Sunday, July 31, 2005

Peachy-keen

Lately I’ve been jonesing for us to make some more wine. We had missed strawberry season and blackberry season, but looking on a Texas agriculture site, it said that we were in the middle of plum season. “Plum wine?” Doug asked skeptically. “Sure, like the Japanese!” I replied. I even bought a bottle at the grocery store so he could try it. Liking it, the hunt for plums began.

One thing to know about making wine, you really need to get the freshest, ripest fruit around. Often times this means going to a farmer’s market or local grower. The fruits that are sold in the grocery store are picked early and then ripen on their way to the store. As a result, grocery store fruit isn’t as high in sugar content and you want a high sugar to make good wine.

Second thing to know is that peaches are the marquee fruit in central Texas, particularly this time of year. Occasionally you see farmers pitch tents on the side of the road to sell their wares, but what is more common is to head out towards Fredricksburg, buying peaches direct from the growers. These growers usually have various peach products for sell as well – from cobblers to jams to peach ice cream. It’s a big tourist draw.

We decided before heading out of town we’d see if we could find what we needed at the Sunset Valley (formerly Westlake) Farmer’s Market. We’d pass right by it and it would save time if they had plums. Plus Doug wanted to make mead and we knew we could find the necessary raw honey at this place. Now this Farmer’s Market is fun to go to but you have to realize it’s not your typical Farmer’s Market. Usually you think of rows and rows of vegetable stands from local growers. This one has maybe 2-3 dozen local vendors, but only a half dozen that sell vegetables. You can however, buy baked goods, lavender hand soap, pastries, meat, soy dogs, dog treats and green tea. But plums seemed to be out of the question. So we decided to head towards Fredericksburg and the hill country after all.

On our way to find a hill country plum grower, we stopped in Dripping Springs to see our friends Karen and Tom and their new log cabin. By log cabin I mean that it’s 3000+ sq. feet, and has a basement and a loft. Needless to say it was nice, as was their log barn. Just before we arrived their newly purchased Longhorn bull calf arrived, but the little fellow took off to a back pasture to hide from Karen’s four dogs. We stayed long enough to admire the house and see a bit of the 40+ acres, but then we had to get back to our quest for plums.

Our first stop was a pretty big and well-known vegetable stand on the way to Blanco. While we didn’t find any plums, we did find bottled rain water and peach ice cream – Yum! The guy at the stand said that plum season was June and we were a few weeks late. He recommend that we head north, past Johnson City (as in Lyndon B.) to another grower who grows plums. So we took our ice cream and rain water and headed to the other grower.

At the other grower we encountered a lot of great smells – the wife was baking peach cobbler and pies. They had peaches, apples and plum jam, but unfortunately, they confirmed we were about three weeks late for plums. However the grower did tell us that his wife made peach wine and peach brandy; we started asking her about it. She said you made peach brandy just like you make peach wine, but when you put it in the secondary fermentation you add a box of white raisins. This didn’t sound exactly right to Doug as he thought brandy was distilled (we later found out Doug was right), but still, Doug decided to make two batches of peach wine – one with raisins and one without. We decided to buy two big boxes of peaches – each about a half bushel, but when we went to pay, we found out that he only took cash and check. The raw honey guy had wiped us out of cash and I had forgotten my checkbook, so we had to drive about 10 miles north to Marble Falls to an ATM machine and then we came back for the peaches. The grower recommended buying #2 peaches to save money – they are more bruised and maybe a bit smaller, but who cares if you are just making wine?

We were almost ready to head back home but first we needed lunch. We decided to try Opie’s, a barbecue place in Spicewood. The best barbecue we’ve ever had was at Coopers in Llano, which is about 80 miles of secondary roads from Austin. One thing to know about Texas barbecue restaurants is that one is usually spun off from another – either someone ready to try their own hand at the business or someone is in a feud with someone else and starts their own. We knew that Opie’s was a spin-off from Coopers, so we were looking forward to trying some.

Fortunately the grower at the peach stand warned us it wasn’t nearly as good as Coopers and we found out he was right. We sampled some smoked prime rib which was pretty good, but the brisket was dry and as Doug said, the ribs were a joke. The sauce was interesting, however. Texas barbecue sauce is usually really thick and peppery. This was a thin sauce and you could taste the vinegar – I’m assuming this sauce was in the North Carolina-style which is supposed to use vinegar, but since I’ve never tried North Carolina sauce, I don’t know for sure. I liked the sauce but I don’t know if it was for the favor or if it was because it hid the meat. Needless to say, we won’t be in a hurry to head back to Opie's.

From there we headed back to Austin. On our way we saw a roadside tomato stand and stopped to pick up tomatoes. The next stop was the homebrew store to get yeast and what we needed for wine. Doug was excited as he was able to buy two 3-gallon carboys, which are a great size for making wine, for $9 each. Regular price is like $40. Our final stop was the grocery store so that we could stock the fridge and get bacon so that Doug could have his BLT’s (hold the lettuce).

We got home, unloaded, sanitized our equipment and started making the mead and wine. Doug fiddled around the stove and figured out what needed to be done while I started working on the peaches. We didn’t have to peel them, but we did have to cut out the bad spots, pit and mash them. I thought it would take maybe an hour to get the peaches done, but four hours, a gnarled hand, and a couple of nicks later, I pitted the final peach. Thank goodness Doug helped between doing things on the stove, or I would have been up all night cutting peaches. It was only after I was done that Doug told me it was 48 lbs. of peaches. I’m glad he told me after I had put down my paring knife. We finally got to bed after midnight.

Actually it was quite fun working on the wine and mead together. And I did peel and freeze a few peaches to make cobbler for beer night. I’m looking forward to see how our wine turns out. If it’s any good, folks might be getting some as Christmas presents!

3 comments:

Auntie M said...

Whew! I'm exhausted just reading about your day! You had to really be jonesing for that wine!!!

:)

laurion said...

Curious, what recipe did you use for the peaches? I'd be interested in trying to distill it down to brandy.

Anonymous said...

I've attempted to make peach brandy. I followed a recipe which advised to start w/ 1 inch of sugar in a 2 gallon jug and then layer peaches and sugar until full. Then let it sit for 6 months. On the first attempt, after 6 months I had peach syrup. On the second attempt, after 11 months I have peach vinegar. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks.