May… be the beginning of something special…

It feels as though spring accelerated rapidly after a slow start this year. The dandelions took me by surprise. Suddenly they were everywhere and just as quickly they seem to have gone to seed and blown away. Certain flowers seem to take over in waves. The buttercups have taken the place of the dandelions in the meadow, where blackthorn ruled the hedges hawthorn – mayflower – radiates, on the woodland floor the glorious bluebell’s time is passing and wild garlic’s white burst are illuminated the gathering summer gloom beneath the canopy.

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Just a week ago the train line was starting to green up. The trees were were no longer sparse but voluminous. The void being filled and everywhere feeling closer. It has now settled into that state as if the change never happened. The leaf canopy that overhangs the road was a cold, lime green but now that colour has deepened to something deeper and richer.

Last year’s forestry work seems to have displaced the nightingales. I can still hear them but they are now deeper into the wood and I am hearing snippets during the day rather than the long plaintive song. As part of the annual cycle, or as a one off change in the environment, gaps are made and filled and often space is found and filled where no apparent gaps were to begin with. Garlic mustard seems to be having a bumper year. That, or I’ve become more sensitive to it. The cow parsley is also now in full bloom. Bugle, greater stitchwort, Ale hoof, cow parsley and dead-nettle are all in flower. Primroses are still visible and I think I spotted an archangel.


I’ve tried a number of variations on the theme of yeast harvesting recently; using the same technique in a London park, spontaneous fermentation under apple blossom and 60 plus year old takeaway dregs. This post documents them.

Dan at Kill the Cat, a beer shop on London’s Brick Lane, asked me to help him collect wild yeast from the Nomadic Community Garden. In the event, the garden was shut but we found loads of flowers in Allen Gardens. It amazed me how much was there when I stopped and looked. What at first looked like nothing but grass and hedges included dandelion, yarrow, dead-nettle, cow parsley, Alexanders that are non-toxic as well as butter cups and alkanet which possibly are. There was also hawthorn in the hedge. We took samples of the dandelion, dead-nettle, alexanders and hawthorn. I chickened out of cow parsley just in case it was hemlock. These samples were treated the same as those picked at home. 6 flowers were placed in individual centrifuge tubes with unhopped wort. The difference was that I prepped everything before leaving home; sanitising the tubes, boiling up the wort and carrying a spray bottle of sanitiser. Dan has some exciting plans for what he would like to do with the yeast, with potentially some collaborations, so let’s hope for a successful harvest! After a week in the tubes there are lots of bubbles, one or two with mould, and I will probably remove the flowers to prevent them spoiling.

Experiment number two employed mini arboreal coolships – AKA small buckets of hot wort hanging in trees. I wanted to capture the moment of the apple blossom using a variation on Michael Tonsmeire’s ambient / spontaneous captures on The Mad Fermentationist. The wort was preacidified rather than hopped, to mitigate bad bacteria but not inhibit good bacteria. 1 litre of hot wort was placed in a 2 litre bucket, with muslin over the top and arched hat of A4 acetate attached to the bucket handle. There are four apple trees in the garden and a bucket in each of the three largest trees overnight. In the morning they were tipped into 1 litre Kilner jars with airlocks. After 24 hours there was activity in all of them with one, from the furthest tree from the house, particularly bubbly.

The third experiment was to reawaken very old beer dregs. My mother’s family live in Hull and an earthenware gallon beer vessel in a wicker carrier was found in a store cupboard at my gran’s house. For a number of years now my parents have used it as a door stop. I recently gave it a bit of a swish and could hear that liquid was inside it. I suspected it had been forgotten about sometime in the 1950’s, possibly a little earlier or later, between when my grandparents moved to that house and when my grandfather died. I think it was used to carry takeaways from a local pub or brewery. It says Moors’ and Robson’s breweries Hull on it, who operated between 1888 and 1960. At the weekend I sucked out the contents with a barrel thief. It was a black sedimenty sludge. This has been added to a hopped low gravity starter.

I also stepped up my previous flower captures – wood sorrel, violet and primrose. There was no great difference between the aromas coming from the room temperature and the water bath samples. Those in the water bath had been held at 35-40 deg C for 72 hours to encourage souring, as an experiment.

Of the wood sorrel at room temperature two had mild fruity esters and were kept. One had white mould with black spots and was binned. Of the warmed wood sorrel, one had mild fruity esters with a possible pellicle, one was fruity and creamy and one smelt of sweaty bum. The latter was binned. The four good samples were combined In a conical flask with 250ml of un-hopped un-acidified 1.030 gravity wort.

Of the violet, one was bubbly with an aroma of flowery perfume but possibly a bit sweaty. Two possibly had black spots of mold where the flowers were not submerged but didn’t smell bad. These two were binned. Of the warm violet, one was sweaty / cheesy (binned). The other two had a flowery perfumed aroma. These two were put in a bottle of 250ml unhopped wort and placed in a water bath at 40 deg C. The single room temperature violet sample was treated as the wood sorrel.

Of the three primrose at room temperature, all were flowery but subtle. Of the warmed primrose, one smelt a bit sweaty and one was a bit savoury – on the way to horsey or leathery maybe. Both were binned. The final tube was a bit flowery. The four retained tubes were treated in the same way as wood sorrel.

After 24hrs both the wood sorrel and the primrose were actively fermenting.

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