Archive for the ‘Apples’ Category

Normandy, Part 2: Apple Booze


[Part 1 is here]. Over lunch yesterday it came up that some of the calvados I was tasting in Normandy was 40 years or older, the oldest specific vintage being a 1969 Dupont. That would be very unusual in the wine world, and highlighted  one of the fantastic things about spirits vs. wine: shelf stability. Opening a bottle of 1969 red wine would be a commitment, as that bottle would need to die within a short period of time to not waste its awesomeness. A bottle of 1969 calvados [or any similar spirit] is fine on the shelf well past your being dead. Which makes it clear to me why folks starting distilling in the first place. Pre-electricity, creating a shelf stable product out of perishable food was an accomplishment, often a necessary one. A food product that actually improved with decades of storage, even. Not many other food-stuffs can claim that feat, if any.

Secondly, it allows you to use a copious amount of produce. Let’s say for a moment that an apple tree produces about 220lbs of fruit. 10 trees would yield a tonne of fruit [2200 lbs]. 100 trees, 10 tonnes. I know folks with over 1000 trees – 100 tonnes. What do you do with 100 tonnes of fruit?? A bit absurd to consider, perhaps, but in fact it’s part of the problem I see with the urban fruit in our city that needs rescuing. If we could glean 100 tonnes of apples, what to do with all of that?? The man-power required to peel, core, cook, and put that fruit into some kind of consumable food-form is considerable. A portion of it could go that direction, but not all of it. Ask anybody staring at 100 lbs of apples, and they’d probably be eager to hear of other ideas of what to do with it all, nevermind a few tonnes. The answer: juice and its by-products.

So juice. You can see my crusher and press in action here, that can largely be slapped together for $100 or less if you’re thrifty. It makes juice. Tasty juice, actually, some apple varieties far more than others, which makes sense. In Normandy that’s product #1: apple juice. They pasteurize it via heating, as one would expect for shelf stability. Product #2 comes shortly thereafter: unpasteurized must is mixed with a previous vintage of calvados to make pommeau, my new favorite aperitif. The high alcohol content [17%] prevents any yeast parties, and stabilizes the product. And it’s tasty. Very cool. And it’s just a measure, mix, and bottle exercise that’s super easy. Once the must starts to ferment naturally – all the producers I visited rely on native yeast strains, none added  - they start watching specific gravity measurements to pull cider at different sweetness levels. The sooner the stuff’s bottled, the less time the yeast has had a chance to convert sugar to alcohol, so the sweeter the cider. Product #3: sweet cider. They’ll often pull an intermediate level of sweetness shortly thereafter – product #4: semi-sweet cider. They’ll then do the rest of the cider once much [but not all] of the sugars are fermented for product #5: dry cider. The rest of the juice is left to ferment to complete dryness, which would taste nasty as a cider essentially – for distillation. In the winter, they’ll start distilling it into product #6: calvados [apple brandy]. Many products come from that as different ages are bottled for different uses and palates. Many more products come in the way of cider jellies, vinegars, etc. All because of some apple juice. All  gleaned from different stages of the one process.

Part of my exploration was how apples impacted food culture in Normandy, and how that might translate here. I’d say booze is the biggy. Not only does it impact what you drink, but it also makes its way into your food. Dishes finished with calvados rather than grape-wine-made brandy. Meats cooked in cider rather than beer or wine. And as soon as you bring those apple flavors to the dish, it opens up the opportunity to bring the apples in themselves. While there I was putting pears and apples into nearly every dish, every meal. Apples are extremely versatile and can work in savory dishes as well as the sweet, can vary in texture from crunchy raw to mushy when sauced, and tend not to dominate a dish. Slow cooked apples and leeks in AOC Isigny butter with some local fleur de sel atop a local Bayeux breed of pork bone-in chop cooked over an open fire was a highlight. Simple, but lovely. Desserts were chausson aux pomme, or poire. My daily snack-on-the-go was a fresh apple picked that morning on my way out the driveway. I drank apple juice for breakfast every day, and cider, pommeau, and calvados in the afternoon and evening. Apples invaded my daily food instantly, from top to bottom, not missing a spot. So mission accomplished on that front: the chaussons aux pommes that I baked off last night are a testament to some of that Normand influence already making its way into my own food culture. I’m sipping some freshly blended pommeau as I write.

The humble apple is capable of much, and little used to its full potential here. I hope to change that in my home.

[Regarding apple seed toxicity. I've had many questions over the last few years about coring to rid the apples of seeds which contain trace amounts of toxins - there have been some debates in the comments. I can assure you, apple juice and cider producers do no such thing. They do not employ immigrants to core each of the millions of apples, or have a machine designed to do it. The apples go whole into a big machine of destruction and get turned into pulp, seeds and all. I'm not the only one going whole-apple. You don't consume the solids. In Normandy that goes to their cows. Presumably the seed solids even in that concentration won't kill a cow, or they would likely stop that practice rather abruptly.]

Normandy, Part 1: How They Do Things


I’m back. Not surprisingly, Normandy was quite the beautiful adventure. I was there to educate my palate, learn some methodology in cider and calvados production, and most importantly to glean from their centuries-old apple food culture. I live in a place of copious amounts of largely wasted urban apples, with a brand-newly emerging scene surrounding how to save them and what to do with them. Thankfully the Normands already have much of this figured out.

I stayed right on the cider route in the Pays d’Auge. I visited many producers, who each make a mind-numbing array of products. A producer would typically make a pasteurized apple juice, a couple different ciders, a poire [sparkling pear cider], a pommeau [blend of calvados and apple must], and a long lineup of calvados of different ages, ranging from 2 years to 40+ years old, cider vinegar, and often a few other creations. Some produced for up to 3 appelations: Calvados AOC, Calvados Pays d’Auge AOC, and Donfrontais AOC – and would then have calvados made differently according to each set of appellation rules. I also had the good fortune of staying on an apple farm that used to be a producer, but now grows fruit for domaine Huet in Cambremer.

A few myths were dispelled. The biggest is harvest method. I’ve often heard not to make cider or apple wine from wind falls. The french have machines that shake the shit out of the tree to make all the fruit fall, then they blow them into a row with a giant leaf blower thing on a tractor, then broom them up with another tractor attachment. All the while any apples that had fallen and were rotting or busted with bugs, etc – all go with the good ones. They then wash and do a triage – thank God for that. It made me grateful we are at a scale at home that easily allows hand-picking and choosing only the best fruit. Seems like a preferable approach. Their harvest also spans September to December, so often the machinery is shared amongst producers, as they have so bloody long to get the job done compared to most type of fruit harvesting where time is of the essence.

The fruit is then sorted by type, broadly speaking into sweet, acid, and bitter categories and crushed and pressed together as such. They then blend afterwards to get to a product they’re looking for. The variability is huge from vintage to vintage. They may or may not get fruit from the same growers each year. Some apple varieties may or may not have done as well as a previous year. Harvest timing may not have been the same – didn’t see any refractometers micro-managing sugar content.  Leaves a lot of quality control in the hands of the cider maker. Another myth that was dispelled for me was apple dropping as an indicator of when to harvest. The orchard I stayed on had fruit all over the ground, yet they said they were still 8 days or so out from harvest. Perhaps that’s when the harvest machines were booked. Most people I know start to freak out about harvest the moment an apple hits the ground. This year, I’m trying my hand at being patient on my tree, collecting windfalls and refrigerating them, but otherwise leaving the apples up: better flavor, more sugar.

Another piece of variability between producers was use of oak. Oak is decidedly important in the calvados equation, making the difference between an apple eau-de-vie and something that they could call calvados. Some used new french oak [has to be french to meet appelation requirements] for a year or two, then aged in huge old oak casks for decades. One producer I visited simply puts the calvados in huge oak barrels [oldest one I saw was from 1792] which puts a decidedly less oaky stamp on their products. Whether that’s good or bad is a matter of personal preference.

Among many, many other things, I left there with a flow-chart of products I would now like to make with my apple must, as they do. The two products I fell hardest for were pommeau, a blend of apple must and calvados yielding a fruity, semi-sweet, 17% alcohol piece of deliciousness, and the plain-old pasteurized apple juice. A properly blended apple juice can be intensely complex like a nice white wine can be, such a pleasure compared to what we’re used to out of a box. I’m also keen to have a go at bottling some fermenting must to enjoy some hard cider – which generally has an assertive fermenty stink that certainly isn’t for everyone, but if super cold can be refreshing like a cold beer, when well made.

Apple Blossom


Apple blossom. It’s become a time of year that gets me excited for things to come, and wanting to slow time down to be able to enjoy the beauty of it all. I suppose this is simply an outcome of being more connected to my food – seasonal treasures like this simply make life more enjoyable.

I now understand why folks in days past often built root cellars primarily for potatoes and apples. Apples are a provider of wealth. Our tree produces 200+ lbs a year. I’ve spent a few years taming the tree via pruning, so the fruit is getting less numerous, but larger and riper, yielding roughly the same amount by weight from year to year. It has not skipped a year, as you often hear apples do. It provides us with fresh fruit for months, 4-5 cases of apple wine, and various other by-products – including apple wood for smoking pork.

I’m a firm believer that apples deserve a prominent role in our northerly food culture – so much so that I’m headed to Normandy in September to immerse myself in an apple culture, to get ideas, education, and inspiration. Don’t have an apple tree? Don’t need one. Our city is so full of them that tonnes of fruit get put in the bin every year by owners frustrated with the mess of food. Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton is a genius organization trying to change that. This year is doubly exciting as they get further geared up with a crusher and press for volunteer use – how cool is that!?!? I see cider in many an Edmontonian’s future.

Fruit Blossoms


Red Sparkle Apple (the beginning of 2011 wine vintage)


Wild Strawberry

Red Currant

Strawberry - non-wild variety

Ps. This is my 600th post, wordpress tells me.

Apple Wine 2010 Vintage Update


Turns out an apple wine updates is overdue.

I made apple wine from 5 different trees this year. We had actually harvested from 7, but two were held for a time in the not-yet-very-cold-cellar and those apples were a mess in the crush/press stage – just wouldn’t release their juice for some reason. Of the 5 batches, 1 was outstanding, 1 was a dramatic failure, and the others came in somewhere in between. All were made in the same way with the same yeasts, so apparently I’m in the process of discovering which apples make superior wine. I have one batch on oak at the moment, but most are unoaked this year as they’re so fruit-forward – the best one of candy-like, high-toned fuzzy peach and grapefruit.

All of the carboys are well done their alcoholic fermentation, and different than last year, no malolactic fermentation seems to have taken hold. I either missed observing it, or I’m right and the cellar was so cold that the wine was cold-stabilized before it could do its thing. I’m only bottling a short-term supply and bulk aging the rest, in case the wine decides to have an MLF party in the summer when the cellar warms up a bit. It’s currently 4C – a tad cold for my liking for the long term aging of posh french reds, but certainly lovely for storing fresh flavors in apple wines.

Good quality apple wine is vastly underrated. Now that I’m set up for it, my marginal cost per bottle of wine is under $0.25.  Free fruit abounds in the city. And I know, I know, crappy home-made wine isn’t even worth that, perhaps – but this stuff isn’t crappy, I assure you. Ridiculously cheap, local, tasty wine – one of the fronts to fight towards a cool regional food scene.

Apple Pruning


Normally I tackle this when the first hints of mild weather hit in February, but having had my nose buried in seed catalogs for a while, it was nice to get out in the garden buried in snow [see below] and do a job that needed doing for the coming growing season. My objective with my apple is to clear out the center, remove any waterspouts, truncate the branches that are getting too long, and clean up any wood that is overcrowding, overlapping, or otherwise offending a neighboring branch. The problem is, I find pruning akin to harvesting berries – I get into a zone of obsession. Just a little bit more. Just one more. Until there’s a serious pile of branches on the ground.

My second problem is that I then am unmotivated to clean up the mess. I think today was the first day ever that I actually cut up the wood the day I pruned, and stacked it neatly, ready for future use. Having run very short on apple wood to smoke with, I was very pleased to stack up a good pile of sticks that should last me the next year or more when smoking bacon, jerky, etc.

An advantage to pruning this year: were I to have fallen off my ladder, I would have fallen into 3′ of fluffy snow.

2010 Apple Wine Vintage Shows its Face


Oh, happiness. I’ve been keeping a loose eye on the bubbling of my apple wine carboys [a not-so-modest 9 carboys, or ~20 cases. I'm sharing with folks, honest], but hadn’t noticed them dropping clear until today. What does that mean? The yeast is done doing its thing – and no longer is creating turbulence in the solution. What does that really mean? It’s drinkable. I’m overjoyed. I ran out of last year’s far too quickly.

A few notes about this vintage. I kept all batches on-sediment/pulp rather than racking the clear juice the day after. Last year I took the clear juice hoping for a fruity approach – but the unavoidable MLF [malo-lactic fermentation] yielded a more funky/complex  [then oaked] wine, so keeping the lees involved for this style seemed to make good winemaking sense. Also may provide nutrients for the yeast. I’m finding this vintage looks darker in color, perhaps because of it. Last year’s looked almost this dark – but only after being oaked. It has a little young-lees-stink which I’m finding is normal and goes away with age & air. The wine in the photo is pre-MLF and pre-oak. It’s got notes of apricot, caramel [odd, pre-oak], apple, and light peach?

Me and my various crews crushed and pressed apples from 5 trees, in 5 yards around the city – so I have quite a few batches, 2 being lovely crabapple wines, which I intend on blending this year to achieve the best possible wine I can. Although I can’t wait to blend, I’m more excited to simply start enjoying hyper-terroir driven wine with and in my daily cooking again. Especially with the bounty of pork and goat cheese around lately. Life is good.

Killing-Frost Harvest Sprint 2010


The forecast tonight? -4C!?! The ‘big white combine‘, as farmer-friend Andreas puts it, cometh. It was go-time in our yard today. We started with harvesting the tomatoes [nearly all green], then the fall squashes, any remaining summer squashes, the cucumbers, celery, celeriac, the significant beet crop, onions, shallots, pole beans, bush beans of many types – and a couple hundred pounds of Red Sparkle apples from our tree. The afternoon was spent crushing and pressing the apples to get the 2010 vintage of Red Sparkle apple wine underway. Then cleanup and stowing away and trimming and sorting of all the produce. I can recall few times that I’ve been this tired.

Tomorrow morning, plants will die.

Soon enough, hardy crops like leeks, potatoes, carrots, chard, kale, belgian endive, rutabaga, parsnip, etc will need to come up too – but for now, this first push of harvest has taken a weight off my shoulders. It was the first big indicator, looking around the empty sections of my previously full-to-the-brim garden, that the fall craziness will soon slow, and winter will bring rest.

Making Apple Wine


I’d promised a video peek at how I’ve been making lovely apple wine from urban yard waste. Fortunately, Kristeva and Jessica volunteered to give me a hand, and they quickly jumped in and took over, allowing me to shoot a good portion of the process. If you have any questions about the details, ask in the comments.  [And pardon the profanity, but I just couldn't resist using this song. ]

Apple Wine 2010 – Round One


So what could one possibly do with 300-400lbs of apples from your yard – or perhaps your neighbor’s yard?! How much apple sauce or apple pie does one need? I propose the following solution: wine. My current estimate is that it takes about an hour to convert 100 lbs of apples into a carboy of juice – or about 2 cases of finished wine. So Saturday: 4 hrs of crush and press, roughly 4 finished carboys of wine, which will end up yielding about 10 cases of wine, or 120 bottles. Time well spent.

To take it a step further into economics-land, which I always tend to do, it’s important to note that results so far have been as good or better than commercially available fruit wines. So say $20/bottle. We pay a lot of tax on wine in Alberta, so I’d have to pay  roughly $20 to meet or beat the quality I’m producing. Assuming I’m correct on that estimate, 120 bottles holds a value of roughly $2400. Since the fruit was free - not only free but somebody’s problem that they were raking and putting in the trash to get hauled off – the rate of return on input costs, even time included, is rather high, I’d say. [Add to that, the crusher/press  setup I use is no excuse for barrier to entry - it's a home-made deal that anybody with some initiative could slap together. I posted about it last year.]

I had some great help this year on crush day, and was able to take some good video as things played out. So rather than get into ‘how-to’, I’ll defer to the soon-to-be-posted video for you to have a look at how we do it. Perhaps you too could be making apple wine soon. No apples? No problem. Go pick with these folks to get hooked up with fruit that others need picked, and help out a charity while you’re at it. I love win-win-win-win-win stuff.