October 31, 2012

8th Annual Cidering

The weekend before last, I took the two girls to Maine for the 8th instalment of our fall cider making get together with Ben Polito and a cast of other characters. We had a nice time, despite rain on Saturday. 1000+kg of apples were processed into 750L of cider using our custom built bicycle powered cider machines. Ben's blog has the definitive writeup of the weekend.

As for apples, Ben was able to obtain a bin (270kg) of Yarlington Mill apples from Poverty Lane orchard in NH. They were very accommodating to set him up this way since like many New England orchards they were significantly impacted by late frosts this year. Yarlington is a small, red, classic bittersweet English cider apple, and is perfect for contributing both the bitterness and sugar wanted by a well balanced cider. That left us lacking in acid.

Andy, who is a local farmer in Waltham who has been coming to cider for a few years, has a business relationship with Autumn Hills orchard and was able to arrange for something like 400kg of packing rejects and seconds of mixed variety. We were counting on these to provide bulk juice, and tartness.

The load from Autumn Hills contained a sizeable proportion of Golden Russets, which are excellent for cider, but sort of neutral for cider blending since they are one of the few apples which are internally balanced and thus make a good single variety hard cider. There was a lot of Cox's Orange Pippin, and the balance in Gala. Cox and Gala both have some degree of tartness, Cox a bit more so. Cox also has a rather unique taste which could make this year's blend more interesting. We may end up a little short of tartness, but I think overall we'll be in good shape.

I brought along about 65kg of prime Golden Russets, plus a smattering of Rhode Island Greening, Yellow Delicious, and Mutsu, which we picked on our trip to Red Apple Farm some weeks previously. I also brought a symbolic bag of a few kg of crab apples I picked off an ornamental close to my house in Somerville.

Other cider hands brought numerous bushels and boxes of other apples, which mainly got turned into sweet cider.

Scads of containers were rinsed, many of them by the kids.

Ben's family has been building a very nice, big barn, which was awesome for us to use for cider making with the drizzly weather outside.

The kids found a big salamander.

Millie and Violet spent a lot of time collecting little bits of moss, rocks, and mushrooms to make fairy houses.

Laura led an expedition to the shore, which was very popular with the young set. Some crabs were brought back and put in a bin with seaweed for observation.

The toddlers and infants hung out by the barn.

The grinder functioned flawlessly all day (I think)!

The press also performed faithfully.

Violet ended up with a bunch of apple mush in her hair after this.

The sweet, golden liquid poured forth.

Lots of helpers for funnelling cider into jugs.

A bottling station was also set up with Ben's cool double barrel counterpressure bottling rig, and several kegs of last year's cider were put into 750ml champagne bottles.

Saturday Dinner

We brought with us materials to make pizza and apple pie for dinner, for about 50 people. Grandma Jones, Laura, Violet, Millie, and myself cut out of cider making in the afternoon to go to Joanna's house to prepare dinner.

I had previously gotten the pie crust and filling prepped fairly comprehensively, so it only took me about an hour to assemble the four pies and get them in the standard oven. Laura took care of veggie appetizers and salad, and Grandma Jones was instrumental in readying the pizza stuff.

The pizza dough was nothing special, probably mostly remarkable in its volume. I wouldn't say it was great, but people seemed to like it. Possibly they were very hungry from working on cider the whole day! If
I remember correctly I used:

  • 3200g soft white wheat flour
  • 200g buckwheat flour
  • 100g rye flour
  • 100g vital wheat gluten
  • 3500g white all purpose flour
  • 6 TBS salt
  • 4 tsp instant yeast
  • about 4400ml water

So its about half whole grain, half white flour, unenriched dough, about 62% hydration. I used a fairly small amount of yeast since I wanted it to have a long ferment to add flavor, and since that fit the schedule. I actually mixed it up Friday night before I left for Maine in two big plastic storage bins, then let it rise all day Saturday. The weather was warmer than I expected, so I put the dough into a fridge for a few hours Saturday afternoon to calm it down. The rye adds flavor; could have used more but that is all I had handy. The buckwheat in this quantity mostly adds color and makes it look more whole-wheaty than it really is. With the relatively high amount of water, I didn't knead it really, just got it reasonably blended and then left it. It could have used some kneading, but I was in a rush to get on the road.

On saturday we divided the dough into 16 chunks, each of which was stretched into a pizza. I think the crust turned out very thick; if I had a little more time I think we could have stretched them thinner. Also more kneading in the beginning would have made stretching thinner easier.

The big cast iron wood fired oven in Joanna's house cooks the pizza much better than I've ever made at home. It is pretty tricky to get up to temp and we had to have a person dedicated to keeping it fed with fuel and tweaking the vent settings, but it does make good pizza once you get it really hot. We also had a couple pizzas that were cooked on the outside, but still a bit raw on the inside. This would also have been less of a problem with a thinner crust.

Grandma Jones and I were really struggling with pizzas sticking to the peel when trying to transfer to the oven, but luckily Joanna came to our rescue and showed us how it was done (way more cornmeal underneath, shake pan to prevent bonding to the substrate, and only top the pizza right before it goes in the oven).

We did about half the pizzas meat, with chunks of garlic, onion, prosciutto, coppa, and dry salami. The veggie pizzas got lots of garlic, onions, roasted eggplant, kale, cauliflower, mushrooms. One pizza was veggie with no cheese, for the vegans and lactose intolerant.


We stayed in the lower cabin, which was fun. It has no electricity or running water, but we were pleased to not break our the therma-rests since there were beds available for us.

We took a lovely row in Jake's boat out on the cove for about an hour. Millie asked me if I would get her a lobster trap for her birthday.

After lunch, we loaded up the cider. This year I bought square plastic carboys from US Plastics, to better fit in my xB. When I got back to Somerville, I poured these into 4x 23L and 1x 19L glass carboys and sulfited them. I had a half full plastic carboy left, which went in the deep freeze, to refill the sweet cider jugs at a later date when they have all been emptied.

One day later, I pitched a packet of Red Star Pasteur champagne yeast into each of the glass carboys. By two days after pitching, three of the carboys were started robustly, but two were lagging. So I put another half packet of yeast and some yeast nutrient in these. They were revved up by a day later. Now the primary fermentation is settling down, but still bubbling at a steady pace, so I'll wait until next weekend to rack them into secondary.

Finally, we helped Ben clean up a bit, then hit the road back towards Boston. Here is Ben giving Millie a ride in the gardenway cart.

Thanks especially to Ben, but also to the many other folks who contributed, for a wonderful weekend!

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