Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ridge Berry Kiwi Wine - 2014 Vintage

Followers of the blog will know we have been experimenting with the production of Kiwi wines. Late last year we started the process with portions of our 2014 harvest. As we continue to equip ourselves with better instruments while scaling up our home-based production, we are also trying to tune the many variables involved in this process.

Using our new ferementer, one month ago we transferred our first 2014 batch into secondary fermentation. this week it was time to bottle.

First batch of Kiwi wine from the 2014 harvest
When we transferred the brew from the fermenter to the carboys, things were quite promising. We had a strong bouquet of Kiwi and a very sweet wine. we thought another month of fermentation would bring down the sweetness a bit, while clarifying the wine.

Tasting the results this week, we realized two things. First, the wine was not going to clarify very quickly and second, the wine was becoming a little too strong. As a result, we decided to bottle it.

In effect, we probably made a couple of mistakes. The most important is our ratio of honey to Kiwi. What we have today really is a medium to dry Kiwi mead, not really a Kiwi wine. The result is very drinkable, but we feel we can do much better, so this will call for another experiment where we alter our ratios somewhat. In fact, unlike our Raspberry melomel, the late harvest Kiwis are so sweet, we may be able to produce a wine with no honey at all.  

In any case, it was time to put some of our new equipment to the test. We washed and sanitized some bottles. Although we bought a batch, we've become great recyclers of wine bottles over the past 6 months (thanks to our August farm wedding, we recovered a good inventory).

A new pump and spray system with a drying rack really helps the sanitization process.
We then put our bottle filler to the test for the second time. This piece of equipment has made things significantly easier.

With our automatic bottle filler we avoid messes and improve efficiency
The final bit was corking and again our floor based model has proven to be most sturdy.

Corking our bottles with a sturdy floor based system
Finally, it was now time to rack the bottles in the cellar and to monitor how this brew ages over time. Meanwhile, we'll work on our "recipe" with another batch.

Ready for the cellar to see how it ages
While our Kiwi wine was the highlight of the week, we also continue to work on our Tea Room menu. In the past, one of the more popular items has been our seasonal home made soups. One of the issues here has been our stock. We have used a lot of home made meat based stocks. As a large percentage of our customers tend to be vegetarian, we decided that somehow we would have to produce a vegetable stock as our base.

As we have experimented with this, it turns out that making a hardy vegetable stock with deep flavours is not easy. After a few attempts, we found that the best approach and the real trick is to roast your vegetables prior simmering.

A new approach to our Tea Room soups: roasted vegetable stocks
Finally, the art glass gallery postings continue to be generated as rapidly as we can document each piece in the collection. It is difficult to pick our favourite for the week, however for this blog, we've decided to post a Bohemian piece. Circa 1910, this piece was made by Pallme Konig. It is a gorgeous iridescent vase with a pink amethyst base colour and applied vertical threading.

C. 1910, Pallme Konig vase

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Solar Panels

When we decided to drop city life and retire to a farm in the country, our objective was to attempt to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. This meant growing our own food, reducing our energy consumption and overall reducing our environmental impact.

We quickly noticed that things were not going quite as well when we were determined to operate our own Tea Room from a renovated barn. Our electricity consumption was literally going "through the roof". Stove, oven and fume hoods all took up power and to this were added a bank of refrigerators and freezers...not to mention electric heating during cold weather.

We alleviated part of the problem by installing a gas water heater, but this did not go very far in reducing our electrical energy consumption. So this week, it was time to accomplish another major project: the installation of solar panels.

Last week we took delivery of the panels and this week was dedicated to installation. For the work, we approached a local provider called Lantmark Solutions.

Solar panels delivered...time for installation
Our barn is ideally situated with an inclined roof line facing south. The idea was to install a system of just over 10 Kilowatts over the majority of this roof. Based on our sun exposure and historical data, we believe that we can generate up to 7 Kilowatts of electricity, thereby cutting our energy consumption by up to two third.

At first, we were actually considering a completely "off the grid" set-up. This turned out not to be possible with a more significant ground based installation not to mention a major battery storage facility. In fact, it is the latter that prevented us from doing this. The amount, weight, cost and lifetime of the batteries made it an economically unviable solution. As such we opted for a "net meetering" concept whereby we feed all the electricity into the grid (via HydroOne our local service provider) and we are credited for this power generation against our monthly consumption from the grid. With this set up in mind, we believe that the system will pay for itself within 3-5 years.

So daring the cold weather and what could have been a very slippery roof, the Lantmark team went about the installation. The first step was the installation of support rails.

Braving the weather to install solar panel support rails.
Then it was a matter of installing the panels. Not only did we cover the entire south facing roof line, but we also covered portions of the roof facing west and east (the barn is T-shaped).

Installation of western panels.
The final installation is actually quite impressive. Now we wait for hook up to the grid via HydroOne.

West side of solar panel installation (accommodating shaded areas)..
South side installation.
In the meantime, we continued to do our work on the Tea Room Spring menu. This included experimenting with vegetarian pizzas, as well as pastries.

Roasted vegetable pizza with crumbled goat cheese...ready for the oven.
One success this week was a coffee cream meringue. The girls devoured it in 5 minutes and are determined to make it a Tea Room staple.

Doesn't look like much, but this coffee cream meringue seems to be a real success.
Finally, we also continued work on our gallery listing. This week, one of our favourite addition to the collection is a small cabinet vase produced by Daum Nancy, circa 1900.

Daum Nancy acid etched and enameled "Bleuets" pattern cameo vase

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Week of Cooking

With a blistering cold outside, it was very nice to work on indoor chores this week. Most of this time was spent cooking and baking! However, unlike most families our purpose went well beyond the needs of our family dinner. Having a Tea Room means that we are constantly looking for the right menu. Implementing our policy of using local seasonal produce also imposes some important restrictions.

So the week for us was all about experimenting with new and old recipes to highlight both local products and our own farm produce. This went from the creation of new pastries to main dishes.

We started with our scones. We went as far as making a Kiwi raisin scone (of course using our own Kiwi berries which have been transformed into Kiwi raisins).

Kiwi raisin scones

We went on to rework our Madeleine recipe making them Almond flavoured instead of Lemon.

Almond flavoured Madeleines
We even started to rework our Lavender shortbread. Although a classic high tea sweet, some people do not enjoy such strong Lavender flavour. We toyed with this one quite a lot and we think we came up with the ideal solution. We had to have Lavender (we have so much of it on the farm now), but we broke it up a bit with a new flavour and created a French country-style shortbread.

French country-style Lavender shortbread
We're even considering new additions to our pastry, including profiteroles based on the classic French "Pate a Choux". Working with these and our own version of a pastry cream has proven to be a fattening experience!

These are simply "scrumptious"
Experimenting with our main menu items means that we have focussed on our pasta making techniques. We've created some home made noodles that are very versatile....although we did have to improvise when some of these proved extremely long.

Playing with home made pasta.
All in all, it has been a worthwhile week of experimentation...and eating! As we perfect our work we hope to use this blog as a forum to share our recipes.

Finally, being inside has also meant we were once again able to work on our art glass gallery Scholaert Cassel. Since our clientele is composed primarily of international collectors, it was time to set up a make shift studio in the old manor and to begin recording much of our inventory which is not yet posted on line.

Our " make shift" photo studio
As a result, we've now posted the first new addition to our on line Ruby Lane Shop in almost 2 years. It happens to be a beautiful American iridescent compote produced by Steuben in the very early part of the 20th century.

Steuben Gold Aurene Compote

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Scarlet Runner

Since farm work is slowly coming to a standstill, for our first posting of the year, we thought we would summarize our experience with one specific plant we've come to love.

Last Spring, we trialed some new plants we had never grown before. A few, like the Sunchoke, Borage and Ground Cherries have become "keepers" because of their ease of maintenance, their productivity and their value as food. However, none were as prolific as the Scarlet Runner so we'll review this plant from the beginning to its use as food and our most recent recipe: Scarlet Runner Hummus.

We started these runner beans in the dome early in Spring and by mid-April the vines were already well on their way. By mid-May, they were already flowering and we could no longer contain them.

Scarlet Runner shoots in Mid-April
Re-potted, the same plant in mid-May
This is the point where we made an error. For lack of space and with no proper trellis in place in the dome, we decided to transplant them directly from the dome to outside.

These plants, originally from Latin America, are sensitive to temperature. They need to be acclimatized when transferred from a greenhouse environment to the exterior. Since we did not do this, they took to our soil but were delayed in much further growth.

After an initial growth spurt in the dome we did not notice much outside. It was not until mid-Summer that the plants took off again. They were at their best on a south facing wall with a fine mesh trellis to grow on.

By mid-July, the vines were healthy an producing a large amount of flowers.
The amount of flowers produced by these plants was significant. This proved to be a real benefit to us since the flowers not only attracted pollinators such as bees and even humming birds, but they are also edible. As a result, they became a standard decorative fare on our Tea Room plates.

The flowers are sweet and are reminiscent of sweet peas. And even though we were using the flowers extensively, by the end of July we were already collecting beans.

The beans can also be eaten and cooked like any normal beans. What is striking however is the colour of the seed; it is a shocking pink. Regrettably the pink colouring disappears upon cooking however the bean is very tasty and once again reminiscent of sweet peas. One great way to enjoy these is to cook them as you would Edamame (in the pod cooked in a broth) and then shelled when eating.

The Scarlet Runner bean...a striking pink in a green shell
As the year progressed, we continued to get flowering well into September and by October some pods started to mature. At this point we began collecting the dried beans.

By mid-October, mature bean pods began to dry out.
The dried beans were no less surprising. They are very large and resemble black or deep purple stones with coulourful striations.

Mature and dried scarlet runner beans.
Of course we saved a few beans for planting next year, however we were determined to experiment with them as a food source. As such we decided to create a Scarlet Runner Hummus.

To do this, we first soaked our beans overnight (to reduce cooking time). We then boiled them until tender; it took just over a half hour. The water turned deep purple as we did this and the beans lost a bit of their colouring.

Cooked Scarlet Runner beans
We had to taste them at this point and we were rather surprised. They have an incredibly nutty taste.

To make our Hummus, we decided to blend them with Olive oil and Garlic. For 575 gm of cooked beans we combined:

100 ml of Olive oil
50 ml of Lemon juice
1 clove of garlic
8 Tablespoon of Yogurt
1 teaspoon of curry powder

We added salt to taste.

Everything was blended to produce a thick paste. Note: the beans should be added a bit at a time and if necessary you may want to add more liquids and yogurt to get the consistency desired.

The resulting "Hummus" we served with a drizzle of Olive oil and some cayenne powder. We ate this with some home-made bread and were really pleased with the outcome.

Scarlet Runner Hummus served with our own farm bread.
We made a large batch of this Hummus and it only lasted two days. The first question that was asked by those who tasted it: what nut did we use? The bottom line is that the beans have such a nutty flavour, the Hummus almost tasted like crushed Walnuts.

As you will note, we have also been experimenting with baking our own artisan breads. We're using a cold fermentation technique with some success. As such, we've now started our own sourdough starter (named Suzanne) and hope to create our own farm sourdough....perhaps more on this in later blog entries.

Finally, speaking of fermentation, it was time to also check up on our hard cider. We've come to two conclusions. First, twist cap bottles are not reliable if you plan to achieve a sparkling cider (flip top bottles are better). Second, adding a teaspoon of honey to a couple of our bottles made all the difference in the world.

Our cider has developed a nice foam when poured (although the "head" is very short lived) and it is now effervescent. The bubbles are not like those of commercial ciders; they are much finer and resemble a bit that of some craft beers.

Even with a twist cap, our hard cider has come to life

The taste of this brew is just great. It reminds us of a flavoured wheat beer. We're so pleased with the results, we're now ready to invest in some good beer bottles and a capper.

The only comment to make here is that we are restricted in our taste profile to a common apple juice designed for drinking without fermentation. Ideally, we would like to develop a taste profile perhaps with more tannin and acidity. This is the reason for our new orchard and in a few years, this experiment will hopefully progress.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Happy New Year!

With the Holiday Season fully upon us, this will be the last and probably the shortest blog entry of this past year.

We'd like to start by wishing all of our readers a very happy and prosperous New Year.

For us, this week our time was well spent with family and our special Christmas dinner. This was a time where the "farmers" became cooks and for once we began experimenting with our traditional holiday feast. We produced our own chocolate truffles, made our traditional chestnut cakes (but altered its icing from chocolate to mocha), and we replaced our stuffed goose with 2 large ducks. We even made our own Goujeres (a French cheese puff pastry).

From the fields to the kitchen...making a Cognac flavoured Ganache
The ducks proved to be a success; not only were they much meatier than the typical goose, but the meat was superbly tender. We bought them from our local supplier Lakeland and we were so pleased we're likely going to use duck for future special dinners at home.

Superb ducks from Lakeland Meats
In fact, everything we did tackle seems to have worked out. It did give us the wild idea to perhaps eventually produce a Ridge Berry Farm book of recipes (from cooking to foraging, canning and fermentation). We still have to perfect a few things but this may turn out to be an exciting project (of course when we have the time).

At the Tea Room, this was also the time to host one last holiday party. For this family, we used our space to provide an extensive buffet.

One extensive buffet for one last private party for 2014.
Hosting these events, we have developed again some interesting recipes. There is one in particular that seems to have had great success: our ham. We decided to glaze it with a combination of our very own Maple and Birch syrups. It is amazing how the ham will absorb the flavours (particularly Birch) and we have had rave feedback.

Of course with the very mild weather this week, we could not be kept off the farm. We decided to complete one last row of Kiwi trellises. We're really happy now that we've almost contained a quarter of our "feral" kiwis.

With the warm climate of the week, we could not be kept off the land.
As the year is now at an end, we look forward to report to our readers on a lot more discoveries for 2015. So we'll close this blog entry and 2014 with a quick picture of our farm during one of the recent snow storms.

The farm in all its Winter splendour

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Closing for the Season

Well it's already the time of year where everyone is preparing for the Holidays. For us, it means that we have now closed the Tea Room and Market for the season. We will be re-opening in the Spring and the opening date is currently set for March 21st.

This season was full of excitement and surprises. We feel we have accomplished quite a few things on the farm, the manor and the Tea Room. Next year promises a lot more.

We ended our week and our season with one final private corporate dinner at the Tea Room. The setting was just perfect for a cold wintry day and it did feel very much like Christmas.

The Tea Room ambiance was perfect for that one last Christmas private function

Meanwhile we had to continue work on our Kiwis. We are now pruning the plants we had put on trellis some two years ago. These are much easier to tackle than the "feral" plants. However there is still some issues we need to tackle. At first we guided our vines along the trellis cables. This proved to be a great mistake as the vines "pig tailed" along the cables making them extremely difficult to untangle and prune. We've already had the misfortune of inadvertently cutting a Polyamide cable (one of the drawbacks of this technology).

Kiwi "pig tails"...a real problem
What we are trying to achieve is a main trunk and two branches from which first year vines can be "draped" across the cables. We found some great reference to how this should be done and it is our guiding principle right now.

Our ultimate objective

The second problem is that n the first year, we were not particular as to which vines we kept (we kept the strongest and healthiest). In some cases, it meant we had extremely long branches that are much too far from the main trunk. As a result, we are in some cases keeping a new shoot closer to the trunk to eventually become our main branch. Basically it may take us a few years to really train these Kiwis to grow the way they should....but we are getting close.

Slowly getting to the right configuration
We'll have to have one final word on Kiwi growing this year. They are certainly one of our favourite berries, however for those who think they are a good idea to grow...beware! They are extremely labour intensive. We are now looking at a minimum of three pruning sessions a year.

During those cold wintry days this week, we spent a bit of time inside and focused on our wines . A month ago, we started our Kiwi wine using our new fermenter and trying to fine tune our process based on our experience last year. This week, it was time to take our brew and place it in secondary fermentation. As the wine was transferred, we had the opportunity to measure the specific gravity of the the solution (currently 1.10) and get an early taste.

Time to transfer our Kiwi wine into carboys for secondary fermentation
The result so far is very good. The wine is sweet almost resembling ice wine but it has that distinctive Kiwi exotic fruit bouquet. Over time, we expect it to clarify, lose some of its sugars and increase in alcohol content. We expect that this will make a great white wine for bottling in the in the new year.

It was also time to check on our hard cider experiment. A couple of weeks ago we reported on our effort and it's now time to report.

We used locally produced unfiltered, unpasteurized Apple juice. In all home brew directions, one would normally add Potassium or Sodium Metabisulfite to the juice (typically in the form of Campden tablets). This kills any pre-existing bacteria prior to adding a wine yeast.

In past home wine making efforts some years ago, we found that sometimes this can add a taste to the wine. As a result, everything we have done so far avoids this step. When doing this, we are taking the risk that our brew will turn foul. However, so far, our experience has been positive and in the end, we would like to keep the process as traditional and free of chemicals as possible.

This is what we did with the cider. We simply added an yeast to our juice and let it sit. We did this for two weeks until the air trap showed no significant amount of bubbling (meaning the yeast would have processed the majority of the sugars). It took two weeks and it was now time to test, taste and bottle.

The first test for specific gravity was a bit of a surprise. The reading was 1.00, basically similar to water. This meant that the cider would be dry and indeed it was, although some sweetness did remain. Visually, the cider is not clear and has retained its unfiltered juice features. This is not entirely surprising. Some ciders traditionally produced are opaque.

Our first batch of hard cider: 1.00 on the hydrometer scale
The taste of the brew is very similar to a commercial hard dry cider (akin to Blackthorn which is available here commercially). The major difference is in the feel to the mouth since it lacks of carbonation. With hard cider, carbonation is an option but is a difficult one to handle based on the degree of sweetness desired, as well as the alcoholic content.

To naturally carbonate the cider, the objective is to bottle the brew with enough sugar so that the yeast will continue to process it into alcohol while releasing carbon dioxide. In a sealed container, the carbon dioxide dissolves into the liquid giving its "sparkling" quality.

There are two ways to do this. Bottle the brew before the yeast has had a chance to consume all sugars or let the yeast consume all sugars from the juice and then add sugars during the bottling process. This along with the desired alcoholic content means that there are 3 major variables to play with, one over which we have little control (the sweetness of the juice will depend on the Apples and the season).

You can tell we will have to go through quite a lot of experimentation when our orchard begins to produce. The real trick is not to blow up any bottles!

In any case, we decided to bottle our current batch (currently at about 5% alcoholic content). When bottling cider it is recommended you use beer bottles and caps. We used whatever we had on hand (primarily screw caps and flip top bottles). Given the specific gravity, we do not expect any further fermentation or risk of blowing up some bottles. However to be on the safe side, we put our bottles in a large plastic container (we've already made enough of a mess in our kitchen with some previously failed experiments).

Keeping it safe, we're storing our bottles in a large and sealed plastic container.
On the side, we actually took a pair of bottles and added a teaspoon of honey...just to see. We're not certain we will get carbonation and our bottles may not be the best sealed bottles around, however it was worth testing out.

We'll end this blog by wishing all our readers of very Merry Christmas. Although our major operation is closed for the year, we will now be reporting on our winter farm activities as well as the manor's Art Glass Gallery for which we have a lot of work to accomplish.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Terra Madre Day

This week, December 10th, was the time to celebrate Terra Madre (literally Mother Earth). Before we explain this, perhaps we need to explain the Slow Food movement. Slow Food was created in the late 80's by an enterprising and visionary Italian: Carlo Petrini. The Slow Food movement was a response to Fast Food and everything it represented.

Our society has become extremely efficient in producing edible calories. In its industrial form, food has become caloric intake with very little thought to nutrients or its impact on human health, the environment and culture. This has happened to the point that in 2013, for the first time, more people have died as a result of malnutrition and obesity related diseases than malnutrition from starvation!

What may surprise many is that our small community of Pelham has a very vibrant and active Slow Food convivium. And this week, Ridge Berry Farm hosted the Pelham convivium as we celebrated Terra Madre day.

Before, we report on the celebration, we thought we would educate our readers a bit on the Slow Food movement by providing a video describing the global network.

Slow Food Canada has recently also published a beautiful video describing the importance of Slow Food across this country: Slow Food in Canada

Every year, on December 10th, the Slow Food movement celebrates Terra Madre day. Our own Pelham convivium gathered at the farm's Tea Room to enjoy a dinner among like-minded friends. This dinner was entirely prepared by our members to celebrate what we consider real food and also to get a report from our own Pelham delegate to Terra Madre and the Salone del Gusto in Torino, Italy (more on this later).

23 members of the Pelham Slow Food convivium gathered at the Tea Room for Terra Madre day
We gathered to enjoy each others company and to celebrate local food.

Enjoying good food and good company
We took this opportunity to share with other members our own passion for the farm, its history and our art glass collection by providing everyone with a short tour. We all gathered in the gallery to share a great selection of appetizers while everyone had a chance to sample our home made Raspberry Mead.

Great selection of appetizers served with our home made brew
The highlight of the evening was a report by Dennis Malone. Dennis participated as our delegate to the Canadian contingent of the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre this past October. This event is a major international trade fair of sorts showcasing and celebrating food producers from around the world. Half of the fair is allocated to Terra Madre and the Slow Food movement.

Denis debriefing the convivium about his Terra Madre 2014 experience
To get a sense of this event, we've embedded two videos in this blog. The first is an introduction to Terra Madre 2014. It captures the energy of the movement and the multicultural aspect of the Slow Food movement; the second is a report of the show and the many activities of what is now a very vibrant community.

Today millions of people across the World, in over 150 countries, are active in the Slow Food movement. For us it represents every principle we are trying to promote at the Farm and in our own Tea Room. If you are concerned about the nature of our food, sustainability, biodiversity, fair trade, the environment and our health, we would strongly urge you to join and be active. More information on our local convivium can be found on the following page: Slow Food Pelham.

Trained as an Aerospace engineer and having participated in a few Space programs, I thought it fitting to close this blog with a Terra Madre day greeting from Space!