And others are content with green!
Before we came to Uist – when we lived in south Shropshire – we used to go to Pick-Your-Own farms where we’d (painfully) pick lots of soft fruit. It would be mostly pick blackcurrants and raspberries that we’d pick : for the freezer, for baking, and of course for eating fresh in deserts. We’d also pick gooseberries, which would also be for freezing and baking, but above all else would be for making wine. We don’t recall ever coming across desert gooseberries on such farms – they were always the green firm-skinned varieties (often referred to as culinary gooseberries), but we were content with that. Picked when they first start to soften, they make an astonishingly good, crisp and refreshing white wine. Leveller takes up to four weeks to fully ripen, at the first being perfect for wine-making but unpleasant to eat raw ; and at the end delightfully sweet and flavoursome in the mouth, but completely unsuitable for making wine. And in-between? Jams and chutneys!
Gooseberry picking – here at An Gàrradh Mòr, our historic high-walled kitchen garden – usually starts in the last full week of June with the Leveller gooseberries, and ends in the first full week of August with Careless – which is a red dessert gooseberry.
Over the past few years we’ve been using the Careless gooseberries for wine-making, picked when they are still green and sharp – but beginning to soften and with the first blush of red. Fermentation was started with the gooseberries minced but entire – including skins and tops-n-tails.
The resulting wine has been drinkable, but not very appealing : the wine doesn’t clear properly, and has a heavy, cloying flavour. The same procedure but with fully ripe Careless – deep red, soft and sweet – has proved not even half as satisfactory as the wine made with gooseberries picked earlier : above all, far too sweet (even with little or no added sugar). But I’m nothing if not persistent, so this year I’m making wine with the Careless gooseberries only when they are fully ripe (deep red, soft and sweet), but straining off all the skins, soft flesh and tops-n-tails , leaving sediment to settle out, and pouring off only the semi-cleared juice onto the sugar, yeast, yeast nutrient, and pectolaze. I’m hoping that this method will be more successful. Well, the fermentation has now slowed somewhat, and I have transferred the brew from the fermentation bucket to a demi-john : now we have to wait and see!