I’m really excited about this blog post (double-whammy blog posts) because I didn't write it! This post comes courtesy of my younger goofball brother Mark. You’ve all met him somewhat virtually in some of my previous posts but now I’m very excited that he is contributing content to my blog. I’m such a proud sister. May I present to you - my first guest recipe post.
Food is an important tradition in my family. It is something that brought my mom, dad, and sister into the kitchen to help participate in whatever ways we could. This ranged from cutting up vegetables, making vinaigrette for the salads we usually have to accompany the main course, even just making some snacks ourselves, or hot cocoa during the frigid New Jersey winters. Cooking is something that now defines both mine and my sister’s character. She even went on to take up food blogging as a hobby of hers considering she always loves to take pictures of our dinners at restaurants, much to the chagrin of me or my mother.
Although she is formally “Nina,” to me she is “Ginger” due to her red hair and freckles, which became the inspiration for her new alias “The Ginger Foodie.” While Nina took up blogging and touring DC and NYC restaurants, I went a different approach with my culinary passion. I tried brewing and after a failure of a first batch making beer it taught me to just try again and to be more thorough and careful with my work. I decided to tackle something else, something less audacious--mead. When I mentioned my endeavor to my sister, she asked if I wanted to contribute to her blog. Without hesitation, I immediately began crafting the perfect recipe that would be optimal for both myself as a good drink and a fun creative writing exercise (and an assignment for class).
So allow me to introduce myself. Hello everyone! I’m Mark, the brother of The Ginger Foodie! I am a senior at SUNY Potsdam where I study Archaeology and Geology, and like my sister, I am a huge cooking and baking enthusiast but I decided that I should expand my horizons with a foray into a new domain: fermenting! I think that there is so much room for creating beverages for any occasion, and it is an activity that is far more fun than doing nothing on a cloudy Saturday night, when I began my inaugural batch of this mead, and started a wonderful journey into taste.
Mead is an alcoholic beverage created by fermenting honey and water with yeast as the fermenting agent. It is an incredibly old style of preparing drinks for consumption that was romanticized for centuries. It was the chosen drink of Beowulf as he sat in the hall of King Hrothgar. It was a common beverage in the city of Tenochtitlan, the pinnacle of Aztec power in Mexico, and it was the predominate drink in the Old World until the 1700s when sugar made its way across the ocean and then found its ways into beer, amplifying its taste and crowning itself as king of the brews.
Cooking for me is a more than just a hobby; it is a fascinating transfer of ideas, cultures, history, and personality. It is one of the reasons why I study archaeology, as it is a method to understand how people interact with each other, even though those people are long gone, and you are but a person and their trowel, analyzing their remains. Throughout history, food brought people together and what better way to gather people together like a good meal with good company. Today that has transformed into a family dinner, or better yet, a holiday dinner Passover or Easter which both are this weekend.
And when an intrepid culture somewhere in the world (leading evidence points to the Jiahu Culture in Northeastern China) started to purposefully make the first alcoholic beverages, during the Neolithic, by combining rice, water, grapes, honey, and a shopping list of other ingredients, and mixing it with yeasts, it opened up new variety with culinary traditions. There are even some theories out in the world of academia that purport that dinosaurs actually ate half-fermented mega fruits during the Cretaceous Period, and got a buzz from some Dino-Mash.
In our modern day, we have an industry that is valued to be well over the billions of dollars, as well as cultural and historic value that is priceless to people. However, one does not need to be at Anheuser-Busch or working at Stags’ Leap to be able to make a great beverage.
All it takes is a glass jug, a plastic container, water, and a balloon, to create this magnificent beverage. Why a balloon? A balloon acts as an airlock to let the carbon dioxide escape but also prevent any air from entering the mixture. These things as well as one very important ingredient: Time. A now I present to you my take on Vanilla Chamomile Mead: A perfect dessert beverage with sweetness and smoothness.
Vanilla Chamomile Mead
(Yields 1 gallon, apprx 3.84 Liters)
Prep Time: 15 minutes
“Cooking” Time: 25 minutes
Fermentation Time: At least one month
(I did it for two, as it helps with the aging and sweetening process)
1 gallon glass fermenter (called a carboy)
6 quart pot
One gallon of water, (spring or tap)
4 Pounds of pure organic clover honey. (Try to buy from local apiaries SAVE THE BEES!)
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3 strands of saffron
1/4 cup of chamomile flowers (approximately 20 teabags of chamomile tea)
1 packet of active dry yeast, OR, 1 packet of champagne yeast
Poke a hole through the balloon with a thumbtack, this is crucial.
Before brewing, sanitize your equipment. In this case, you will need to sanitize your pot, your glass gallon jug, strainer, funnel, and balloon.
To sanitize your equipment, you can heat your pot up in a preheated 350°F oven for twenty five minutes, or fill it with boiling water where it will need about five minutes to be completely sanitized. You can dip the strainer, funnel and balloon in hot (At least 150°F) water for a few moments, careful not to melt the balloon. Doing this kills harmful bacteria that can ruin the batch.
Boil your water in your sanitized pot. If you are using bottled spring water, you can skip this step, but tap water must be boiled in order to remove harmful elements dissolved in the water. Boil for 5 minutes
Reduce heat to low, and add the honey. Stir well to combine. Turn off heat and let cool to room temperature. Add the chamomile to steep.
Transfer the liquid solution to your carboy, using your strainer and funnel to filter and easier transferring. Add the vanilla.
Add the yeast (this is known as pitching) and then shake the carboy vigorously to aerate and activate it.
Cap the bottle with the balloon, prick the center of balloon with a pin. This will allow CO2 to escape from the carboy.
Place your fermenter in a cool, dark place. I keep mine in an unused bathroom closet, at a temperature of around 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Let ferment for at least two months, this is when the yeast begins to consume the sugars in the honey and turn it into alcohol. There is no limit as to how long you have to let it ferment, but it becomes far sweeter after around the 45th day of fermentation.
After fermentation, bottle, and carbonate it by adding a tablespoon of honey, and a splash of vanilla extract to a quarter cup of boiling water, mixing in a secondary vessel, and then siphoning again to transfer into glass bottles, letting stand for at least a week to carbonate it.
After carbonation, refrigerate or drink at room temperature, and enjoy! Channel your inner Viking warrior and relax like the heroes of yore did.