July 14, 2009

Fruit Season & Making Wine pt 1 - さくらんぼのワインを醸造

Summer is here which means its hot and the fruit is cheap. Especially cheap for me because I've got a bunch of fruit trees in my garden.
Starting in March the alça started to grow. Alça are basically small sour apple-like fruits, one dictionary defines them as sour plums. They start small, taste like rhubarb and you can eat them whole. I made a crisp out of them and it tasted just like the rhubarb crisp back home. Later they get to be golf-ball sized and the pit gets hard. Most of the foreigners here don't really care for them. Munching on them is a lot like those sour-ball candies we ate as kids, its an acquired taste. Now some of them are finally turning into orange-red plum-like fruits. They taste pretty good but the trees in my garden are covered with ants, which means the fruit is covered in ants.

The next fruit crop to come along back in late May was tut or mulberry, and its season hasn't stopped yet. Mulberry trees(note, they come on trees - not bushes as the kids song would have you believe) produce a longish berry, either dark red or pale green/white depending on the variety of tree. When they ripen up the red variety is very sweet but the green/white tends to have a grassy flavor. The problem with mulberries is that they are constantly fruiting and falling off the tree for months. The ground underneath is covered in rotting berries. Folk here tend to harvest the berries by laying tarps on the ground underneath then shaking the tree. Id harvest them to but I can't afford a tarp.
You can eat them straight, make muribə(sugary fruit preserves), or a lot of people here secretly make vodka from them. Mulberry vodka, known as tut araq, samaqol or tufka depending on the region is strong stuff at 60-80% alchohol/volume(120-160proof). The English apparently make wine out of mulberries but haven't heard of anyone doing that here.

About 5 weeks ago cherry season started. Didn't even know I had cheery trees until I noticed a few on the ground here and there! For awhile I thought the neighbor kids were just being careless with their snacks but finally noticed way up in the trees, above all the other trees the cherries hanging up there. One evening I picked two grocery bags full and spent the rest of the night gorging on a few kilos of cherries.....I won't get into how long I spent in the squatty-potty the next day.

A few days later I still hadn't eaten all of them and they were going a bit wonky so I boiled em up, mashed the pulp & juice separate from pits, added alot of sugar, let it cool and added some wine yeast that I had brought from Japan and poured it all into some bottles, using rubber-glove fingers over the tops to act as airlocks. Stupid me, should have done a better job sterilizing the bottles. The two glass wine bottles both grew an unpleasant green/grey mold but the 3/4 full 2ltr plastic Coke bottle fermented nicely. This breaks all my previous experience with fermenting; the unfilled plastic should have spoiled much more readily than the glass but....nothing goes to plan in this country.....

*cultural note* There doesn't seem to be a native Azerbaijani language word for "plan". Instead they use the Russian loan-word "planı". But my Azerbaijani isn't all that great yet so there may be a word out there somewhere I just haven't learned yet.

Anyhow, racked into the big glass "balun" here's what my cherry wine looked like. Thats the Coke bottle it fermented in with the remaining cheery must in the background. I admit my face did scrunch up a bit with the first sip, it was a fairly dry wine lacking in subtlety or sophistication, but it wasn't nearly as harsh or post-Soviet-chemical-hell-scapeish as many of Azerbaijan's manufactured, fortified-wines. Indeed had it been allowed to age more than a month it many have mellowed and become a rather pleasant.

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