Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Homemade Creme de Menthe . . . Two Ways

I could have named this post Homemade Creme de Menthe - A Cautionary Tale.  Why? Well, read on ...

We decided to try making our own crème de menthe back in September. When searching for a recipe, we turned to our trusty book Booze for Free by Andy Hamilton. This recipe suggested a maturation period of three months and so we began our project with the aim of having our creme de menthe ready to drink by Christmas.

The recipe in Booze for Free suggests using fresh mint leaves, steeping them for a couple of days in vodka before adding a sugar syrup and this is what we did. After putting our mint leaves in a jar and adding the vodka, we left it to steep for three days. After about a day, the liquid took on the hue of pondwater, but we didn't worry too much about it. We weren't expecting the vivid colour of commercial creme de menthe. After three days we duly strained the liquid from the leaves and added a sugar syrup. By now, the colour was more like cold tea and we knew that no matter how much colouring we added, there was no way our creme de menthe was ever going to be anything but brown.

We had a smell and taste with some friends on Bonfire Night. The resulting liqueur is not exactly repulsive, it is drinkable, but it certainly does not taste like creme de menthe. It has a smell that falls somewhere between earthy and medicinal. Comments on it varied from a kind "it's a winter warmer" to a more harsh, "it reminds me of Night Nurse." It is what I would call "an acquired taste" and most of our friends have not yet acquired it. I am not ready to toss it out yet, as I think it could be good for a head cold, but I am not excited about drinking it. If you look on line, you will see recipes for creme de menthe made using fresh mint leaves but accompanied by photographs of a light or vivid green liqueur. I just don't know how this was achieved.

In the light of this experience, we thought we would go ahead and try the alternative and less natural method for creme de menthe making. This involves adding peppermint extract and green food coloring to vodka, along with a sugar syrup. We found a few recipes online and began the process using a recipe from the blog Fat and Happy. However, after making our sugar syrup using 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water, we noticed that the recipe suggested adding just half a cup of vodka. The proportions seemed all wrong, and there was dissent amongst us, with comments that the resulting liqueur would have a lower alcohol content than Listerine. We went back to the internet and found an alternative recipe by Dee514 on the site Food.com that also uses a sugar syrup made with 2 cups of sugar, but suggests adding a respectable 16 ounces of vodka, so we went with that, omitting the white corn syrup as we didn't have any.

The resulting liqueur is very minty and has a clear, pale-green colour that is definitely more appealing to our nearest and dearest. Whether you opt to go all natural, making your creme de menthe using mint leaves, or whether you take the easier option, using peppermint extract and food coloring, is of course up to you. It depends on your own palate and preferences and I am giving you both recipes. We hope, though, that our experiences will help you to go into this project with a clear idea of what you will be looking at, smelling and drinking once your liqueur is finished.

Crème de Menthe - Recipe One

50grams/2oz mint leaves (we used a selection of different mints)

500ml/1 pint of water
300grams/10oz sugar
1 litre/2 pints vodka

Step One
Pick over the mint leaves, put into a jar and cover with vodka. We used a large kilner jar. Leave for two to three days.

Step Two
Put the water and sugar into a pan and bring slowly to the boil, making sure all the sugar dissolves. Boil for 4-5 minutes.

Step Three
Strain the vodka and return to the jar. Pour in the cooled sugar syrup. Leave in a cool, dark place for three months before drinking.

Crème de Menthe - Recipe Two

2 cups of sugar (can use a measuring jug and fill to 475ml mark)
2 cups of water (again, this is 475 ml)
2 tbsps. white corn syrup (optional)
16 fluid ounces (475ml) vodka
1 -1 1/2 teaspoons peppermint extract
1/2 -1 teaspoon green food colouring

Step One
This is an American recipe and so uses cups. As you can see, as long as you keep the sugar, water, and vodka in proportion, you can't really go wrong. A cup is 8 fluid ounces, or around an average sized mug. You could use mugs to measure out the quantities. Put the sugar and water in a large pan and bring slowly to a boil, making sure the sugar has dissolved completely. Boil for ten minutes.

Step Two
Remove from heat and cool the syrup. Pour into a large jar or bottle and add the vodka, peppermint extract, and food colouring. The recipe suggested 3-5 drops of green food colouring but we found we need much more to give our liqueur even a hint of green. Of course, leave it clear if you prefer to avoid food colouring altogether.
Step Three
Store for one - two weeks before using.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Homemade Pear Wine: Stage Three

If you have already completed stages one and two of the pear wine project, you are ready for stage three! Your pear wine should be looking quite clear by now, 2-3 weeks after first syphoning it. You can check how fermentation is progressing by seeing how rapidly air bubbles are moving through the airlock in the demijohn. We found that fermentation had really slowed down at this point and also that there was a thick layer of sediment on the bottom of the demijohn.

We decided to rack our wine into a clean demijohn. In order to do this you will need:

a demijohn
a bung and airlock
a syphon

Step Ten
You must prepare another sterile demijohn. We used the oven method as outlined in our post Homemade Pear Wine: Stage Two.

Our main concern was to syphon off as much of the clear wine as possible, without disturbing the sediment on the floor of the demijohn. We were therefore careful not to move the syphon around too much and we left several inches of cloudy wine behind in the original demijohn. This seemed a bit wasteful but we did want a clear wine at the end of the project and so we felt it was worthwhile abandoning the syphoning before we reached the cloudy liquid at the bottom.

We put a bung and airlock into the new demijohn. During this process we had a few mouthfuls and, to our surprise, it actually tasted like wine!

We were concerned that our wine now only filled the demijohn up about half way. This meant there was quite a lot of air trapped in the top of the demijohn and, with fermentation now slowing down, we were worried that airbourne yeasts might turn our gorgeous pear wine into pear vinegar. Therefore, we left the wine for just ONE WEEK and then decided to bottle it.

Step Eleven
Bottling was very easy. We had a stock of sturdy plastic bottles which we used originally for elderflower champagne, so we just sterilized these and syphoned our wine into them. It tastes fantastic! We feel that it is just about ready to drink but the recipe we used said we should leave it for six months. I guess it is down to individual taste! Anyway, here is a photograph of our gorgeous pear wine. If you decide to make this wonderful wine, we hope it turns out well!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Rosehip Wine

Rosehip wine has long been top of our list of wines to try. There is something promising about the look and smell of rosehips. Even the name sounds appealing ... so much more so than "potato wine" or "parsnip wine" or "peapod wine." After gathering quite a quantity of rosehips last week, we started the first fermentation of our rosehip wine yesterday. The rosehips look and smell so gorgeous we are sure that this wine will be a success!

We wanted a simple recipe and, as always, we are determined to go Campden tablet free. Becky's past experiences with homemade wine have not been wholly positive and she is sure that the aftertaste of Campden tablets is to blame. We decided right away that we would rather try to manage without and end up tossing out some of what we make than make wine that we don't really want to drink anyway because of the lingering odour and taste of Campden tablet.

We looked at several recipes both in books and online. Some suggested infusing the wine by putting the rosehips in a muslin bag and suspending it in the fermentation barrel. We weren't sure this would give enough flavor so we rejected this idea. By the time I had made rosehip syrup and picked over the remaining rosehips, we only had 900 grams of rosehips left. This also guided our choice of recipe. This wine is easy to make but apparently is best left for around 12 months before drinking. We shall see....

The recipe we used was from the Grow Fruit and Vegetable forum website and is courtesy of Two-Sheds.



To make rosehip wine you will need:

900 grams rosehips (2lbs) - picked over, washed, frozen and defrosted
1.35 kilograms sugar (3lbs)
1 tsp pectolase
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp yeast nutrient
wine yeast

a sterilised bin or bucket
5 litre demijohn
bung and airlock
muslin cloth

Step One
We took the advice of many and froze our rosehips overnight. The idea is that freezing them makes them sweeter and also breaks open the skins. We split the rosehips further by bashing them with a rolling pin. They were already in a plastic bag so this was easy. It didn't work perfectly and Becky split some by hand which was a bit painstaking. The general advice seems to be that you should avoid putting them in a food processor as splitting the seeds will result in a bitter wine. Hence the freezing and the bashing.

Step Two
Put the sugar in a pan with 3 litres of water. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Then put this mixture into the fermentation bin along with the crushed rosehips.

Step Three
Make sure the mixture is not too hot and then add the pectolase, yeast nutrient and yeast. By not too hot, we mean it should be lukewarm or slightly warmer... around hand heat. You do not want to kill the yeast off by adding it to a very hot liquid but having the liquid slightly warm will kick-start the fermentation process. The recipe did not specify how much wine yeast. We added just over a teaspoon of VinClasse Super Wine Yeast Compound. I bought it via Amazon as always. Give everything a good stir and cover it.

Step Four
Stir every day for a week. Two days into the process we could see some major fermentation going on. It was bubbling away like crazy. Leave it for a week before straining and putting into a demijohn.


Step Five
The raging fermentation process continues and when we take the lid off our fermentation bin, we can hear a fizzing noise. We hope this is a good thing. Apparently, during the first and more vigorous phase of fermentation, a gas cloud forms above the wine and prevents airbourne yeast organisms from contaminating it. If that is the case, then there is no way any airborne yeast contaminants are getting into our wine.

Anyway, Becky and I syphoned off the wine into a 5 litre glass demijohn and fitted an airlock and bung. There is now an audible glug every 10 seconds. When I look at the surface of the fermenting wine, I can see many little bubbles appearing and bursting. Again, we hope this is a good thing.

In terms of flavour, we had a mouthful each and it has a sweet but pleasant and distinctive sherry-like taste. As mentioned above, you are supposed to leave it to age for at least a year before drinking it. We don't think we can wait that long. We plan on drinking some of it after a few months but keeping a bottle for longer to see how the taste develops and changes. As you can see, it is now the most beautiful blancmange-pink colour. It is a shame the weather was not nicer when I took the photograph but I waited a couple of days and it was still grey and murky.

There is quite a lot of sediment gathering on the bottom of the demijohn so we will rack it again in a week or two into a clean demijohn. That will be stage six....
Step Six
After fermenting away like crazy for around three weeks, the bubbling came to an abrupt halt. Our rosehip wine had clarified and there was a thick layer of sediment on the bottom of the demijohn. We were concerned that we had a case of "stuck fermentation." This happens when the yeast dies or becomes dormant before the fermentation process has finished. We tried moving the demijohn to a warmer place but there was still no activity. Reading on the internet, we came up with two ideas for reactivating fermentation.
1. Rack the wine into a new demijohn and hope that the addition of oxygen during the process will reignite fermentation.
2. Add a special product designed to restart fermentation if it has become stuck.
We decided on the first approach and so we have racked our rosehip wine into a second, sterilized demijohn, replacing the bung and airlock. While syphoning the wine from one demijohn to another, we had a taste and began to wonder if the fermentation process was finished rather than stuck. It certainly did not seem anywhere near as sweet as before. There are scientific processes for figuring out when fermentation has finished. We must read up and figure these out! In the meantime, we decided to leave the wine and see if it bubbles or does nothing. If it does nothing we are planning on bottling it up and leaving it for a few months and then seeing how it tastes.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Rosehip Syrup

We collected around 1.5 kilograms of rosehips in the course of couple of days and so I thought I would make the classic rosehip recipe - rosehip syrup. Initially I intended to add some flavouring (either cinnamon or vanilla) to the basic syrup recipe but in the end decided against it. I am planning to use the syrup as a base for drinks at Christmas and maybe it will better just as it is. I have been having a good browse on the Internet and have found a couple of interesting drinks recipes including one for a delicious-sounding Rosehip Toddy and another for a refreshing Rosehip Cocktail. I will be looking for more recipes this month and will definitely include any I find on a future post.

Rosehip syrup is reputed to have lots of health benefits. It is definitely rich in vitamin C and having a spoon now and then may help fight off colds. Some people take dried rosehip extract to help with the pain of arthritis with studies showing that a powder made from rosehips can be more effective at relieving pain than paracetamol. I don't think any studies have been done on rosehip syrup, however.

There are loads of recipes for rosehip syrup online and I feel like I have read most of them. I also referred to the recipes in a couple of books, including the classic 1960s Pears Family Cookbook. After all that, what had initially seemed like the simplest of projects started to seem totally confusing. I thought I'd better stop reading and start cooking and so in the end I did not refer to a specific recipe while actually making the syrup but used all the tips I had read.

I used just 500 grams of rosehips as we have agreed to make rosehip wine later in the week and I didn't think I would be popular if I used up most of our supply of hips . . . This quantity made two 250ml bottles with around 100ml left over. This is probably enough for my purposes but some extra to give away would be nice.

In order to complete this project you will need:

500 grams rosehips (That's just over 1lb and I don't think being exact to the ounce is too vital in this recipe.)
450 grams white sugar (That is even closer to 1lb)
500 ml water (That is 17 fluid ounces of water or just slightly over 2 cups)

1 large saucepan
2 or 3 small jars or bottles
Muslin or a clean tea towel

There is a lot of talk on the Internet about avoiding aluminium pans and I would take that advice. Aluminium will react with the rosehips and deplete the vitamin C levels. Some people say stainless steel should be avoided because it also depletes vitamin C and gives the syrup a metallic taste. However, others say stainless steel is fine to use. I have cooked many fruit-based recipes including jams and jellies in stainless steel and they have never tasted metallic. Since I have a large nonstick pan, I used that but otherwise I would have used a stainless steel pan. Pyrex would be a good choice if you happen to have a large Pyrex casserole.

Step One
Wash your rosehips and sort through them, picking off stalks and leaves. I cut off the black part at the stamen end of the hip but no one else seems to bother with that. Discard any squishy or mouldy hips. Put the remaining hips in the bowl of a food-processor and pulse to chop them up a little. You could use a knife and do this by hand but beware of the fine hairs inside the hips as these can irritate your skin.

Step Two
Put the chopped up rosehips in your pan. You can tip in the seeds and you don't need to worry about that hairs as all the boiling and straining will remove them. Add 250 ml (about a cup) of water. Bring this to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Mash with a potato masher.

Step Three
Drain the pulp through a colander lined with a couple of layers of muslin cloth or a clean tea towel, allowing it to drip for an hour or so.

Step Four
Return the pulp the pan and cover with another 250ml of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Mash it a bit more with the potato masher.

Step Five
Drain this pulp through your colander, again lined with muslin cloth or a clean tea towel. Once again, let the juice drip through for an hour or more.

Step Six
Put your bottles into an oven heated to 140 degrees Celsius to sterilise them. I put the lids in too.

Step Seven
Wash out your pan and then put the rosehip juice into it with the sugar. Turn the heat on low and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Don't let it come to the boil until your sugar has dissolved or your syrup will be grainy. Once the sugar has dissolved, bring the syrup to the boil and boil vigorously for exactly five minutes.

Step Eight
When your bottles or jars have been in the oven for around 20 minutes, remove them. Pour the syrup into the sterilised bottles or jars. Seal them up and label them. The syrup will keep for a couple of months if you do not open the jar but after it is opened you should put it in the fridge and use it within a couple of weeks.

I am looking forward to mixing some drinks with my syrup!

Friday, 8 November 2013


If you feel like foraging something from the hedgerow right now, rosehips are a pretty good bet.


We went out yesterday with our secateurs and picked over a kilogram.


Rosehips do vary a bit in size and shape but most the ones we found were tapered at each end rather than round. They are a gorgeous bright red colour and have shiny, waxy skins. They should be quite firm to touch. Some grow singularly and others in clusters. As I'm sure you know, the bushes are covered in really sharp, curved thorns. We got caught up on them a lot so wear old clothes and gloves! Here is a close-up photograph to help you identify them more easily.
I'm planning to pick more at the weekend as there are so many recipes to try. First of all, old-fashioned rosehip syrup although I think I will try adding vanilla to it. Then there is rosehip jelly, or rosehip and apple jelly, or rosehip and quince jelly, or spiced rosehip jelly. So many possibilities! We are planning on starting a batch of rosehip wine off next week as well. Please check back for the recipes!

Monday, 4 November 2013

Rowanberry and Quince Jelly

We took a trip to Colchester this weekend to visit my brother and his family and fortunately they have a rowan tree in their garden. My sister-in-law is still convinced the berries are poisonous but they aren't, I promise! We were able to gather a fairly sizable amount (thanks to my nephew's climbing skills) and so I was indeed able to have a go at making a rowanberry jelly and it is really and truly delicious! It has a Christmas-y taste and smell and would make a great gift as it is not to be found on any supermarket shelf.

First of all, if you are at all concerned about accidentally poisoning yourself or your dear friends and family by picking the wrong red berries, I have taken a few more close-up photos to help you identify rowanberries correctly. As you can see, the berries grow in clusters and are shiny and waxy. The leaves are very distinctive. I don't think you can really go wrong if you look for this kind of leaf.

I adapted my recipe from Sarah Raven's Christmas rowanberry jelly, which is in her book Complete Christmas.

2 kg mixed rowanberries, quince, apple, and pear (I used 400 grams of rowan berries, 300 grams of quince, 300 grams of pears, 500 grams of cooking apples and 500 grams of eating apples. I would prefer to use more quince and rowanberries and fewer apples, but that is all I had.)
juice of 2 Satsumas
1 tbsp. lemon juice
6 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
6 allspice berries
around 450 grams of granulated sugar

fairly large saucepan
muslin cloth or jelly bag
small jam jars and lids
waxed discs

Step One
Pick over and thoroughly wash the rowanberries so that there are no bad ones, stalks, or insects in your fruit mix. Peel and core all the other fruit and cut it into large chunks. Put it into a large pan with 850ml of water.

Step Two
Put all your fruit into a saucepan with 850ml of water, the Satsuma and lemon juice and the spices. Bring to a simmer and cook for around 15 minutes, until the berries are just tender.

Step Three
Tip everything into a jelly bag or colander double-lined with muslin cloth over a large bowl or jug. Allow to drip for at least a couple of hours. Don't press or squish the fruit, just let it drip. The juice from my fruit was a pleasant pinky colour.

Step Four
Sterilise your jam jars. I do this by washing them out and then putting them into an over set to 140 degrees Celsius for at least 20 minutes. I put the lids in as well as the metal funnel and ladle I use when transferring the jelly into the jars.

Step Five
Measure the juice into a heavy-based pan and add 450 grams of sugar for every 570 ml of juice. I ended up with around 750ml of juice. Put a saucer into the freezer to use when testing your jelly has reached setting point. Stir over a low heat until the sugar dissolves and then bring to a boil. Now boil quite vigorously until setting point is reached. To test whether your jelly has reached setting point, take out your cold saucer from the freezer and drop a blob of jelly onto it. Let it cook for a minute and then push it with your finger. If there is a sort of skin on top that wrinkles up when you push it, your jelly is ready to put into jam jars. It took about 10 minutes for mine to get to that point.

Step Five
Remove any white, bubbly scum from the edge of the pan or top of the jelly using a metal spoon. This will stop your jelly from being perfectly clear.

Step Six
Now, ladle your jelly into a jug and pour into your jam jars, using a funnel if you have one. Then lay a waxed disc on the top of the jelly in each jar, waxed side down. These are available in most supermarkets. Put the lids on while the jelly is still hot.

This made 3 small jars with a little left over. It is apparently normally eaten with cold meat but I think it would be great on toast, scones, or anything else really.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Simple and Delicious Spiced Cider: The Second Stage

If your spiced cider has been fermenting for five-ten days, you are now ready to syphon it into a demijohn. At this point you need to add the 500 grams or 1lb of sugar and the following spices:
  • a thumb-sized piece of bruised ginger
  • half a teaspoon of whole cloves
  • a pinch of nutmeg

After adding these ingredients, seal the demijohn and shake it up to help dissolve the sugar. Then put a bung and airlock in the top. I forgot to give Becky the airlock and so she sealed the demijohn with a champagne cork. Here is what happened a week or so later....

"In the early hours of this morning, I was woken up by the sort of champagne cork 'pop' worthy of a Formula One victory celebration. Fearing the worst, I decided that any mopping up and ceiling cleaning could be left until the morning. I needn't have worried, all is well, the cork bung has been found and wedged back in the demijohn and the contents look and smell pretty good."


After another ten days have passed, you can syphon the spiced cider into sterilised bottles. Glass bottles look nice and as this cider must be consumed soon after it is made, it is probably fine to use them. We tend to use indestructible plastic bottles.

We drank our spiced cider on 5th November and thought it was delicious! It is definitely a sweet cider with a mulled taste but we didn't get any complaints. Next time, we may try making it with just Bramley apples to see how that works.