For the first time since I started gardening, the tomatoes were a complete failure, and most of the other kitchen garden produce was eaten by deer, squirrels or insects. The summer, although ridiculously wet and hot, still bore some fruits that were truly terrific, as well as some delicious honey. I raise everything that I grow organically, so I had no reservations about using my produce in home brews.
I started keeping bees two years ago, partly because I wanted access to a steady and more economical honey supply, but mostly because I am concerned with the survival of the bees. The bee colony lives in an English garden hive. This is a style that I chose because I thought it more aesthetically pleasing, and because the boxes were smaller and thus lighter and easier to carry.
In a fit of inspiration, for the first time this year I harvested the fruit from my ornamental quince bushes. I did so because I had decided to make an experimental quince mead (technically a melomel.) The little fruits looks like flattened apples, and are ridiculously hard to cut. I gathered as many as I could, and combined the them with ten pounds of honey to ferment. The resulting wine was quite interesting – It has a “green” taste that I didn’t expect, rather like a taste of early summer. Now that it is in the bottles, it will have to age for at least a year before it is ready to drink. Oh, the burden of patience!
The elderberry bushes produced a terrific crop this year, and I made an elberberry-elderflower mead with them. It is dark and mysterious looking, and a sample taste held deep rich notes of the elderberries, with a strong presence of the elderflowers. A year or two of aging in the bottle should mellow the sharp edges out nicely. No wonder the Native peoples of North America thought the elderberry had healing properties.
Mead making for the summer of 2013 will be ended with two fruits that I did not grow, but that have also never used in wine making before. I will be producing a persimmon melomel, and another made with rhubarb. The rhubarb is to honor a dearly loved friend whom I have known for over twenty years. I still have a bottle of one of the first meads that I ever made saved for us to drain on a momentous occasion that we one day share together. The other brew – the persimmon melomel, is just to take on the challenge of this daunting little fruit. Persimmons are known for their astringency, so a winemaker must use them respectfully, or end up with bottles of fermented “sour patch kids.”
Waiting is what a gardener does best. A fruit tree will take five years from planting to grow fruit. Asparagus can only start to be harvested after the second year. No matter the sun and rain, fertilizer and cultivation, a plant grows in its season and in its own time. I find that mead-making, like gardening has allure for me that no other beverage has. It takes the patience of the gardener and the beekeeper and rounds it with a year or more of waiting while the beverage is in the bottle. Quality and maturity cannot be forced.
How like people, then! Maturity and growth can only be encouraged, not commanded. Try to, and like a plant you will end up with something bent and twisted on itself. Create the conditions for people to grow, encourage them and they will.
And yes for those of you that know about it, I love the movie “Being There ,” with Peter Sellers. It has resonated with me since the first time I saw it. For those of you that haven’t, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Watch it, and you may see the connection for me between gardening and politics.