So - the hair colour post? Interesting comments. I shall take them all under advisement and ponder some more how I want to approach this. There will be some dithering. But, in the meantime, I'm finally going to get round to doing the post I promised god knows how many months ago.
This is a post that you will (if you're sensible and know what's right) love me for. That's me all over, see - kind to small animals and generous to a fault (*cough*). For what I'm about to impart here is nothing less than how to make fabulous Christmas/birthday/whatever gifts for those difficult people. But only if they drink. Also, this is a brilliant gift for blokes in general and more fun than any god-awful 'comedy' present that I can think of.
You may bleat that it's a bit early to start thinking of Christmas and to a lazy person it probably is but you, my fabulous readers, are all hardworking and industrious and extraordinarily creative so this'll be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy and not at all difficult-difficult-lemon-difficult. Actually there are only two things in my life where I'm preposterously well-organised - one is the week's menus that I mentioned in passing recently, and the other is sorting out Christmas presents. Apart from making Blackberry Vodka (which I actually started in April), I've already got a coupla presents stashed away for relatives. Yes, I know, you want to stab me - I get that a lot.
However, if you do fancy giving this a go (and I recommend it), then now is a good time. This is a vodka/liqueur that can be made with practically any soft fruit and it's raspberry and blackcurrant picking time RIGHT NOW. Strawberries have just gone over, if you're growing them yourself or going to a pick-your-own, that is. Obviously you can buy them all year round in the supermarket, but there's something a bit more satisfying about making this with fruit you've grown and/or picked yourself. So, raspberries and blackcurrants are picking now, loganberries and tayberries will be soon, as will early blueberries (ooh, blueberry vodka!). Blackberries aren't ready until nearer August and September when you can pick kilos of them from the hedgerows so if you want to focus on blackberries, there's enough time to start saving bottles.
WHAT YOU NEED:
Bottles - you can pretty much use any kind of bottle as long as it has a secure cap. Most wine bottles these days have screw caps rather than corks so they'd be fine. Personally I'd use clear glass ones so you can see the lovely colour of the vodka, especially if you're giving them for gifts. Soak the empty bottle to get the label off.
Sugar - caster is best.
Fruit - whatever kind of soft fruit you fancy using. I'm going with blackberries for this post. Actually, I'm using frozen blackberries that I picked last September. Frozen fruit works well so if you pick too many berries this year, bung the excess in the freezer to make more vodka later on - win!
Vodka - there's no need to buy expensive Stoly or Grey Goose (unless you particularly want to) because you're going to be flavouring it with fruit and sugar anyway. All you want it for is the alcohol content so you might as well go for the cheap-ass stuff. For example, in Sainsburys at the moment, 70cl of Smirnoff Red Label is £13.48, whereas their basic range vodka is £7.97 for 70cl. Lidl is probably even cheaper.
Let's get started, shall we?
1. Get your empty bottle, preferably now label-less (okay, I just turned my bottle round here but then I'm keeping this one for me and TLH to drink, and we don't care that the label's still on it - we're more interested in what's inside the bottle than stuck on the outside but if you want to gift it, as I said, label-less is more purty)
2. Weigh the empty bottle. This will become clear in a bit:
This one weighs 343g, as you can see.
3. Get your washed fruit that you've picked over to remove any yukky bits (small sticks, dead insects, mouldy bits). As mentioned above, I'm using some frozen blackberries that I picked last year:
4. Stuff as much fruit as you like into the bottle. Some of my blackberries were a bit too big but because they were frozen I just left them a second and as they started to defrost was then able to push them down the neck. I reckon about half a bottle full is pretty good:
5. Weigh the bottle again:
This is because you need to put in the same amount of sugar as there is fruit. As you can see, bottle and fruit together weigh 504g. So by subtracting the weight of the empty bottle (343g) from that, we get the weight of the fruit - 161g.
6. Weigh out the caster sugar:
7. Add sugar to the bottle. When I did this first last year, I'd got to this stage and then realised I didn't have a narrow enough funnel to get the sugar down the neck. Pouring it straight from the jug doesn't work, it tends to go everywhere so you do really need a funnel. I compromised by cutting the top off a tonic water bottle, like so:
and then holding it on top of the bottle:
It works well and I don't get sugar everywhere. So, the sugar has been added:
8. Add the vodka. If you've a steady hand you can probably pour it directly from one bottle into the other but I can be a bit spacky so I use a jug as it's easier to control:
Give it a bit of a shake to loosen the sugar up from the bottom and you'll see it start to change colour. You may have to top it up a bit as the vodka sinks down into the fruit and sugar:
9. Put a label on it, saying what it is, and date it. Store it somewhere cool and dark (I use a wine rack in the garage) and - MOST IMPORTANT - shake the bottle once a week for about three months to ensure that all the sugar has dissolved and the flavour is dissipating nicely. You can shake the bottle more than once a week, if you really, really want to, but once a week is fine. I got into the habit of giving them a good shake (ooh, matron....) every time I went into the garage.
Now - and this is EVEN MORE IMPORTANT - if you're using blackberries, you need to filter the blackberries out after three months. If you're using raspberries (and probably other soft fruit as well) you don't have to do this, you can leave the berries in there. This is because blackberries have a core (raspberries leave the core behind on the plant when you pick them, so you sort of just get a raspberry hat, or perhaps wig. Yes, I quite like the idea of a raspberry wig) and the blackberry core will make the flavour go woody after 3 months and we don't want woody vodka now, do we? I would suggest making a note on your calendar or diary to remind yourself to do this.
I made a batch of Blackberry Vodka back in the middle of April so that means it's now time to filter them out. This batch are going to be Christmas presents this year and I've used smaller 50cl bottles ('cos I'm a cheapskate).
10. Tip out the vodka into a jug through a sieve. It can be a bit of a fiddle getting all the fruit back out, but back out it has to come:
You can see that the berries have had quite a lot of colour leached out of them and are a fairly unappetising pinky-browny colour. Bizarrely they also don't taste that great so there's no point in keeping hold of them to add to, say, ice cream because it doesn't work (this only applies to blackberries - I was once given a bottle of raspberry vodka that some friends had made, and the raspberries had been left in it. Once the vodka had been drunk, we tipped out the raspberries and did, indeed, eat them on top of ice cream and they were delicious):
11. If you want to you can now mash the fruit, either with a spoon or your hands, through the sieve to extract more juice. This will, though, make the finished vodka more cloudy (although I suppose it might sink to the bottom as sediment) so if you'd rather it was clearer, don't do this. I did though:
And then chucked the smushed fruit away.
12. Pour the filtered vodka back into the bottle it came from:
And ponder what to do with the little hairs and stuff at the bottom of the jug - they'll settle to the bottom of the bottle if you pour them back in, but you might as well slosh them down the sink:
13. You'll find you need to top the bottle up with plain ordinary vodka, but that's no hardship, is it?
The idea now is that you're meant to store the finished product away for a year to let it mature but that's madness. I made blackberry vodka last August, filtered it in October and gave it away as presents in December and it was bloody fab.
And that's all there is to it. I hope you decide to have a go because it's unbelievably simple to make and it would be a rare and ungrateful person indeed not to be thrilled to receive a bottle. So if you've got male friends or relatives who are tricky to buy for, bung 'em a bottle of this instead. Who wouldn't be excited to get this:
PS. The delightfully fragrant and fecund Antonia has asked in the comments about labels. I have a fancy-schmancy Dymo Labelwriter that I use for my jewellery-related activities, so I just use that, but you can get blank labels for jam-making from places like Robert Dyas or Lakeland Plastics, although they might be a bit pricey for what they are. I've just done a quick bit of searching online and on Amazon.co.uk currently you can pick up a box of 250 self-adhesive white address labels very cheaply (anywhere from 89p to £4.99 for the whole box) that you can just write on, like this:
PPS. I've also been thinking about other fruit that could be good - peaches, for example. But then you have to consider the filtering aspect. Whole berries (blueberries, blackcurrants, raspberries, blackberries) are easy to filter out and you can just use an ordinary sieve, like I did above. But softer fruit, such as peaches, apricots, strawberries, mango, lychees, might be more problematic. I've never used them and it may be that you find the fruit dissolves altogether and just leaves a sediment, or the pieces of fruit may stay more whole. Should you decide you want to filter it out, you could use a jelly strainer (if you have one - it's a bag made of extremely fine mesh that you suspend over a bowl, you use it in jam-making to filter out pips to make clear jelly-type jams):
I do quite like the idea of peach vodka so I might give it a go! If you decide to try a soft-fruit version yourself, do please let me know how it goes.