Wow, fall is here and things are busy. I would have posted sooner but (a) my card reader died and my car was in the shop so getting to the store for a replacement was tricky and (b) um, it's been busy. I have been trying to be a good blogger and document everything. I may have done a little too well.
Seriously, this is a long one. If you start scrolling now without stopping, it will still take you 15 minutes to get through the whole thing. Just skip the writing and skim the pictures so you don't miss half your day.
We have four apple trees. Three Macs and one old variety no one can identify. It was our goal this year to fill two 33-gallon tanks for hard cider. That's a lot of apples. So we started picking, always with the goats close at hand, but sometimes with chickens, cows and a horse hanging out as well.
We pick using a long-handled claw thingy with a cloth basket that holds three to five apples at a time. (It gets heavy when it's fully extended.)
Eventually, you get a good supply of apples.
I spent probably about four hours picking total over the course of a couple of weeks, maybe a little more, and Mark at least that much (he also went to other people's yards when our supply wasn't ripening fast enough) and I can't complain. It's fun, especially on a sunny fall afternoon. I now rank picking apples up there with only two other chores I actually enjoy. (The others are hanging laundry and stacking wood. I have no idea why.)
Of course the goats wanted to eat them, because the ones on the ground are so ... low class.
Once we had enough to start pressing, we devoted a whole weekend to getting the job done.
We brought the apples to the workshop with the tractor and started the process. First you have to wash the apples.
Before you can press them, you have to put them through a "scratter," to make a pulp that you can extract the cider from. We searched high and low and finally came up with a neat old electric meat grinder that did a great job, although we had to slice the apples in half in order to fit them into the opening.
We also learned that the press prefers smaller batches of apple pomace, so after this first 6-gallon bucket, we backed it off quite a bit.
Then the pomace gets dumped into a mesh bag in the press.
And you put the squeeze on.
Eventually, cider comes out.
We used cheesecloth to filter the sweet cider we put in plastic jugs. We didn't even filter the stuff going toward hard cider. We're crazy like that.
Of course, the goats had to be in on every step of this process, and the chickens checked it out, too. Everybody loves the leftover apple pressings.
Now for the sad part. Those of you who read my column in the Addison Independent probably know what happened next. For the rest of you: We filled a 33 gallon barrel in our basement with cider, which we planned to make into hard cider.
Well, 33 gallons weigh a lot. And the milk crates we had the tank sitting on weren't up to the task. The next day we found the barrel on the floor, the milk crates crushed and cider everywhere.
So much for that entire weekend.
There was another hitch as well. About 15 gallons into this first weekend's adventure, the electric grinder quit working. Within hour, Mark managed to find us another grinder, on loan. Another oldie, but this one a hand-cranked powerhouse.
While this one didn't make as fine a pomace, it had the advantage of taking a large hopper full of whole apples,which saved quite a bit of time. And the large crank and gears made the grinding a piece of cake. We were a little sore after each session, but one day we worked 7 straight hours. What would you expect?
Mark lugged the fresh cider to the basement five gallons at a time. (For reference, we used about 35 apples for each round of pressing, which yielded roughly a half-gallon each time. In total we pressed about 75 gallons.)
Do not mourn the sad, empty barrel on the right. Be happy for the full, fermenting barrel on the left.
We finished up a long day of labor with a fitting treat: hard cider from one of our past (five-gallon) batches. Yum. (No driving after this.)
There's something about the fall weather that makes squirrels go crazy gathering nuts and makes me go crazy baking and saving food (and taking pictures of it). The carbs. My god, the carbs.
In the past few weeks I froze a bunch of tomato puree, chopped tomatoes and "tomato water," which is the watery juice leftover after I drain blanced or chopped tomatoes. It's a nice touch in soup stock.
Here's one day's haul:
I didn't bother canning because I never felt like I'd have enough for a whole batch, but I actually could have. I never counted my total amount put in the freezer either. Only a couple of dozen bags, I'd guess, which won't last long around here. Too bad.
There were apple dumplings in a maple syrup sauce (served with vanilla ice cream). I've made these twice already. To die for.
Then there was a new Italian bread recipe I tried.
It looked beautiful but I didn't care for the texture, the result of a short rise. I like less yeast and more time, like overnight. Hey, it was bread. Not bad, just not great.
Then, of course, there was apple pie.
Two batches of those, too. I usually get lazy and buy the cheap Lender's or other brands. Gah, they are HORRIBLE. Homemade bagels are kind of a pain because you have to shape them, plus boil them before baking. But they are crusty and chewy and so delicious, and so cheap to make, it's worth the sacrifice.
Luckily, my baking frenzy subsides after the first few weeks of fall. Otherwise we'd all be bursting out of our jeans around here.
Now, it's fall and it's gorgeous in Vermont. I walked home from work last Friday while my car was still at the mechanic's. It's 1.4 miles home, about half of that outside the village. I looked like a dork but I had to stop and take a few pictures. Most of you reading this probably live in Middlebury or at least Addison County. But for anyone from farther afield, this is what my daily commute looks like.
It's not dramatic by any means. But it's just so damn gorgeous, especially at this time of year. It almost makes up for February.
Phew! Are you still with me? I'm wrapping it up, honestly.
The first digging of potatoes, with literally hundreds of pounds to go:
Yes. In the tree.
And also in the puckerbrush, apparently:
Hops (yes, only hops) from a friend at work:
Perfect, because I drank the last of my homebrew last week. Bye, favorite beer.
There is so much more going on here, including a major project in the basement (with goat cameos) and a very special trip to Tunbridge that you will read about in the paper before you read it here.
But this is getting ridiculous. I will make a point of spilling the details this weekend. I'll leave you with the view from Mark's pickup truck (with some old plank overhead) to give you an idea of how pretty the ride was, despite the overcast skies.
How I love Vermont.