Feb 26

Homemade Hooch

I was at a fam­ily funeral last week. Yes, a sad day. As my hus­band and I were get­ting into our car to join the pro­ces­sion to the ceme­tery, I grabbed a cou­ple of bot­tles from the back seat and tucked them into the wait­ing arms of my lit­tle brother—the same lit­tle brother who is the some­times giver and receiver of our birth­day and Christ­mas gag gifts. I can’t decide if my favorite gift to him was the taxi­dermy frogs in a com­pro­mis­ing posi­tion or the straight jacket. My favorite from him was the dead horse head in the bed.

Any­way, I digress…

More than a cou­ple of peo­ple saw this illicit-looking exchange, but only one man asked me what was in the bot­tles. Well, what could I say?

It was my home­made Hooch! Noth­ing to be ashamed of. We were in North Car­olina, after all.

My brother is the one who set me on my wine mak­ing path. Until now I have mostly stayed with the kits avail­able from places such as North­ern Brewer, also the place where I get my wine mak­ing equip­ment. But in Jan­u­ary of last year I started a batch of apfel­wein. (The recipe and instruc­tions are here.)

It wasn’t dif­fi­cult at all and only required apple juice, dex­trose (corn sugar) and yeast. I mixed it all up and put it into a car­boy with an air lock. I stored it in the base­ment and waited patiently (pro­cras­ti­nated) for a year to bot­tle. And before bot­tling I added another two cups of corn sugar so that now it is a won­der­ful, apple-y, wine-y tast­ing brew. Sur­pris­ingly good!

I’m not sure what’s next. I am embold­ened by this apfel­wein. That is, I’m embold­ened by the suc­cess of this apfel­wein, although it would also embolden me if I were drink­ing it right now. It does pack a lit­tle punch. I didn’t mea­sure the alco­hol con­tent (a process that involves a hydrom­e­ter, two mea­sure­ments of the spe­cific grav­ity and a math­e­mat­i­cal cal­cu­la­tion).  But it def­i­nitely earns the name Hooch.

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Most days, fol­low­ing a brief period of cof­fee and news con­sump­tion, I launch into a caffeine-inspired frenzy of laun­dry, house tidy­ing, email, writ­ing and client-related or other work. Now that we are empty-nesters and week­end soc­cer and school events are a thing of the past, week­ends are often filled with bread and cake bak­ing, errands, major clean­ing or repair projects and—in season—gardening.

But some days…

Well, some days I just can’t quite seem to fig­ure out what to do. I don’t feel par­tic­u­larly inspired by any poten­tial plan. Do I want to sew? Nah. Do I want to make jam? Meh. Do I want to re-arrange the book­shelves? Not really.

Today was one of those days. I spent about 45 min­utes half-heartedly pick­ing up one project and putting it down, wan­der­ing around and look­ing at all the things that needed doing. Noth­ing was really cap­tur­ing my atten­tion. So I was stand­ing upstairs, look­ing out the win­dow and pon­der­ing my lack of enthu­si­asm. That’s then I saw them.

The cedar waxwings are here!

Cedar Waxwings on Win­ter King Hawthorns. (Click on photo to embiggen.)

The cedar waxwings only make an appear­ance here once a year and it’s always within about a two-week period in Feb­ru­ary. In 2009, they were here on Feb­ru­ary 11—yes, exactly three years ago today. In 2010 and 2011 they were here Feb­ru­ary 19. That’s impres­sively reg­u­lar for a group of ani­mals with­out the ben­e­fit of a Google calendar.

Cedar Waxwings on Win­ter King Hawthorns. (Click on photo to embiggen.)

The big attrac­tion for the cedar waxwings are the Win­ter King Hawthorns that line the dri­ve­way clos­est to our house. They are full of lus­cious red berries even in Feb­ru­ary. The cedar waxwings fly in in a huge flock, perch­ing in the trees sur­round­ing the hay­field. You can hear them chat­ter­ing away and see them swoop­ing down in groups of three and four, help­ing them­selves to the berry banquet.

Within three or four days, the trees will be denuded of ever last berry and the cedar waxwings will move on to the next stop on their annual itinerary.

Nat­u­rally, I was inspired to whip out the cam­era and the honkin’ big lens. It didn’t mat­ter that it was cold and a lit­tle driz­zly. I finally had found my project. Good thing I was stand­ing around gaz­ing out the windows!

Cedar Waxwing in Win­ter King Hawthorn (click on photo to embiggen.)

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Garden and food writer Robin Ripley is co-author of Grocery Gardening. Her new book, Wisdom for Home Preservers, is now available from Taunton Press. Bumblebee is about her life in rural Maryland, her garden, cooking, dogs and pet chickens. She also blogs about food and chickens at Eggs & Chickens. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. Thank you for visiting.


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