Archive for the ‘Indoors’ Category

Mash Up Monday

If you can have ‘Stir up Sunday’ when you make the mixture for the Christmas Cake then I reckon it’s equally important not to forget ‘Mash up Monday’  the last chance to brew a special beer for the festive season!  Yes I’m talking mashing and sparging again.

It does take at least a couple of weeks to finish a brew and mine take longer as they condition at a lower temperature than is usual, so I’m a little late with this reminder and I hope you were busy mashing and sparging a couple of weeks ago as was I.

The ‘mash’ is the mixture of grain heated in liquor (thats water to most of us) to extract the sugars which can be then be fermented.  For the Winter brew I’ve used  a pale malt (bottom of photo), crystal malt (right) and also some roasted barley(left).

One of the great things about making your own brews from scratch is that you can choose exactly the ingredients you would like and increasingly I take an interest in their provenance. Pale malted barley or ‘pale malt’ is the basis for all English ‘real ales’ and it comes in a range of varieties and types. I buy mine in 25kg sacks from the Warminster maltings, one of a very few traditional floor maltings still operating in England.  Malting starts by spraying the grain with water to make it germinate and then halting the germination by kiln drying or heating the barley. The malting process converts the starches in the barley into sugars which can then be extacted by ‘mashing’ the grains.

Normally I buy ‘maris otter’ which is the classic variety for brewing real ales, but recently I’ve been trying out the organic pale malt which is a spring barley variety called ‘Quench’.

The bulk of the grain in the mash is pale malt, approximately 3kg for a 5 gallon (yes I do always mix up imperial and SI units) brew but on its own the beer would lack flavour, body and colour so depending upon the character of the beer you are after you can add small amounts of other types of barley. I’ve added more crystal malted barley than I normally do just to increase the fullness of the flavour for the winter beer and I’ve also added just a little roasted barley to deepen the colour and add that slightly smokey, not to say burnt flavour, but I’ll balance that off with my winter secret weapon later on in the recipe.

All of the grains are added to the brewing water or liquor and mashed at 66 degrees (C) for at least 90 minutes to convert as much of the starch to sugar which is then drawn off as the wort – in reality we’re making malt extract in this phase of the brew, but I get to control exactly how the malt is extracted.

Once the wort is draw off after about 90 minutes you are left with hot sticky grain in the mash tun (a plastic variety in my case) but there is still a lot of good malt sticking to the grains so they are rinsed or ‘sparged’ with near boiling water spraying from a rotating sparging arm which helps extract all of the malt that we can from the grain.

In the second phase of the brew the malt is boiled up and the hops are added. I’ve used Fuggles and East Kent Goldings, two very traditional English varieties in this brew. Depending upon the type of beer being brewed some other ingredients may also be added, sugars for example. Cheap homebrews will often just add white granulated sugars, but they don’t do the beer any favours. Brewers will often use more complicated sugars like malto-dextrose, known as ‘brewing sugar’ which is more like the invert sugars extracted from the grain but as this is a winter brew I’ll be adding my secret weapon – Soft Dark Brown Sugar. Yum!

Once the boiling is done the wort is poured off again through a hop strainer to leave the hops behind and left to cool before pitching in the yeast (I use Safale S04) and the fermentation begins. Perhaps the most magical part of a brew as it can be very hard to believe that this disgusting looking bin of brown crusty bubbling toxic liquid is about to transform itself into a perfect brew – but it really does!

I prefer to bottle my brews which adds an extra stage to the process but it does get around the need to drink 5 gallons in one go and makes it a little easier to give away to those brave enough to try it. Of course I do need to sample the brew regularly just to make sure its upto standard and I’m pleased to say that this one is.

I call this recipe Hammer Special Bitter or HSB and any confusion with ‘HSB’, originally brewed by Gales of Horndean before they were bought out by Fullers and the brewery promptly shut down is Entirely Intentional.


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You may have heard of Stir-up Sunday, it’s apparently when you’re supposed to mix the christmas cake mixture in penty of time for it to bake and mature. Much more important (well to me) is Mash up Friday,  which is when I have to brew the beer in order for it to be ready in time for the festive Season.

One of the good things about making my own beer is that I get to choose all the ingredients. The base ingredient in all beers is malted barley – unless of course it’s a wheat beer in which case it’s malted wheat. In this case it’s organic malted Barley, Maris Otter a Pale Malt, from the Warminster Maltings – which is still a traditional floor malting.

By choosing organic I don’t expect the beer to taste better (though it might well and it certainly won’t be worse) but it does say a lot about how the crop was grown and the fields and environment it was grown in. I’m not as concerned about the hops as English hop gardens are rare enough as it is but I don’t particularly want my grain to come from a sterile industrial substrate of a field with no margin and no hedges.  Since I was taught to make beer I’ve been amazed at how consist the process is and that a very few ingredients, water, malted grains and hops (and sugar if you use it) can be balanced to produce a range of beers. In this respect it’s very like cooking. You don’t expect to produce a great result from a recipe unless you are satisfied with the quality of each ingredient, and paying for quality ingredients doesn’t necessarily have to cost a fortune. I expect the overall cost of the beer to be less than 50p  a pint and I’m regularly told that it compares well with commercial real ales.


In addition to the pale malt a small amount of crystal malt goes in, which is a darker more complex malt and is used to give body to the beer.

In the case of my winter brew recipe I also add a very small amount of wheat malt and all the ingredients are mashed or cooked in the tun at 66degrees C for around 90 minutes to extract the starches and sugars from the grains. I use a simple and fairly cheap polyplastic bucket fitted with a thermostatic heater element and a tap to drain off the resulting wort (or malt extract).

A lot of the sugary wort is still on the grains and I sparge (spray with almost boiling water) to wash off the rest of the malt extract.


Then the hops are added and the wort is boiled up for a further 90 minutes together with any sugars that might be added. For the winter brew I want a richer, sweeter beer with a darker reddish glow to the colour so I add dark brown soft sugar (and a bit of dark brown muscovado) together with some molasses. For anyone who knows it, this beer is designed to be quite like Gales HSB as it used to be (before Fullers bought the Brewery) though for christmas I make it a little darker and sweeter with a hint of spice coming from the muscovado and molasses.

After boiling up the brew is drained off the hops and into the fermenting vessel (bucket) and once cool enough the yeast is added (Safale S-04) which is specially designed for English real ales and bitters. It will take another 5 days to ferment and then be racked into a conditioning vessel with  a small amount more hops added (top hopping) just to give it the smell and taste of the hops when poured – East Kent Goldings and Brambling Cross are the varieties in this brew.

Finally I will bottle it adding a half teaspoon more brown sugar for it to condition in the bottle for a couple of weeks before its ready to drink – though the longer you can leave it the better. The original gravity of this brew is 1050 which should give it upto 6% alcohol if it ferments out completely so it will be a very traditional strong, dark slightly sweet and spicy winter beer, best served in front of a blazing log fire.


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Before the end of the fruit season I was offered a few bags of ripe pears. Not the kind of thing I find easy to turn down so a couple of weeks ago with some help from Charlie (who offered and delivered them) I washed down the press again and got milling.

Pressing and fermenting pears follows much the same approach as apples but the result is called perry not pear cider! Though I suppose that is arguable as real perry should be made with traditional perry pear varieties whereas I am using dessert pears – probably conference pears.

Pear trees live a lot longer than apple trees and can become much larger, but in the second half of the 20th century perry became disastrously unfashionable as a drink and most perry pear orchards were destroyed. The orchards were grubbed out partly because of the lack of labour on farms to maintain the orchards, harvest and make the drink and perry pears are barely edible, very different from dessert pears. But also because perry as a drink acquired a very poor image most likely due to the influence of Babycham (though it made the Shepton Mallet firm of Showerings a fortune and is still made there) and Lambrini. So calling it pear cider is a new marketing twist to make up for the last one – but two wrongs don’t make a right in my book!

Pears can be very hard to press when they are picked so it’s best to leave them until they are just on the verge of going off – then they are very soft, juicy and packed with sugar. Perry pears are also packed with tannins so also need to be left until they are less astringent but dessert pears are low in tannin and acid so I add a few cooking apples (mainly howgate wonders in this) to the mix to raise the tannin level but not enough to overcome the very delicate pear taste from the dessert pears (perry pears have a much stronger taste).

With ripe pears the juice rushes out of the press even before any weight is applied. Because I am always short of pears I do a second pressing – that is I repress the pomace after freshening it with some water and mixing it up to ensure that I get all of the sugar, colour and flavour from the pears. Commercial makers will add sugar and water to their pear cider, and most of the commcercial available drinks are made from imported pear concentrates.

So if you want to try the drink search out some of the traditionally made Perry’s and help to save what remains of our perry pear orchards. If you are interested in the making of perry’s there is a good Perry entry on wikipedia with some good links at the end to your research going.

In the interests of maintaining some woody content I’d just like to point out that my press is made with planks of local birch on a pine bed inside a metal frame salvaged from an old waste paper baling press.

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A Pressing Matter – yes I’m talking about apples and cider making. For some reason cultivating and harvesting fruit trees aren’t regarded much as a woodland activity but I find working with fruit trees, especially full sized apple trees one of the most satisfying forms of tree work that there is. The harvest from our small trees in the garden has been bumper this year. Together with apples from friends John & Sal and some scrumped from wild trees on the commons I’ve had enough to press cider without resorting to buying in any apples.

Along with chopping firewood pressing cider is one of those things that marks the passing of the seasons for me. It’s become something of a ritual. Last year I was very busy and didn’t make much cider – I regretted it, and despite being at least as busy this year was determined not to miss the opportunity to make cider this year which has meant a couple of late nights in between shows, courses and events.

To make a passable cider you don’t need perfect supermarket grade apples. In fact  I have found it’s quite the reverse, the wider the mix, with old big apples and small unripened ones the better the cider. There is a good reason for this as yeast needs the right conditions to thrive and convert the sugers in the  juice to alcohol. A mix of crab, cooking and dessert apples will provide the right conditions with both acid and tannin for the yeast and the resulting flavours will be better as well. If you have any Russet apples then these will also be good in the cider, but just about anything will make something drinkable eventually.


Before pressing the apples they need to be milled or ‘scratted’  to make a pulp of pea sized pieces which is called the pomace. Rather than slice the scratter tears the apples apart – this helps release the juice from the fruit without destroying the cells completely and releasing the pectin which would create a sticky goo which is much harder to press.


In the air the apple pomace quickly oxidises and turns brown. It takes me just over just under an hour  to mill enough apples to fill the 3 layers on the press. Each layer is formed by hessian sacking in a frame, takes 2 bucket loads of pomace and is then wrapped up and slats laid on for the next frame – or ‘cheese’ to be loaded.

My press is an old steel paper baling press which I’ve rebuilt as an apple press. The original cog mechanism doesn’t deliver enough pressure even with scaffold bars and I’ve modified it to use two hydraulic jacks which give me about 8 tonnes of pressure, enough to squeeze the last drops of juice from the apples.


I normally get about 3 gallons of juice from each pressing and use about 25kg of fruit – that’s just a bit less than 500ml per kilo or 50% yield. There’s a lot of juice in each apple – but it’s best to leave the apples a while before pressing so that you maximise both the sugar and the juice. If you are short of apples as I sometimes am I will repress and ‘sweeten’ the pomace with water to maximise the amount of juice and sugar I can get.

Some people like the apple juice fresh, but I prefer it fermented. The juice goes into an amazing array of old plastic containers I’ve scrounged over the years – most of them beachcombed but some are old wine containers and one or two vegetable chainsaw oil. With a starter of yeast in the first batch (a starter is a warm glass of powered yeast, suger and lemon juice) they are soon off. I have normally used general purpose wine yeast but this year am trying out a cider yeast so we’ll see. The yeast is not a big issue – traditionalist cider makers will allow their juice to ferment naturally without adding yeast. The containers will sit outside the backdoor throughout the winter and the initial fermentation will slow down as the temperatures fall.

As the temperature rises again in the spring the cider will often start fermenting again. If you are lucky it will also undergo a malo-lactic fermentation and rough ‘scrumpy’ tasting cider will suddenly become more palateable as the malic acid is transformed into lactic acid which we find a more acceptable taste. In my experience cider will almost always clear though sometimes it can take years. These bottles are about 2 years old and probably just about right for drinking – though I won’t know until I try them!

Go on – give it a try, don’t leave those apples rotting on the ground, use them. Even if you just use a food blender and a bucket sized press (I’m told freezing the apples first is a great way to make them easy to press out) and only make enough for a demi-john or two, it’s a very satisfying thing to do and you’ll be surprised how easy it is to make a good cider.

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Wild garlic pesto

I am a fan of Wild Garlic or Ransomes as it is also called. It has a mild garlic flavour in the leaves, stems and flowers which are all edible. So when I was recently given a recipe for wild garlic pesto I picked some fresh leaves and brought them back from the Gower to try it out.

It is very easy to make, I used 100g of leaves – no need to wash – they were freshly doused in Welsh rainwater.

I roughly chopped the leaves and put them in a food processor, adding 50g of chopped walnuts and 50g of shallot (I used a couple of small onions) with 150g of light olive oil.

and then blitzed it for about a minute or until it became a bright green paste. Then add 50g of hard parmesan type (I used gran padano) cheese, 1/2tsp of sea salt and 1/2 tsp of sugar and fold into the mixture.

place in jars and cover with about another 50g of oil or until the mixture is covered.

Here are the ingredients again:

100g wild garlic leaves

50g chopped walnuts

50g shallots

200g light olive (or sunflower/rapeseed) oil

50g grated parmesan cheese

1/2tsp sea salt

1/2tsp sugar

It can now be kept in the fridge for a few weeks – if it lasts that long. Because it is really, really good and it goes well with pasta. It has quite a delicate garlic flavour rather than the ;in your face version’ and I used 2 tbls of the pesto with a couple of creme fraiche to a packet of tortellini.

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You may not be aware of it, but the marmalade making season is all but over.  Seville oranges are bitter and unpalatable on the whole but they do make a fantastic preserve. The Seville orange season opens in January and is almost over by the end of February and for those, like me, that enjoy making marmalade its one thing in winter we look forward to enormously.

Making marmalade is not quick, perhaps why its not so popular anymore, but I do find it immensely satisfying and therapeutic.

It is essentially very simple and there is very little waste – 1/3 oranges to 2/3 sugar by weight plus an unwaxed lemon or two. I prepare the fruit by hand. Cut into halves and juice to extract the juice and separate the peel from pips and flesh. But don’t discard the pips and flesh they have an important role in setting the marmalade. Slice the peel into thick or thin shreds to your choice.

The basis of my recipe is a traditional one. I add the sliced peel and the juice to some water (about half a pint of water to each pound of orange/sugar) in a big preserving pan (though any pan will do – I used a chip pan until we got a preserving pan) and simmer for a couple of hours or until the peel is soft and you can easily sever it with a spatula or fork.  Meanwhilst wrap the pips and flesh up into a small (muslin) bag and put into the mixture.

The flesh and pips will slowly provide the pectin needed to set the marmalade. To help ensure that I get all the pectin I often strain some of the boiling water into the mixture through the flesh and pips and there is always enough pectin for a set, no need to buy jam sugar or add extra pectin. As the fruit simmers the water boils off and it will reduce by almost a half – now it’s ready to stir inthe sugar and bring to the boil at setting temperature. Don’t forget to remove the bag with the pips and flesh and KEEP STIRRING .

You’ll need a jam thermometer to check the mixture reaches setting temperature. I tend to notice a change in the texture of the mixture and that it spits out more as the right temperature and consistency are reached. Boil it for 5 minutes whilst stirring to prevent the mixture burning.

Once the heat is off the mixture needs to cool a little before ladling into jars. I reuse old jars – these are traditional 1 lb jars from the days before screw lids (not so long ago actually) and I pop them in the oven to sterilise them.

I know it’s not to everyone’s taste but I like to add a little of the smokey flavour of whisky to the marmalade. For these jars I spoon in only a tea-spoon of whisky before I add the marmalade. It’s about the smokey flavour not the alcoholic content and so I use a good whisky. generally an Islay malt (Laphroaig is good for this or more delicately my favourite Caol Ila, but any will do I just can’t spell most of them).

The keeping will benefit from using wax discs while the marmalade is still hot but you can enjoy it as soon as you like. Goes well with clotted cream in my view!

The good news is that if you want to try it you are not limited to Seville oranges, you could start with pink gratefruit which makes a great marmalade and is much more widely available through the year.

Here is the basic recipe

3 lbs of seville oranges
6 lbs of granulated sugar
2 unwaxed lemons
5 pints of water

Enjoy! You’ll be amazed at the quality of the product – and the cost in comparison (less than 50p a jar all up) to buying premium marmalade and of course the recycling and lack of waste. Tell your friends and it won’t be long before you are deluged with empty jars to reuse in the hope of a full jar in return!

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