Archive for the ‘Fruit from the Yard’ Category

Traditional Cider Win


Success, right out of the gates. I’m pleased. It’s probably worth mentioning that I wouldn’t call myself a big cider lover. I haven’t minded the stuff, but it’s taken a while to take a shine to it. So why bother then? I’ve been making apple wines, and although I enjoy them, some variety in the form of carbonation would be appreciated, especially on hot summer days. I also wanted to make a product with fewer inputs. Apple wines requires chaptilization, which means adding sugar to get the 12% or so alcohol content vs the 5-8% that the juice would naturally ferment to. I was using sulphites, pectic enzyme, acid products in some cases, oak. Then my recent visit to France inspired me to shed it all. To simply take juice, let the yeasts present in the juice and air ferment it, and leave it at that.

I wrote about the making of it here and here. You can watch the stuff ferment here. You can even back way up and check out the flower blossom stage here.

At bottling, it wasn’t terribly exciting. No carbonation at that point, just a semi-dry flat cider. But then, as it was supposed to, it gradually picked up carbonation from the remaining sugar in the fermenting must. Although not evident in the photos, it now gets a 2-3″ head of foam on it when decanted – which is sensible to keep the lees out of the glass. As the bottle fermentation continues, it keeps getting foamier, which is pretty darn cool if you ask me. No CO2 products. No priming bottles with sugar. Just plain old juice fermenting in bottle. Neat.

It now tastes lovely – far better than I’d expected, as cider can be pretty funky from fermentation smells that aren’t always pleasant. Since discovering that the austere acidity of apple wines benefited from back-sweetening with elderflower syrup – which softens the texture and gives it gewurztraminer/ehrenfelser type notes on the nose – we’ve been doing the same to the cider at times, and it’s damn good. Highly recommended. Ends up coming across like a nice white wine aromatically, with the refreshing carbonation of a light beer or bubbly wine. I find I prefer it as-is, dry, with food – and picked up with the elderflower as aperitif. At this stage, it’s not just me that likes it – others who don’t normally dig cider are also loving it. Success. Here’s hoping that bursting bottles don’t burst my bubble.

2011 Traditional Cider Bottling


One of the things that keeps me blogging is the lack of information about certain topics available online – and this is one of those. There is oodles of information, youtube videos, and so on for still cider and even moreso bubbly cider achieved by fermenting dry then priming with sugar for carbonation, none of which I wanted to make. I wanted to make old-school bubbly cider. Like it would have been done eons ago, using the sugar present in the must to make the bubbles. Fortunately it’s extremely easy, barring one small detail surrounding not having bottles blowing up, literally, all over.

So here’s what I did. Picked apples. Crushed and pressed apples. Did not rack off the clear juice – left the sediment in for yeast nutrient and flavor [for better or worse]. Let the pressed juice ferment naturally – no added yeast, no campden tablets, no pectic enzyme, zero. Let it bubble happily away until S.G. of about 1.003 – which was a bit of an overshoot, as I was shooting for 1.005, which is what I’ve read my flip-top bottles can hold for pressure were the yeast to fully ferment the remaining sugar. [side note: champagne bottles can take 1.010, kegs far more, wine bottles are a major no-no] It hit 1.005 yesterday but I simply didn’t have the time to bottle yesterday. C’est la vie. Fortunately I have a batch that was still not fermented down that far, so added some of it’s sweeter still-fermenting-and-very-clear must to get to 1.005. Once there, and I was careful with the S.G. tests as I didn’t want bottle bomb issues, I racked into the bottles, flipped the tops shut, and will now let them sit for a while to continue fermenting in bottle. With ever-so-versatile rubbermaid containers inverted over the case to contain any potential disaster.

Yes, I know there are risks involved with wild yeasts not wanting to finish the job or bringing off flavours to the party. I get it. The advantage I have on this front is that I have 9 carboys with different fruit from different locations in each, so I’m expecting some variability. Worth noting that every last one of them is fermenting happily and healthily. I’m not sure why this is a surprise, but it is. Also appeasing any fear of wild-yeast-malfunction is if some goes stinky-sideways, I still have uses for it. Vinegar, or some other cider byproduct. If they all go sideways I’ll reconsider my yeast strategy.

How does it taste? Ok. Which is what I was expecting. Freshly made cider isn’t optimally tasty, especially flat. Like beer, it’s way better ice cold and bubbly. We’ll see if this batch gets there. Oh – one last thing, volume. I did just under an 11L carboy of this batch in 1L and 500ml flip-tops. I plan on doing another batch once one of the particularly clear carboys hits the correct S.G.. Might also do some back-sweetened-type/primed version. We’ll see. I have some time to figure it out, and about 200L of fermenting goodness left to get me there.

I’m So Over You, 2011 Apple Crush.


There has been an inverse relationship between my activity with food and my number of posts lately – ie, I’ve been so busy harvesting and processing fruit and veg that there’s really not much time left to write. But I believe I’ve turned a corner. Apple crush is over.

Last year I crushed and pressed about 1000 lbs of urban apples, and this year I did roughly the same. I have 9 full carboys fermenting away, 16L of juice put up with many litres already consumed fresh, have about 30 lbs fresh in the fridge, made a case-and-a-half of ‘pommeau’, gave a few boxes to charity and Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton, and am now happily turning down offers of more apples. I’m done. Way done. Done to the point of now trying to figure out how to streamline my process so that it’s not such a grind in future years. I recently built a space adjacent to my cellars to accommodate wine/cider making, so my process is under full review and likely to get a profound overhaul.

Needless to say, if my evenings haven’t been consumed by harvesting apples, they’ve been consumed by crushing, pressing, clean down, tending fermenting carboys, clean down, repeat, clean down – and am now seeing the other side where some of the carboys have fermented enough that my first bottling of semi-sweet cider is imminent. Which will mean bottling in flip-tops and then, more clean down. Conclusion: my new wine/cider making space will be well equipped for ease of clean down. Next task, plumbing.

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.

Frontenac Vintage Update


My relationship with wine grapes is a complex one. I did piles of research a few years ago to be well prepped for the potential day in the future that I would have wine grapes in my very own back yard. I since have become a believer in the apple culture we live in here, and am heading to Normandy in two days to glean from their hundreds of years of apple food culture they’ve got on us. I’m going to be hanging out with cider and calvados producers, tasting, and asking questions. Now, a couple days before I leave, I’m staring at ripe wine grapes in my backyard for the first time. My excitement at the possibility of a grippy, robust red grape wine from my yard has been renewed.

For the other northern viticulture geeks: this was an extremely wet year, lacking any stretches of hot weather in July/August. This was year 3, and despite brutal winterkill, a few fruiting canes put out fruit, and I let them go to see what happened. I have a dozen or so bunches. This year I’ll lay the vines down to protect them more. I’m surprised that these grapes have ripened. It was a fantastic year for mushrooms, put it that way. I’m wondering if my severe aphid problem offered a hand by de-leafing the lower third and exposing the fruit to sun for quite some time. Not sure. All I know is I’m now very excited about the prospect of next year’s harvest. Year 4.

Cherry Rescue Marathon


Cherries needed rescuing – about 300 lbs of them. So I made it happen.

For those of you that don’t know, Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton [OFRE, pronounced 'offer'] is an organization that aligns folks with a yard full of fruit they can’t use and/or don’t want to pick with volunteers that are willing to pick it and put it to good use. This year, the yield is split between a charitable organization, OFRE, the volunteers, and the fruit growers [who often don't want their share, hence them signing up with OFRE]. It’s a very win-win-win-win situation, and I’m happy to be increasingly involved in the organization.

This year, I’m a ‘neighbourhood captain’, which essentially means I coordinate picks: get in touch with the ‘growers’ on OFRE’s list, see if they want their fruit picked, and if yes, coordinate volunteers to get it done. About a week ago, while signing up for locations, I noticed that there were about 10 locations with cherries that simply weren’t going to get done – OFRE is currently rich in growers and volunteers, but lacking captains to get the two connected. That’s not to say we don’t have great captains – it’s simply that 300-400 locations is a mammoth task to tackle no matter how you dice it. I hate seeing food go to waste. So I started sending emails.

Saturday, with a crew of 3, we set out to 6 locations around the city, armed with many buckets and some enthusiasm. We started at 8am, and were done by 3pm, having rescued about 300 lbs of cherries, seen below. We got to meet some nice folks, spend a day doing some good for the community, and go home with more cherries than any one of us likely wanted to pit. So a big thank you to all involved for proving that some serious wholesome good can come from folks simply getting in touch and sharing.

What do you do with a bucket full of cherries? Cherry pies. Cherry turnovers. Dry them for use in baking, with your morning oatmeal, or as-is. Cherry syrup for juice or to mix with sparkling water. Soak some in a bottle of vodka. We bake them into loafs, muffins, etc. Oh, black forest cake – yum. Sour cherries, although imo nasty from the tree no matter how ripe [some folks dig it], are versatile candy when cooked.

OFRE’s going to have a busy fall and the busy apple season has just begun. Edmonton is an apple town, whether you think it is or not, and OFRE has a shiny new crusher and press. You may want to sign up.

Evans Cherries


I’m sorry BC cherry growers, you can keep your bings. I was a newbie to Evans cherries last year when Mary Ellen and Andreas from Green Eggs & Ham mentioned we could help ourselves to their trees after volunteering to do some weeding and carrot harvesting, as they were too slammed with other harvest work to bother getting to them. They had lots. I picked about 20 lbs, and there was many, many, many times that there. Not knowing what to do with them, and having a fair fall load of work myself, I tossed them in a stockpot and cooked them down, strained them, and ended up with a shockingly tasty syrup. Fantastic in sparkling water, or to replace purchased juice for my kids. This year’s hookup is courtesy of Maki, who lives down the street and offered. I’ll be planting my own tree in the spring.

If you’ve tried Evans cherries from the tree and thought ‘ick, holy sour and no flavor‘, I don’t blame you, but implore you to simply cook them with a little sugar to balance the acidity. The flavor that comes from these things is intense, unique, and beautiful. All the cherry awesomeness you could ask for, and more. I’m not sure I’ve encountered a single fruit that intensifies its flavor so much through cooking – you have to try it. I can’t wait for the cherry pie.

If you’re not sure where to get hooked up, Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton‘s volunteers will have a crack at some rescued fruit in the coming week or two. Some U-Picks around the province have them too. Or plant your own tree in the spring, like me.

ps. Kudos to Liane for advocating for cooking with fire in the Edmonton Journal today – glad I could help out.

The Humble Raspberry


I had to add a ‘category’ for raspberries, as apparently, after 600+ posts, I’ve never written about them. That’s odd.

Yesterday was a bit of raspberry hell. I had agreed to pick a raspberry patch. Sweet. It was going to yield a lot. Great. I could use lots of raspberries as my kids love it. But what I didn’t know is that it takes about 1 hr to pick a 4L pail of berries, and this patch had been yielding roughly 7 4L pails every few days. That’s a whopping 7 hours + of raspberry picking. Not fun. I picked about 25 lbs – imagine a 5 gal pail full or so – and had to call it quits. I proceeded to enjoy much beer.

What many hours in a berry patch allowed me to consider was the productivity of such a small area – maybe 40′ long by 10′ wide, for a ball-park. Raspberries do not fruit once, give you a pile of fruit, and stop. They are relentless. I picked my first round in the morning, and swear by the evening pick some of the spots I had already tackled had new ripe berries. Every few days for many weeks, they crank out the produce. This past week, that patch has produced about 50L of fruit. That’s a lot of fruit. Think 50 quart jars full of berries. Every week. As far as yard fruit goes in the non-tree realm, they’ve got to be up there for most productive.

So cold-hardy, high yielding, self propagating, perennial, relatively compact, tasty, widely appreciated fruit. That list should result in some kind of ribbon award. Maybe a red ribbon.

I will never, ever, ever, never, never sign up for a full day of raspberry picking again. Ever.