Green Wizardries with Maxine Rogers


Green Wizardries, Passum and Priapus by Maxine Rogers

I am back at work after two weeks of holiday.  Before I left, we started a batch of wine.  My husband stayed home to to take care of our tiny farm.  That is an occupational hazard of having such a complicated homestead; one of us has to stay behind to manage all the projects while the other goes off, usually in the name of family duty.  

The first step in making wine is to grow the grapes and then pick them when the grapes are good and sweet.  Picking grapes is a fun job that we two do together.  We pile the bunches of grapes into wicker baskets and take them into the house where we crush the grapes and remove the stems which have a bitter flavour.  

The juice and crushed fruit are poured into nylon bags in the primary fermenting vessel.  In our case, this is a large plastic bucket-shaped vessel with a tight fitting lid.  Now, grapes have the right sugar and acid balance to become wine, along with the right sort of yeast naturally present on their skins.  My husband is the wine maker and he adds water and sugar according to some mysterious formula that I really should learn one day.    He also adds wine yeast to get a more predictable fermentation.  

After some days of primary fermentation, he removes the nylon bags of crushed fruit and moves the wine into a secondary fermenter which is, in our case, a very large glass vessel with a airlock on top to keep the wine clean and free from the attentions of fruit flies who’s fondest desire in life is to contaminate wine with bacteria that would cause the wine to spoil.  

I take the wine to the next stage when it is almost finished fermenting.  We like to make the wine into
Passum which is a dessert wine the ancient Romans used to make.  The finished product tastes a lot like

Sherry or Marsala wine and is a considerable improvement n the way the wine tastes without being made into Passum.   

I recently tried an Italian white wine that I believe is the direct descendant of Passum.  It is called Passito di Pantelleria and comes from the island of Pantelleria which is located between Sicily and Tunisia.  It is made with dried (passito) grapes of Muscat of Alexandria grapes.  

The ancient recipe for Passum calls for the wine to be almost finished fermenting and then add another quantity of grapes that have been allowed to shrivel and dry on the vine.  These grapes are on their way to becoming raisins.  The addition of more sweet grapes starts the fermentation again and the yeast is killed by the alcohol when it reaches about 14%.  The recipe then calls for the wine to sit and age with the shrivelled grapes in it and this makes the wine sweeter, stronger and more full bodied.

The Italian Passito wine made in this manner is a good deal less strong and sweet than the Passum I usually make.  Ancient recipes usually say something like, “ add a good quantity of…” so a lot of experimentation is necessary and one must also keep good notes.

We do not have a climate that is conducive to getting grapes to shrivel on the vines and our birds would scarcely allow us to keep any grapes left out for their delectation, so I buy organically-produced raisins and we use those instead.

It is vastly important to use organic raisins as the conventionally-produced sort are adulterated with mineral oil and sulphites.  Sulphites kill the yeast so you would not get the second fermentation.  I plan to keep very detailed notes, this year, on the weight of raisins used in each batch of Passum.  This way, I will be able to see how much variation I can achieve in this year’s vintage and then take notes on which vintage we like best.  I imagine this technique could be used with berry wines or apple wine as well.

The fellow in the photo is the God Priapus and he is one of the most ancient of the Roman Gods.  Priapus is a God of fertility and he is a very gentle fellow who enjoys being offered fruit and flowers.  The lore states that his statues must be made of wood and this statue was made by one of my talented nieces who gathered driftwood off the beach here to make this statue for me.  

Priapus is a God well worth worshipping as he is not only a fertility God but is also a protector of bees.  I guess you may be thinking you don’t believe in the Immortal Gods but that is no hindrance as they require worship, not belief.  It is only the God of the monotheists (Christians, Muslims and Jews) who requires belief.  The other Gods are, perhaps, more self assured. Appropriate offerings for the Lord Priapus include prayers which should be short, to the point and not grovel-y, lit candles, frankincense plus the fruit and flowers previously mentioned. 

I can tell you that we have been worshipping Priapus for years now and have received benefits from his kindness.  This year, we had so much produce, we had to give away tomatoes, cucumbers and even grapes to our friends.