The Luxury of Frugal Simplicity

We’ve been making wine, making clay, making kilns, making pots, making preserves and in general making a living, in all the various and diverse ways that we have grown into during this big long experiment called life.

As the last few weeks of summer are slipping away, the days get shorter and the plants are adjusting accordingly. This last week, we have been harvesting the red grapes and the yellow quinces.
In the past we have tried making wine from our Isabella/fragolino grapes, but it was never very good, due to the fact that we are not at all skilled at making wine, but also because these grapes are not really suited to wine making, so we have taken to bottling the dark red grape juice. This is the very best way to appreciate these grapes. We have also grown both Cabinet Sauvignon and shiraz, which are much better for making wine, but they need a lot of work to protect them from mildew. I refuse to use anything poisonous, restricting myself to only organic treatments. So this meant regular applications of Bordeaux spray, which is copper carbonate and lime mixed together. This works, but has to be applied after every rain, as it is water based and washes off. Long term use can lead to a build-up in the soil, so I decided to let them find there own way to survive without spraying. They didn’t! So no shiraz grapes this wet year.
However, the Isabella/fragolino hybrid is totally immune to Phytophthora root rot and leafy mildew. So no sprays are needed, perfect! These grapes are only good for juice, but the juice is of excellent flavour and the way that we have developed to extract the juice brings out exceptional depth of colour and flavour. We have tried the more traditional crushing and pressing, but this only results in a clear/pale pink juice. Partial fermentation to make ‘summer wine’. A semi fermented blend of partially fermented sweet juice and a little alcohol from the fermentation, results in a pale pink, cloudy, rose style. This is very nicely spritzig and tangy on the tongue but we have developed a better way of improving it to what we believe is an outstanding level of density of flavour and colour.
The red colour of wine comes from the skins which contains, amongst other things, anthrocyanins. These complex chemicals are thought to be quite beneficial to your health. But simply pressing the juice out of their skins only results in a white juice or wine. Have you ever thought how clear champagne is made from pinot noir red grapes? The clear juice is quickly squeezed out of the red grapes and separated from their skins so that no contact colouration can occur. If the grape juice is left in contact with the skins, the alcohol that develops in the wine ‘must’ as it ferments starts to dissolve the red colour. Partial contact results in a ‘rose’ light red colour, but full fermentation on the skins produces a red wine. Wine makers have developed a technique called ‘plunging the cap’ which involves pushing the red skins down into the fermenting ‘must’ to encourage the contact and colour extraction. This is done several times a day, for a week or two, as long as the fermentation lasts.
As we are not making wine, but only juice. Miss Penfold Grange King decided to try heating the juice to sterilize it for bottling, but along the way found by accident that the colour improved as well. So now we don’t really crush the grapes in the normal way. We carefully pick all the ‘berries’ off the grape bunches and separate the stems and any unripe grapes, as these can give a sour acidic flavour to the juice. We also separate any living protein from the bunches as well. In industry this is called “MOG” material other than grapes, and a lot of it, slaters, spiders, caterpillars and especially snails, can pass through the system and separators, just like grapes, if they are the same size. However, It doesn’t seem to affect the finished wine from industrial scaled production wineries.
We take the time to carefully separate all of this by hand about 20 kilos at a time and then put the grapes in big boilers and heat them . initially to sterilize the juice for preservation, but we have found that a few minutes of simmering and some squashing using a potato masher, produces a very rich, red, dense grape juice of immense flavour and colour. It seems that anthrocyanins are also extracted by heat just as with alcohol. After the colour has been extracted by this heating, we drain off the skins and pips through a large kitchen sieve, pressing it a little by placing a stack of plates on top, then filling glass jars taken straight from the oven with ‘pop top’ lids simmered in hot water. As the bottles cool. the lids are sucked down and sealed making a loud ‘pop’ noise as they vacuum seal.
This juice keeps for up to a year in these sealed bottles. Miss Penfold Grange King has found lots of ways to cook with this preserved juice over the years. She makes jelly, by re-heating with some gelatine and a little lemon juice and even some zest occasionally. This year we have also made some summer wine from this improved and concentrated rich red grape juice. it’s absolutely fantastic. If you haven’t ever tried some of this stuff. it is an amazing way to preserve grape juice. Except, as summer wine it isn’t preserved at all, just drunk. we make a batch every few days to replace the last batch, keeping the ferment going, restarting the new batch off the lees of the last one. We make it in 4 litre glass fermenting jars. It’s an ongoing process that lasts as long as the grape crop.
Every year we try something a little different, some other way of dealing with what we have, always trying to find a better way to get the most out of our home grown produce. This year, amongst other things, we have experimented with preserving our quince crop by cooking them in this wonderfully rich, dense and colourful red grape juice which is brim full of flavour.
Quinces need to be cooked with a little bit of sugar. In the past I have used pure white and deadly as well as local honey, but this year we have decided to use the sweetness of our grape juice to provide the fructose to bring out the luscious red colour of the cooked quinces.
I bring the quartered and peeled quinces to the boil and then switch them off. Because they are so fresh, they don’t need to be cooked for too long, otherwise they will go all mushy. While the quinces are coming up to the boil. I bring all the quince peelings and cores and pips up to boil for a few minutes, and simmer for a while. The skins and pips are full of pectin, so boiling them dissolves this pectin. I drain off the pectin liquor into a smaller sauce pan and continue to reduce tha pectin sauce further.
I place the quinces in a baking tray with a few cloves, a 5 star anise, a cinnamon stick and the zest and juice of a lemon. I cut the spent lemon in the baking tray as well and pour the hot grape juice over them and place them in the oven on low to cook a little more. As soon as the pectin liquor is reduced to half, I pour it over the baking quinces and bake them for another half hour. It reduces to a jelly-like, rich, red, fragrant syrup.
Perfect with a little cream or icecream, or both.
Yum. You don’t know what you are missing if you haven’t tasted something like this.
We may not have much cash flow, but by gosh we eat well. We just couldn’t afford to pay to eat this quality and range of gourmet foods if we were working for money.
Best wishes from Miss Penfold Grange and her Maximillion dollar value Schubert