Wine, Vinegar and Jelly
What, since the beginning of time, is technically
a food, aids significantly in the absorption of certain elements
in the diet, like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc,
has been used to treat people who are ill and give pleasure
to those who are well?
From the fruit of the vine, comes the answer to
this rhyme—it is wine.
Wine and the art of wine making are as old as
man himself, yet "modern man" is just learning that
those ol’ timers had a great little product in this liquid
called wine. By the year 3000 B.C. Sumerian physicians were
dispensing prescriptions for medication dissolved in wine. Many
Roman doctors considered wine the drug of choice for insomnia,
apathy, shortness of breath, and nervousness. Egyptian priest?physicians
regularly prescribed wine for jaundice, ear-aches, and epileptic
Wine has also been used as a sterilizer. Spear-bearing
armies ravaged the globe without succumbing to such typical
traveler's complaints as Gaul's Revenge (this was before Montezuma,
I guess) because they mixed a few drops of strong wine into
foreign waters before they drank.
Wine was, and still is, a complex liquid; and
modern medicine is now exploring its applications as a treatment
for heart disease, diabetes, depression, and a variety of other
How could wine do all of this good? Wine has
some medically viable components that have enabled it to be
therapeutic as well as intoxicating.
First, there's alcohol. When taken as prescribed
by a doctor, alcohol has the ability to expand blood vessels
which permits greater blood flow and lessens the discomfort
of hypertension (high blood pressure). Wine is frequently drunk
with food and the alcohol in wine is absorbed into the blood
stream less rapidly than the alcohol in hard liquor. Thus, it
is a safe, effective tranquilizer.
However, wine contains other active ingredients
in addition to alcohol. The plant pigments (anthocyanins) which
give color to fall leaves and fruit become a bacteria-killer
after fermentation. A study of patients suffering from a loss
of appetite sometimes severe enough to lead to malnutrition
or death indicated that the organic acids in wine could stimulate
appetite when all else failed.
Different types of wines have different attributes.
For instance, many table wines are sufficiently rich in iron
to be useful in treating iron-deficiency anemia. Dessert wines
score high marks in B vitamins. Other wines are low enough in
sodium to perk up mealtimes for those patients trying to come
to terms with bland, salt-free food.
So there is evidence that the ol’ wise
men were not far wrong when they claimed that wine is "the
foremost of medicines" and that, in addition, it refreshes,
nourishes and cheers you up. Who could ask for more—get
well and be happy too!
Now, all of you teetotalers should be careful
before you become too critical of wine lovers. Neither you nor
the lifestyle we all cherish so early in history would exist
if it weren’t for wine. Wine can be traced back and credited
with certain victories throughout man's history, such as the
spread of the Roman Empire and its culture, along with numerous
Certainly, wine lovers of any age should drink
with discretion. Too much wine, like too much sunshine, can
be harmful. But wine making offers the overzealous gardener
an outlet for an abundant production.
Literally, anything can be made into wine. Of
course, the fruit wines such as grape, strawberry, elderberry,
and blackberry are traditional. But how about tomato, carrot,
watermelon, muskmelon or collard wine? Crazy? Maybe not! I had
the opportunity of tasting jalapeno wine and it is "unusual."
So get the brewing pots ready, folks! You may be composting
the very ingredients that can give you good health and cheer
all year long. Country music singer Tom T. Hall is probably
right when he sings his song containing this line: "old
dogs, children, and watermelon wine are the ONLY three things
in life worth a dime."
I have not gone into the fine art of enology
(wine making) since there are as many ways to make wine as there
are ways to "skin a cat." Get a good wine book or
visit the local wine making supply house. However, now is the
time to polish your skills since most of the grapes in this
area will be ripening in the next couple of weeks. Growers of
the Champanel and Lomanto varieties BEWARE! The grapes of these
varieties are not ready to harvest when the berry turns black.
Berries will still require ten days to two weeks before sweetness
occurs. A quick taste will be the indication, i.e., you will
either enjoy the treat of your life or pucker for a week.
Another indication of berry ripeness is bird
damage. Birds are the first to know when grapes are ripe. The
little devils peck a hole in each and every grape causing the
fruit to spoil. The most reliable remedy, periodic shotgun blasts,
tends to damage the fruit and irritate the neighbors. The simplest
remedy is a net to keep the birds out. These nets are available
in local nurseries and can be purchased in different sizes and
shapes. One brand name is Ross Garden Net. These are costly
but can be used for several years if only put on the vines as
berries begin to color and are removed at berry harvest.
For more information about the Texas Wine Industry
and Growing Grapes in Texas, see:
A word of warning. The only difference between
the best wine that you have ever made and the best vinegar that
you will ever make is the type of yeast that is used. Wine vinegar
is a wonderful product that you may want to try to make. There
are two steps involved in vinegar making. These are sugar to
alcohol by yeast fermentation, and alcohol to acetic acid by
bacterial oxidation. Any liquid with a sugar content of 5 to
20% can be made into vinegar if the right steps are taken.
The first step is turning the sugar to alcohol
by the action of the yeast feeding on it. This is the same step
as wine making, but not so critically controlled. There are
natural yeasts in the air that usually inoculate the liquid
to be fermented. A more exacting method would be to inoculate
with yeast that is proven for wine making. Wild yeasts do not
usually survive an alcohol content above about 12%, but select
strains can survive up to 16 percent. At the end of the fermentation
process the resulting amount of alcohol is approximately one
half the original sugar percentage (actually 1 to 1.75). This
is assuming that the yeast was able to survive till the sugar
was all fermented. In other words higher sugar content makes
stronger vinegar, up to a point.
The fermentation process is an anaerobic one,
meaning “without oxygen”, so it must be excluded
until fermentation is complete. The unfermented juice, known
as “must” is allowed to have oxygen for a few hours
prior to the fermenting. This gives the yeast a chance to multiply
before going anaerobic. To accomplish anaerobic conditions,
the must has to be contained in an airtight container but vented.
The venting is to allow carbon dioxide (a byproduct of the fermentation)
to escape. A water trap is used to create venting without allowing
oxygen back into the vessel. It works by allowing the greater
pressure carbon dioxide to bubble through the water column to
A trap is available from wine making suppliers
or you can make your own. I suggest clear vinyl tubing that
can be tied into a large knot with the bottom part filled with
water. A good container is a plastic 5-gallon food bucket with
a tight lid. Another possibility for a small quantity would
be to use a narrow-mouth jug covered with a piece of plastic
wrap and a loose rubber band. This should allow any excess carbon
dioxide pressure to escape without allowing the oxygen back
in the jug. As the must ferments you can see bubbles passing
through the water. For the first few days, a trap may not be
necessary because the sheer volume of carbon dioxide emitted
by the must will exclude any oxygen. Keep an eye on the water
level of the trap for the first week, as heavy bubbling can
often bump the water out or evaporate it all. The yeast is most
active at temperatures between 70 and 90 degrees F., with little
happening outside of this range. At these temperatures, fermentation
should be complete in about 12 to 20 days. I have found temperatures
of 55 to 65 degrees F. to be satisfactory and fermenting complete
after about a month. You can tell fermentation is complete when
the bubbling ends. Careful observation is required and the bubbling
is very slow towards the end (one bubble every 15 minutes or
less). This will be hard to see since about all that can be
observed is a slow displacement of the water column in the water
trap. When this point has been reached it is now time for the
Step number two is converting the alcohol content
to acetic acid by the acetobacter bacteria. The bacteria live
on the alcohol they oxidize into acetic acid. This process is
an aerobic one and as much oxygen as possible must be made available
to the bacteria. The easiest way to do this is to fill a container
such that a relatively large surface compared to the liquid
volume is available to the air. For example, half-filled gallon
jug, or even better, a half-full barrel on its side. Make sure
to protect the container opening against insects such as fruit
flies, sour beetles, flies, etc., with a piece of cloth or other
air permeable material. To speed up the natural bacterial colonization
process, vinegar “mother” from a previous vinegar
making project can be added. “Mother of vinegar”
is simply a massive colony of acetobacter. In commercial vinegar
making, the alcoholic liquid is trickled down a tower of charcoal
or wood chips, on which the bacteria colonize, while air is
forced up the tower. By the time the liquid gets top the bottom
it has been converted to vinegar.
The final strength of the vinegar will be dependent
on the alcohol content of the feed-stock. The acetic acid content
will be about the same as the original alcohol percentage. Thus
vinegar of 12 % acetic acid would be possible from a "wine"
of 12% alcohol content. Commercial vinegar is standardized at
5%, generally achieved by watering it down.
What happens when a fermentation or acetification
gets stuck (fails to reach the desired end point)? Take the
case of cider vinegar. The fresh cider begins to turn hard or
alcoholic, but at the same time an acetobacter contamination
begins to feed on the resulting alcohol. The yeast cannot tolerate
the acid generated and stops working before converting all the
sugar to alcohol. When the bacteria runs out of alcohol, the
mixture stagnates as a partly sweet, partly sour slop. No amount
of aging ever improves it.
The addition of fresh cider will do nothing as
the acid again stops the yeast and the end result is more of
the same. I read recently that this can be remedied by the addition
of sulfur dioxide to kill the bacteria and re-inoculating with
yeast (see a book on wine making for more about bacteria and
re-inoculating with yeast). It is much easier to maintain a
degree of cleanliness beforehand than trying to fix the bad
result. After many years of making vinegars with much variability
and with about a 20% failure rate, I've learned the necessity
of first fermenting and then oxidizing. Since then, I've had
very high quality vinegar. One cautionary note: Do not use a
barrel that has been used previously to make vinegar for the
fermentation step. Otherwise, you risk contamination of the
yeast mixture with acetobacter. This barrel is excellent for
the acidifying process as it is already inoculated. Another
thing that may happen is a stuck fermentation due to the cider
not being at the correct temperature. Changing the environmental
conditions should get it going again. If not, the addition of
fresh cider and or new yeast may be necessary. I have never
had a problem with acetification, but if conditions happened
to be so sterile that bacteria didn't get in to the fermented
cider, or someone forgot to remove the water trap to let oxygen
in after the fermentation was finished, the liquid could remain
a wine until conditions were changed.
Making other fruit flavored vinegars can be done
two ways. One by juicing and fermenting the fruit as with apples
or grapes,or by combining the flavoring fruit or juice with
apple cider or grape juice and fermenting it. The other way,
and the more commonly mentioned method, is to use a finished
vinegar and infuse a mashed flavoring fruit such as raspberries
in the vinegar for about a month or so in a tight container,
then decant it. This method is also used for herb-flavored vinegars.
I once heard a story about a person making 2
barrels of cider vinegar. One barrel turned out fine while the
other never turned to vinegar. What they didn't know was that
during the winter somebody else had gotten into the one barrel
and drank or siphoned off all the unfrozen liquid. This liquid,
known as applejack, is nearly pure ethanol or ethyl alcohol.
The poor person never did know where all the "good"
stuff went. Barring such unforeseen events, making vinegar should
be a pretty straight-forward operation using the previous guidelines.
I also recommend that you protect some produce from the winery
enterprise and make some jam and jelly. Jam and jelly can be
fun to make and are the perfect gifts for those unfortunates
who are not blessed with your green thumb.
Jelly is defined as "a soft, partially?transparent,
semisolid, gelatinous food resulting from the cooling of fruit
juice boiled with sugar." Jam is defined as "a food
made by boiling fruit with sugar to a thick mixture." In
simple terms, the homeowner can get himself into a real "jam"
if he doesn't use prepared juice (juices of fruit removed by
simmering processed fruits and filtering to obtain a clear juice)
to make "jelly."
Now that we've gotten the terminology confused,
let's talk about jam and jelly making. It's simple as falling
off a bridge. First, wash jars and lids; then scald and drain.
The second step for jelly is to prepare juice. For jam, the
second step is to prepare fruit. Use fully ripened fruit and
prepare EXACTLY as directed on instructions of Sure-Jell or
Certo packages. Sure?jell and Certo are commercial pectin gelatins,
which make jelly and jam preparation fast and simple. Using
such gelatin sources insures a rapid gel without prolonged cooking
and results in a smoother, more flavorful product.
Measure ingredients, such as sugar and juice.
If pure fruit juice has been prepared for jelly making, this
can be diluted in order to obtain a milder jelly. After all
ingredients are measured and ready, get the largest saucepan
in the house, pour in juice with gelatin added, and bring quickly
to a fast boil stirring occasionally. Add sugar immediately.
Bring to full rolling boil (a boil that cannot be stirred down),
boil fast for one minute stirring constantly. Remove from heat;
skim off foam with metal spoon. Pour at once into jars, leaving
one?half inch space at top.
Cover at once with 1/8 inch of hot paraffin.
Cool, cover with loose-fitting lids, and store in a cool dry
place. To seal without paraffin, use jars with two-piece lids.
Pour immediately into jars, leaving a 1/8 inch space at top.
Place lid on jar, screw band on tightly and invert jar. When
all jars are sealed, stand upright and cool. Store in cool place.
This is very easy—try it.
Some people say that in view of the work involved
and the sugar needed, homemade jelly is not economical. Maybe
it's not, but after you taste homemade jelly or jam, Welch's
will never again satisfy you. Don't worry about a mistake. If
your jelly doesn't gel, or your jam doesn't jam, you can still
tell everyone you MEANT to make syrup for pancakes! Try it;
you'll like it! All instructions are on Sure-Jell and Certo
packages. They even have a recipe for wine jelly—something
for everyone. Wine jelly will keep you warm on those cold winter
nights—you can eat it on a biscuit rather than dirtying
a wine glass.
If using too much sugar bothers you, try making
a low?cal product. For sugarless jams, send $10 (shipping included)
to Walnut Acres, Penns Creek, Pennsylvania 17862 for an 8 oz.
sample of L.M. (Low Methoxyl) Pectin) which allows you to "jell"
fruits in a jiffy without a lot of boiling down. With each 8
ounces of pectin (enough for 30 pints) comes 1 ounce of di?calcium
phosphate. This provides calcium, which activates the L. M.
Pectin. L. M. Pectin, obtained from the inner rind of citrus
fruits, differs from the pectin (High Methoxyl) commonly used
for jelly making which "sets" only in the presence
of a concentrated sugar mixture. L. M. Pectin does not require
any sugar to "set", but does require the presence
of calcium in the form of (tasteless) di?calcium phosphate.
So now you can sweeten jelly to taste using artificial
sweeteners, still enjoy the fresh grape flavor and not worry
about becoming a fat person. It doesn't get ANY better!