeast may float or sink. It makes no difference, but it is easier to check the viability of yeast that float.

*Preservative free juice means juice that does not contain sorbate or sorbic acid or benzoate or benzoic acid in the ingredients listed on the label. Sufites and/or ascorbic acid are okay.

**A pinch is just that. Reach into the container of yeast nutrient and pinch a small amount of nutrient between your thumb and forefinger. That amount is sufficient.

Hours Number of Packets



Cover the mason jar with a piece of clean linen, paper napkin or paper towel secured with a rubber band. You want air to pass through the covering but want to stop airborne mold, bacteria or dust from entering the jar.

Set a timer for 2 hours and when it rings look at the starter solution. If the yeast are viable, the grains of yeast will have expanded to about twice their original size and turned a light yellowish-gray or yellowish-brown -- similar to the color of Dijon mustard. If not, all the grains of yeast will look exactly as they originally did -- slightly larger perhaps because they absorbed water, but their color will be the same.

If they are not viable, throw them out and start over with another yeast or simply add another packet of yeast to the solution and wait another 2 hours to see if these are viable.

Assuming the yeast are viable, add 1/4 cup of preservative free white grape juice, apple juice or pulp-free orange juice, 1/4 teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of yeast nutrient. Stir until the sugar is dissolved completely, cover the jar again and reset the timer.

You repeat this procedure every two hours to keep feeding the yeast. You could use water instead of fruit juice, but fruit juice is better because it contains acid, additional nutrients and sugar. Pouring the juice into the starter and stirring to dissolve the sugar puts oxygen in the solution and yeast need oxygen to reproduce. The pouring and stirring every 2 hours recharges the oxygen and keeps the yeast happy. Happy yeast are a good thing.

When you add 1/4 cup of juice every 2 hours the volume increases. We start with a 1-quart jar because at 24 hours we have 6 1/4 cups (a tad over 3 pints) of starter solution to add to the must. The jar will be just over 3/4 full and that extra airspace above the solution is an oxygen source for the yeast.

Except for watermelon or melon wines, it is a good practice to add the juice from your must at the 16th, 18th, 20th and 22nd hours. In total, you are only adding 1 cup (1/2 pint) of the must to the starter solution, but that acclimates the yeast to the environment you'll be adding them to later. This is only 1/3 of the starter solution's total volume, but usually sufficient. If the must is vastly different than the juice used in the starter solution, you might start adding juice from the must earlier -- say at the 8th hour. I do this for mustang and several other wild grapes, starfruit, pineapple, blueberry, and berries from extreme northern latitudes (e.g. Newfoundland, Scandinavia). If the must-juice being added has been sulfited, so much the better, as it allows the yeast to become accustomed to sulfites and eliminates any potential shock later.

When you use a starter solution you always know your yeast is viable, the quantity of yeast you are adding to the must is several thousand times more than if you just sprinkled a packet of yeast to the must, and you can expect an almost immediate fermentation of your must. It may take another day for a truly vigorous fermentation to develop, but that is much quicker than the 2 or 3 days it usually takes.

Outstanding Slow Cooked Chicken Provençal

Chicken Provençal (photo by Jeremy Gordon, from his blog, used for educational purposes under Fair Use Act of 1984)

This slow-cooked Chicken Provençal recipe is 100% gluten-free, fork tender and utterly delicious. If the recipe is followed, it will always turn out perfect, and so render you can cut the chicken with a fork.

I found this recipe in The 163 Best Paleo Slow Cooker Recipes, by Judith Finlayson, author of 15 cookbooks with over 750,000 sales. When I got this book all I knew about Paleo was an impression I obtained from seeing books like The Paleo Diet by Loren Corbain, whose advertising thrust was healthy, nutritional eating. That was the extent of my knowledge of paleo -- an impression. I was therefore surprised when I discovered the true meaning.

Paleo refers to the diet of our paleolithic ancestors, those who lived from about 2.5 million years ago until about 10,000 years ago when something changed. What changed was the advent of agriculture. Dr. Walter Voegtlin, a gastroenterologist, was one of the first to suggest that a diet similar to pre-agricultural man was actually healthier and more in tune with our genetic needs. The concept gained notice in 1985 when Dr. Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner published an article called "Paleolithic Nutrition" in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The impetus behind this concept were studies of paleolithic hominin remains that revealed generally healthy people without evidence of many of the medical problems plaguing contemporary man. There are many diseases or conditions for which there is no evidence in paleolithic hominins, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, cancer, and many others. However, the whole concept is hotly debated because there are so few paleolithic hominin remains capable of revealing such diseases -- notably natural mummies or quick-frozen specimens.

Nonetheless, there is a logic behind the concept that is appealing. Modern man does seem to be riddled with more and more diseases as time progresses and certainly our diet has changed profoundly in the last 10,000 years. We eat countless things paleolithic man did not -- grains, legumes, breads, pastas, potatoes, dairy products, processed oils, refined sugars, most beverages, and the list goes on. Paleo diets generally lean toward eating foods as close to its natural state as possible, with an emphasis on protein sources such as grass-fed and free ranging domesticated meat sources, fish, shellfish, nuts, seeds, eggs, etc., and fruit, berries, vegetables, herbs and spices that can be gathered.

There are many variations of the paleo diet. The major differences are the degree to which specific, healthy foods are allowed that would not have been available to paleolithic man -- olives and olive oil are simple examples.

The book I'm using allows some things but not others, not necessarily because they are "modern" (post-paleolithic) but because the author is gluten sensitive and has a delicate digestive system, so all recipes are glutten-free. I'm fine with that. I adopt what I want and tweak what I want to suit my own goals, but overall the entries in her book are nutritiously healthy and promote belly fat weight loss and overall weight maintenance. I just don't go overboard on this paleo thing, like eliminating all grains (hey, I love brown rice), flours (come on, give up sourdough pancakes?) and sweet potatoes (oven-baked sweet potato fries, yummy). I just subscribe to moderation.

Chicken Provençal Recipe

I am absolutely certain that Chicken Provençal made in a slow-cooker is something no caveman ever enjoyed, but the idea here is that most of the ingredients (there are exceptions) were within his collective grasp. When you see the list of ingredients you'll think this is a stretch (and it is), but play along. The result is absolutely delicious and nutritious. (For the record, I halved this recipe but am publishing it as written.)

  • 3 lbs skinless, bone-in chicken thighs (12 thighs)
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 oz chunk bacon, diced
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp herbes de Provence
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp cracked black peppercorns
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 can (14 oz) tomatoes with juice, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped pitted black olives (optional, but I used them)
<i>The 163 Best Paleo Slow Cooker Recipes</i>, by Judith Finlayson

Arrange chicken evenly over the bottom of slow-cooker stoneware, overlapping as necessary.

In a skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring, until nicely browned. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon and drain on paper towels. Drain off all but 2 tbsp of the fat from the skillet.

Add onions to skillet and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, herbs de Provence, salt and peppercorns and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add wine, bring to a boil, and maintain boil for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes with juice and bring to a boil. Add reserved bacon.

Transfer to slow-cooker stoneware. Cover and cook on Low for 6 hours or High for 3 hours, until juices run clear when chicken is pierced with a fork.

Optional Step: Sprinkle chopped olives evenly over the top of the chicken after it has finished cooking. Cover and cook on High about 5 additional minutes, until olives are heated through.

My Own Tweak: I added 6 portabella mushroom buttons, sliced and diced, to the skillet with the tomatoes. I'm confident mushrooms were in the diet of paleolithic man. Besides, I love 'em.

This dish is wonderful! Only make it if you respect your taste buds. And if you truly do respect them, take the next step and order The 163 Best Paleo Slow Cooker Recipes by Judith Finlayson.

November 13th, 2013

My Dell computer problems (see November 1st entry) continue. I finally called Dell after fighting for 5 1/2 straight hours to get my monitor to come on and of course the technician in India said he had to charge me $59.95 to assist me because my computer's warranty expired. I told him I would pay IF and only IF he could guarantee me he could fix the problem. He had to check with his supervisor, whom I also spoke to. Eventually they agreed and accepted my conditional $59.95. About an hour later they refunded it because they could not make it come on despite having me try 3 different strategies.

For the record, I continued trying things and shortly after 11 p.m., 11 1/2 hours after I started, I brought the screen to life. My next computer will be anything but a Dell.

Flag-draped casket being carried off aircraft

Veterans Day...let us not forget those who have always guarded our restful nights. This is not a day to remember the dead (that is Memorial Day's purpose) but rather a day to be grateful for all who have served and are serving. Still, I could not resist posting this poignant photo, the origin of which I have no knowledge.

I went to Chili's on Veterans Day and received a free meal. I selected the Margarita Chicken and it was excellent. The chicken breast was fork tender and the black beans, rice and pico de gallo with lime topping was perfectly balanced (and healthy). Of course I blew it all by ordering their Molten Chocolate Cake for dessert (topped with vanilla ice cream with chocolate shell and drizzled with caramel), so I attempted to walk it off when I got home. My goal was 3 miles, which I figured would burn the dessert's calories, but after a mile I turned around and headed home. Well, 2 miles are better than none.

I am grateful to Chili's and the other 70 or so restaurant chains that opened their doors to veterans and fed them for free (the dessert was on me). That's more than a mere "thank you." I'm also grateful to Chili's for being one of 123 employer participants in the 100,000 Jobs Mission to hire 100,000 veterans. If anyone needs a job it is the men and women who put their civilian lives on hold to serve in our nation's armed forces, knowing a tour in a combat zone was almost a certainty. I wish more employers joined in this effort to move veterans to the front of the line.

To all who wore the uniform, past and present, thank you for your service from the bottom of my heart.

A ripe pineapple on the plant
This is what a ripe Hawaiian pineapple looks like
nice and golden

God bless whomever it was from Nanakuli, Oahu, Hawaii that sent me the bottle of homemade pineapple wine. Most of the "from" address was missing as that corner of the box was partially damaged, but the wine itself was intact. I opened it last night after 3 hours in the refrigerator and it is excellent. Also, the 11.25% alcohol is perfect.

The bottle sweated after refrigeration and streaked the beautiful label before I thought of photographing it and now I can't, but "Paradise Pineapple Wine" is a fitting name and was worked nicely into the design. Please send me an email so I can thank you personally.

I've said it before on this WineBlog and on my Winemaking Home Page, you can't make great pineapple wine without pineapple freshly harvested at the peak of ripeness. A pineapple does not continue to ripen after it is harvested so what it is then is the best it will ever be.

I've had friends returning from Hawaiian vacations pick me up a twin-pack of harvested-that-day pineapples at the airport so I could make wine. The ones I buy here in Texas, which come from Mexico, don't hold a candle to the fresh Hawaiians even though pineapples originated from Mexico.

So I really appreciate the bottle of wine. I just wish I knew who sent it....

In 1882 Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience." This is good advice to follow in making wine. Both yeast and malo-lactic bacteria have life-spans we cannot accurately predict, although the latter's span is much shorter than the former. But more importantly, you can't rush aging, which depends on progressive chemical reactions that are time-dependent.

So in winemaking and many other endeavors, follow Emerson's advice and adopt the pace of nature -- patience.

Artichoke Wine

Artichoke, trimmed for quartering, photo from internet under Fair Use Act of 1984
Artichoke, trimmed for quartering

About 15 years ago I made a wine from artichokes on a whim. It turned out very well and I published the recipe some five years later when someone from California requested an artichoke wine recipe. Last year I revisited this wine and improved upon the recipe. The result is a nice, spicy white that pairs well with fish or fowl entrees, cheesy pasta dishes and fruit or mixed salads.

Artichokes are an unlikely candidate for wine. The cultivated globe artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) is a variety of a species of thistle. The edible portion of the plant consists of the flower buds and their stems when harvested before the flowers come into bloom. Once the flower blooms, its bud changes to a largely inedible form. The wild variety of the species is called a cardoon, native to the Mediterranean region.

The flowers develop in a large edible bud about 3-6 inches in diameter with numerous triangular bracts or scales. The edible portions of the buds consist primarily of the fleshy lower portions of the bracts and the base, known as the "heart." The mass of immature florets in the center of the bud is called the "choke" and is usually discarded.

We know from written records that artichokes were cultivated at least as far back as ancient Greece and the globe artichoke appeared by the 9th century in Naples. Further improved cultivars appear to have been developed in Muslim Spain and northwest Africa in the medieval period and subsequently moved northward into Europe, England, and eventually the United States. In 2010 Italy was the world's leader in artichoke production (400,000 tons), more that 12 times the production of the United States (39,000 tons).

Preparing artichokes for wine is similar to preparing them for eating. The uppermost inch or so of the globe is cut away to remove the topmost spiny tips and the upper 1/4 of each remaining intact bract is individually cut away for the same reason. Normal food preparation leaves the globes whole while being steamed or boiled, but for wine more flavor is extracted if the globes are quartered top to stem before boiling.

  • 4 1/2 lbs artichokes
  • 12-oz container 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate
  • 1 3/4 lbs finely granulated sugar
  • 1 large lemon, juiced
  • 1 large orange, juiced
  • 1 oz ginger root, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
  • 6 1/2 pts water
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • sherry wine yeast

Cut ends from artichoke spines (as above), and slice the ginger root. Qyarter the artichokes lengthwise (top to stem). Meanwhile, bring water to boil. Put artichokes and ginger in water and boil for 30 minutes, covered. Meanwhile, juice the orange and lemon and immediately add juice to boiling water. Remove water from heat after 30 minutes and allow to cool. Strain off artichokes and ginger and save the artichokes for your next meal. Pour cooled artichoke-ginger water into primary. Add thawed grape concentrate, tannin, 1 pound of sugar, and yeast nutrient, then stir well until sugar is completely dissolved. Add activated yeast in a starter solution and cover the primary.

Ferment vigorously for 7 days, then add 1/2 pound of sugar, stir well to dissolve, and re-cover primary. After another 7 days, add final 1/4 pound of sugar, stir well to dissolve and again cover primary and set aside for two weeks. Rack into secondary, add one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up if required and attach airlock. After 2 months, rack, top up and reattach airlock. Allow 90 days for wine to clear. If it does not clear on its own, add amylase according to its instructions. When clear, rack again, top up and refit airlock. Age 2 months and add juice of an additional lemon if needed (if wine tastes flat). Stabilize with 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet and refit airlock. After final 30 days, rack into bottles and allow 3 months rest before drinking. [JackKeller's own recipe]

You may want to sweeten this wine very slightly after stabilizing, just enough to bring it off bone dryness, but the wine is intended to be dry and not sweet so don't overdo the sweetening.

Serve chilled. Drink within one year. This wine peaks about then.

My Secret Baked Beans Recipes

Jack Keller's South Texas Baked Beans, photo by Jack Keller
Jack Keller's South Texas Baked Beans, photo
by Jack Keller

Here are two recipes that will probably make the best baked beans you'll ever taste. I debated whether to share them or not. It's nice to have one or two things you make that everyone raves about and yet you keep the recipes secret just to make them truly "yours." That's how I feel about these recipes. On the other hand, I want you to try them, so here they are.

I started with a recipe called "Best Baked Beans" I found on the internet and modified it and then modified it again. You can tweak either recipe below to your heart's content, but I don't know if you can make either better.

I've created two versions. The first is for you folks unfortunate enough to live in areas where you can't get nopalitos -- diced cactus pads. There is no substitute. The other is for you folks who can obtain them. Also, the first calls for jalapeno peppers because they are widely available. The other is for those in nopalito country who can also probably get Hatch green chilies (when in season). If they aren't available fresh, pick up a can of diced Hatch green chilies.

The goal here was to create the perfect balance of blended flavors, so nothing dominates and yet nothing is unnoticed, even if only a strong "hint" comes through. It is what we strive for when making wines -- the perfect balance between sugar (whether it be revealed in sweetness or withheld in dryness), alcohol, acid and tannin, distributed throughout the flavors of the base (grape, fruit, berry, etc.) and tied together in body and announced through aroma and bouquet.

I dice my jalapenos very finely, my green bells a little larger and my red bells larger still -- the latter about 1/4-inch square. The distribution of each is perfect for the release of flavor each possesses. My nopalitos and onion are also diced about 1/4-inch square. You can dice yours any way you want.

I specified Colman's dry mustard because it has a unique flavor among mustards. The original recipe did not specify any brand and was only 1/2 teaspoon, but I wanted a bolder statement and yet it remains subtle.

Preparation time is about 1 hour for each recipe, baking time is 2 hours 30 minutes.

Jack Keller's Baked Beans

(Makes a lot, perfect for a pot luck entree, but if making for yourself or family you can containerize the leftovers and store in your freezer or refrigerator)

  • 2 large cans (28-ounce each) baked beans
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon Colman's mustard powder
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1/2 large green bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 large red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 large jalapenos, deseeded and diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 pound (8 ounces by weight) bacon, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1 small can crushed pineapple
  • (optional spices)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom or ginger
  • (reserve)
  • 1/4 cup Bourbon
  • 1/2 small can sliced black olives

Dice the onion, bell peppers and jalapenos; set aside.

In a large skillet, cook the bacon, stirring/flipping often, until just browned and chewable but not crisp. Remove from skillet and set aside.

Drain off all but about 2 tablespoons of bacon grease. Immediately add onions, bell peppers and jalapenos to skillet and sauté, stirring frequently, until softened slightly but still crunchy. Add bacon and garlic and stir continuously for 3 minutes.

While onions/peppers are sautéing, mix together in large bowl the beans, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, ketchup, dry mustard, spices (optional), and pineapple. When skillet content are cooked, add to bowl and mix to integrate.

Pour contents into large oven-proof casserole and bake covered at 300 degrees for 1 hour 15 minutes, then remove cover and continue baking another 45 minutes. Remove from oven, increase oven to 350 degrees, and stir bourbon and sliced black olives into beans. Return beans to oven for 30 minutes, uncovered. Remove and serve immediately. Allow leftovers to cool about 2 hours before containerizing.

Jack Keller's South Texas Baked Beans

(Makes a lot, perfect for a pot luck entree, but if making for yourself or family you can containerize the leftovers and store in your freezer or refrigerator)

  • 2 large cans (28-ounce each) baked beans
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup canned diced roasted tomatoes, drained
  • 1 teaspoon Colman's mustard powder
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2/3 cup nopalitos, diced
  • 1/2 large green bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 large red bell pepper, diced
  • 3 Hatch green chilies, deseeded and diced (or 1 small can of same)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 pound (12 ounces by weight) bacon, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1 small can crushed pineapple
  • (optional spices)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried, crushed cilantro
  • (reserve)
  • 1/4 cup Mezcal, Tequila or Dorwart (Mexican) Whiskey
  • 1/2 small can sliced olives

Dice the onion, bell peppers, nopalitos and chilies; set aside.

In a large skillet, cook the bacon, stirring/flipping often, until just browned and chewable but not crisp. Remove from skillet and set aside.

Drain off all but about 2 tablespoons of bacon grease. Immediately add onions, bell peppers, nopalitos and diced chilies to skillet and sauté, stirring frequently, until softened slightly but still crunchy. Add bacon and garlic and stir continuously for 3 minutes.

While onions/peppers/nopalitos are sautéing, mix together in large bowl the beans, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, drained diced tomatoes, dry mustard, spices (optional), and pineapple. When skillet contents are cooked, add to bowl and mix to integrate.

Pour contents into large oven-proof casserole and bake covered at 300 degrees for 1 hour 15 minutes, then remove cover and continue baking another 45 minutes. Remove from oven, increase oven to 350 degrees, and stir the liquor sliced olives into beans. Return beans to oven for 30 minutes, uncovered. Remove and serve immediately. Allow leftovers to cool about 2 hours before containerizing.

You cannot imagine how good these baked ingredients are in both recipes. The sautéed ingredients should still retain texture and be chewable. You'll notice I did not add salt. The bacon and baked beans add all the salt either dish needs.

November 22nd, 2013

On JFK, Wine Science, Van Damme, and Obamacare

My late father was born on November 22, 1921. He would have turned 92 today. His 42nd birthday was an unforgettably sad day for him, the whole family and the entire nation. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy ripped the heart out of the nation.

Today, of course, is the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination. It occurred in the dawn -- not the prime -- of Kennedy's presidency and left us with an unfinished legacy. But it was more than that.

As a nation, we lost our innocence. The years that followed were ugly, even hateful, and certainly chaotic. The assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were symptoms. The "summer of love" was a distraction that gave way to the antiwar riots that epitomized the late '60s. I'm not going to write a summary of the history that followed, but will say it really wasn't pretty. Yes, we had high points -- Neil Armstrong's "one small step," the heroic efforts to save Apollo 13 and the celebration of our bicentennial to name three -- but these were offset by Watergate, the rise of OPEC, our hostages in Iran, the rise (and fall) of corporate Japan, and periodic skyjackings and acts of terrorism.

We look back on that dark day in Dallas fifty years ago as the day the darkness began. We hunger for the idealism we lost, for what might have been.

I loved JFK. I was liberal then, as most young people are, but I thought JFK was spot on in cutting taxes to revive the economy. The lesson he taught me -- that by cutting taxes you allow more money to circulate and stimulate economic growth while at the same time boosting tax revenues because of the extra economic activity -- stuck with me over the years and was instrumental in steering me toward conservatism when the Democrats fought every subsequent tax cut while championing programs that subsidized what I thought was irresponsible behavior.

In hindsight, Kennedy was charismatic, charming and a loving father -- and he had Jackie, his greatest asset -- but he was not nearly as great a president as liberal historians make him out to be. He had potential in spades but needed a second term to bring it to fruition. He was nonetheless a breath of fresh air and an incredible inspiration. He was as much an idealist as is President Obama, but they are polar opposites on the spectrum of Democratic thought. I miss him dearly, still.

Ronald S. Jackson's 'Wine Science, Third Edition: Principles and Applications (Food Science and Technology)'

Last Christmas my wife gave me the 1,242-page Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including their Origins and Flavours by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz, a gift I cherish and peruse often. If you are looking for a super gift for your winemaking partner, giving him or her what I received would not be an unappreciated gift. But if your winemaker is more into the winemaking part than the grape varieties part, then I would suggest Ronald S. Jackson's Wine Science, Third Edition: Principles and Applications (Food Science and Technology).

Jackson himself wrote:

When the opportunity presented itself to teach a course in wine technology, it was discouraging to find that most texts failed to mention many aspects that personally seemed fascinating. These included topics such as the evolution of grape vines, the origin of cultivars, the essential differences between the multitude of training systems, soil microbiology, cold hardiness, the breeding and origin of wine yeasts, cork structure and function, oak anatomy relative to barrel making, various special wine making techniques (e.g., botrytised, appassimento, and carbonic maceration wines), the logic behind various appellation control laws, and the psychophysiology of wine sensory evaluation. With so many topics missing, I seized on the chance to fill the void. The reception Wine Science has received appears to have justified my view that what was lacking did indeed merit coverage.

This book is not a guide to making wine, but an understanding of what is happening when you do make it. My copy is well-used, heavily bookmarked and usually my first or second go-to book when I want to understand some aspect of winemaking or search for a solution to a problem.

This 772-page jewel is not cheap, with a list price of $155, but I can guide you to some respectable bargains. If you click right here, it will take you to Amazon's page for this book. As I write this, the book is temporarily out of stock at Amazon, but if you look just underneath the "temporarily out of stock" notice you'll see that many new copies are available starting (at this moment) at $90.71 (in the UK) and $124.99 (in the USA). But shop early because the cheaper ones will go fast and leave you looking at more expensive options.

You may have seen this already, but you may not know the details behind it. 53-year old Jean-Claude Van Damme's Volvo truck commercial is one of the best commercials I've ever seen. It's mesmerizing, an unbelievable feat of strength, flexibility and balance, and I'm quite sure I will never forget it. If you don't know what I'm talking about, please do yourself a favor and take a look:

The story behind this incredible commercial is that the drivers practiced it for three days (they are, after all, driving backwards -- no small feat) and when the time came to do the commercial they shot it in one take. One...!

Jean-Claude was hooked up to unseen safety wires in case the unthinkable happened and his feet were resting on special platforms welded to the mirror mounts, but he wasn't strapped in or locked onto the platforms and the safety wires didn't reduce the weight or stress on his legs as he went into the full split. Absolutely incredible, both in terms of physical ability and perfect execution by the two drivers.

Go ahead and watch it again. I did...several times.

Healthcare.gov's 'Please Wait' page

On November 8th, Bret Bair read an email from "Bill in Kentucky" on Fox News. I searched for the email for two days, but only found it many days later. I'm paraphrasing the email here.

Obamacare was signed into law on March 21st, 2010 and went into effect with the Healthcare.gov roll-out on October 1st, 2013. The interval between the signing and roll-out was 3 years, 6 months and 10 days.

The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 and Germany declared war on the United States. Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 8th, 1945. The interval between Germany's declaration of war on the United States and its unconditional surrender was 3 years, 5 months and 1 day, This was 1 month and 9 days less time than the interval between passing Obamacare and rolling out its implementing website.

Following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor and Germany's declaration of war on the United States we mobilized 16.1 million citizens into the armed forces, produced 22 aircraft carriers, 8 battleships, 48 cruisers, 349 destroyers, 420 destroyer escorts, 203 submarines, 34 million tons of merchant ships, 100,000 fighter aircraft, 98,000 bombers, 24,000 transport aircraft, 58,000 training aircraft, 93,000 tanks, 257,000 artillery pieces, 105,000 mortars, 3,000,000 machine guns, and 2,500,000 military trucks.

We invaded North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Normandy, fought the Battle of the Bulge, and raced to Berlin -- all while we were also fighting the Japanese in the Pacific.

And in the time we did all of that, plus 1 month and 9 days, the Obama Administration could not even build a working website. Think about it...!

[Note: I am leaving the email now and voicing my own opinions. Feel free to disagree.]

Of course the website is only the tip of the iceberg. There are still millions of people losing their healthcare plans after being promised by President Obama, "If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan. Period."

There wasn't any fine print, ifs or maybes in that statement he repeated ad nausea, but a "period." Now millions of Americans are finding out that what the President promised is not only not true but was never an intended feature of the Affordable Care Act in the first place. The whole idea was to force you into the exchanges. Further, many are finding out that there is nothing "affordable" about the Affordable Care Act unless you receive a subsidy, and even then your deductibles will be substantial and, for many, unaffordable. To keep as few people as possible from feeling the financial reality of this law before the mid-term elections in November, President Obama has delayed implementing as much of it as he can by fiat until after the elections, something he has no constitutionsl power to do. By allowing him to do it, Congress is yielding to an unhealthy precedent of usurption.

Any time a loan officer insists you have to sign a contract in order to find out what is in it you know you are being told to bend over. That's what Nancy Pelosi did, insisting they had to pass the ACA in order to find out what was in it. Not one Republican was stupid enough to bend over and vote for this travesty, but all those lockstep gullible Democrats did. That's when government of the people, by the people and for the people was replaced with government of the party, by the party and for the party.

The Democrats in the Senate reinforced this by changing the filibuster rule, which has been in effect since Thomas Jefferson wrote the Senate Rules, to allow them to break a filibuster by 51 votes rather than 60 and pass President Obama's nominees to expand the Washington Court of Appeals and make it forever liberal.

Some Democrats did not lie and deceive the American people to get Obamacare passed because they were not allowed to read it and did not know what was actually in it, but others did because they designed it. But all have turned into outright bullies to pack the federal courts with radical judicial activists. They will regret this vote when the Republicans take control of the Senate, which is bound to happen some day. I think JFK is probably turning over in his grave. The framers of our Constitution, who did everything they could to dilute power in government and divest it in the states, most certainly are.


Budding yeast (photo from 'Molecular Cell Physiology' under Fair Use Act of 1984 for educational purposes)

I recently received an email complaining about a failed blackberry wine. When I questioned the writer he admitted he relied on "spontaneous fermentation," meaning he let the wild yeast on the blackberries do the fermentation. I wrote about this in my very first WineBlog back in April 2003 which was about yeast. With minor editing, here is my first blog entry.

I am fond of reminding people that yeast make the wine. We, as winemakers, simply orchestrate the process as best we can. We arrange the environment yeast live and work in and clean up after they are gone, but they truly do the work. And what magnificent and efficient workers they are! If we are half as good at orchestrating as they are at doing what they do, ogether we will make some pretty good wine.

There are two approaches to yeast when making wine. You can use the wild yeast that ride in on the skins of the grapes, fruit or berries you choose to make your wine from. In this case you are not orchestrating the making of the wine, but rather leaving it up to chance. You are betting the yeast that dominate the fermentation are good yeast for making wine. Usually, they will be and the wine will at least be decent and often good. Occasionally, they won't be and the result will make good vinegar but terrible wine.

You can also use a cultured wine yeast that was isolated and selected because of the unique characteristics it imparts while fermenting sugar into ethanol and carbon dioxide. Make a 5- or 6-gallon batch of blackberry must and then break it down into 1-gallon primaries. Inoculate each with different yeast. The result will be five or six different wines. The differences between some may be insignificant, but certain yeasts will make superior blackberry wine. I have run this experiment six times, making 32 individual batches of blackberry wine. Without doubt, almost all of the Burgundy strains consistently make great blackberry wine.

In 2001, I made 13 gallons of blackberry and fermented them with all of the Burgundy strains I could obtain. There were almost no differences in the young wines, but after 18 months the Lalvin RC212 and RA17 strains each had more complex bouquets, retained richer colors and possessed creamier mouthfeel. Gervin Yeast No. 2 (Red Label) made a superb full-bodied wine with a delightful, lingering finish. I regret some of the yeasts out today were not available then, for I would have loved to include them in this trial. All three of the mentioned wines, by the way, have earned blue ribbons.

Yeast are a tool. Choose the strain you use carefully and it will serve you well. If you choose to use wild yeast, just remember that you really are rolling the dice.

November 30th, 2013

I spent Thanksgiving with family. The fellowship, conversations and food were all special. My nephew Tim is a great cook and put together a meal that would be hard to beat. We all had much to be thankful for. I hope your day was special, too.

Cranberries, halved, ready for fermentation
Cranberries, halved, ready for fermentation

A friend wrote and lamented that there are only apples, oranges, bananas, lemons and limes available at his grocery right now. He asked what kind of other wines can he make at this time of year. I wrote back and suggested he start thinking outside the norm.

Cranberries are definitely in season right now and make a fantastic blush, sweet or dry, and dried cranberries are available all year. Sliced or slivered almonds, rutabagas, snow peas in the pod, carrots, cabbage, sweet potatoes, beets, celery -- all are there to make wine with. I also directed him to the frozen concentrate fruit juice selections. And don't ignore the canned fruit and jelly sections. Just read the labels first and avoid sorbic or benzoic acids. Jellies are easy to make wine with but you do have to negate all the pectin with pectic enzyme.

There is never a time of year that nothing is available to make wine with. The trick is thinking beyond the conventional. Go to the requested recipes section of my website and browse the long list of wines below the main entry. You can't help finding something you can start now. There is also a list of links immediately following the recipe list that contain other wine recipes.

Just do it and have fun.

Jase, Si, Willie, Phil

I make no bones about the fact that I'm a huge Duck Dynasty fan. The show makes me laugh and that suits me fine. I have no time to waste watching people bidding on storage lockers and luggage, chasing gators or hogs, eating weird food, shopping, or most of the other activities that pass for "reality" shows. I do like to watch the finals of some of the talent shows, but not well enough to watch a whole season and I've never, ever watched Dancing With the Stars. Some things interest me and some things don't.

We all have different tastes in what we like to watch. I loved the series Lost, Boston Legal, 24, Burn Notice, and Monk. I also like CSI Miami, Criminal Minds, The Blacklist, The Vikings, and, of course, Duck Dynasty.

Duck Dynasty is funny, I like the characters, I like it that they are in Louisiana -- my birth state -- and they are Robertsons, my maternal grandfather's name. But there is no family tie. My grandfather's line hails from East Texas, not northeast Louisiana.

The Robertson family of Duck Dynasty is a real family. Their story is actually rather incredible. Phil, the father, was raised dirt poor in the woods where the family subsisted on what they killed, caught or grew. But he was an all-state class high school athlete in football, baseball and track. He got a football scholarship to Louisiana Tech University where he was the first string quarterback, with football Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw sitting on the bench as his backup. He turned down a recruitment feeler by the Washington Redskins because it would interfere with his duck seasons. Phil earned both Bachelor and Master Degrees in education and taught for several years. In 1972 he made a better duck call than any then on the market and gave up teaching to market his duck call. He was smart enough to patent his design and today is worth an estimated $11.8 million.

Phil and his wife, Miss Kay, have four sons -- Alan, Willie, Jason (Jase), and Jeptha (Jep). Alan is a clean shaven minister and rarely appears on the show. Willie, with a business degree, became CEO of the family business, Duck Commander, and grew it into a multimillion dollar company. Their videos on duck and deer hunting techniques are considered the best there are.

The show centers around the antics and adventures of the parents, Uncle Silas (Si), the three bearded sons and their wives, their children, and a few friends. It is fair to say the three sons outwardly display maturity problems, but it could also be described as brotherly competiveness and contrariness carried to extremes. Uncle Si, who is Phil's brother, is also a genuine character I won't try to describe. You have to see him over several episodes to understand. He is simply unique.

If you want to know more, there are a couple of links at the end of today's entry, but better yet, watch them on A&E on Wednesdays. I'll met you there....

Back when men were men, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew that sooner or later the United States was going to be drawn into the war against Adolf Hitler. He called upon several industrialists to prepare for transition to production of war materiel and to produce equipment he could "lend-lease" to Britain. Among those he called upon was Henry Ford, who was asked to build a plant to produce components for the B24 Liberator bomber, which would then be assembled by Consolidated Aircraft and Douglas Aircraft, the plane's designers. Ford went way beyond what Roosevelt asked.

At first he did as asked and built a plant at Willow Run, Michigan which opened in June 1941, almost six months before the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the war. But remote assembly proved problematic. Ford was determined that he could mass produce bombers just as he had done with cars and within months he received permission to build complete Liberators. The Willow Run plant was greatly expanded and would become the largest single building in the world at that time and would produce a completed B24 bomber every 55 minutes. Think about that. A complete bomber, with 1,250,000 parts, every 55 minutes!

Ford had its own ground crews to service and pre-flight test every component system and its own pilots to test fly each aircraft before delivering it to the Army Air Corps. Watch the following short video of the plant's production line and testing and be amazed. This was before robotic welders -- before robotic anything -- and a testament to what this nation was once capable of doing.

Needless to say, Adolf Hitler had no idea the United States was capable of this sort of production when he hastily declared war on the United States following Pearl Harbor. Over 8,500 Liberator bombers were produced in less than four years.

Apple Sherry

<i>The Alaskan Bootlegger's Bible</i>

I received an email asking me what I thought of the Apple Sherry recipe in The Alaskan Bootlegger's Bible by Leon W. Kania. I replied with my own variation of Leon's recipe, which I'll share here with apologies to Leon.

I have mixed feelings about Leon's book. On the one hand he covered a lot of ground in a single book -- wine, beer, cider, moonshine and liqueurs. On the other hand he sacrificed detail for general procedure. The latter is crucially important but does not cover all circumstances. The devil is often in the details.

For this particular wine, Leon's instructions are:

Chop and mash apples. Boil apricots in 1 gallon of water. Pour hot fluid over apples and add yeast when cool. Ferment for two weeks, then rack into another container. Add shredded wheat and chopped raisins and then ferment for approximately three more weeks, When fermentation stops, rack and bottle. Proceed with basic wine making steps on page 20.

There can be no doubt the last two sentences should be switched. You need to proceed with the basic steps he covered on pages 20-23 before you bottle the wine. But this and similar gaffs are really only minor annoyances. Anyone with a brain between their ears ought to figure out how to re-order the instructions.

This is a very enjoyable and often humorous book to read even though rather basic (but sufficient to make good wine and other beverages) and very low tech. He explains how to do almost everything as cheaply as one can -- including building or making most of your equipment. I know this will appeal to many readers -- there was a time my circumstances dictated I do the same -- but I hope anyone who follows his "on the cheap" advice upgrade their equipment as soon as they can. You can buy the book by clicking on its image on the right.

I actually adapted and restructured this recipe years ago to my own methods and presented my version of it last year in my July 5th, 2012 blog entry. I'm posting it again because I wish to explain something I failed to do last year and make a couple of minor adjustments that didn't quite make it from wine log to WineBlog.

A few words about raisins may be helpful. You can use dark raisins or golden raisins. I use golden raisins because I like the lighter color and adequate flavor they impart on the sherry. Dark raisins impart a stronger sherry-like flavor, but golden raisins suit me fine. You have to decide for yourself. Just remember that darker raisins also mean a darker color, which might not look right in an apple-based wine.

Chopping raisins is not easy. Once cut, the reduced pulp sticks to the knife and you spend more time scraping sticky pulp from the knife (and your fingers) than you do chopping raisins, and the knife is difficult to clean afterwards. I use a mincer, an old fashioned device that clamps onto the counter or table edge, has a hopper above and worm gear inside that turns by a hand-crank to move the raisins into a rotating cutting disk. It is much easier to use but still requires soapy water and elbow grease to clean. Both chopping (and mincing) are easier if the raisins are soaked overnight in warm water.

Please read the instructions carefully. This wine is made in steps.

Apple Sherry Recipe

  • 6 lbs tart apples
  • 1 lb dried apricot halves chopped
  • 1 lb raisins chopped or minced
  • 1 large shredded wheat biscuit
  • 2 lbs granulated sugar
  • 7 pts water
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • packet Red Star Premier Curvee wine yeast

Wash and inspect apples. Cut out any brown spots or insect damage. Cut and core apples, then chop apples into 1/4 to 1/3-inch slices. Place apples in fine-mesh nylon straining bag and tie closed. Place in primary. Chop dried apricot halves into several pieces each. Place in 6-quart or larger pot and add water. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Strain off solids (use them in a pie, muffins, jam or just eat them) and pour the water over apples. When cool add pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient. Cover primary and set aside 10-12 hours. Add activated yeast in a starter solution. Recover primary. Punch apples down 2-3 times a day for two weeks. Remove bag, drip dry and discard apples.

Add sugar to primary and stir well to dissolve. Place chopped or minced raisins and shredded wheat biscuit in nylon straining bag and place in primary. The shredded wheat adds nutrients and body to the wine -- much as adding barley or cracked wheat would. Submerge bag 2-3 times a day for 3 weeks. Remove bag and let drip drain (do not squeeze). Discard raisins/shredded wheat. Rack wine into secondary and attach airlock. Rack after 2 months and allow another month for all lees to drop. Rack, add another 1/2 teaspoon of pectic enzyme, top up and refit airlock. When perfectly clear, bottle wine and allow at least 6 months to mature. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

Apple sherry will last several years, but there is no reason to keep it more than two years if you make a batch every year.

December 16th, 2013

I had planned to publish on December 7th with a whole blog entry on my thoughts of that historic day, but I had both computer and internet connectivity issues and only recently recovered both. The piece will have to await next year.

But following the planned historical footnote, today is the 240th anniversary of a crucial event that, in less than three years, would result in the American Revolution.

During late night hours of December 16, 1773, a group of men (variously estimated as 30 to 130), most members of the Sons of Liberty, dressed up as Mohawk Indians, boarded the ships Dartmouth, Eleanor and Beaver and dumped their entire cargos -- 342 chests if tea bearing a tax the colonies had not approved -- into Boston Harbor. The issue was not the Tea Tax itself, but how the tax was passed -- without approval by the colonies. The deeply cherished concept of "no taxation without representation" would ultimately be the lynch-pen issue that led to the revolution.

To celebrate the occasion, I brewed some tea today. I paid a sales tax on the tea, not a tea tax.

I like clever things. Here are some puns I received via email. Thank you Leon.

  • I tried to catch some fog. I mist.
  • When chemists die, they barium.
  • Jokes about German sausage are the wurst.
  • A soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.
  • I know a guy who's addicted to brake fluid. He says he can stop any time.
  • How does Moses make his tea? Hebrews it.
  • I stayed up all night to see where the sun went. Then it dawned on me.
  • This girl said she recognized me from the vegetarian club, but I'd never met herbivore.
  • I'm reading a book about anti-gravity. I can't put it down.
  • I did a theatrical performance about puns. It was a play on words .
  • They told me I had type A blood, but it was a type-O.
  • This dyslexic man walks into a bra .
  • PMS jokes aren't funny, period.
  • I didn't like my beard at first. Then it grew on me.
  • A cross-eyed teacher lost her job because she couldn't control her pupils?
  • When you get a bladder infection, urine trouble.
  • What does a clock do when it's hungry? It goes back four seconds..
  • I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me!
  • Broken pencils are pointless.
  • What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary? A thesaurus.
  • England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool .
  • I used to be a banker, but then I lost interest.
  • I dropped out of communism class because of lousy Marx.
  • All the toilets in London police stations have been stolen. Police say they have nothing to go on.
  • I took the job at a bakery because I kneaded dough.
  • Velcro - what a rip off!
  • Cartoonist found dead in home. Details are sketchy

I was sent a video clip of Dinesh DSousa and Michael Shermer debating Obamacare at the Socrates Club of Oregon University back on 10/8/12. It gives interesting perspective into taxes and welfare generally and socialized health care (Obamacare) specifically. It is relatively short and well worth viewing. but I warn you that it requires some thoughtful interpolation on your part. Do not watch it if you are mentally challenged.

I thought it was brilliant use of metaphors to win debating points. Speaking of debate, I wish logic and debate were required subjects to get a high school diploma. Too many people have no concept of logic or fallacy, and that goes double for politicians and television pundits. I am sick and tired of the fallback tactic of both when confronted with argument or fact to avoid the point raised by (a) avoiding the issue by changing the subject, or (b) avoiding the issue by asking a question which essentially changes the subject, or (c) by reciting talking points rather than rebut the argument or fact, or (d) attack someone ad hominem rather than address the point raised.

These tactics (and others) for dodging an issue, while glorified by Saul Alinsky in his Rules for Radicals and embraced by the left, are actually cowardly and belittling of the practitioner. I will say no more about this. It elevates my blood pressure. The video above presented effective debate.

Author at Knoxville
Answering questions is what I like to do...

Collectively, my computer and internet connectivity were down for almost nine full days. When I got back online, I had 211 emails in my private account, 14 in another and 268 in my winemaking account. It takes time just to navigate through these and weed out the spam that got by my filters, read everything, and answer the ones that appear most in need of answering.

Please remember: I do not answer emails asking questions that are already answered on my site. I am not your search engine. But I do have a search engine on my site to assist you.

I answer about 15% of my email. I am not trying to be rude, but my time is limited and. I won't spend my days shackled to my computer.

My first entry below is a potpourri of answers I provided over the past two days that I felt may help the general reader. If you have a question, please use my website's search engine, built specifically for my site. But do not include the word "wine" in your search query (e.g. "persimmon wine") or it will call up every page in my website -- over 500 -- because they all contain the word "wine.". In the example, "persimmon" would be enough.

My second entry below is a lamb chop recipe I made up during the week. It's damned good, but the secret is the Louisiana Sweet Fig Pepper Jam. I cannot imagine it using any other jam except possibly their Satsuma Habanero Jelly. The pepper is jalapeno (we call them jalapeno chilies in Texas, but those Cajuns do their own thing).

You can order the jam from Louisiana Sweet Jams and Pepper Jellies (their Muscadine Pepper Jelly is my wife's all-time favorite jelly and mine is a 3-way tie -- Blackberry Pepper Jelly, Persimmon Pepper Jam and Mayhaw Pepper Jelly). Anyway, when you get the jam, the recipe is here.

Tips, Questions and Answers

Rod's wines. 'I've been making wine 1 year now. This is what you started.'

I received 268 emails on my website's email account over a 9-day period when I was off-line. I've only answered a fraction of them, but in doing so realized some tips I received and answers to questions I provided might benefit others, so here is a potpourri of information you might find interesting.

I had read your advice a few months back for easily removing wine labels. I cannot find the Clorox Ultra Advantage, so I tried something else that worked out really well. I soak the bottles in hot water with a tiny bit of Dawn dishwashing liquid and some Oxiclean. After about 20 minutes, the labels are really easy to peel off. I occasionally use a knife with a curved blade, but they come off so easily this way that, if they don't peel off in one or two pieces, my fingernails work just fine. If there is any adhesive left, I use a brillo pad to remove it. Simple and fast!

Great tip and I'll pick up some Oxiclean next time I go to market. Here's another tip.

You recommend spinning the hydrometer after inserting it in a fermenting wine to prevent bubbles from attaching to it and causing it to rise higher than it should. While I agree with this whole heartedly, I go a step further, I insert a sanitized plastic spoon into the wine and give it a good stir before putting in the hydrometer and spinning it. This stirs up the lees, but also causes the millions of micro bubbles to collide and exit the wine quickly, giving truer reading.

Great tip! Not only does the agitation cause a momentary clearing of the wine of air bubbles, but the agitated lees also knock the air bubbles around and hasten their rise to the surface. The lees will settle quickly enough and really do not increase the density of the wine.

I made a 2 gallon batch of lime wine (with Mexican limes), and got the first gallon bottled, but one of the corks popped out while I was having dinner. I put a bung with an airlock on that bottle and overnight the other corks have moved up a bit (1/4 inch or less) but have not popped out. I had sweetened the wine with 3/4 cup of honey syrup 5 days after stabilizing it. I'm guessing that I should have waited longer before sweetening. What should I do at this point? I worry about the other corks popping out while I'm not around. I could take all the corks out and put bungs on all of them. Also, what about the other gallon?

Since I could not answer right after the query was sent, I said, "I assume by now you've done something with the lime wine.

"Over the years I've gone from stabilizing and sweetening; to stabilizing, waiting 2 weeks, and then sweetening; to stabilizing, waiting 30 days, then sweetening; and finally to stabilizing, waiting 30 days, sweetening, and then waiting 30 days more before bottling. You have to give the yeast time to die or make their last stand.

"If I could have answered you immediately I would have said to uncork, refill your secondary, and wait 30-45 days. I trust you at least got all the wine under airlocks. [That goes for the second gallon too.]"

I have a carboy full of pumpkin wine that has stopped fermenting. It was going gangbusters to 1.040 and I racked into 6 gallon carboy for 2nd Fermentation and wham, it stopped at 1.020. The recipe I used is with fresh pumpkin. Also, followed the directions and used Cote d’Blanc yeast.

I have read all the comments on stuck fermentation but still not sure what to do next. Is it possible the wine is completed at this high sg?

Should I use your starter system and give more yeast?

I think we have all been there. The question is what to do? My response: "Taste it. If it is too sweet, rack it again and wait a few weeks to see if it doesn't revive. If it doesn't, try restarting it [new yeast starter solution using Lalvin K1-V1116]. If you like it sweet, just rack it again, stabilize it and wait 2-3 months. It may or may not restart half-heartedly on its own. This is a situation known as limbo. We have no idea what is happening so must just wait. Take a gravity reading every month or so to get an idea if anything is going on you can't see."

I tried adapting your Cranberry-Raspberry Juice wine recipe to a Cranberry-Blackberry concentrate. I followed the recipe exactly except for the substitution of the Cranberry-Blackberry juice. I started this in May and it is still very gassy. Do you have any idea why? What can I do to fix this situation. I have already added the campden tablet, 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate. Upon doing this I had a volcano. That was on 10/31/13, Its still very gassy today. I just spent an hour stirring with my drill, degassing. Help!

I wrote: "Degassing is something that sometimes has a timetable of it's own. There might be a slow fermentation still going on or maybe even an MLF. However, you are doing the right thing. It might take another month or two for live yeast to die out, Give it a couple of weeks and degas again. If it is still gassy after that, give it another couple of weeks. We can hurry our own activities, but wine is another creature. I once had a wine that took almost two years to fully degas and I have no idea why. As they say, it is what it is."

That same person wrote back listing all the wines he has made in the one year he has been making wine. Impressive list! He sent me the photo above. "This is what you started!" he said. Yep! I know the feeling.

Finally, there was this:

I made a lemon wine from your recipe but did not use as many lemons as you specified. The wine therefore had a weak, flat lemon flavor. I was going to add some lemon extract to increase the flavor but noticed it was 40% alcohol. Will adding alcoholic extract skew the balance of the wine?

Great question, not so much for what was asked but for what was not.

A flat taste in a wine most often indicates insufficient acid. Add acid blend and the flavor will probably intensify.

But, if adding an alcohol-based extract, you will not add enough to increase the alcohol measurably. Indeed, when doing this add the extract 1/4 teaspoon at a time, stir well to integrate it and then taste. If you need more, add another 1/4 teaspoon. Extracts are highly concentrated, so not much is needed. However, there are other concerns.

Citrus concentrates can often contain the oil of the fruit (usually from the peel). Read the label carefully and do not add extracts containing more than a minimal amount (single digit percentile) of oil.

Further, extracts can add an artificial character to the wine that any wine judge trained in country wines can detect if overdone. The casual wine drinker may not notice it, but a wine judge probably will. A lemon wine, for example, should not taste like alcoholic lemonade but like lemon wine -- diluted lemon juice that has been fermented. The taste is different. All wines share this flavor change. If you ever get a chance to taste some Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, do so. They do not taste anything like the wine made from them.

Lamb Chops with Fig and Jalapeno Jam Sauce

Lamb chop with fig-pepper jam sauce, wild rice pilaf, green beans, and sweet corn
Lamb chop with fig-pepper jam sauce, wild rice pilaf,
green beans, and sweet corn

A jar of Louisiana Sweet Fig Pepper Jam, the pepper being jalapeno, inspired me. I had just returned from the butcher with four 1-inch thick lamb chops. Tasting the fig jam, I could imagine it blending with the lamb. I would not be disappointed.

First I made a thin marinade with the jam, white wine vinegar and freshly chopped rosemary. I placed the chops in a shallow Tupperware container and covered them with the marinade. I left the container in the refrigerator for two hours. I lined a roasting pan with aluminum foil, put its rack in place and spaced the chops on the rack. I then spooned half of the excess marinade over the chops.

Meanwhile, I heated the oven to 500° F. on convection broil. I put the chops in for 6 minutes, with the chops 6 inches below the broiling coils. Meanwhile I made a thick sauce using 3 tablespoons of jam, 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar and 2 teaspoons of chopped fresh rosemary. When the chops came out they were turned over, the remainder of the marinade spooned over them and they were returned to the oven for 3 minutes, at which time the internal temperature had reached 165° F. The marinade caramelized over both sides of the chops.

I placed a chop on each dinner plate accompanied with wild rice pilaf, cut green beans, sweet corn, and a dinner roll on the side. The thick sauce was divided among the chops sufficiently thick enough to ooze onto every slice of the meat. It was a delightful meal

December 25th, 2013

No real entry today -- just a brief message.

'Adoration of the Shepherds' by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622
Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst,

Today is Christmas and I wanted to wish all a safe and healthy holiday and share a couple of thoughts.

Having not quite recovered from the flu and a respiratory infection that devolved to the edge of pneumonia, the importance of health is uppermost on my mind right now. Take care of yourself.

I just wanted to acknowledge that this holiday celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Every year in December the news is full of assaults by atheists to remove Christ from Christmas.

No one has a "right" to be insulated from an idea they disagree with. If Christmas offends them, their annual assaults on Christmas offend me. I am just tolerant enough to accept their right to believe what they wish. They, on the other hand, not only do not accept my right to my own beliefs, they wish to eliminate public references to them. I only hope that one day they will grow up.

Merry Christmas to all. I hope to feel up to writing more soon.

In case I don't, please accept my best wishes to you and yours for the coming new year.

December 31st, 2013

Tomorrow the calendar turns to 2014 and yesterday I turned 69. For some reason 2014 doesn't sound much different than 2013, but 69 sounds much older than 68. I think the former is because both are early teen years, neither marking a midway point nor closing out a decade. The latter is probably because it pushes me up against another decade marker, albeit a year away. I may be 69, but I am also "going on 70." I am grateful for the years no matter how they sound. Having had my first heart attack at age 52, I honestly never expected to make it this far.

If you would like to wish me a belated happy birthday (many of you already did on Facebook), simply go to my WineBlog and Winemaking Home Page Facebook page and "like" it. If you have previously done this, thank you. Your thoughtfulness is enough to please me.

16 popular spices, graphic from http://fitfoodcoach.wordpress.com/2010/09/ under Fair Use Act of 1984

Yesterday I ventured out of my house for nonmedical reasons for the first time in 13 days while a lamb shoulder cooked in my slow cooker. I whipped the flu, but a stubborn respiratory infection simply had the best of me and I nearly spent Christmas in the hospital with pneumonia. I'll spare you the details and simply say I dared not go out and about with a chronic and acute cough as it could have spread the flu, which never really announces when it has departed. But I needed milk, butter, tea, and fresh fruit and vegetables, so I went to market. It was good to get out and about.

To be honest, I was going to save the prepared lamb for today and go to Chili's for dinner on my birthday, but when I lifted the lid of the sow cooker and smelled the lamb I changed my mind and hurriedly prepared accompanying vegetables.

The lamb turned out wonderful -- both tasty and unbelievably tender. I followed no recipe but rather my instincts and they proved appropriate. The secret was a spicy marinade, searing its surfaces on high heat and slow cooking it for about 8 hours.

When I returned from my third tour in Vietnam I was hungry for knowledge in many areas. You learn best when you want to learn. One of the things I wanted to know was the unique flavors different spices impart.

There was a store in Colorado Springs that sold bulk spices. I bought small samples of a dozen or so popular herbs and spices and prepared a chicken and rice dish each evening using just one spice, then two spices I often saw paired in recipes. Eventually my spice rack contained over 80 unique flavors. This is how I learned to incorporate herbs and spices into my cooking to make my own recipes and tweak existing ones. Anyone can do this. It just takes time and some conscientious note-taking.

Cooking is a joy for me, especially when I am free-wheeling it, Discovering on my own how to bring out the best in a food is always rewarding, as much so as making a wine from ingredients I can find no prior record of. Today's entry contains one such wine and a food recipe. Both are unique, both are delicious and both are mine. I hope you will try one -- or both.

For 50 years, from 1941 to 1991, Bob Hope (1903-2003) did an absolutely remarkable thing. He spent his Christmas' entertaining U.S. servicemen around the world. From 1941 through 1947 the Christmas shows were by radio, but in 1948 he took his show to Berlin during the Berlin Airlift and began a tradition that spanned 42 years.

That doesn't mean Bob Hope didn't tour the troops during those radio-Christmas years. In the summer of 1944 alone, Bob Hope hopped from island to island in the South Pacific to entertain the troops. It was an emotional, as well as dangerous, journey for Hope and his colleagues. He logged over 30,000 miles and gave more than 150 performances. But his reception by the troops during his 1948 Christmas tour to Berlin so moved Hope that he made it an annual event.

In 1943 John Steinbeck, then a war correspondent, wrote, "When the time for recognition of service to the nation in wartime comes to be considered, Bob Hope should be high on the list. This man drives himself and is driven. It is impossible to see how he can do so much, can cover so much ground, can work so hard, and can be so effective. He works month after month at a pace that would kill most people."

So beloved was Hope by the troops that year after year they bombarded Congress with pleas for special recognition. In 1997 Bob Hope was designated an honorary veteran for his humanitarian services to the United States Armed Forces by Congress. He is the only individual in history to have earned this honor. Hope remarked, "I've been given many awards in my lifetime, but to be numbered among the men and women I admire most is the greatest honor I have ever received."

Please take a few minutes to watch this tribute to this remarkably giving man and a legend to millions of veterans.

Bob Hope lived 100 years and 2 days shy of 2 months. He spent half of that life entertaining the troops. I know God blessed Bob just as Bob blessed us.

Raspberry Zinger Herbal Wine

Celestial Seasonings Raspberry Zinger Herbal Tea

Several years ago I made wine with Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger Tea. It was a huge success, so last year I made a batch of wine using Celestial Seasonings Raspberry Zinger Herbal Tea. Combining hibiscus, rosehips, roasted chicory, orange peel, blackberry and raspberry leaves, raspberries, and natural flavorings, the tea makes a rich tasting herbal brew that transfers nicely into the wine.

The rich red color, sweet-tart flavor and exhilarating aroma of raspberries are beautifully captured in this tea. It seemed like a natural base for a light, summer wine. The first challenge was to get the proportions right.

A box of tea contains 20 teabags, each of which brews 8 ounces of tea. The entire box makes 160 ounces, so only 16 bags are required to make 128 ounces or one gallon. I start with this number even though I'm going to include sugar and grape concentrate in the total mix. Each will displace and thus reduce the amount of water needed, but not tea. The amount of flavor required for a gallon of liquid remains the same whether part of the liquid is grape concentrate or water.

Raspberry Zinger Herbal Wine Recipe

  • 16 bags Celestial Seasonings Raspberry Zinger Herbal Tea
  • 1 12-ounce can Old Orchard or Welch's 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate
  • 1 lb 10 oz white granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 6-1/2 pints water
  • 1 packet Red Star Côte des Blancs wine yeast

Bring water to boil, turn off heat and insert teabags. Steep at least 5 minutes, but longer will do no harm. Remove tea bags, add sugar, acid blend and yeast nutrient; stir well to dissolve. Add thawed grape concentrate and stir to integrate. Cover and set aside to cool. When cooled to 95° F., transfer to primary and add yeast in a starter solution. Cover primary and set aside. Stir daily for 3 days and transfer to secondary when vigorous fermentation subsides and attach airlock. Wait 30 days and rack, add 1 finely crushed Campden tablet, top up and reattach airlock. Rack again every 30 days until clear, then add 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and another finely crushed Campden tablet* and sweeten to taste if desired. Wait another 30 days and bottle. Wait 3 months to taste but improves with time. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

*Do not add second Campden tablet 30 days after adding first. If wine is clear 30 days after adding first Campden tablet, rack and add both potassium sorbate and Campden tablet 30 days later.

I sweetened mine just enough to raise it from bone dryness to 1.000 s.g. and found this to be a delightful level for me. Your taste might differ.

Slow-Cooked Lamb Shoulder

Lamb shoulder, fork tender

A lamb shoulder can be bought bone-in or deboned. I bought the bone-in roast because it was much cheaper and the residual bones can be broken to reveal the marrow and used in soup. Either way, lamb shoulder is a great cut for roasting or slow-cooking.

I first score the fatty side in a tight diamond pattern, with scores about 1/2 inch apart. Then I place the roast in a gallon ZipLoc bag and add the marinade to it. After sealing the bag with as little air in it as I can manage, I turn the bag many times to spread the marinade over the whole surface and place it in the refrigerator. Every hour or so I turn it, leaving it in the refrigerator overnight when I turn in. I leave it overnight fat side up so the meat rests in the marinade for more intense flavoring.


  • 2 star anise, ground finely
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground fennel
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
  • sea salt to taste (I used about 3/4 tsp)
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc)

Remove bagged roast from refrigerator about 45-60 minutes before use. During that waiting time,

  • cut six 5-inch sprigs of rosemary
  • peel an entire cluster of garlic
  • set aside 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • slice 6 shallots in 1/4-inch slices

When the wait is over, heat an iron skillet on high. Add the olive oil. While oil is heating, remove roast from bag (reserve marinade) and coat all sides with the flour. Place roast in skillet and sear 3-4 minutes on each side (until just brown). While meat is browning, spread sprigs of rosemary and cloves of garlic evenly over bottom of slow-cooker. When all sides of roast are seared, place lamb roast on rosemary-garlic bed, fat side up, and pour marinade over roast. Spread slices of shallots over top of roast and place lid on slow-cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours.

Remove roast from slow-cooker to serving plate. Remove and discard rosemary sprigs from slow-cooker, leaving any leaves that fell off. Pour liquid from slow-cooker, plus garlic and shallot slices, into 2-cup glass measuring cup. Skim and discard all but about 1 tablespoon of fat from top of liquid. Pour liquid into iron skillet on medium heat and mash cloves of garlic and slices of shallot with wooden spoon. Add another 1/2 cup of wine to liquid. Slowly stir in 1/4 cup flour and continue stirring until liquid simmers. Simmer for 6-8 minutes, stirring frequently, to make a thin gravy. Transfer to a gravy boat with ladle for serving.

Pull apart the roast with two forks into serving size pieces (or cut if you prefer, although the roast will be very tender and may simply fall apart when trying to cut). Serve with your favorite vegetables and ladle gravy over lamb.

I added a tablespoon-size dollop of Louisiana Sweet Blackberry Pepper Jelly to the lamb before adding the gravy. I cannot imagine the lamb being better than this....

I served this with baked whole baby Yukon potatoes (smashed on the plate with a fork and covered with the gravy), steamed snow peas, cooked carrots, and beet wedges. I drank the open bottle of Sauvignon Blanc with the meal

Lamb is one of the most under-rated meats in America but some people simply won't eat it regardless of the many excellent ways it can be prepared. This same recipe (above) could be used with pork roast or even a thick beef chuck roast trimmed to fit the slow cooker (if necessary), although with beef I would change the wine to a Malbec, Shiraz or Tannat, add some ground sage and thyme to the marinade, add sprigs of basil to the bed of rosemary and garlic, replace the white pepper with black, and triple the number of shallots. But then, if you're the cook you can do it however you like. That's the fun of cooking.

Have a safe and sane New Year's celebration and I'll be back right here in 2014. God bless....

For earlier entries, see archives (left column)

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