Cherry wine

Categories: History of food

A 17th century recipe for sweet, homemade cherry wine

Fruit wine, or ‘country wine’ as it is sometimes known in Britain, is a broad term used to encompass any type of fruit (other than grapes) that has been left to ferment and become alcoholic, including flower-based beverages such as the delicious elderflower wine.

The basic process involves crushing fruit, filtering it, adding a hefty amount of sugar and some yeast, and leaving it somewhere cool and dark to do its thing.

The following fruit wine recipe comes from The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened, written in 1669. The book also includes a second cherry wine recipe entitled the ‘Countess of Newport’s cherry wine’, the difference in which is barely discernible, other than a noticeably shorter filtration process. Clearly the Countess of Newport didn’t like to mess about.

Sir Digby describes this recipe, ‘to make wine of cherries alone’, as “exceedingly pleasant, strong, spiritful and comfortable.” Sounds good to us.

To make wine of cherries alone
“Take one hundred pounds weight, or what quantity you please, of ripe, but sound, pure, dry and well gathered cherries. Bruise and mash them with your hands to press out all their juyce, which strain through a boulter cloth, into a deep narrow wooden tub, and cover it close with clothes. It will begin to work and ferment within three or four hours, and a thick foul scum will rise to the top.

Skim it off as it riseth to any good head, and presently cover it again. Do this till no more great quantity of scum arise, which will be four or five times, or more. And by this means the liquor will become clear, all the gross muddy parts rising up in scum to the top.

When you find that the height of the working is past, and that it begins to go less, tun it into a barrel, letting it run again through a boulter, to keep out all the gross feculent substance. If you should let it stay before you tun it up, till the working were too much deaded, the wine would prove dead.

Let it remain in the barrel close stopped, a month or five weeks. Then draw it into bottles, into each of which put a lump of fine sugar, before you draw the wine into it, and stop them very close, and set them in a cold cellar. You may drink them after three or four months.”

Sickly sweet
“Cherry wine is incredibly sweet, almost sickly sweet,” says Richard at Cartwright Bros, which sources all of its fruit wines from Devon-based winery Lyme Bay. “It’s not subtle like the elderflower or apple flavours.”

It’s common nowadays to manually add yeast to aid the fermentation process, but Sir Digby—English courtier, diplomat, philosopher, food author and amateur oenophile—preferred to leave his open to the elements.

“All wines need some kind of yeast to ferment,” explains Richard. “Modern day winemakers like to use certain types of yeast and control timings, taste etc, but you can leave it to occur naturally. It’s down to preference, really.”

One look at the array of fruit wines available at Cartwright Bros—and a couple of samples, in the name of journalistic integrity, of course—and it becomes clear that a delicious wine can be made out of just about any fruit you can get your hands on.

But perhaps it’s sometimes best left to the experts. “As a child my dad was always making some kind of wine or other and I distinctly remember our kitchen exploding on several occasions,” laughs Richard. “So I’ve never tried making it myself!”