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Milberger's Nursery and Landscaping
3920 North Loop 1604 E.
San Antonio, TX 78247

Three exits east of 281, inside of 1604
Next to the Diamond Shamrock station
Please click map for more detailed map and driving directions.

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Wine, Vinegar and Jelly

What, since the beginning of time, is technically a food, aids significantly in the absorption of certain elements in the diet, like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc, has been used to treat people who are ill and give pleasure to those who are well?

From the fruit of the vine, comes the answer to this rhyme—it is wine.

Wine and the art of wine making are as old as man himself, yet "modern man" is just learning that those ol’ timers had a great little product in this liquid called wine. By the year 3000 B.C. Sumerian physicians were dispensing prescriptions for medication dissolved in wine. Many Roman doctors considered wine the drug of choice for insomnia, apathy, shortness of breath, and nervousness. Egyptian priest?physicians regularly prescribed wine for jaundice, ear-aches, and epileptic seizures.

Wine has also been used as a sterilizer. Spear-bearing armies ravaged the globe without succumbing to such typical traveler's complaints as Gaul's Revenge (this was before Montezuma, I guess) because they mixed a few drops of strong wine into foreign waters before they drank.

Wine was, and still is, a complex liquid; and modern medicine is now exploring its applications as a treatment for heart disease, diabetes, depression, and a variety of other physical problems.

How could wine do all of this good? Wine has some medically viable components that have enabled it to be therapeutic as well as intoxicating.

First, there's alcohol. When taken as prescribed by a doctor, alcohol has the ability to expand blood vessels which permits greater blood flow and lessens the discomfort of hypertension (high blood pressure). Wine is frequently drunk with food and the alcohol in wine is absorbed into the blood stream less rapidly than the alcohol in hard liquor. Thus, it is a safe, effective tranquilizer.

However, wine contains other active ingredients in addition to alcohol. The plant pigments (anthocyanins) which give color to fall leaves and fruit become a bacteria-killer after fermentation. A study of patients suffering from a loss of appetite sometimes severe enough to lead to malnutrition or death indicated that the organic acids in wine could stimulate appetite when all else failed.

Different types of wines have different attributes. For instance, many table wines are sufficiently rich in iron to be useful in treating iron-deficiency anemia. Dessert wines score high marks in B vitamins. Other wines are low enough in sodium to perk up mealtimes for those patients trying to come to terms with bland, salt-free food.

So there is evidence that the ol’ wise men were not far wrong when they claimed that wine is "the foremost of medicines" and that, in addition, it refreshes, nourishes and cheers you up. Who could ask for more—get well and be happy too!

Now, all of you teetotalers should be careful before you become too critical of wine lovers. Neither you nor the lifestyle we all cherish so early in history would exist if it weren’t for wine. Wine can be traced back and credited with certain victories throughout man's history, such as the spread of the Roman Empire and its culture, along with numerous religious happenings.

Certainly, wine lovers of any age should drink with discretion. Too much wine, like too much sunshine, can be harmful. But wine making offers the overzealous gardener an outlet for an abundant production.

Literally, anything can be made into wine. Of course, the fruit wines such as grape, strawberry, elderberry, and blackberry are traditional. But how about tomato, carrot, watermelon, muskmelon or collard wine? Crazy? Maybe not! I had the opportunity of tasting jalapeno wine and it is "unusual." So get the brewing pots ready, folks! You may be composting the very ingredients that can give you good health and cheer all year long. Country music singer Tom T. Hall is probably right when he sings his song containing this line: "old dogs, children, and watermelon wine are the ONLY three things in life worth a dime."

I have not gone into the fine art of enology (wine making) since there are as many ways to make wine as there are ways to "skin a cat." Get a good wine book or visit the local wine making supply house. However, now is the time to polish your skills since most of the grapes in this area will be ripening in the next couple of weeks. Growers of the Champanel and Lomanto varieties BEWARE! The grapes of these varieties are not ready to harvest when the berry turns black. Berries will still require ten days to two weeks before sweetness occurs. A quick taste will be the indication, i.e., you will either enjoy the treat of your life or pucker for a week.

Another indication of berry ripeness is bird damage. Birds are the first to know when grapes are ripe. The little devils peck a hole in each and every grape causing the fruit to spoil. The most reliable remedy, periodic shotgun blasts, tends to damage the fruit and irritate the neighbors. The simplest remedy is a net to keep the birds out. These nets are available in local nurseries and can be purchased in different sizes and shapes. One brand name is Ross Garden Net. These are costly but can be used for several years if only put on the vines as berries begin to color and are removed at berry harvest.

For more information about the Texas Wine Industry and Growing Grapes in Texas, see:

A word of warning. The only difference between the best wine that you have ever made and the best vinegar that you will ever make is the type of yeast that is used. Wine vinegar is a wonderful product that you may want to try to make. There are two steps involved in vinegar making. These are sugar to alcohol by yeast fermentation, and alcohol to acetic acid by bacterial oxidation. Any liquid with a sugar content of 5 to 20% can be made into vinegar if the right steps are taken.

The first step is turning the sugar to alcohol by the action of the yeast feeding on it. This is the same step as wine making, but not so critically controlled. There are natural yeasts in the air that usually inoculate the liquid to be fermented. A more exacting method would be to inoculate with yeast that is proven for wine making. Wild yeasts do not usually survive an alcohol content above about 12%, but select strains can survive up to 16 percent. At the end of the fermentation process the resulting amount of alcohol is approximately one half the original sugar percentage (actually 1 to 1.75). This is assuming that the yeast was able to survive till the sugar was all fermented. In other words higher sugar content makes stronger vinegar, up to a point.

The fermentation process is an anaerobic one, meaning “without oxygen”, so it must be excluded until fermentation is complete. The unfermented juice, known as “must” is allowed to have oxygen for a few hours prior to the fermenting. This gives the yeast a chance to multiply before going anaerobic. To accomplish anaerobic conditions, the must has to be contained in an airtight container but vented. The venting is to allow carbon dioxide (a byproduct of the fermentation) to escape. A water trap is used to create venting without allowing oxygen back into the vessel. It works by allowing the greater pressure carbon dioxide to bubble through the water column to the atmosphere.

A trap is available from wine making suppliers or you can make your own. I suggest clear vinyl tubing that can be tied into a large knot with the bottom part filled with water. A good container is a plastic 5-gallon food bucket with a tight lid. Another possibility for a small quantity would be to use a narrow-mouth jug covered with a piece of plastic wrap and a loose rubber band. This should allow any excess carbon dioxide pressure to escape without allowing the oxygen back in the jug. As the must ferments you can see bubbles passing through the water. For the first few days, a trap may not be necessary because the sheer volume of carbon dioxide emitted by the must will exclude any oxygen. Keep an eye on the water level of the trap for the first week, as heavy bubbling can often bump the water out or evaporate it all. The yeast is most active at temperatures between 70 and 90 degrees F., with little happening outside of this range. At these temperatures, fermentation should be complete in about 12 to 20 days. I have found temperatures of 55 to 65 degrees F. to be satisfactory and fermenting complete after about a month. You can tell fermentation is complete when the bubbling ends. Careful observation is required and the bubbling is very slow towards the end (one bubble every 15 minutes or less). This will be hard to see since about all that can be observed is a slow displacement of the water column in the water trap. When this point has been reached it is now time for the second step.

Step number two is converting the alcohol content to acetic acid by the acetobacter bacteria. The bacteria live on the alcohol they oxidize into acetic acid. This process is an aerobic one and as much oxygen as possible must be made available to the bacteria. The easiest way to do this is to fill a container such that a relatively large surface compared to the liquid volume is available to the air. For example, half-filled gallon jug, or even better, a half-full barrel on its side. Make sure to protect the container opening against insects such as fruit flies, sour beetles, flies, etc., with a piece of cloth or other air permeable material. To speed up the natural bacterial colonization process, vinegar “mother” from a previous vinegar making project can be added. “Mother of vinegar” is simply a massive colony of acetobacter. In commercial vinegar making, the alcoholic liquid is trickled down a tower of charcoal or wood chips, on which the bacteria colonize, while air is forced up the tower. By the time the liquid gets top the bottom it has been converted to vinegar.

The final strength of the vinegar will be dependent on the alcohol content of the feed-stock. The acetic acid content will be about the same as the original alcohol percentage. Thus vinegar of 12 % acetic acid would be possible from a "wine" of 12% alcohol content. Commercial vinegar is standardized at 5%, generally achieved by watering it down.

What happens when a fermentation or acetification gets stuck (fails to reach the desired end point)? Take the case of cider vinegar. The fresh cider begins to turn hard or alcoholic, but at the same time an acetobacter contamination begins to feed on the resulting alcohol. The yeast cannot tolerate the acid generated and stops working before converting all the sugar to alcohol. When the bacteria runs out of alcohol, the mixture stagnates as a partly sweet, partly sour slop. No amount of aging ever improves it.

The addition of fresh cider will do nothing as the acid again stops the yeast and the end result is more of the same. I read recently that this can be remedied by the addition of sulfur dioxide to kill the bacteria and re-inoculating with yeast (see a book on wine making for more about bacteria and re-inoculating with yeast). It is much easier to maintain a degree of cleanliness beforehand than trying to fix the bad result. After many years of making vinegars with much variability and with about a 20% failure rate, I've learned the necessity of first fermenting and then oxidizing. Since then, I've had very high quality vinegar. One cautionary note: Do not use a barrel that has been used previously to make vinegar for the fermentation step. Otherwise, you risk contamination of the yeast mixture with acetobacter. This barrel is excellent for the acidifying process as it is already inoculated. Another thing that may happen is a stuck fermentation due to the cider not being at the correct temperature. Changing the environmental conditions should get it going again. If not, the addition of fresh cider and or new yeast may be necessary. I have never had a problem with acetification, but if conditions happened to be so sterile that bacteria didn't get in to the fermented cider, or someone forgot to remove the water trap to let oxygen in after the fermentation was finished, the liquid could remain a wine until conditions were changed.

Making other fruit flavored vinegars can be done two ways. One by juicing and fermenting the fruit as with apples or grapes,or by combining the flavoring fruit or juice with apple cider or grape juice and fermenting it. The other way, and the more commonly mentioned method, is to use a finished vinegar and infuse a mashed flavoring fruit such as raspberries in the vinegar for about a month or so in a tight container, then decant it. This method is also used for herb-flavored vinegars.

I once heard a story about a person making 2 barrels of cider vinegar. One barrel turned out fine while the other never turned to vinegar. What they didn't know was that during the winter somebody else had gotten into the one barrel and drank or siphoned off all the unfrozen liquid. This liquid, known as applejack, is nearly pure ethanol or ethyl alcohol. The poor person never did know where all the "good" stuff went. Barring such unforeseen events, making vinegar should be a pretty straight-forward operation using the previous guidelines.

I also recommend that you protect some produce from the winery enterprise and make some jam and jelly. Jam and jelly can be fun to make and are the perfect gifts for those unfortunates who are not blessed with your green thumb.

Jelly is defined as "a soft, partially?transparent, semisolid, gelatinous food resulting from the cooling of fruit juice boiled with sugar." Jam is defined as "a food made by boiling fruit with sugar to a thick mixture." In simple terms, the homeowner can get himself into a real "jam" if he doesn't use prepared juice (juices of fruit removed by simmering processed fruits and filtering to obtain a clear juice) to make "jelly."

Now that we've gotten the terminology confused, let's talk about jam and jelly making. It's simple as falling off a bridge. First, wash jars and lids; then scald and drain. The second step for jelly is to prepare juice. For jam, the second step is to prepare fruit. Use fully ripened fruit and prepare EXACTLY as directed on instructions of Sure-Jell or Certo packages. Sure?jell and Certo are commercial pectin gelatins, which make jelly and jam preparation fast and simple. Using such gelatin sources insures a rapid gel without prolonged cooking and results in a smoother, more flavorful product.

Measure ingredients, such as sugar and juice. If pure fruit juice has been prepared for jelly making, this can be diluted in order to obtain a milder jelly. After all ingredients are measured and ready, get the largest saucepan in the house, pour in juice with gelatin added, and bring quickly to a fast boil stirring occasionally. Add sugar immediately. Bring to full rolling boil (a boil that cannot be stirred down), boil fast for one minute stirring constantly. Remove from heat; skim off foam with metal spoon. Pour at once into jars, leaving one?half inch space at top.

Cover at once with 1/8 inch of hot paraffin. Cool, cover with loose-fitting lids, and store in a cool dry place. To seal without paraffin, use jars with two-piece lids. Pour immediately into jars, leaving a 1/8 inch space at top. Place lid on jar, screw band on tightly and invert jar. When all jars are sealed, stand upright and cool. Store in cool place. This is very easy—try it.

Some people say that in view of the work involved and the sugar needed, homemade jelly is not economical. Maybe it's not, but after you taste homemade jelly or jam, Welch's will never again satisfy you. Don't worry about a mistake. If your jelly doesn't gel, or your jam doesn't jam, you can still tell everyone you MEANT to make syrup for pancakes! Try it; you'll like it! All instructions are on Sure-Jell and Certo packages. They even have a recipe for wine jelly—something for everyone. Wine jelly will keep you warm on those cold winter nights—you can eat it on a biscuit rather than dirtying a wine glass.

If using too much sugar bothers you, try making a low?cal product. For sugarless jams, send $10 (shipping included) to Walnut Acres, Penns Creek, Pennsylvania 17862 for an 8 oz. sample of L.M. (Low Methoxyl) Pectin) which allows you to "jell" fruits in a jiffy without a lot of boiling down. With each 8 ounces of pectin (enough for 30 pints) comes 1 ounce of di?calcium phosphate. This provides calcium, which activates the L. M. Pectin. L. M. Pectin, obtained from the inner rind of citrus fruits, differs from the pectin (High Methoxyl) commonly used for jelly making which "sets" only in the presence of a concentrated sugar mixture. L. M. Pectin does not require any sugar to "set", but does require the presence of calcium in the form of (tasteless) di?calcium phosphate.

So now you can sweeten jelly to taste using artificial sweeteners, still enjoy the fresh grape flavor and not worry about becoming a fat person. It doesn't get ANY better!