Kitchen Pantry Shelf Redo

A Spot of Home Reorganization

By Celia Hayes

The kitchen pantry in my house is a misnomer. It a small kitchen closet, 25 ¼ inches wide by 27 ½ deep, extending all the way up to the ceiling-level. The builders installed shelves roughly fifteen inches apart. When I first moved in, I attached a pair of narrow wire shelf units to the inside of the door, seven shelves, each one just deep enough to hold a single can, small box or bottle. Later, I put in three wire shelves above the existing shelves. These needed a step-ladder to access. I put the little-used items on them … and then pretty much dropped doing anything more, except for when it was necessary to go spelunking to the back of the deep shelves looking for a box of lasagna noodles. A couple of years ago, my daughter put various appliances that we didn’t keep on the countertop, and a collection of French porcelain cooking dishes into the pantry, and put the foodstuffs into the little butcher-block topped kitchen island. Not much better; we still had crammed and disorganized shelves. We had often discussed the means of making the pantry more usable, but hesitated because of the hassle.

We reached Peak Exasperation this week; when the chore of doing something overcomes the continued hassle of existing with it. I told my daughter to get some boxes from the garage, and empty out of the lower shelves, then get a hammer and knock out the shelves and their supports. Done and done – and then off to Lowe’s for certain necessary materials, including a patching kit to repair dings in the wall, and a sample pot of paint to cover over the places where the shelves had come away. My daughter originally didn’t want to take the trouble. She wanted it done all in a day – but I wanted to go a thorough job, and knew that it would look awful if we didn’t.

Lengths of wire shelving and the clips and brackets to attach them didn’t cost that much. Eight sets of narrow two-shelf units to go along the sides were a little pricy, but the small dimensions of the pantry meant that nothing standard would fit, being either too large or two small. I had them cut seven 25-inch lengths, and we loaded it all in the car and went home. It took a few hours to patch and paint the walls, which interested the cats very much. When the paint was dry, I went to work with a pencil and a carpenter’s level. My daughter had wanted to do adjustable shelves on tracks attached to the back wall, but I vetoed that as being just too expensive. Besides, I had no clear idea of where the studs were in the walls and no interest in searching. I measured the various containers and appliances that we would store on the shelves and tailored the spacing to suit; two shelves 12 inches apart, two at 10 inches, and the rest at 9. I drew a level line across the back wall and out the sides to exactly 12 inches, and went to work with a power drill set with a ¼ inch bit. This took the rest of the day, drilling the holes, and pounding in the clips to support the shelves.

The next day, we made a trip to the Container Store for … well, containers, especially four plastic tubs with airtight tops to store bulk staples in. Those I intended to go on the lower shelves. I had an eye on a short rack to hold mops and brooms, and another wire rack to hold upright boxes and rolls of tinfoil, wax paper and rolls of vacuum-seal bags. That last we had to go back to Lowe’s for. Instead of four narrow shelves on each side, I put five on one side, two on the other, with the mop holder and the roll rack underneath them.

Wonder of wonders, we can now close the pantry door. And it all looks … very much more organized. No need to hunt for lasagna noodles, or anything else now – it’s all right there.

Front Porch

The Shape of the Porch to Come

by Celia Hayes

All righty, then – last week to Lowe’s for two bags of mortar mix and an inexpensive bricklayer’s trowel, so that we could complete two segments of the porch project. For reasons known only to the original developer, the basic plan of my house (and a handful of other small garden cottages in Spring Creek Forest) were built with the front door actually about half-way along one side of a long narrow house – with a kind of square divot indented into the side. A third of a divot was made into a small, covered front porch and the rest just left open. Most people chose to make it into a flower bed, although the whole thing in concrete would have made a generous porch with wide steps going down to the walk.

The original owner planted a photinia in it, which eventually quite overwhelmed the raised flower bed that I made of that space and turning the room behind it into a cave. Finally I had the tree guys take the whole thing out, cutting the stump back to ground level. My daughter and I re-vamped the raised flower bed a couple of weekends ago, laying most of the bricks in a bed of leveled sand – but those along the edge needed to be mortared together, for stable footing, and three courses needed also to be made into a low wall to surround a smaller raised bed.

So, we split the effort; my daughter did the edge, and I began on the low wall. This is one of those things which looks so easy when the professionals do it, but it is possible to do it yourself with satisfactory results … although it will be a bit messy at first, and likely every professional bricklayer in town will be rolling on the floor, laughing uncontrollably at your efforts. Spraying down the bricks first with water will make the mortar stick to where it should, and a certain degree of obsession-compulsion when it comes to keeping things in a regular, tidy, symmetrical pattern will come in handy. So will a level and a mallet; the first to ensure that the bricks are indeed level, and the mallet for whamming them into place. Sprinkle with water, spread with mortar, wham the next brick into place, scrape off the excess mortar … and repeat as needed, several hundred times. Let set, sweep away the excess sand and crumbs of mortar, and there you are.

We plan to fill the raised bed with a mixture of sand, compost and garden soil, topped with gravel to keep the rainwater falling from the roof edge from splashing dirt onto the side of the house. Since it faces south and is a very sheltered space, we’ll plant it with sun-loving, flowering plants like lantana, salvia and Russian sage. There’s a concrete bird-bath to go in the middle of it – just about where the stump of the photinia will – we hope – peacefully will rot away. I also have a number of low, rectangular terracotta planters that will fit nicely at the foot of the raised bed – that’s where the mixed lettuces and salad greens will grow, as soon as it is warm enough to set out seeds. And that’s the plan – next weekend should see it all complete.


Good Stuff Preserved – Sauerkraut

by Celia Hayes

I swear, I had never really eaten sauerkraut in any form when I was growing up. Why Mom never had a go at making it herself is a bit of a mystery, since the basic ingredients are cheap and plentiful, the process pretty simple and the results quite tasty. Likely this was because our own ethnic background is English and Scots-Irish, and it’s just not one of those things. Cabbage being a sturdy green vegetable and well-adapted to the frozen northern hemispheres, it’s a mainstay in peasant cooking from Germany, through Eastern Europe and Russia – and even into Korea, where they make a high-octane variety spiced with garlic and hot red peppers known as kimchi. But the ordinary sauerkraut is the simplest to make at home; basically, it’s thinly-sliced fresh cabbage and Ball pickling salt.

At some point a couple of years ago, we were buying a brand of pickles or marinated artichoke hearts at Sam’s Club which came packaged in massive glass jars, which hold 6-quarts to two gallons. I saved out two of them to store bulk foods in, although they had to go through the dishwasher several times to entirely remove the smell of pickle brine. They’re perfect for fermenting the shredded cabbage in the first step.

Trim of the outer leaves of four heads of cabbage, quarter the heads and cut out the solid core, then either thinly sliver the quarters, or cut into eights and run through a food processor fitted out with a slicing blade, or a mandolin – or even an old-fashioned sauerkraut slicer. It was customary back when to make massive quantities of kraut at a time – a friend of mine in Fredericksburg recently an old-fashioned 5-gallon crock which would ferment enough to feed a small army. I have a huge metal mixing bowl made for restaurant use, so the shreds of cabbage from four heads fill it rather nicely, but you may have to process it one or two heads at a time. Mix the shreds of cabbage with ¾ cup of pickling salt, kneading it gently, as the salt dissolves and the cabbage begins to give up liquid. Let sit for a few minutes and then pack it tightly into the jars until just to within an inch of the top. One of the cabbages I used this week was rather large – so the cabbage shreds filled both big jars and then a quart canning jar. One of the big jars also had two teaspoons of caraway seed added, for extra flavor.

There should be enough brine from the salted cabbage to cover – if not, mix 1 ½ Tablespoons of salt in hot water, allow to cool, and top the jars with the additional brine. The cabbage has to be below the level of the brine. Another recipe I saw for this recommended cutting a cabbage leaf to size, and using it as a topper, to keep the cabbage shreds underneath – or just use a smaller jar filled with weights to keep the cabbage submerged. Cover the tops of the jars with cheesecloth held on with a rubber band, and let sit and ferment in a sheltered cupboard for 3-6 weeks, removing the scum which forms every day or so. When it’s ready, either refrigerate it and eat fresh, or empty the sauerkraut into a big pan and bring to a gentle simmer – not a boil. Pack it into clean hot canning jars, leaving about half an inch of head-space, seal and process in boiling water; 15 minutes for pint jars, 20 for quarts. We have finally finished off the sauerkraut that I did last summer – so time to pickle again!

Our Little Backyard Garden in April

April in the Garden

by Celia Hayes

Ah, the rain which fell last week; glorious, bountiful rain, just when we had given up all hope of seeing such again. And just about when I had concluded that we had skipped over spring entirely and gone straight into summer. Having to run the air conditioner because it’s ninety degrees outside – freaking ninety degrees! – in March! That is just wrong … especially when most of the rest of the northern hemisphere is suffering cold, rain, snow. If I could have figured out a way to swap about twenty degrees of Fahrenheit for about ten inches of rain over a week or so, I would so do it.

On the other hand, the cycle of undue warmth and a sudden generous rain has worked out in the long run, so I ought not to complain too much. The big raised bed is filled with squash sprouts – zucchini, golden and the round greenish ones which my grandmother always called ‘patty-pan’ squash. This is a promising start, for as of yet they are only sprouts: Whether or not my ambition to have squash by the bag-full to inflict on the neighbors remains to be seen. The five seed potatoes that I planted at the far end of the bed are also sprouting vigorously. I had a thought – potatoes might make a very attractive bedding plant, if interspersed with some kind of flowering annual. And at the end of the season, you could harvest the potatoes; ornamental and edible!

Now the small raised bed, full of three kinds of beans is going to town. I thought that all three of kinds planted there were bush beans – but it seems that the middle row is sending out exploratory tendrils towards the chicken wire that I wrapped the raised bed in, so as to prevent the dogs from trampling all over them. My ambitions are to have two more small raised beds, so as to keep the bean crops going as long as possible, and now I see that a trellis of some kind will have to feature in them.

I had three ornamental wire plant towers, bought here and there, now serving as either tomato cages for the tomatoes that I planted in earth boxes, or as supports for sugar peas. I planted the sugar peas just last week, and after seven days there are tiny green slips sprouting in the earth box. The tomatoes in the home-made hanging containers are also thriving; they were started the earliest and so are already putting out embryonic tomatoes. The largest is the size of a marble. Several weeks ago I discovered Rainbow Gardens as a source for exotic tomato starts – a veritable rainbow of colors of tomatoes. I loved the little lemon-yellow tomatoes that we had last year; ‘Yellow Pear’ was the name, and so that’s one kind that we’ll try again. Last week I bought a huge, gangly variety called a ‘Black Krim’ which comes from southern Russia and is supposed to thrive in heat … which we can guarantee!

I’ve held over a number of plants from last year; notably various peppers which had been growing in the pepper topsy-turvey. They did OK in the topsy – not spectacular, but OK. I put them all in pots – much, much better. I will never have to purchase cayenne or jalapeno peppers ever again, and as for bell peppers – a single plant from last year now has nearly a dozen half-sized green bell peppers on it.

And that was my week in the garden – how was yours?

Hauptstrasse Quiltfest in Boerne

The Allure of the Quilt

by Celia Hayes

Once again this last weekend, we were lured to the pleasant bedroom-slipper community of Boerne by the charms of the Squirrel’s Nest on Main Street, which supports the totally worthy services provided by Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation to animal-kind of this part of Texas. This visit also coincided with the celebration of a uniquely American art form – with contemporary examples hung from storefronts, and along the sides of Boerne’s town plaza. They made a splendid show, all through downtown, and many of the businesses along Main Street (or Hauptstrasse) also had window displays incorporating quilts – and many of them were offering drinks … although we had to turn down the offers of margaritas at one otherwise inviting establishment. Were they non-alcoholic? My daughter doesn’t drink, and although I do, 1:30 in the afternoon is just to darned early. There was a lemonade stand in front of one place though. Perhaps we should have gone back…

Anyway; quilts – an essentially American fabric art form, which pretty much runs the gamut from the brutally practical to the over-the-top artistic. Many examples of the latter were on display this weekend; lovingly designed and carefully calculated to draw the eye and to show off the design skills and the artistic eye of the person who made them. (Almost always a woman in the case of modern examples, and totally in the case of historical ones.) There are three different strands in quilt design, by the way, although very often they can be combined within a single quilt. There are quilts that are patched or pieced, in that scraps of fabric are sewn together to form plain or intricate geometric patterns. Then there is the use of an applique, where the design is cut out and appliqued to the fabric of the quilt top itself – and finally, there is white-work quilting, which is used on a length of plain fabric and depends on an elaborate pattern of stitching for the effect.

Historically a theme for the quilt was chose, pattern and color was selected from material either purchased or thriftily using scraps left over from making clothing. Then the quilt top pieces were cut, seamed together, and combined through various means with a padding and a backing to provide a reasonably warm and practicable bed-covering. All clear about the concept here? Things to cover a bed with, to keep people warm with on nights which might be cold, things which were often made on the cheap, utilizing scraps of woven fabrics, flour and seed sacks, and sewn together by women who didn’t have much free time… and such bedcovers were practical things which might on occasion be thrown up upon, or have other stains from bodily functions deposited on them … (urp).

Among some historic quilts shown off in the town plaza were a number made between 1920 to 1950 or so by the grandmother of the collector who had rescued them from storage in the old family farmhouse in Kentucky. Most were patchwork, in the simpler patterns and random fabric scraps, but one was particularly eye-catching, pieced together from pink and greenish-aqua cotton fabric in an interlocking pattern of rings. That had obviously been made from deliberately purchased fabric; and very likely intended to be a show-piece, for the best guest bedroom, perhaps. Two of the quilts were interesting in that they had been pieced together from rectangular patches of light-weight woolen men’s suiting. It seems that they had come from fabric sample books, and when the company catalog was updated, the seamstress had thriftily pieced together the outdated fabric samples. It made a very heavy quilt, in simple rectangles of muted shades of grey, brown, navy, and olive; not much to look at, designwise, but I’ll bet anything that quilt would have been warm to sleep under on a cold winter night.

Clean Your Garage

Use Self Storage To Help Clean Your Garage

by Randy Watson

Outdoor sports such as softball, baseball, football, golf and Frisbee are activities I enjoy when it is nice enough to get outside. Much of this summer was far too hot to be outside playing with the kids or having people over and thus the golf clubs and softball gear didn’t get much action. Usually there is extra space in the house to keep all of my gear but with another baby and larger home office, the sports equipment is losing ground quickly. Most of it is beginning to pile up in the garage which is forcing the cars into the driveway. Now that the weather is starting to cool off, it’s time to start golfing and dusting off the softball bats. What are options for cleaning out the garage with limited space in the house though? After some research, I found the best choice was to rent a self storage unit.

The most obvious possession which should be stored in your garage is a car. Aside from a car, most of the time the garage is used for other stuff you can’t fit in the house like paint cans, spare wood, sheet rock, ladders and lawn chairs. Sometimes, there isn’t even enough room in the house or garage to keep all of your extra stuff and something gets compromised, in my case the cars going into the driveway instead of the garage. I saw this as a potential issue and decided to clean out the garage before it got to looking like a closet where anything extra got dropped and left for later. In addition to paint cans, wood and ladders there was my sports equipment and seasonal tools – lawnmowers, shovels, snow blowers and trimmers.

You have your choice, buy a new San Antonio home or begin cleaning the garage, I made three piles of “stuff”. One pile was for things I could keep, the second was for things to be donated and the third was trash. Once I got going into cleaning mode I was surprised how quickly it went and how quickly the piles built up. Most of my sporting equipment was in the keep pile aside from some old gloves, hockey sticks and golf clubs which were all donated. The trash pile was filled with wrappers, papers, dirt and dust as a result from me sweeping it clean. I was surprised at how much room I now had in the garage but it still wasn’t enough to get both cars in.

I decided to rent a storage unit to keep most of my seasonal garage tools, sports gear and even an old couch I had in a storage room in the basement. Winter shovels, snow boots, a snow blower, hockey gear and the couch all fit comfortably in a 5 x 10 storage unit. Once the seasons shift, I will be able to store my summer gear and tools and use my winter tools and gear. The garage is now clean, both cars fit nicely and I have more time to golf. Another bonus is my wife is happy because she can find everything she needs and all of my smelly hockey gear is in a storage unit until the winter.

You can find a San Antonio self storage facility quickly by using Self Storage Finders. lists thousands of local self storage facilities around the country so you can quickly research, reserve and rent a storage unit online in minutes.

Midsummer in the South Texas Garden

Our Midsummer San Antonio Garden Reveal

by Celia Hayes

At this point, we have about filled the back yard of my San Antonio home and the narrow strip running along the side of the house with just about everything it can hold; plants in the ground and plants in pots, or hanging from baskets from the edge of the back porch. Now my daughter has begun looking speculatively at the front of the house … which admittedly has begun to look a little neglected. Well, those parts not covered with enthusiastic plants are looking neglected. Five or six years ago, I planted one side of the driveway with mostly xeriscape plants, and things which I recall from Greece. There’s a small olive tree in the middle of it, with a fig tree, and two grapevines growing on metal obelisks, a pair of rose bushes, a lot of sage and rosemary, and one tall bay tree. It’s become pretty much a jumble, now, but a not unattractive jumble. It all thrives on whatever rain falls from the sky.

It’s the other side of the driveway, and the walk up towards the front door … that is the area which my daughter warns me is looking a bit slummy. “We don’t want to be ‘those people’ in that house,” she warns me, balefully. The Matterhorn of mulch supplied in the spring by the neighbor doing serious tree-trimming helped a little bit, but the bald fact remained – the length of walkway to the front porch borders a long skinny stretch of mulch with nothing much to break it up save a pair of wildly enthusiastic rose bushes and a small almond verbena tree. I had started a planting at the end – where the gate to the back garden opens, but the stretch in between it and the rose bushes looked … well, bare. And my daughter was struck by an idea when we saw some garden adornments on sale at Tuesday Morning. Among those items were some tall metal shepherd hooks, to hang plants from – very sturdy items and at a very good price.

Why not line the walk with four or five of these, and hang baskets of plants, and some bird-houses which she got at a yard sale a couple of weeks ago, and swap around the two birdbaths? Move the small concrete one out to the front, for the amusement of the birds, and the tall metal birth bath from where it had been to the middle of the garden in the back yard. So, ’twas done this morning, and with a humongous bag of potting soil, all the new hanging baskets were planted. We even added a new rain-gage to the eccentric collection of garden ornaments … one which I had been agonizing over at the Antique Rose Emporium. On Saturday they only had four left, so obviously I had to make a decision … and by this afternoon there was even some rain in it. At last I have been rewarded in planting the flame acanthus and agastache bushes, which between them have sprawled out a long way along the back fence. This week we have seen a pair of hummingbirds busily working their way along the red, and red-orange flowers, almost every morning and afternoon. They might even eventually discover the humming bird feeder, too…

How many useful and attractive plants can one cram into a small suburban garden? I don’t know yet, but we’re having fun finding out.

Home Canning

Adventures in Home Canning

by Celia Hayes

This latest adventure in home food preparation was my daughter’s notion, upon noting that the aisle in our local HEB set aside for housewares and appliances had a new section for home canning supplies; including a sort of starter kit for novices; a large light-weight enamel lidded kettle, with a rack and some implements to shift around the jars … of which there were also a nice assortment in various sizes. I was certain that we had a huge canning kettle in the garage – a gift from a military friend who was moving to another state – but we couldn’t readily find it, as the garage is stuffed with items that my daughter has bought for that residence of her own which she hopes to have one day. But we might have sold the darned thing at the big clearing-out-of-useless-possessions yard sale that we had last year, anyway.

So, following her last big payday, she purchased the kit, a Ball recipe book and some flats of jars, and ever since, we have been experimenting with certain of the fruit and vegetable recipes. We are anticipating a bounty from our garden, in any case – already some of the cucumbers are monstrous in size, and if all the green tomatoes on the plants that we have come ripe at the same time … send the search party to look for us buried underneath a couple of bushels of tomatoes.

Her part-time job for Edible Arrangements is a source of certain kinds of fruit or fruit scraps … waste not, want not, you know. Anyway I’ve always loved the descriptions in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House Books of how our pioneer ancestors went through a frenzy of canning, smoking, curing, and otherwise preserving the bounty of their scratched-out gardens, to last through winter and other hard times. I am an epicure when it comes to food, but I am also a tight-wad. I have elevated tastes, but a need to pinch the pennies until a booger comes out from Lincoln’s nose. I think the historical person himself would sympathize. After all, he grew up relatively impoverished and in a milieu where people did for themselves…

Anyway, it was a natural progression from home brewing, to home cheese-making, to home canning – although I don’t think we’ll go as far as getting a high-pressure canning thingy. But if high-end gourmet ready-prepared food items get any more expensive relative to the raw materials for them remaining relatively inexpensive, we might be tempted… even if I am not any more enthused about the joys of botulism than a normally intelligent human being would be…

This is a recipe for a pepper and corn relish which I copied out of a Thanksgiving issue of Gourmet Magazine, lo these many years ago. This relish which can be eaten fresh, or processed in the canning kettle for fifteen minutes. It makes about 5 pint jars.

Combine and simmer for half an hour: 5 ½ cup fresh or frozen corn kernels, 1 finely chopped red bell pepper, 1 finely chopped green bell pepper, one medium onion, 2 carrots, also finely chopped, 1 ½ cup sugar, 1 teasp dry mustard, ½ teasp celery, ¼ teasp turmeric and 1 ½ cup vinegar.

Next weekend, we may be going to Buda for the Annual Wiener Dog Races … and we’re starting another garden project; a raised bed in a relatively unused corner of the yard. Enjoy!

Time for Golf?
Call The Randy Watson Team of Mission Realty at 210-319-4960

Homemade Cheese Waxing

Waxing the Cheese

by Celia Hayes

That is something which sounds vaguely like something which only ought to be done by consenting adults, in private and behind closed doors, but . . . well, it’s really rather prosaic, in the process of making cheese. It’s the final thing done, before stashing the wheel of cheese in the lower shelf of the refrigerator to age for the required number of months. Well, to all but the parmesan; that variety ages, dries and hardens bare and un-waxed for a year, before getting a slathering of olive oil. It will be another ten months before we can even sample it and know if it is any good, but it already is looking dry and waxy, rather like the less expensive supermarket parmesans.

This months’ cheese-making expeditions have been enlivened, as we are trying to make a half-dozen or so small wheels of farmhouse cheddar. These are about the size of a tuna can, and we intend to give them as Christmas presents to San Antonio neighbors. Two gallons of milk produces three small cheeses; and farmhouse cheddar must age for at least a month. Our neighbors are all nice people, and we like them very much, but after fifteen years of alternating butter cookies and fruitcakes, it’s probably time to up our game, and I am almost sure everyone has forgotten about the ginger-molasses drop cookies which came out looking like they had come from the back end of the dog, and tasting like ginger-flavored flour. No, I do not often make mistakes in the kitchen, but when I do . . .

We even ventured into the purchase of some small, lidded pottery crocks for soft cheese, although the only kind of soft cheese we have accomplished this far has been by accident. My daughter has made gouda, smoked gouda, cheddar, fennel-flavored cheddar, and a couple of the other more complicated varieties . . . but just cannot get the hang of what is supposed to be the easiest: mozzarella. Aside from the very first batch, which she did from a kit – every other batch has come out disastrously. Once, it emerged from the hot whey bath as a hard waxy yellow baseball-sized bolus; every other time, it’s come out as . . . well ricotta. Something goes wrong, even though the curds form and separate very satisfactorily.

She’s tried the method of heating the curds on the stovetop as she folds them together: they are supposed to go all elastic, and pliable, rather like taffy. No luck. Not even the ‘nuke in the microwave for ten seconds and knead them like bread dough’ has the desired effect. Invariably, the curds granulate and just sit there, sullenly defiant. This has sent my daughter spare with frustration, not being able to conquer what is supposed to be the easiest cheese of all. Every time – it turns into ricotta. Sometimes rather nice ricotta, especially when fresh herbs are added – and of course, we can use, for lasagna, and to fill manicotti and pasta shells, but there is a limit.

I did suggest one day that she follow the recipe for ricotta and maybe it would spontaneously turn into mozzarella.

She so did not learn those words in Catholic school.


Wine Brew Fun with Fruit

Fun with Fruit Brewing Wine


Like many of these things that I am reluctant to do at first, but get talked into and eventually start having fun – getting into the home-brewing and cheese-making was my daughter’s idea. Many months ago, I had noticed that storefront location in a local strip mall was now taken up by an enterprise called Home Brew Party. I was unwary enough to mention this to my daughter. At the next opportunity, she dragged me inside . . . and was promptly carried away by the possibilities of making home-brewed beer and wine.

A portion of one of her intermittently ginormous but infrequent paychecks went towards buying two equipment kits – one for wine, one for beer: a couple of food-grade six-gallon plastic buckets with gasket-sealed lids, or a single bucket and a huge glass bottle – a carboy, bungs and air-locks. The two kits came with accessories – a siphon for transferring the liquid from one bucket to carboy; the wine kit came with corks and device ram them into the necks of bottles, the beer with caps and a capper to crimp them tightly . . . and some basic guidance.

We did wind up buying some other things – cleaning brushes on long handles, nylon bags for steeping fruit, and a little device to squirt cleansing solution up into bottles. We started with some ingredient kits, until we got the hang of it. They were expensive . . . and it was much more fun to see what we could do with in-season fruit, or what my daughter could bring home from her occasional job at Edible Arrangements. One of the fruits they use is pineapple, cutting ornamental shapes out of the center of the whole ripe fruit – and the scraps are waste, and so the workers may take away as much as they like of it. My daughter and I came home with what amounted to about twenty pounds, once the usable portions were cut from the rind.

Any fruit that is in season and free, or less than a dollar a pound; a gallon of fruit wine usually needs between two to four pounds of fruit, and about two pounds of sugar, plus some other bits of this or that by teaspoonful: powdered tannin, crushed Campden tablets, yeast nutrient, enzymes. Chop up the fruit, and freeze it overnight – this is key; the frozen fruit will yield up every possible drop of juicy essence. Put the frozen fruit in a fine-mesh nylon bag, add the sugar, the bag of fruit, water, and other required ingredients in the brewing bucket, cover it and attach the airlock. The next day, sprinkle a packet of wine yeast over the whole . . . and every day thereafter for as long as is called for, stir and mash the bag of fruit against the side of the bucket. This week, I started a batch of pear wine, since pears were on sale at HEB for 88¢ a pound.

Sixteen pounds of pears dissolved away to about a quart of fiber and skins. I put the nascent pear wine into the carboy today – it’s cloudy and pale yellow, and smells divinely of pear-essence with a touch of yeast. There was a thin layer of sticky sediment at the bottom of the fermenting bucket. As the pear wine ages in the carboy, more sediment will fall out over the next few months, as it clears. Then, we will bottle it – possibly having to sweeten it again. And there you go – pear wine.

The pineapple wine made the best summer cooler ever: half pineapple wine, half mineral water, over ice with a splash of grapefruit juice. Heaven in a glass on a hot day!

by Celia Hayes