I've made (or at least started) a few alcoholic drinks with foraged ingredients this year, but haven't written about them yet because I'm saving them. This is partly because they keep well, so can be saved for leaner times, and partly because it amuses me to think of ending the year with a month or two of posts about booze every week. I'm making an exception for elderflower champagne because for me, it's an essentially summery drink. I tried keeping some to let more of the sugar convert to alcohol, but I didn't like it so much. I actually prefer this drink light and sweet, so that's how I'm drinking it this year.
A couple of weeks ago we headed east to see friends and I couldn't help noticing that the English countryside was filled with frothy elderflowers, whilst those at home were not yet out. Knowing that I'd be away this week (just got back this morning) and that my sister and her family are coming to stay tomorrow, it seemed worthwhile picking some to start the champagne so that it would be ready in time for guests, rather than waiting until the flowers closer to home were out. The only trouble was, how to get them home? I formulated a cunning plan...
On the way back from our trip, whilst Ian stopped for a work appointment, I ventured into the Warwickshire countryside in search of flowers. It didn't take long to find some, then I put my plan into action. Some four or five hours later, the flowers seemed relatively unscathed by their journey (Pebble checked them for me).
And the secret to this triumph of transportation?
I'd taken some home brew with me to share with friends over the weekend, and so had some empty bottles to bring back. I filled a couple of them with water then cut the flower stalks long and stuffed as many as I could into the bottle, so there wouldn't be space for the water to escape. Seemed to work pretty well.
Looking up how I made elderflower champagne in previous years, I see that I bottled it almost as soon as it had started fermenting. No wonder it exploded! With a bit of experience of beer-making under my belt, I decided to treat it more like beer this year, which is to say that I left it in the bucket until it had calmed down a bit - actually almost a week - then added a little extra sugar to the bottles. To complicate matters, I had enough flowers (27) for more than a small bucketful of champagne, but not enough to use the five gallon bucket. I started the mixture fermenting in the small bucket (two gallons/ten litres-ish), including three small lemons and one kilo of sugar, then diluted with sugary water at bottling time. The syrup was 100 g of sugar to the litre (that's made up to a litre, not a whole litre of water) and about one third of this and two thirds of the elderflower mix in each bottle. The aim was to make the same number of half-litre bottles as I'd had flowers, but I ended up with 28 because the bucket size is a bit approximate.
Once bottled, it just needed leaving for a week or so, for the secondary fermentation, during which time I was away. I showed Ian where the bottles were in case he needed to depressurise them*, but failed to mention any criteria for deciding whether this needed doing or not. Scarred by past experiences of exploding bottles, he depressurised them after a few days anyway. At least, he did most of them, but got fed up before he finished, so a few were untouched.
By way of testing, I tried one this evening. It tasted good, but lacked the sparkle I've come to expect with this drink. Frankly, it was a bit flat. I'm just hoping that the ones that weren't depressurised (I quizzed Ian on the subject after testing) will be fizzier, and/or the remaining bottles will acquire more fizz over time.
* To avoid shards of glass flying everywhere, I'm sticking to plastic (PET) bottles of the kind fizzy drinks come in. These have screw caps, which makes it easy to release pressure and reseal if necessary.
Also harvesting this week:
Dulse (from dried)
Foraged food challenge summary page here.