A Rhubarb-Hawthorn Infusion starts the process
Making country wines is a pleasure I've long enjoyed. In climates north of grape growing regions people found ways to ferment the bounty of the landscape into local and regional favorites. With the simple process of fermentation, you can capture the nutrients abundant in one season and carry them forward for leaner times. Country wine making is fun and festive and a great way to weave yourself into into the cycles and seasons of the year.
One year I decided to pair whatever fruit or, in this case, vegetable with a flower that was blooming at the same time. Rhubarb is perfect with Hawthorn Flower not only because they happen simultaneously but because they both have an earthy quality that is accentuated in the finished wine. The rhubarb's sourness and the musty floral bouquet in hawthorn blend to create a tangy, lively wine unlike any other. One especially agreeable before a meal.
Collect rhubarb and hawthorn flower in the garden, hedge, farmer's market or at a neighbors! Crushing the rhubarb with a rolling pin helps the flavor infuse into the initial brew faster.
All you need are simple kitchen utensils for this process. Once it gets going you'll see how sugar feeds the yeast to form alcohol, oranges and lemons add acidity and black tea brings the astringency of tannins together in an alchemical process to achieve a rounded and full flavored wine.
Create a yeast nucleus by placing some of the sweetened infusion into a wine glass then adding 2 tsp of ordinary baking yeast. If using a wine yeast, cuvee or champagne yeast work well for this wine, follow directions on the packet. Let the nucleus sit until the yeast activates to frothing. A nucleus kicks off the first fermentation faster preventing any unwanted yeasts from getting a foothold.
Ingredients for 1 gallon Rhubarb-Hawthorn Wine:
3# rhubarb crushed and coarsely chopped
2 large hands full fresh hawthorn flowers or 1large handful dried
3# sugar or honey
1 lemon & 1 orange sliced thin with peels on
2 black teabags or 1 tsp loose tea
2 Teaspoons baking yeast (cuvee or champagne wine yeast work for this wine, follow directions on packet)
Place crushed rhubarb and hawthorn flowers into a stainless steel pan
Add 3 quarts boiling water
Cover with a dish towel and let sit 1-3 days stirring and crushing rhubarb to infuse flavors into the water (I use a potato masher for this step)
Strain and squeeze juice through a mesh cloth or cheesecloth and return to stainless steel container.
Heat to just below the boil. Just warm enough to melt the sugar. Do not cook!
Add 2 1/2 # sugar or honey. Stir to dissolve.
Slice 1 organic orange and 1 organic lemon (peels on) into thin slices, toss them in the kettle
Stir and cover with a cotton dish towel
Cool down to blood heat
While the brew cools...
Mix 1 - 2 teaspoon baking yeast into 1/2 cup of the sweetened infusion to make a yeast nucleus.
Pitch the yeast into the sweetened rhubarb-hawthorn infusion when the brew is at blood heat. This sparks an eager ferment...stir again to incorporate air. This is an aerobic process.
Cover again with the cotton dish towel
Now, the primary fermentation takes place, let the kettle bubble and spark stirring 1-2 times per day until it settles down a bit...about 3-5 days.
Here's what the Primary Fermentation looks and sounds like
Next, boil 32 ounces of water with 16 oz sugar, remove from heat. Let this simple syrup cool to room temperature.
Now, rebottle liquid into a 1 gallon glass jug (apple cider jug)
Add as much of the simple syrup as needed to bring liquid to the shoulder of the jug, don't fill too full, ferment will be active to start.
Close top with a fermentation lock or a balloon and watch the secondary fermentation begin
Let the ferment go until it stops, make sure the wine is in a place to keep temperature warm enough to raise yeasted bread dough.
When fermentation has ceased and the sediment has settled, the wine is ready to bottle. If it is still unclear you can rack into another jug and allow sediment to settle further.
I often leave mine until the first freeze of fall. Something mysterious happens after a freeze which helps clear the wine a wee bit more.
Rhubarb-Hawthorn Wine and additional sugar syrup used to top off the gallon...
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