We spent the weekend in Maine making cider for the tenth year running, with Ben Polito, his family, and the many other characters who have joined in the fun. Ben's blog post on this year is here.
My family took our usual trip to Red Apple Farm in Phillipstown, MA the week before cider. My mom (visiting for a few weeks) came with us too. The kids love going here because its got all the non-apple stuff in spades:
donuts, barbecue, hay rides, etc. No to mention plenty of apple trees, and less (relatively) crowds than places closer to Boston.
Its a fun time, and usually we pick something like 5 bushels of fruit. This year though, they had almost no apples on the trees when we went. They said they did not have a good fruit set, and people had come in from other places that had little fruit too, so relatively more picking and less apples. Plus we were a week or two later in going than usual. We picked every apple off a Roxbury Russet tree which had a decent load, and gathered some Golden Russet and Cortland drops. Only brought home about 2 bushels of apples though.
The Maine based contingent did a lot of work to prepare for the event. A trip was taken to Poverty Lane Orchard in NH to get cider apples. They also pulled out and organized the cider equipment, rented a porta-potty (great addition!), and got a bunch of other supplies rounded up.
I met Ben at Autumn Hills in Groton to gather about 550kg of mixed seconds, culls, and drops. In contrast to a number of orchards, Autumn Hills had a bumper crop this year, and there were still many trees in the orchard laden with fruit. That day started cold but by the time we were out collecting drops from under the rows of R.I. Greening, Yellow Delicious, and Mutsu, it had warmed up and was a beautiful morning. Ben snapped a pic of me eating an apple in my one pair of pants.
Here is Ben's truck loaded up with the haul from Autumn Hills.
To mark the 10 year point in our cider journey, we decided to make up a new label. I made some initial sketches and put out some ideas on names and text, which were discussed by interested parties over email.
Jonah Elgart got inspired by one idea and made an awesome graphic. I did the layout and typography in Inkscape, in the style which I pretty much do everything. What can I say... I bought Garamond Premier Pro from Adobe years ago and I've gotten my money worth out of it. Here is the final design for the label:
I separated the colors into two PDFs and sent them to get made into magnesium plates at Owosso Graphics. Meanwhile, I had to figure out what paper to use. In the past we have used text weight paper from Paper Source for cider labels, but a couple years ago they made some change to their paper that for me at least made getting good letterpress results on more difficult. I have used Somerset paper, which is wonderful for letterpress, but only comes in big sheets and is expensive, especially after adding in cutting fees. So I ordered some samples from Legion of various papers I thought sounded promising. Ended up choosing 120 g/m Lettra from Crane, in Pearl. I found an online shop called Paperworks which would sell me 250 sheets of this paper in US letter size, with reasonable cutting fees to chop it into four equal sized chunks. A few days after ordering, 1000 label sized pieces showed up at my house for a final cost of about $0.07/label. Sweet.
I've got a drawer full of ink tins with many different colors of Van Son Rubber Base Plus leftover from previous projects. The black tin was too hard and dry to use, but I think the black is a little on the harsh side for most things anyhow. So I pulled out a crimson (PMS 200 ) and a dark gray (PMS 415). Here is Violet perusing the pantone guide to figure out what colors we had in which tins.
Got the press set up with the plates in the chase, paper holding pins positioned on the platen in a new tympan sheet, and some padding paper.
Violet applied ink to the press.
Then she worked it over with the rollers about 100 times. ("Dad! Seriously? 100 times??")
Fiddled around for a while getting the impression and ink level close to where I wanted them, then went to town.
Violet helped me treadle the press while I worked the paper in and out. There is a fair bit of printed area on the gray plate, so I had to ink the press about every 50 sheets and that was pushing it. The crimson was easier of course, being small in area. The platen was backed out a bit, and I think I only added ink one time. In all we did about 500 labels. Man, that Lettra paper prints like a dream.
One day while I was at work, the girls and my mom applied adhesive to 130 labels with our Xyron laminator, then cut apart labels and peeled front sheets to prepare the labels for use.
Mrs. Jones, a close friend of Alexis, offered to fund and execute a T shirt production run from St. Louis even though she couldn't make it this year. After some proposed layouts and email discussions, a T shirt version of Jonah's graphic was settled on, to be made on light blue shirts. The color of the clear fall sky during a pleasant day of cider making.
Alexis organized the sizes, numbers, and distribution after they came back from Mrs. Jones' vendor. They turned out great, and I changed into one after lunch on Saturday as Alexis handed them out. In this picture, we are working on the cornbread for dinner. You can see the jugs of sweet cider accumulating on the lower right:
Press Cloth Upgrades
Ben had the idea to rationalize the press cloths, which were a motley assortment of different sized cloth pieces. He located an older (1970's?) Kenmore electric machine and a home iron, and we decided on a plan of action. I forgot to bring my fabric shears, but Dave had some reasonably sharp scissors he loaned me for the effort. My mother, Kelsey, and I trimmed and sewed various cloths together to get 8 full size double thickness press cloths.
My group made plans to supply most of dinner for something like 70 people, and we started cooking after lunch. Becky took canned beans, onions, garlic, peppers, and seasonings and made up an enormous pot of veg chili over a turkey fryer burner out the back of the barn.
I planned to be responsible for cornbread and apple pies, and to prepare for that I made up 4 pies worth of partially rolled out crusts earlier in the week. Unfortunately I forgot these in Somerville, so we resolved to make apple crisp instead. Becky made up a 4x recipe of crisp topping from 2c oats, 2c flour, 2c sugar, and 2c butter, plus cinnamon and about 2c nuts using some emergency supplies rounded up by Emily. My mom took charge of directing a gang of kids to peel, core, and slice a big pile of apples using my antique Reading patent peeler.
Buster cleaning up after peeling:
In the end we made 6 pans of crisp, one with no oats or flour to be gluten free. Here is Millie adding cinnamon on top of the GF one:
These turned out nicely and there was a tiny bit leftover Sunday morning so the quantity was right. And crisp is so much easier to make than pie. I think I'll probably convert to crisp in future years since it significantly eased the hectic cooking scene.
I brought along blue flint corn and soft white winter wheat to grind on site to make the corn bread with. But somehow I forgot to bring my grain grinder! Luckily Ben's mom Emily came to the rescue with an old but still very functional Corona. My mom and a group of kids ground up 2kg of corn and 1kg wheat in fairly short order.
To prepare for an oven load of corn bread, I bought two relatively inexpensive 50mm deep and about as big as I thought could fit in a standard home oven and still allow for air circulation. I estimated the volume of these and scaled up my home ground grain cornbread recipe. After trimming some of the values a little, I ended up at the following to fill up each of the pans (so in total I used 2x these values)
- 1000g corn
- 500g wheat
- 150g chia
- 250g sugar
- 35g salt
- 80g baking powder
- 2c unsalted butter
- 1800g whole milk
- 10 eggs
Not having a big stand mixer available, each recipe was mixed with a whisk in a big stainless bowl. First I put in all the dry ingredients and the room temp butter, which my mom worked in with her hands for a while. Then the milk and eggs were added and mixed well. The pans were lined with parchment and sprayed with oil, then the batter poured in. They were up to the brim full.
When I put them in the oven in Ben's grandparents' house, the batter started rising and I had to take out about 4c volume from each pan to make them not overflow. So next time I'll scale the recipe back by maybe 10% to something like this:
- 900g corn
- 450g wheat
- 140g chia
- 220g sugar
- 70g baking powder
- 1.5c butter
- 1600g milk
- 10 eggs
Many people commented on the great flavor, which was of course down to the fresh ground grain. A few pieces were left over and were eaten toasted in a skillet on Sunday morning. So the quantity was about right for the crowd of eaters.
Cider donuts were made and fried up just after lunch, which was very cool.
Dinner Saturday was served just as sunset was ending, in the big barn.
Tables were reconfigured and some clean up was done to clear the way for the meal. Heli also cooked up a nice pot of soup, and there were other odds and ends, and of course fresh sweet cider and last year's hard cider.
Dinner on friday was burritos at the lower cabin, materials and equipment supplied by Ben and co. and in greater part executed by Judith. Delicious breakfast burritos were made and furnished Saturday morning by Joshua and Kelsey, and Ben's parents turned out most of the lunch food with a giant load of Nebraska Cream Can Supper. Breakfast on Sunday was a mix of pancakes cooked in Ben's gargantuan iron skillet, a few odd potatoes, and assorted leftovers warmed up in the pan.
I was mostly not keeping up on the cider production itself, being occupied with press cloths before lunch and dinner prep in the afternoon. But things proceeded apace with enough people and skills brought to bear at the main stations to churn through the apples with enough time to clean up before dinner.
Bottling (last year's hard cider)
Ben reports that we made a record 838 liters of cider, at 69% yield (pomace is weighed after pressing), which would indicate that we ran through about 1280kg of apples. Lots of people took home jugs of sweet cider and a few bottles of hard cider.
One of the numerous slick process streamlining tricks is to park the tractor right outside the window to the press area with it's bucket raised. Pomace goes right from the press, out the window, and into the tractor, which can take it to the compost pile when it is full.
We stayed in the lower cabin, where we have been bunking the last couple years. Friday and Saturday nights we had 8 people in there: our family plus grandma, and Alexi and LeeAnn. It was not terribly cold, but some of us were sick (especially Millie), and we all enjoyed burning fires in the small iron wood stove when we were there.
I read a little from a book on Weeds from the 70's I found in the cabin, by kerosene lantern and headlight on Saturday night. It put forth the idea that it was important to know the different types of weeds so that you could figure out which chemicals to spray on them to kill them. Times have certainly changed, at least in the average person's outlook on appropriate vegetation control techniques (if not in actual agricultural practice).
The bulk tank of soon-to-be hard cider was distributed into carboys.
We ate breakfast, helped a tiny bit with organizing, then had to get on the road back home.
I had (probably foolishly) signed up to take an official language assessment test run by the Taiwanese government at chinese school that day, and could not be late. We did in fact make it on time, barely.
That evening my mother helped me transfer my future hard cider from the plastic square carboys I use for transport into glass ones for fermenting, and I added sulphite to sterilize the juice. Meanwhile, I boiled about 1.5L of cider and cooled it to room temp. Transferred to a sanitized 2L PET bottle, then pitched a pack of red star Pasteur champagne yeast on it and added an airlock. This got going while the sulphite did it's stuff over the next 24 hours, then I divided the starter among the carboys and added airlocks to them. They are all off to a good start now.
Last couple years I've endeavored to pitch dry yeast right onto the carboys, but it usually does not work too well and I have to fiddle around to get them going. Despite the extra effort, I think the starter is the way to go.
All in all, an enjoyable and productive cider 10!