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Scouting for cider apples

If your neighborhood is anything like mine, there are plenty of neglected apple trees, trees planted by optimistic home landscapers and then more or less abandoned when the owners learned that producing blemish-free fruit requires a strict regimen of sprayings.  Blemish-free fruit isn’t necessary for cider-making, of course, and my experience has been that the offer to share a gallon of cider will usually gain you access to all of such fruit as you can use.

I try fruit from different trees until I find some with a lively flavor.  Then I use the scavenged apples as a base for cider-making, enhancing them with the small but tart and flavorful fruit from hedge-row apples I find growing along abandoned fields and maybe some crabapples to add extra tannin.

For a finer vintage, I have located some surviving trees of old fashioned apples that traditionally were grown specifically for cider-making, including one huge old ‘Golden Russet’ that every second year produces bumper crops of small, rough-skinned yellow fruits that make a glorious cider all by themselves – this juice I generally save for fermenting into “hard” cider.

apple scavenging

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ‘Golden Russet’ apples ripen late, in early to mid October, which is a characteristic they share with many other outstanding cider apples.  In fact, it is a good idea to make a special scout for apples about now – what you find ripening during this later part of the season will tend to yield the richest juice.

Another example of a desirable, late-ripening apple is the ‘Baldwin’, a once very popular variety that still persists in some older commercial orchards and which adds authority and tannin to cider when blended with sweeter, less complex fruits.  West County Cider, a maker of hard ciders located in Colrain, Massachusetts, makes a pure Baldwin vintage cider that is delicious – look on its website for retail outlets.

The most useful reference about heirloom cider apples is The Apples of New York State, by S.A. Beach, which was published in 1905.  It provides descriptions, including the value as cider apples, of the roughly 1,000 apple varieties then grown in New York State.   Most of these are no longer available, but a surpising number of varieties can still be found if you are persistent in your hunt through old orchards. Over the years I have found everything from ‘Rhode Island Greenings’ to ‘Roxbury Russets’ and ‘Gravensteins’, all of which contributed to memorable ciders.

Posted by on October 15, 2015 at 7:02 am.   This post has 2 responses.
Drink This,   Eat This,   Feed Me

Historic Flavors of Fall

Once upon a time, cider-making, not football was the fall preoccupation throughout much of this country.  Wherever apples grew – and thanks to pioneering nurserymen like John Chapman that included much of the Midwest and upper South as well as the Northeast and Pacific Northwest – the fruit was gathered up into barrels, crates and wagons and hauled off to the nearest cider press.

Golden Russets Monterey

‘Golden Russets’, the premier New England cider apple

There this fruit was converted into a beverage that could be consumed fresh or fermented for long-term storage.   Nor was this cider the insipid stuff we pour today from plastic jugs, the juice of left-over desert apples.  My grandfather dismissed the modern stuff as “McIntosh Posh”, because he could remember the real thing.  In his youth, the bulk of the cider came from apple varieties selected and grown especially for this purpose.

That juice had a robust flavor, a balance of tart and sweet, with just enough tannin to add body.   Fresh and fermented, it was the vin de pays of American apple country, with each region favoring different apples and producing characteristic flavors of its own.

Fortunately, with a bit of enterprise, most of us who live in areas where apples flourish can reproduce something like this old time product and at not much cost, other than a small investment of time. The first necessity of course is to locate a cider press.  If you are lucky, you may find that a local orchard will press your apples for you – I have gone that route in the past, paying the same price fer gallon as if I had purchased the orchard’s own cider.  By asking around or even advertising, you may find someone with a cider press they are willing to share, perhaps for a share of the product.

If you intend to make cider every year, it’s worth purchasing a press of your own – homeowner models start at about $275-300; you’ll also need a grinder with which to pulp your fruit before putting it in the press, and this will run another $200 or so.  If this is more than you care to spend, why not share the press (and the cost) with one or more neighbors? Personally, I share a press with an institutional farm –  I donated an electric apple grinder and earned the right to use the farm’s hydraulic press.  I only use this equipment a day or two each year; the farm not only stores the machinery and provides a working space, but it even shares extra apples with me.  It’s been a great arrangement for both parties.

In succeeding posts I’ll include tips on scouting for free apples and the actual process of cider-making itself.

Posted by on October 1, 2015 at 7:03 am.   This post has 10 responses.