Tag Archives: wine

The Prep-work Behind The Elderflower Festival

Interviewer: So how did it get started in your home town?

Informant: My parents started off just making a couple of gallons with a couple of friends, I’m not sure exactly who they picked it up from. And I think they may have done that in the house before the Bury. Or right around that time, anyway. Probably around 60 years ago (2020). There have been more Elderflower Festivals than my parents have been present for.  There was one in 1967? My parents went on sabbatical to America and their friends broke in and made Elderflower anyway. There was another one when they sailed one of their boats down to the south of France and my brother and me hosted it on our own. I’m pretty sure my brother has been at every Elderflower Festival.

Interviewer: Does it only happen one time a year?

Informant: It has to take place when the flowers are in bloom, usually in the first or second week of June. It cannot be delayed, the flowers do not stay out for very long. It is an event driven entirely by natural forces and the need for alcohol.

Interviewer: What typically goes into the festival preparation wise?

Informant: Well the deal is something around 40 guests are invited and they’re asked to pick Elderflowers so when they arrive they can deliver their flowers. We spread the tarpaulin on the backyard and lay the flowers on it to dry and be shredded. And in return for their labor, the guests are fed a huge buffet lunch. There are a number of elements of that lunch that are obligatory. Coronation Chicken, Roast Beef, Deviled Eggs, Roast Turkey, Potato Salad, and Garlic Bread and there’s always a rice of some sort. There’s a late morning snack of sausages done on a barbecue because we have a late lunch, because we don’t have lunch until we reach a quota of flowers. After lunch, the afternoon is devoted to games, ‘gassing’ (talking), and drinking wine. Because my parents were teachers a lot of the guests were faculty or students. It’s just a thing a lot of Cambridge educators do.

Interviewer: Is there a recipe then that one has to follow to make Elderflower wine?

Informant: There is a certain amount of citrus fruit that needs to be peeled and squeezed and that is combined with boiling water poured through the flowers in a muslin shiv. With a large amount of sugar to feed the yeasts. My father used to be the viter but now my brother does it. Fermentations takes place in large Demi-johns and it takes about 3 months to the point where the wine can be decanted and bottled. Elderflower wine has an unusual ‘nose’ which takes some getting used to, but the taste is very pleasant.

Background: This festival takes place either the first of second week of June, it is a time sensitive celebration that must occur during that time or not at all. Luckily it is also during the summer break for most British educators, so it is an excuse to see each other outside of work and get drunk together.

Context: My informant and I were discussing whether or not there would be an Elderflower Festival this year due to the Corona Virus. This would be the first time since it’s conception that the Elderflower Festival would not be held, but my informant believed it would be for the best since a majority of attendees are rather old and would be at risk.

My Thoughts: I’ve attended the Elderflower Festivals before and they are a riot! There’s a lot a family and friends who attend and at the end, people are gifted a bottle of last year’s batch. The festival has grown over the time I have attended from just 30 people to closer to 60 or 70. People keep bringing friends to come celebrate, which means a lot more time is put into prepping the meals and getting a supply of flowers to shred.

While not directly a festival celebrating life cycles, the festival is based entirely on the production of turning blooming flowers into wine, so there may be some form of symbolism there.

Peruvian New Years Tradition: 8 Grapes on Years

AS is a USC game design major who’s family hails from Peru, she enjoys spreadsheets, Dungeons and Dragons, and spreadsheets about Dungeons and Dragons.

Interviewer(MW): So you mentioned earlier that in Peru some holidays are celebrated differently?
AS: okay so I guess I’ll start off with New Year’s so there’s like two weird holidays that occur on New Year’s for Peruvians for some reason

AS: We do the normal thing where it’s like you used to stand by you wait until you know the countdown starts and you drink the champagne you do all that jazz.

AS: But the things that you do is after you drink the champagne you down like 12 grapes in the champagne each one’s supposed to be a wish so down your champagne you eat individual grapes as quickly as possible

MW: I’ve spent New Years in Lima, I know they have some interesting New Years Practices, so are there things that do you have any particular set things that you associate with the grapes like there’s some things that you’re supposed to wish for?

AS: There isn’t anything you’re supposed to wish for I think, like generally it’s stigmatized in Latin Society for good health to be a thing or like wish your family good health like general well-being.

AS: I guess would be something that people would would generally stick towards at least want to do one or two wishes to be around there

The use of champagne as a marker of the new year exists across culture but using fruit as a conduit for wishes ties the sweetness of the fruit to the hope for a sweet new year, this invokes a similar tradition to the Jewish Rosh Hashanah practice of dipping apples in honey for a happy new year. The wish too carries meaning, like a birthday the new year is full of promise and marks a transition and making a wish is a way to codify that promise in a fun and festive way. Likewise AS’s note that there’s a focus on well-being represent anxieties about that transition, the bitterness of the alcohol in the wine might invoke this anxiety, tinging the sweetness of the grapes with a fear of the unknown and the challenges that the new year will bring.

There are 12 wishes as well, this factors into the cyclical nature of the tradition as well as each grape likely represents a month of the year thus the wishes are meant to carry the participants through the entire year.

Latin Proverb – Postquam vinum, lac Fac testamento tuo

Content: Latin Proverb
“Postquam vinum, lac. Fac testamento tuo.”

Transliteration –
“After the wine, milk. Make your will.”

Translation –
“If after wine, you drink milk, make your last will and testament.”

Informant – “I heard it from my father. He was quite the linguist. I’ve never heard anyone else say it, but the idea is that if you drink wine then milk, the milk will curdle in your stomach and you’ll feel very sick.”

Wine will curdle milk, so the proverb is factual. The fact that informant’s father told him the proverb in Latin heightens the humor. It’s a pretty silly, intentionally humorous quote and Latin is usually a very ostentatious language.

Good Old Grandpa

Over the past few years, I’ve heard snippets of this friend’s crazy grandpa. Many nights, we’d eat together and share stories of our nutty families, as we both share lineage with what many would call ‘eccentrics’. Self purportedly from a family comprised of 50% white trash and 50% religious explorers, he grew up around a variety of funny saying and stories.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“He had a lot of sayings for like the weather. ‘It’s colder than a witch’s tit’. Or, ‘it’s darker than a snake’s asshole.’ There were a lot of asshole things too. ‘Colder than a well-digger’s ass’. ‘I’d rather have acid poured down the crack of my ass than…’ ‘I’m so hungry I could eat the ass out of a dead gorilla’. ‘You talk like you have a paper hat’. ‘You talk like your ass is made of paper’. ‘Wish in one hand, shit in the other. See which one fills up first’. ‘Tough titties said the kitty’. He said that one a lot. ‘As useless as tits on a hoe-handle’. ‘Nervous as a whore in church’. ‘Nervous as a pregnant nun’. If something doesn’t go over well, he’d be like, ‘oh, that went over like a turd in a punch bowl’. He also had a lot of superstitions or tics I guess. He’d always get wine with ice in it – my mom’s family is 100% pure white trash. And so, he would order wine with ice in it, and then he would get it, stir it with his pinky, then suck on his finger, and wipe it on the left side of his shirt. Every single time. He’d like dry it off with the corner of his shirt. So all of his shirts had little things sticking off from him pulling on it to dry off his fingers. He’d stir his wine like it was a mixed drink or something.”

These weird little sayings always crack me up. They range from somewhat clever and somewhat useful to totally nonsensical and just plain silly. I especially love the strange ritual my friend’s grandpa performs every time he drinks a glass of wine. He seemed to do things just for the hell of it. What a way to live.



My informant is a father of three who lives just outside of Boston with his wife of over 30 years. He is originally from Cambridge, MA, but moved to central MA when he was younger. Graduating from Tufts, Northwestern, and the getting his PHD at MIT, he is an engineering professor.


Interviewee: I’m gonna tell you about making wine.

Interviewer: Okay.

Interviewee: It would always be in October, mid-October or so. That’s when the grapes were in season. We were in Cambridge and we would come home from school. I was like in kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade. Kindergarten through third grade we would do this.

So we would come home from school and the crates of grates would be stacked up against the house. And you would know that that was the day.

Interviewer: Did you know that it was gonna be that day? Did you know it in advance?

Interviewee: No, you didn’t know that that was the day until you saw the crates coming home from school.

My grandfather would go to the rail yard. It was over by Lechmere were Science Park is. East Cambridge. So he would go to the train yard and go to the trains that would bring in the fruits and stuff in. So he would get his whole stack of grapes.

Interviewer: When did he immigrate to America from Italy?

Interviewee: He must have been in his 20’s, right? So like early 1910’s because he was born in 1890.

So those crates would be stacked against the wall. And you could actually stick your fingers against the grapes and pull them out and eat them. That was always the first order of business. And my grandfather would actually encourage us to because they were so sweet and fresh.

So then my father would come home from work. And then my two uncles would come. And they would have to get the grapes into the cellar. So they would take the cellar window off. And then they would slide the grape bushels in through and get them down into the basement. There would have to be someone in the basement side too. Making sure the crates got through the window.

The next order was to grind the grapes. The grinder originally was a hand ground machine. So you would have to dump the grapes and then hand grind them. Then you put them in a crate to ferment after.

But my father put a motor on the grinder so you could do it in one night. And at the time we lived on the first floor, my grandfather lived on the top floor, but we were on the first, so it would smell like grape juice. Because we were doing it in the basement, so the whole house would smell like grapes. It was exciting. And so sweet.

A week or two later, my uncles would come back with my father and grandfather. And now they needed to put the ground grapes from the barrel into the press. So in order to turn the press it was kind of like a screwdriver on the side. And the juice would just flow and flow. But they would take turns, turning the press, making sure they could get every last bit of wine out of it.

And my grandfather would collect them in these special tin buckets that he would then pour into storage barrels. And the press, that had like a screen on it, to collect the debris and chunks of grape. So you had to open the press and then clean it off after every single batch. And two people would have to try and turn the screwdriver handle to get every last bit of out of the grapes. And the juice would go into the storage barrel.

Then, they would take the ground grapes and press them. Just to get all of the wine out. And we would watch them and just drink grape juice all night. We could actually get a little buzz. Just because it had been sitting there for a couple of weeks, fermenting.

My grandfather had these gallon jugs,like glass jugs, and he would fill them up with wine. You didn’t buy wine ever. Even after we moved to Medway, he would just load us up with wine when we saw him.

He had this house in Nantasket, on the beach, that he bought when I was like 1. He would move there for the summer in May and we would move in the summer. And we would have to move all of these jugs and jugs of wine. And sometimes we would have to go to Cambridge to give him a refill.

We would use it for everything though. Cooking and drinking. It went to the whole family. At Christmas people who didn’t have their wine would get more. He would take you down to the basement and fill you up.

Eventually the barrels got old and let air in, in the end you could only cook with it. It wasn’t as flavorful because the barrels were old.

But those were exciting weeks, watching them press the wine, the smell of grapes in the house.


This clearly brought my informant back to his childhood, specifically before he moved from the immigrant neighborhood of Cambridge that he lived in with the rest of his family. The smells of the grapes circulating throughout the house, “lasting for days,” is definitely a memory of nostalgia for him. But there was definitely a sense of tradition here. Wine is clearly important to his grandfather, and therefore to the rest of the family as it was a patriarchy. As a little boy, there is definitely something striking about watching any older man partake in a sort of tradition or ritual together. Every little boy wants to do what the big kids do. My informant certainly enjoyed being part of the ritual, drinking the freshly pressed wine, eating the grapes, even if he could not really help.

For his grandfather, this is most likely the continuation of the old world brought to the new world. I would not be surprised if he did the exact same thing growing up with his father and so on and so on. Sure he had to adapt, going to the train yard to get the grapes, putting the motor on the grinder, but I’m sure that the tradition and ritual are very constant.

It is also interesting that this wine flowed through this family. It did not stop and start with the men. Nobody bought wine ever. His wine was the whole family’s. A sense of belonging and identity, this is his family’s wine, all through a drink.