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(…time really flies, as it is not the 20th of october anymore….)
time flies. how cliche is that– so cliche it makes me gag a little. i do have a rather strong gag reflex, but still. how is it already october 20th? i have no idea. either way, today is the day i marked on my calendar 6 weeks ago– today is “check wine” day. ! ! !

eagerly, after a summer bounty full of gooseberries, service berries, currants, red raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb and the whole spectrum, i sorted and froze like a mad woman. my neighbors watched me with curious, raised eyebrows, i have no doubt, as i greedily and seriously harvested berries from bushes they assume to be for the birds… but alas, they are for my stomach, too!

with so much bounty, though, i wanted a creative outlet. i mean, jams check. sauce check. on ice cream check. crisp check. i wanted to make some booze.

my coworkers make mead and wine, and the michigan microbrewery scene has taken me captive. i wanted to participate in this daunting, elusive niche. berries to booze.

a good friend of mine told me he knew how to make some wine, easy. all i needed was berries, sugar, water, some clean milk jugs, yeast, and… unlubricated condoms (i learned later balloons work just fine). he helped me boil the gooseberries in the sugar/water solution, let them sit overnight to cool, guided me in the shaking of the yeast/gooseberry mixture, attaching the condoms, and taping with electrical tape.

i had done it: i had made WINE!

for the next few days, i checked with amazement and some unease–how could i be sure i was doing all of this right? the condoms expanded in ways i didn’t know possible as the ferment took. gooseberry guts ended up in the condoms…they began to sag… was i missing something? i decided to forget about these experimental jugs of wine and deal with the legitimacy of my concoction at a later date.

two weeks ago, another good friend offered to come and check on this crazy experiment– when i described my process, he looked at me with confusion and concern and offered to stop by and give it a look over.

breaking it to me softly, easing me in, he explained, “gwen, this is not gooseberry wine. this is none other than prison hooch!” and burst out in a tirade of laughter. there’s no doubt about the humor here.

that night, he helped me filter the hooch from the less than ideal plastic jugs into a a proper glass fermenter with an airlock. we strained the cheery pink liquid through a t-shirt to collect the skins an seeds, and took a sample before tightening the airlock.

and this blushing beverage was delicious! sweet and not overpowering, the bright color lured us in and caught us where any good drink should– especially for a first attempt at…prison hooch.

today i removed the airlock for another tasting. my calendar told me to. i think it was against policy, i think i am supposed to leave that lock on tight. but the bold pink gooseberry hooch called my name and i could not resist the walk to its basement hideout.

t.a.s.t.y. tasty. next time: gooseberry mead. oh, the glories that thick golden honey will add to those beautiful gooseberries. delightful.

october 5, 2009.

fall is here. there is no question about it. the leaves, crimson and fiery, greet me with waving arms every morning. truly, their warmth coaxes me out of my warm and snug covers these mornings.

a season i always forget how much i enjoy. those crisp gulps of air that only come around during this time of the year. the muted tones, brown and earthy. the garlic’s in the ground and the compost heaps are piling tall, hungry for more leaves.

i feel like it’s also the perfect time for baking. but, then on second thought, there is no such thing as a bad time for baking…. our house is cool and welcomes the heat of the oven. we get this great box of food from gleaners community food bank with all of these amazing goodies. it’s like a csa, but not through a farmer. my house has only participated for one month so far, but a great month it has been! one of the features of our box (the aim is to have 90% of the food sourced from 90 miles surrounding detroit) was two lovely portioned bags of organic cornmeal from hampshire farms.

while i love cornbread as much as any person, i was curious for some other ways to use this treat. not long after, i stumbled upon heidi swanson’s vintage jam tart recipe, and decided that this was to be my monday evening adventure.

cornmeal jam tarts

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
2 tablespoons baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, chilled
1 1/2 cups milk
1 egg white
Any tasty jam that you enjoy.

1. preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. combine cornmeal, flours, salt, baking powder, and sugar in a bowl. if you have a large food processor, use this.

3. add in butter cut into 1/4 in sections. if you are using a food processor, pulse 30-35 times, otherwise use a pastry cutter. as i have neither, i started using forks and then pulsed portions of the mixture in my mini processor– it worked, but needless to say this is not the ideal approach.

4. dump mixture into a bowl if in food processor. add 1 1/2 cups of milk. with a fork, stir till just combined. this is going to be rolled out– add more milk if too dry, more flour if too wet. try hard to not overwork the dough either way, as this will result in tough pastries.

5. dump dough onto well floured surface and roll to 1/3 inch thick. pat on more flour if it looks sticky. cut dough with a medium sized cutter– i used a wide-mouth mason jar as my cutter. then, cut the middles out of half of your circles with a smaller cutter–i used the lid to my cinnamon spice container.

6. brush the rounds with egg white, then stack the rings on top, brushing egg white on these as well. spoon some jam into the hole. i used black raspberry currant as well as a homemade mixed berry in mine. any type you like will do. i also sprinkled a bit of sugar here to add some sparkles to the end product.

7. place rounds on a parchment lined baking sheet, bake for 10-13 minutes depending on size of tart. i think mine were in for about 15 minutes. the parchment paper made the clean up a cinch despite the juiciness of the jam.
this can make 1 to 2 dozen depending on the size of tarts. i made about 14.