Last year there was no cider season for me. I got back from New Brunswick filming for Slow Food Canada [as an aside, both films will be in DEVOUR film fest this coming November!!] and as apples ripened, I finished up the season with Lactuca, was in the field solid filming for the university and the beef industry, slamming out episodes of From The Wild, and by the time the end of cider season hit I was taking a photo of the apples on my tree, unpicked. It was upsetting, really. I decided to not let that happen again. Ever.
To ease my load, I sold my shares of Lactuca to my business partner, stepped away from Shovel & Fork, and promised myself a cider vintage in 2015. I haven’t really posted about my exits from those projects, but I’m happy to report that both were functional and healthy exits. The issue wasn’t the success of those projects or lack thereof, it was that my production business absolutely exploded, and it’s where I wanted to spend my time. I’ve been flat-out since.
The pears top left are from a yard who’s owner I’ve made friends with over the past few years. A classic case of ‘Please save me the work of cleaning up this mess of fruit‘, and grateful we oblige. That single tree yielded 400-500lbs of pears this year. You don’t blame the owner for not putting it all up for the winter, now do you.
The singleton pear on the left is on the tree in my front yard – the first notable fruiting of the young tree. It pleases me to no end thinking about picking a few hundred pounds of pears from my own yard in a few years. It’s coming.
Pears have become a significant focus in our cider making. Most of our ‘apple ciders’ consist of at least 20% pear, and it’s normal to go up to 50%. Pears tend to crush and press really well, and are high juice yielders. Apples can be pretty variable. These pears have a nice acidity to them, are beautifully aromatic and taste the part. We make single varietal pear cider that’s austere in acidity but can smell like pear pie. And we consume the rich juice straight off the press in wine glasses. It’s glorious.
This is the first year I have a utility trailer with side walls – extremely helpful. Post pear pick, we picked the neighbour’s dolgo, picked a few branches of my cousin’s tree, and headed home to pick mine. So essentially a morning. To pick about 1000lbs of fruit, with a couple friends.
What does that yield? Years ago I figured out some ballpark figures that have stood the test of time:
100lbs FRUIT = 20L JUICE
100LBS FRUIT = 1 MAN HOUR TO PICK
100LBS FRUIT = 1 MAN HOUR TO CRUSH/PRESS
20L of cider is a lot, pretty much. The carboys are 23L, so 20 would be your approximate net yield. 40 500ml flip tops. Doesn’t sound like much, perhaps, until you’re consuming #20, and you still have 20 to go. That, and when you don’t just have one carboy, you have 8. Legal limit in Alberta is 400L, in case you were wondering.
I also get asked about how I bottle, etc. I still love the purist method of bottling before the cider ferments dry to capture a natural bottle ferment with the residual sugar. Probably my favourite, but as aforementioned, my schedule can be cranky, and doesn’t always allow the finessing of that timing. We now keg most of it, like you would beer. The kegs sit in our cellar. Most of the year we have cold cider on tap, whenever one wants. #wealth
Below: a shot of the fruit crusher we’d been wishing we had for many years. A friend picked one up when I was unavailable last year – a solid byproduct of my 2014 vintage failure. We’ve spent many dollars and loads of hours trying to put together what this thing can easily do. If you’re going to make cider for years, suck up the expense and buy one. Game changer. You can dump a whole box of apples in the top and it’ll zip through them. It kept 2 large presses going all day, and sat idle and wanting more most of the time. This means my large rack press will be exploring multiple cheese pressing with plastic racks next year – something we could never do because the crusher would overheat and needed to cool down before its next go. Not anymore.
Many thanks to the many friends that were here lending a hand with picking, crushing, pressing, the pommeau tasting, dinner, the pear dessert, all of it. Beautiful living, and satisfying work. I sure missed it.