24 Jul 2012

Home-made Wine and My Uncle Silas



Last weekend the 'beloved' was rummaging round in the shed and came across an old beer crate - to his surprise when he turned it round it was full of bottles of wine - my wine - my homemade wine.  At one time I would turn anything into wine - and what he found were the last few bottles that I was saving for posterity.
Okay - I know that sounds strange - you don't very often see the words 'home-made wine' and 'posterity' in the same sentence, but there is a perfectly sensible explanation.

I was influenced by a a chapter in the book My Uncle Silas by H.E. Bates - called 'The Return'. This is a book of short stories  based on the life of a real person.

Bates's Uncle Silas figure, and many of the lineaments of his character, were based on a real person named Joseph Betts, the husband of H.E. Bates's maternal grandmother Mary Ann. Betts lived in a village in the Ouse Valley, was born in the early 1840s, and lived to the early 1930s. The figure he portrays is Rabelaisian and robust, a true countryman of pithy and rogueish character, simultaneously earthy and whimsical, crabbed and wicked, yet full of humour and "strong original devilishness."



 Inseparable from the text are the illustrations of Edward Ardizzone, which perfectly and brilliantly capture the gnarled quality and sly charm of the subject.


Two series of the short stories were adapted for television. The first aired in 2001 and the second in 2003. They featured Albert Finney as Silas.



But I digress - what is the connection between my home-made wine and My Uncle Silas you might ask.  Well in the last chapter of the book Uncle Silas has died and his nephew has returned to his old home for a last look round.  He sees it has all changed


"As I went up the lane to the house I looked for the old sign of things:  smoke rising from the chimney; the old summer bird-scares, age-green hats on sticks and inside-out umbrellas and twirling shuttlecocks; scarecrows made up of odd legs of Silas's pants and bell-bottomed trousers and the housekeeper's ancient hat and chemises; the ladder in the late apple trees; the bonfire filling the garden and the spinney and the fields with smoke that hung in sweet-smelling clouds under the pines and the golden cherry leaves.  I listened for the cluck of Silas's hens and the grunting and rooting of the solitary sow he had always kept in the black sty under the elderberries at the garden end.  But it was very quiet, oddly silent everywhere.  I could hear nothing."

The nephew tells a few lies to the new owner and manages to make his way into the cottage and down into the cellar where Uncle Silas used to keep his bottles of home-made wine.

"We were in the cellar.  And suddenly I breathed.  It was like the breath of another world:  the wine and the dampness, the musty odour of ferment and dust and spider-webs.  The walls were yellow in the candle-light.  Big shadows fell and ballooned over them as I raised and lowered the candle."

The nephew finds the last of his uncle's bottles of elderberry and cowslip wine and pretends they are vinegar and harness oil and sneakily makes off with them.  The only inheritance he has from his beloved Uncle.  I wept buckets when I read the last couple of chapters and decided that I would keep the last of my wine in the shed - so that when I am dead and gone - whoever lives in our house next - will find my wine and wonder.  Wonder who the person was that had lived here before and why on earth would they leave behind a few bottles of Parsnip wine and a few bottles of Elderberry.  Now you know!

Out of curiosity the 'beloved' opened a bottle of Parsnip to see what the 1984 vintage tasted like.  We were both pleasantly surprised - it was clear as a bell and looked and tasted like white wine should, maybe a little too sweet but definitely fruity and drinkable.  So there you have it  - if you have a few parsnips going spare - turn it into wine - and maybe keep one for posterity just as I have!  CHEERS!





If you are interested in H.E.Bates check out this post here that I wrote some time ago
about book foraging and my collection of his books.

19 comments:

  1. Lovely post Elaine, would dearly have loved to try the wine.

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    1. It was surprisingly good considering

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  2. I remember My Uncle Silas too but not read the book. Lovely post as usual Elaine. A woman after my own heart as I love books of any description and enjoy, like you, referring and quoting from them. Incidentally this reminds me of the days in the late 60s when my Dad used to make his own sweet white wine. Sometimes from fresh fruit but mostly from those wine kits you could buy in Boots or Woolworths and remember the Demi Johns, filters, rubber hoses, bottles and corks - wow those were the days. Thanks for the memories.
    Patricia x

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    1. It does bring back memories for me too - that awful stuff made from Boots kits - I have got rid of all my equipment now but I do remembering them bubbling away in the airing cupboard. Happy days!

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  3. I'm an H.E. Bates fan. I often wondered if Pop Larkin was based on the real "Uncle Silas". They seem to share some characteristics. In your earlier post on H.E. you mention Pop was based on someone in Kent but I can't help feeling Uncle Silas is in there too. The characters are certainly written with the same joy in life.

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    1. You're probably right such characters don't seem to appear in books any more- great fun.

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  4. I've never read 'My Uncle Silas' - it sounds enchanting. We used to make wine through the late 8os early 90s and saved one bottle of blackberry wine for the millenium and opened it then. We hadn't made any wine for ages but last year we had so many plums on our tree that we dug out all the demi-johns and etc from the shed and made some plum wine - we have one bottle left:)

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    1. You obviously enjoyed it then - I think I'll open an ancient bottle of elderberry next - it will probably taste like diesel after all this time. I can't remember why I stopped making wine - too much a a faff I think.

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  5. I not a wine drinker but cheers! Lovely post! Flighty xx

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    1. I'm not either any more - but I just had to taste that parsnip and it was pretty good after all that time.

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