Valpolicella

A view of Valpolicella vineyards and Lake GardaAmarone is the most fashionable Italian wine in North America.  I’m in no way qualified to make such a sweeping statement, but I think the shelves of boutique wine shops offer ample testament.  The wine is rich, concentrated, age-worthy, and expensive.  It is by its very nature more pricey than most other wines: made from partially-dried grapes, it requires more kilograms of fruit to produce a litre of wine.  The absolute cheapest bottles in Canada cost about $40, but most mid-level bottles sell for around $60.  My first taste of Amarone was in the home of a self-impressed eye doctor.  It was delicious.

Amarone is from Valpolicella,[1] a small region in northeast Italy, just outside Verona.  Valpolicella is an old word for an area that doesn’t have a modern administrative function, and so doesn’t appear on most political maps.  Outside Italy the term Valpolicella is always used in connection to wine production, but the people who live there will patiently explain that it is a place with a long history and a unique identity within the Veneto.  My instructor in this lesson was Davide Canteri, who offers wine tours of the area.

Almost every written source I have, including the Oxford Companion to Wine, says that the word Valpolicella comes from a mixture of Latin and Greek, and means “valley of many cellars”.  I asked Davide about this, and he said if he were being completely objective he would have to admit the origin is unknown, but that the “many cellars” etymology is definitely not correct, and was clearly invented by advertising executives.  (“Why would the name of this region have a Greek word in it?”)  He then offered a few other possibilities that he thinks are much more probable (though admittedly less sexy).  One involved the regional word for puddles.  Another was based on the word for maiden, as one of the local coats-of-arms features a young woman kneeled in prayer.

Valpolicella proper is comprised of three adjacent valleys, their principle towns being Fumane, Marano, and Negrar.  They are northwest of Verona, and east of the Adige River.

In the 1960s the Italian government set out to codify its wine regions and methods of production in a system similar to the French appellation laws.  In several parts of the country the permitted production areas for specific wines were expanded well beyond the traditional borders so that more winemakers could benefit from labelling their wine with a famous name.  Valpolicella, though traditionally confined to the three valleys east of the Adige, was expanded west of the river, all the way to Lake Garda.  According to Davide, this enlargement was first met with resistance from the producers in the original region.  The silver lining is that the enlargement increased production to a level that allowed Valpolicella wines to be sold all over the world.  If it hadn’t been for the enlargement, Davide says, North Americans may never have heard of Valpolicella.  But it also means that consumers need to know more about the producer, and where exactly their grapes come from.  Wine produced in the original region is labelled Valpolicella Classico.

Valpolicella wines are made from a mixture of several grape varieties, the three most important being Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara.  Corvina literally means “crow” and refers to the dark colour of the grapes.  This variety holds the highest regard.  It produces wine with the best structure, but its yields are low, so it is supplemented with other higher-yielding varieties.  Rondinella is the second most renowned grape of the region.  Rondine is the word for swallow (the bird), and rondinella means little swallow.  Davide said this is because late in the season these grapes tend to split, and then resemble a swallow’s tail.  Molinara is the third most important variety.  Unfortunately I don’t have a cute bird story about this grape.  These three varieties are the backbone of viticulture in Valpolicella, but there are dozens of other local varieties that are permitted.

According to the wine cognoscenti, vine-growers in Valpolicella and the rest of Italy are faced with a dilemma.  On the one hand they can grow a huge amount of ordinary grapes that will produce ordinary wine, or they can grow a small amount of high-quality, flavourful grapes that will make better, more concentrated, more expensive wine that can be exported.  These grape yields are determined by vineyard site, the grape variety planted, and viticultural details like how the vines are trained.  Vines grown on rocky slopes, for instance, have lower yields than vines grown in flat valleys with rich, loamy soil.

In Valpolicella the traditional way to train vines is up onto a pergola, about six or seven feet off the ground.  Modern international wine-makers prefer to use the Guyot method, where the vines are cane-pruned and trained along wires, closer to the ground.  If you think that this is an esoteric or trivial difference in viticulture, consider this: pergola-trained plants yield about 15 kg of grapes per vine, while Guyot-trained plants yield about 4 kg of grapes per vine.

That being said, as you leave Verona and drive through the endless vineyards of the Veneto, you will notice that some vines are trained on pergolas, others in the Guyot style.  Later you will discover that good wines can come from either camp.

From Verona we drove to what Davide calls the heart of Valpolicella, the small hamlet of San Giorgio, which is perched on a hill with beautiful views west towards Lake Garda (photo above).  In the centre of this town is a medieval church, formally called Pieve di San Giorgio di Valpolicella.  It was this church as much as the vineyards that Davide wanted to show us.

The church, like most buildings in the old town, is made of burnished white stone.  It has a blockish bell tower, and an elegantly crumbling cloister.  Excavations on the adjacent hillside have revealed evidence of a Bronze Age civilization.  There was also a Roman building on this site.  In fact, some of the stones from that pagan temple had been salvaged and re-purposed during the construction of the church.  You can still make out the fragmentary Latin inscriptions.  A stone baldachin carved by Lombards arches over the main altar, and along the walls are frescoes painted as early as the 11th century.  There’s one of Adam eating the bad apple, one of St. John, a scene from the Last Supper, all in the flat, slightly contorted medieval style.

I know: this kind of architectural palimpsest can be found all over Italy.  In Rome there are numberless examples of Christian churches and monuments built with odds and ends from Roman ruins.  But in Rome and in the Vatican that construction was done so lavishly, and on such an impossible, monumental scale, that they are now part of the collective cultural heritage of the western world, and congested tourist destinations.

San Giorgio is a living church.  Davide went to mass here when he was little.  The hot September afternoon when we were visiting a wedding had just ended.  We had to drop coins in a box to switch the lights on.  I could have touched the thousand year old frescoes on the wall.  (I didn’t…)

Yes, here was the same story told throughout northern Italy of Bronze Age pagans, Roman imperialism and collapse, barbarian invasion, medieval Catholicism, and Venetian domination, but here that story was told on the smallest, most personal scale.  A trip to Davide’s boyhood church was an intimate, humble gesture, something that I wasn’t expecting on an outing marketed as a wine tour.  I guess the point is that while wine is an important part of Valpolicella, and central to its identity, it really is only one facet of the region.

Anyways: right now we’re talking about wine.

After we left the church we went to a winery.

It is called Salgari, after a famous Italian author.  I had never heard of him, let alone read any of his books.  He was described to us as an Italian Jack London, a writer of adventure stories.

We started our tour with a quick visit to the vineyard closest to the house.  The vines were festooned on pergolas.  It had been a miserable vinatge across northern Italy from the Veneto to the Piedmont, grey and damp and cool, but the harvest was underway.

In the house we peered into some cement tanks built into the ground.  We also stuck our heads into an old cellar, musky and pungent with the smell of wet earth, with a fat salami and some ancient bottles of wine.

Finally we sat for a tasting of the four main styles of wine made in the Valpolicella.

Valpolicella is the standard, dry wine of the region.  A red, made from a blend of Corvina, Rondinella, and possibly a number of others including Molinara.

The most famous wines of the region are made from grapes that have been partially raisined.  After the ripe grapes are harvested, they are spread out on mats in airy attics and storehouses to dry for three to six months, during which time they typically lose about 40% of their weight in moisture.  Only once the sugars have been concentrated in this manner are the grapes crushed and fermented.

Recioto[2] is the traditional premium wine of the region.  It is a sweet red made from partially-dried grapes.  It ferments for about 25 days, but then fermentation is arrested to preserve a good deal of sweetness in the wine.  In modern wine texts Recioto is presented almost as an historical curiosity, a footnote, important only because it is the ancient progenitor of Amarone.  These dismissals notwithstanding, the folks at Salgari unflinchingly stated that Recioto is (still) the most important wine of Valpolicella.

Amarone is the current darling of the region.  Like Recioto, Amarone is red, and made from partially-dried grapes.  Unlike Recioto, it is fermented until it is completely dry.  This takes quite a while: usually forty to sixty days.  The great irony of Amarone is that historically it was considered a mistake: a ruined Recioto, a Recioto scapà, which means a Recioto that has fled or run away.  According to Davide the first time Amarone appeared on a label was in 1935, when the Cooperative Cellar of Negrar marketed a Recioto scapà as Recioto Amarone.  Amarone literally means “big bitter,” though the wine is not bitter in the conventional sense: it’s bitter  in that it is not sweet.

Ripasso is simple Valpolicella wine that has been aged with some of the pressed grape skins leftover from Amarone production.  It therefore has a bit more depth and complexity than a straight Valpolicella, without the concentration and price tag of an Amarone.  Ripasso wines are dry.

We sat at a table, three tourists, Davide our guide, and two members of the family.  The proceedings took the form of a formal tasting: empty glasses lined before us on a mat.  Each wine poured.  We smelled, tasted, discussed.  But truthfully it was not a formal tasting.  It was social.  There were cheeses and salami and olive oil and bread on the table.  And we talked about all sorts of things besides the wine.  Most memorably, what Italian food is like in Canada.

Formal tastings are for suckers.

 

  1.  “val-poll-i-CHELL-a” – with the same “ch” sound as “cello”
  2. “re-chee-OH-to”

Rhubarb Iced Tea

The Tyranny of the Lemon

I like lemons.  Tarte au citron and lemon meringue pie are two of my favourite desserts.  A quick squeeze of lemon adds friendly punch to everything from salads to roasted chickens and pots of tea.

However.

To me lemons are the epitome of our thoughtless dependence not just on imported ingredients, but imported cuisine.  Every week of the year the happy yellow fruits are shipped by the ton into our city to spread the insidious influence of Mediterranean and Californian food.

What is frustrating about our lemon dependence is that our region and its local plants do “sour” very well.  We are awash with tart, flavourful ingredients like apples, highbush cranberries, sour cherries, rhubarb, and all the cordials, wines, and vinegars that can be made therefrom.  There is a time and place for lemons.  In Edmonton, those times are few and far between.

A glass of rhubarb iced teaA Simple Start to Overthrowing the Lemon

Lemons hold a particularly firm grasp on our drinking habits.  I’m thinking especially of classic cocktails, lemonade, and iced tea.  A tart syrup made from any of the above-mentioned local ingredients would be most welcome in iced tea in lieu of lemon.  Rhubarb, though, is my favourite.  It is tart, flavourful, and adds a pleasant rosy blush to the drink.

Rhubarb Iced Tea
a big barbecue batch

Ingredients

  • 5 L water
  • 34 g black tea bags (about 10 bags)
  • 1 kg fresh rhubarb, chopped (rhubarb varies widely in acidity, so this quantity will have to be adjusted according to your plant and palate)
  • 400 g white sugar (this quantity will also have to be adjusted so that the sweetness properly balances the acidity of the rhubarb)

Procedure

  1. Bring water to a boil.  Add tea bags, reduce heat to maintain gentle simmer.  Maintain simmer for 4 minutes.  Remove tea bags.
  2. Add rhubarb and sugar.  Stir to dissolve sugar, then cover the pot and let stand until cooled to room temperature, a couple hours.
  3. Strain out the rhubarb.  Chill the iced tea overnight in the fridge before serving.

Why Cider Matters to Edmonton

This week I am giving a presentation at Eat Alberta about how to make cider.  I’m not an expert by any leap of the imagination: I’ve only been making cider for three seasons, and truthfully everything (everything!) that I know I learned from Kevin and Chad and a handful of websites.

The preamble to my presentation is called “Why Cider Matters”, and I thought I’d share the gist of it with you.

An apple blossomBackyard cider-making is the single most exciting movement within our local food scene.  A bold statement, I know.  Of all the burgeoning activities related to food production – gardening, fishing, visiting farms, joining CSAs, foraging mushrooms, hunting – cider-making may be the most accessible, and the most capable of transforming the cuisine of central Alberta.

There are apple trees everywhere in this city, especially in older neighbourhoods.  Standing in my backyard in McKernan last summer I could see three.  Walking through back alleys you are never more than a block away from one.  Everybody knows where there is at least one apple tree, and most of those trees produce at least 100 lbs of fruit.  The great irony is that the owners of these trees often consider them a nuisance.  Most families have trouble consuming all the fruit produced by a single tree, so the apples languish on the branches and fall to the ground, where they are raked into garbage bags so that they don’t destroy the lawn.  In other words, not only is there a glut of delicious fruit within our city, there are also people desperate to get rid of it.  So much so that they will invite you into their yard to pick ripe fruit, free of charge.

So.  We have a lot of apples.  What should we do with them?  Certainly we should be making apple sauce, apple pies, candy apples, apple jelly, and apple butter.  And of course we should be eating a good deal of them out of hand.  But there are many compelling reasons that we should convert most of them to hard cider.

Reason 1: Pressing apples into cider is the fastest, lowest-energy method to preserve and consume our apple hoard.  You cannot turn all of the apples in Edmonton into pies.  You can’t.  You can very casually pick hundreds of pounds of apples over an autumn weekend.  Each pie uses maybe two pounds.  Imagine the time required to peel, cored, and slice the apples, and the energy and space required to freeze and later bake each pie.  I love pie more than most, but pie is not the answer.

The first and most beautiful fact about cider is that it converts our numerous apples into a delicious, shelf-stable drink with no added water and very little energy.  If you ferment the cider to hard cider, you do not need to heat the liquid when bottling and preserving.  In fact the only non-human energy I use in producing cider is transporting and crushing the apples.

Reason 2: Apples that are impractical to eat out of hand or use in baking because of their size, flavour, or condition, can still make fantastic cider.  Tiny, mealy, sour crabapples: what could you possibly do with these in the kitchen?  Would you peel and core each of the 5000 thumb-sized specimens that fall from a tree?  I think not.  The juice from such apples, however, is often remarkable, and can lend buoyant acidity and colour to a cider blend.

Reason 3: Delicious, versatile cider could be a foundational ingredient and flavour in central Albertan cuisine.  As I’ve said before, culinary invention has two mothers: scarcity and excess.  We certainly have an excess of apples.  Cider can be a session drink, consumed glass after glass with friends, or a table drink, sipped alongside food. You can cook with it: imagine cider-braising pork and cabbage.  Cider has two notable value-added products that could be a boon to local food.  One is vinegar: cider vinegar could be the base of every bottle of vinaigrette and every jar of pickles in Edmonton.  The other value-added product is apple brandy, which of course is illegal to distill without a license, but someday should be sipped at the end of every meal, and used to flavour pâtés, and preserve fruit, and elevate cream sauces, and on and on.

That is why I’m interested in cider.  By far the hardest part of starting a winery is establishing grape vines.  That part has already been done by our parents and grandparents.  All we have to do is reach out and collect the fruit.  Then crush, press, ferment, bottle, and consume it.  It is your birthright as an Edmontonian.  Dramatic, I know, but true.

Autumn's gift to summer: sparkling hard cider.

Hot Toddy

A hot toddy make with The GlenlivetToddy, or hot toddy, is a Scots drink of whisky, sugar, and hot water.

I’ve read that the name refers to Tod’s Well, an ancient spring that once gave Edinburgh its water.[1]  In other words it is yet another instance of the charming tradition of referring to whisky as water.[2]

Ancestral wisdom tells us that taking a mug of toddy in bed before sleep will cure many ailments.

The traditional toddy recipe I have calls for equal parts whisky and water.  Modern recipes are more likely 2 parts whisky to 3 parts or more of water.  They also typically use citrus and spices.  Though not traditional, the citrus is important, as the sweet, boozy cocktail absolutely requires acidity to remain balanced.

I debated for some time whether it was sinful to use single malt Scotch in a drink like this.  Blended Scotch is the norm, but I think you choose your whisky for a toddy the same way you choose your whisky on any other night.  Is it a Tuesday?  Then Famous Grouse is just fine.  Is it a long, dark January night, with no chance of friends calling?  Maybe something a bit peaty.

Here is a “recipe”.  I absolutely refuse to give any quantities.

A Hot Toddy

Ingredients

  • water
  • dark brown sugar
  • lemon slice
  • clove
  • fine Scotch whisky.  If it is before December, consider a Speyside Scotch.  If it is below -15°C, you might consider something from the islands.  Below -25°C and that island should be Islay.
  • orange slice

Procedure

  1. Combine the water, dark brown sugar, lemon slices, and clove in a heavy pot.  Simmer gently for 15 minutes.
  2. Pour a shot of whisky into a warmed mug.  Pour the water-sugar-spice mixture over top to desired strength.  Garnish with orange.

 

Notes.  Important Notes.

  1. Do you remember that scene in Good Will Hunting when the boys go to a Harvard bar and Will calls out that douche-bag for plagiarizing something to impress a girl?  Well, the same thing just happened to me, sort of.  To prepare for writing this post I thought I’d have a cursory glance at the Wikipedia “Hot Toddy” page to make sure I wasn’t missing some salient piece of information on the drink.  I started reading, and I got to a long passage that I recognized.  Whoever wrote the Wikipedia page on hot toddies ripped a large section of text from The Scots Kitchen by F. Marian MacNeill without referencing it at all.  The only difference between what just happened to me and what happened in Good Will Hunting is that the plagiarist wasn’t around for me to castigate, and there weren’t any girls around to admire me.
  2. I can’t remember if I’ve written this before on Button Soup, but “whisky” is an Anglicization of the Celtic words for “water of life”.

 

Hot Chocolate

Chopping dark chocolate to make hot chocolateToday I made hot chocolate using chocolate.  It was the first time I had ever done that.

I grew up drinking hot chocolate made from prepared powder that came in little packets.  The baggies had tiny, desiccated marshmallows in them that rehydrated when combined with hot milk.  There was usually a portion of the talc that failed to dissolve and accumulated on the bottom of the mug.  (Yum!)  The drink tasted mildly of bad chocolate, but mostly it tasted like milk.

It first occurred to me that one could make hot chocolate from chocolate when I read The Polar Express, in which children are served hot chocolate “as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars.”  That caught my attention.  Then, seventeen years later – today – I tried it.

Holy Jesus.  It’s amazing how convenience products can so quickly and thoroughly expunge good food from the collective conscience.  Real hot chocolate is amazing.

Scratch hot chocolate is usually made with both chocolate and cocoa powder.  The chocolate, which should be of the finest quality, is obviously providing flavour, but also a rich mouthfeel.  The cocoa reinforces the chocolate flavour, but if you use too much, you can make the drink astringent.  Balancing these two incarnations of Theobroma cacao is the key.

Avoid using heavy cream, which blankets and muffles the flavour of the chocolate.

The final piece of advice I can offer is to use an upright blender to blitz the hot chocolate into frothy oblivion.  This gives the drink an otherworldly full but light texture on the tongue.  The fine foamy consistency is surprisingly stable, easily lasting through the most contemplative of hot chocolate sessions.

 

Hot Chocolate
adapted from “Haute Chocolate” by Jeffrey Steingarten

Ingredients

  • 20 oz whole milk
  • 2 oz granulated sugar
  • 3.5 oz very good chocolate, chopped into very small pieces
  • 1 oz cocoa powder

Procedure

  1. Bring milk and sugar to a simmer in a heavy pot.
  2. Add the chocolate and cocoa and return the pot to a simmer.  Whisk until the chocolate has melted.
  3. Transfer the mix to an upright blender and mix on high speed for a few minutes.

A cup of real hot chocolate

Mulled Cider

A mug of frothy, steaming mulled cider.A few years ago I waxed eloquent about mulled wine as a way to use up leftover wine and appreciate exotic spices.

Since then mulled wine has been fully supplanted by mulled cider in my house.  I’ve been pressing cider in increasing quantities, and the abundance of cheap, delicious apple juice has pushed wine further and further from my thoughts and my dinner table.

What I am appreciating most about mulled cider is its adaptability.  After fermented apple juice, every other possible ingredient is optional, so the drink can be tailored to the moment.

If I’m using dry cider from last fall I’ll add some honey for sweetness and body, but if I have cider fresh from the press I won’t sweeten it at all.

Depending on the temperature outside and how much work I have to do later in the day I might add a couple shots of brandy to the mug.

Maybe it’s a cool fall day and I want only the taste of apple juice and cinnamon.  Maybe it’s the longest night of the year and I need to add black pepper, allspice, and clove…

This is high season for mulled cider in Edmonton, as it is best enjoyed outdoors, in the midst of autumn leaves.

Apple Press

Cider flowing from the press.Once apples have been crushed, they need to be pressed to extract the juice from the mash.  As with the apple crusher, I’ve been using Kevin’s apple press for the last couple years, but decided to build my own this fall.  I am indebted to him, and to Whizbang Cider for his post on rack-and-cloth pressing.

The essential components of the press:

The Press: some kind of geared, ratcheted jack that actually exerts the force that presses the apples.  We started out using a scissor jack (pictured below) but have since found that a hydraulic pump jack is more balanced and easier to operate.

The Frame, which sustains the force of the press. The top and bottom beams are made of three 2″ x 8″ spruce boards bolted together.  The boards are on their sides for strength.

The Tray, which collects the cider once it is pressed from the mash.  The base of our tray is a 18″ x 24″ commercial-kitchen cutting board.  It’s the right dimensions, it’s food-safe, and it’s affordable.  We screwed some spruce doweling soaked in mineral oil around the edges to form a lip to keep the cider in the tray.  Liquid flows out a gap in one corner.

Use and Design Details.  The apple mash made by the crusher is collected in cloth and formed into juicy blocks called cheeses.  I bought a few meters of t-knit cloth from Marshall Discount Fabrics (also a good place to pick up cheesecloth on the cheap…).  This material has the strength and stretch to endure pressing.  I use a bus tub (the white plastic tub at the back of the photo below) to shape the cheeses.  Line the tub with a section of cloth, add apple mash, then fold the four sides of the cloth over the top to make a tidy, rectangular packet of mash.  No string is required to fasten the cheese.  The cheese is placed in the tray, centred under the top beam of the frame.

We stack three cheeses on top of each other.  Be sure to make the cheeses similar dimensions and stack them carefully.  The cheeses are separated by pressing plates that maximize extraction.  We used cutting boards.

The cheese stack is topped with the main pressing plate that distributes the pressure from the press across the surface of the stack.  Our main pressing plate is made of two perpendicular layers of 2″ x 4″s screwed together.

Finally we use some 2″ x 4″s as spacers to span the distance between the main pressing plate and the jack.

The full set-up:

A homemade apple press

The tray comfortably holds about 3-4 gallons of mash in its stack, which it converts into about 2.5 gallons of cider.

The set-up works quite well, and is affordable: I spent about $150 on the lumber, bolts, and cutting boards.  There is some room for improvement.  We need to find pressing plates (cutting boards) that are a bit bigger, as right now the edges of cheeses are not under the internal pressing plates, and are not fully extracted.  We also need a proper spout on the edge of the tray, as some cider dribbles down the sides.

Special thanks to Eric, one of the cooks at Elm, who helped with the build, and has been climbing into apple trees all over the city to pick fruit.

Apple Crusher

An apple crusher, formerly a garburatorThis post is about “converting” a garburator into an apple crusher.  I use sarcastic quotation marks because there’s really very little you have to do to change a garburator into a crusher.

For the record, I stole all of this from Kevin, who built his first crusher years ago, posted about it here, and has generously lent it to friends many times since then.  I just got around to making my own, so I thought I’d write about it for the sake of completeness, but there really isn’t anything in this post that isn’t already in his.

The first step is to obtain a kitchen garburator that has never been used.  I have seen them on Kijiji, but they get snatched up pretty quick.  I bought a new 3/4 hp Badger garburator at Home Depot for $150.

A garburator

Next make the power connections.  There is an access panel on the bottom of the garburator.  The black wire is the power wire, the white is the neutral or power return, and the green screw is to ground the power cable.

The electrical connections on the bottom of the garburator

For regular use in a kitchen sink it makes perfect sense for the access panel to be on the bottom, but as an apple crusher the garburator will be sitting on top of a workbench, and if the power cable is fed into the bottom, it won’t sit flat.  You can make a new “access panel” by drilling a 1/2″ hole in the side of the housing.  Be careful not to let the drill bit slip too far into the housing, as it may damage the motor inside.  Sand or file the edges of the hole.

"Side access panel" - a hole drilled in the side of the garburator housing

For a power cable I used an extension cord.  By cutting off the receptacle end of the cord you expose the three 14 AWG wires within: a black power wire, and white return wire, and a green ground.

Severed end of an extension cord

Cut the sheath farther back and strip the individual wires to expose the copper filaments. I wanted to use twist-on wire nuts to make the connections, and Lisa’s father Ron informed me that to do that these strand wires would need to be soldered.  He took a soldering iron out of his back pocket and did me the favour.  You can see in the picture below that Ron also stole the grommet from an old power bar to protect the power cable from the sides of the hole we drilled in the garburator.

The stripped and soldered wires.

Connect the two black power wires together and the two white return wires together.  The green ground wire is screwed to the body of the garburator.

The electrical connections.

Close the access panel and that’s it for electrical. Next I installed a hopper to ease apple-loading and to keep fingers away from the input.  I used an old Bles-Wold yogurt bucket, so I count my hopper expenses as the 10¢ deposit I paid when I bought it.

The yogurt tub that became a hopper

The garburator came with everything I needed to mount the hopper, the plastic bucket simply taking the place of the kitchen sink.

Assembling the hopper mounts

Here’s the crusher with the power and hopper installed.

Fixing the hopper to the garburator

The final touch is to extend outflow piping so that the apple mash flows into a bucket.  Below is the outflow piping that came with the garburator.

The stubby outflow piping on the garburator

I used a foot or two of 1 1/2″ ABS piping to extend the outflow.  First glue the ABS fitting to the extension piping with plumber’s glue.  This is supposed to cure for a while before being used.

Gluing the ABS connector to the outflow piping

Screw the extension pipe onto the original elbow pipe.

That’s it.  A little more than $150, and maybe thirty minutes of assembly.  Thanks, Kevin.

Attaching the outflow piping

Draff Bread – Spent Grain Bread

A fistful of spent grain, ready to be baked into breadI’ve been doing some all-grain brewing this spring.  After the mashing process the malt has given up all its caramel earthiness to the wort, and you are left with several pounds of spent grain, or draff.

There are lots of ways to use this stuff up.  Commercial breweries commonly sell or give draff to farmers as livestock feed.  It can also be composted so long as you have lots of other, greener compostable material to balance out the mixture.

Draff is also commonly baked into bread.  Realistically the home brewer will not be able to bake enough bread to use all of the spent grain – the bulk of mine still ends up in the compost heap – but it’s a tasty way to lengthen your enjoyment of the barley malt.

There are tons of recipes for spent grain bread online, often under the German name Biertreberbrot.  These recipes are all clearly made for brewers, not bakers: they use inconsistent volumetric measures, and forgo flavour- and texture-enhancing pre-ferments. Below is my first attempt at a serious recipe for draff bread.  Basically I’ve replaced the soaker from my favourite whole-grain bread recipe (from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice) with the spent grain.

Vocabulary Break: soaker.  Many bread recipes that use whole or mostly-whole grains like rolled oats or cracked rye will have you soak the grains in a bit of water overnight.  This way when the grains are mixed with the flour and water that make up the bulk of the dough, they won’t suck up all the water and prevent proper hydration, gelation, and gluten development.

Draff is already well-steeped: during mashing it sits in very hot water for about ninety minutes.  For this reason we are able to simply substitute the draff for the grain soaker in a conventional whole-grain bread recipe.  Spent grain is more woody that most whole grains, so I slightly decreased the weight of draff from the conventional soaker.

This is a tasty bread when made right.  The malt flavour of the grain is very faint (hopefully all the malt flavour is in the wort!) but the hulls give the bread an interesting, subtle prickliness.  A new brewing tradition in my home.

 

Spent grain dough

Draff Bread

Pre-Ferment

  • 6.75 oz high-protein whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 tsp instant yeast
  • 6 oz water

“Soaker”

  • 8 oz spent grains, well-drained

Dough

  • 10 oz high-protein whole-wheat flour
  • 0.33 oz kosher salt
  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 1.5 oz honey
  • 0.5 oz vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

Procedure

  1. The day before making the bread, combine the ingredients for the pre-ferment.  Stir until just combined.  Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature to ferment 2 to 4 hours.  Transfer to the fridge and store overnight.
  2. Combine the flour, salt, and yeast for the dough.  Add the pre-ferment, the spent grain, as well as the honey, oil, and egg.  Stir to combine.  Knead by hand until a firm, tacky dough forms, roughly 15 minutes.
  3. Lightly oil the inside of a bowl.  Add the dough.  Cover and ferment at room temperature until the dough has doubled in volume, about 2 hours.
  4. Divide the dough in two and shape as desired.  This makes a good Pullman-style loaf, or it can be shaped into a free-standing bâtard.  Proof at room temperature until the dough has nearly doubled, roughly 90 minutes.  (See this post for suggestions on proofing bread at home.)
  5. Heat oven to 350°F.
  6. Bake bread for 30 minutes.  Rotate 180° and bake until done, roughly another 20 minutes.  The loaf should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.  If you’ve used pans, remove the bread immediately and cool on a wire rack.

The finished draff bread, with butter

Rhubarb Shrub

Oddly enough, I eat a lot of local fruit this time of year.  Especially rhubarb.[1]  Every spring and summer we freeze a large quantity of chopped rhubarb stalks.  The following April it suddenly occurs to me that in a few weeks there will be fresh rhubarb popping up in the backyard, and that I should probably use up last year’s harvest before that time comes.

Think of the following posts as either a way to clear the freezer of last year’s fruit, or as a way of looking forward to the new fruit on its way.

 

A glass of rhubarb water

Sticklers will insist that this drink isn’t really shrub.

Shrub is an old-timey North American drink, traditionally a reduction of fruit juice and vinegar stirred into cold water or soda.  It is a fantastic thirst quencher in hot weather:  think lemonade, only made with, say, berries.   Shrub and similar drinks like switchel have historic connections to late summer and harvest time, when they were especially appreciated by labourers working in the fields.

If using tart fruit like rhubarb, I forgo the vinegar.  I have an old recipe book that does the same with raspberries, and still calls the drink “shrub,” even though it doesn’t contain vinegar.

To get a flavourful but crystal clear drink from rhubarb I chop the stems, steep them in hot water for several hours, then strain gently, without pressing down on the fruit mash.  Pressing the mash or puréeing some of the fruit will make for a muddy drink.

This steeping-straining method is identical to a classic French preparation called eau de rhubarbe, or rhubarb water, which is not an appetizing term to English ears.

This is a fantastic way to process large amounts of rhubarb.  The modern gastronome probably won’t want to chug this drink as was done in the days of yore to slake a rugged farmer’s thirst.  I suggest serving one well-chilled ounce at the start of a meal.  It’s a fantastic way to contemplate the cheerful flavour of our most under-valued “fruit.”

 

Rhubarb Shrub

Master Ratio – 1:1 rhubarb, water

Ingredients

  • 26 oz fresh rhubarb, chopped
  • 26 oz fresh cold water
  • 3 oz granulated sugar or quality honey (you may need to adjust this amount depending on the acidity of your rhubarb)

Procedure

  1. Put the rhubarb in a pot and cover with cold water.  Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat.  Let stand at least a few hours, preferably overnight.
  2. Pass through a fine mesh strainer (ideally a chinois).  Let the liquid drip through on it’s own.  Do not press on the rhubarb to extract more liquid, as this will cloud the finished product.
  3. Add the sugar and heat gently on the stove while stirring until sugar dissolves.
  4. Bottle and chill thoroughly before serving.

 

Footnote

1.  I know that botanically rhubarb is not a fruit.  I know it’s a vegetable, and that tomatoes and cucumbers and pumpkins are fruits and that strawberries aren’t really berries.  I don’t care.