Beet wine? Sure, it sounds scary. But my gramma used to make it and I promise you, Gramma didn’t make junk.
It’s always seemed like such a shame to me that more people don’t realize that there is a use for just about EVERYTHING most of us think of as garbage. Maybe you’ve been using your left over boiled veggie water for your household plants or your garden – good for you! Any step toward creating less waste is a step in the right direction. But, how many folks would ever consider using water left over from some of their veggies to stir up a delicious batch of wine?
Now, don’t go thinking you have to spend a fortune on equipment or on fancy wine yeasts or additives, no sirree. In rural Iowa back in the 40’s and 50’s when Gramma started making her own wine (probably learned from her mother), “wine yeast” and “nutrient” meant nothing more than plain old yeast mixed with water to form a paste and then slathered on a piece of dry bread. “What about tannic acid,” you say? Black tea works just fine, thank you very much! She threw the whole lot into stone crocks in her cellar to work their way into wine (and apparently sampled the goods often during the process, creating a few fun and silly family stories from “back in the good old days“). This recipe requires nothing fancy, nothing complicated, but it sure tastes good!
So, without further ado –
Gramma’s Beet Wine
Burgundy red, fairly sweet… it goes down so smooth that you don’t even know what hit ya till you stand up!
2-3 pounds raw beets, washed, with greens and tap root removed
2 gallons water
5 pounds of sugar (less if you like a dryer wine)
juice and peel of 1 lemon (just peel the lemon in strips, DO NOT ZEST or it’s really hard to get it all out of your wine later!)
peel of 1 orange (optional)
1 slice bread (whatever you’ve got)
1 TBS yeast + enough water to make a peanut buttery-type paste (the kind you use to bake bread with)
- Boil the beets in the water until they are nice and tender.
- Remove from heat and scoop out beets and set aside.
- Pour sugar into the hot water and stir well.
- Stir in lemon juice (which will turn the liquid a vibrant red, instead of the dull brown you had right after boiling), then add the peels.
- Allow to sit until room temperature, then strain out the citrus peels, and pour your liquid into your ferment container (I use old plastic frosting pails from the bakery). Top off the liquid with plain old water to ensure you still have 2 gallons.
- Slather the slice of bread with the yeast paste mixture, set afloat on the liquid, cover the container with a cloth (and tie with something to make sure it is pretty bug-proof).
- Leave it in a cool-ish, dark-ish place to ferment – you should notice a strong, bread-like fragrance in short order. I leave this alone for at least 2 weeks.
- After 2 weeks, skim off the bread – it will look quite disgusting, but that’s okay. Compost it, and for heaven’s sakes, don’t give it to any of your pets. It is unseemly to have a bunch of drunken hens clucking around.
- Siphon (or ladle) the top layers of the wine into a clean, secondary ferment container (another bucket works just fine). Make sure to leave all the dead yeast layer at the bottom alone. You don’t want to drink that since I’m sure it’s pretty nasty.
- Now, cover your secondary pail with a cloth, tie it off and leave it sit for a few months till the liquid is crystal clear. You can bottle it at this point, but make sure to cap the bottles loosely, to avoid explosions. Very young wines are still pretty active and will make lots and lots of bubbles, so you have to give the bubbles room to escape the bottle or… POP! All over the floor, ceiling, Fido… you name it!
I think that about covers it, and believe me, it really is a fun process. The wine tastes lovely pretty much as soon as you reach the bottling stage, but it mellows and gets sweeter with time.