Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Normally I'd leave this subject to the resident cider master, Jim, but I fear he is consumed with paid work at the moment. And since that work funds our lovely farm, I won't pressure him to blog for free. I'll try my best to do justice to the subject of cider in his absence.

We began making cider four or five years ago. When I say cider, I mean hard cider. It is a peculiarity of Americanese that we have to clarify the term. Anywhere else in the English-speaking world, cider means a fermented apple beverage (alcohol!). Here in the US, however, it has become synonymous with apple juice. Both of us were quite fond of the ciders we'd encountered in our overseas travel, particularly those of England and France. Living near a great apple growing region (Henderson County, NC), we decided to take up the hobby of making cider with local apples. Sadly, most of the commercially-available apples aren't that good for cider. What's good for cider is often not that great for eating, so there's not much of a market for cider apples. The need to generate our own supply of strange and sometimes nearly inedible apples provided much of the impetus for us to leave our log cabin in the oak woods and buy a farm with room to plant an orchard.

Fast forward to this autumn. Our young orchard of heirloom cider varieties is not yet producing apples and most of the existing trees on the property did not produce apples this year. Apple trees left to their own devices are naturally inclined to produce biennially. Between last year's great crop and a heavy pruning last winter (a first step toward encouraging yearly apple production), we had few apples to work with. The exceptions being Old Creaky (or the Snake Tree as loyal readers may know it) which we didn't bother to prune assuming it was a goner and our wonderful stand of native crabapple trees which seem to produce yearly no matter the conditions. Crabapples are the only native apple trees in the US, so perhaps they don't suffer from the delicate affectations of their EurAsian counterparts. And they are wonderful for cider!

A few hours in the remote section of our farm known affectionately as Krabapplestan yields a bumper crop of hard, green crabapples. Two bushels of crabs, a bushel of Old Creakies (tasty, yet tart enough to make interesting cider), and a few Royal Limbertwigs and Fall Pippins purchased from a local farmer gives us enough ammunition to bring out the cider press.
After a bath and some minor surgery to remove stems, rotten spots, and worms, the apples are ready to go into the grinder.
Once the first barrel in the back is full of ground apples (pomace), we reverse the barrels and the one with the pomace is placed in front under a large cast iron screwpress. The screw is gradually turned, compacting the pomace and squeezing the juice out which then runs through a piece of cheesecloth (to filter out any large bits of apple and to keep the wasps out of the juice) into a bucket. It's always nice to have some additional free labor to help with the grinding and pressing (thanks, Mom!).

Once we have a gallon of juice, it goes into a glass carboy (3- or 5-gallon in years when we have many apples) or gallon jug.

The crabapple juice always has a gorgeous deep red color. As soon as it's in the carboy, we put an airlock on the top to allow gas to escape as the juice ferments and to prevent oxygen from getting in along with any contaminants that might cause the cider to get "sick." Two fermentation cycles and many months later (usually about a year in all), we get to drink our cider. The following is a picture of our most successful cider yet. Pressed in 2009 and bottled mere weeks ago, we are pleased to present Old Orchard Blackberry Cider:

The name refers not to any berry adjuncts but rather to our names for the as yet unidentified apple trees on our farm (one located at the edge of what we think was an old orchard and the other in the middle of a blackberry patch) that gave their apples so that we might drink well. Sadly, there wasn't enough to make more than a gallon of cider last year so we will be hoarding what little we have. And you can be sure that we will be working diligently to protect and propagate the wonderful trees that gave us the best cider ever.

Drizzly October Day

Although it is a quite lovely and unusually warm temperature for late October, I find myself indoors due to the persistence of our "isolated" showers. For a while, there was a regular alternation between a half an hour of rain and a half an hour of sun. Sadly, no overlapping of the two to produce nice rainbows (guess we should be happy with the double rainbow on Monday). Now the whole day has degenerated into gray and heavy drizzle.

I shall try to make the best of this soggy situation and catch up on my much-neglected blogging. October is always a very busy month on the farm and it has been all the more so this year. I think the combination of unseasonably warm weather, a bumper crop of nuts, and the need to take winter preparations seriously this year now that we're responsible for livestock is my excuse for neglecting the computer in favor of outdoor activities.

Let me load a few pictures and I'll get back to it shortly.