Homesteading Skills: Homemade Wine and Best Types of Trees

Learn these homesteading tips for making homemade wine, planning what types of trees to plant for wood, how to build a smoke-house and more.

| January/February 1977

  • Apple Wine
    Homemade wine including apple, elderberry, parsnip and even rhubarb can be easily made.
    Photo By Fotolia/Visions-AD

  • Apple Wine

Ah, the vicissitudes of time. Two years ago, when there were no currently relevant small-scale-farming introductory handbooks available, many of us welcomed the publication of Richard Langer's Grow It! with open arms. Now that we're all older and more experienced, however, some folks find it increasingly easy to criticize that breakthrough beginner's guide. Which brings us to another breakthrough book that is just as important (probably more so) now as Grow It! was two years ago . . . and which may well come up for its share of criticism in another 24 months or so.

Be that as it may, John and Sally Seymour's record of 18 successful years on a shirttail-sized homestead in England is important now and should offer welcome encouragement to today's back-to-the-landers . . . both real and imaginary. .—MOTHER.

Homemade Wine

Now 'homemade wine'. Grape wine should be pure juice of the grape, with nothing added, and nothing taken away. This is because the ripe grape is very rich in sugar, has enough water in it so that it doesn't need any more, and carries its own yeast spores on its skin ready to ferment it. But the 'wines' most country people make in Britain are really little more than solutions of sugar — ordinary beet or cane sugar (sucrose) in water, flavoured and reinforced with the juices of some fruit or vegetable, and fermented with added yeast.

I know a village in Worcestershire (a county of mighty wine-makers) in which at least three farm-working gentlemen have sheds in the bottoms of their gardens purely devoted to the making and drinking of wine. These three gentlemen share this in common: Half of their gardens are devoted to the culture of the rhubarb and the other half to that of the parsnip — their wives can whistle in vain for anything else. They each own two sixty-gallon barrels. In the winter they each brew sixty gallons of parsnip (this root should not be used until the frost has been on it) and in the summer sixty gallons of rhubarb. They are apt to 'go on the barrel' as they aptly call it, all gathering in the shed of one or other of them, and I have on occasion, 'gone on the barrel' with them. It is an experience.

We make elderberry (a glass a day, in the winter, keeps the flu away, and if it doesn't then an occasional hot glass with a teaspoonful of honey in it, gets rid of it); elder flower, which is a most delicate wine, quite delicious and also, I believe, has therapeutic properties; blackberry, which is a full-bodied rather port-like wine; black currant, which is absolutely excellent; mead, which we make from the cappings of the honeycombs which would otherwise be wasted anyway; sloe wine, which is a very good port-like wine; and a few others. People make 'wine' out of absolutely ridiculous things: lettuces and tea leaves and hell knows what. This is simply fermenting sugar and water and flavouring it with some unlikely vegetable matter. Throw your pea-pods to the pigs, they'll do far more good.

But the principles are always the same. Get your juice by whatever means is suitable (boiling, steeping, crushing, soaking your material), keep it as far as you can from contamination with the wrong sort of organisms, make up its sugar content by adding sugar to it, introduce yeast into it when it is the right temperature (blood heat), keep the vinegar flies out of it, and leave it to ferment. When it has fermented it is wine. If it is red wine leave it a year at least if you are able for it to mature; if white a few months. And remember that it will probably be far stronger than grape wine.

Really all wine making is pure common sense, once you realize that about three pounds of sugar is all you are going to get to ferment into alcohol in a gallon of water, you must use clean containers and you must keep the vinegar flies out. One generality is that the larger quantities you make at once the more chance you have of success. My old friends who make wine in sixty-gallon casks never get a failure. It's the amateur who makes dribs and drabs of this and that who — although he possibly gets a lot of fun out of it — also spoils a lot of wine. My Worcestershire friends have never even heard of special wine yeasts nor of Campden tablets nor hydrometers and things like that. But none of them could even remember having had a failure in their wine, and I can vouch for it that it is always superb of its kind.

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