Peaches in the summer time2014 was an apple year in Boulder.
Apples in the fall
If I can't have the fruit I love
I still want to eat them all
–mollybzz, private correspondence
After getting a year's worth of rain in September 2013 and a fairly snowy winter, the long-thirsty soil in Boulder County swelled with moisture. The apple trees took notice and appled up a storm.
As we poked around the yard of our new house after signing a lease at the end of May I excitedly announced that the small fruits on the two trees in back were apples, not crabapples. As the summer past I impatiently picked and consumed some very bitter, small green apples, figuring this might be a natural bitter, small green apple tree. As August turned toward Burning Man the apples grew larger, turned a lovely red, and shifted to a sweet taste.
In the weekends after Burning Man, a housemate and I gathered bins and commenced to shaking trees and picking fruits. I discovered that we had four, not two, varieties of apple hanging, though distinguishing the trunks is still a trick. As I stood in the kitchen washing and slicing apples for preservation before a game day, my friends Josh and Laura came by with an offer of cider pressed fresh the day before. Remembering that they'd brought a few jars of "forgotten" cider to a game day over the winter, I was excited to taste the latest delivery. Sweet, smooth, full bodied, and deliciously unfiltered. They then hurried off to the homebrew store to prepare the cider's future.
Half a gallon of tasty cider and a couple bushels of sliced and sauced apples would've been the extent of my apply autumn, but then bassist posted an entry about the fun of cider pressing with the teaser that there would be another, ahem, pressing engagement on October 11th.
I got the details and eagerly packed my big camping water container and a pair of leather gloves in the car and headed to Longmont that Saturday morning. When I arrived, the operation was in full swing. Apples were dumped on a table and the gooey and wormy ones removed from the stream. They were then passed to a repurposed sugar beet washer, cleansing the fruit and blasting out any remaining pockets of goo. The mouth of the washer opened and glistening apples tumbled out for a final quality check to remove twigs, leaves, and that one bad apple. They then rolled down a chute onto a home-made rotating blade which deposited nicely diced apple chunks into a bucket. We carried buckets to another table where the apple bits were packed into cloth-covered squares on wooden pallets. The pallets with cloth and apple (and sans squares) were then placed in a home-made press which slowly pushed the juice from the pulp. The cloths were then shaken and scraped off so we could hustle and load up another batch of pallets. The sweet juice from the press was then piped to a large milk cooler which slowly stirred it until we were ready to fill our jugs.
The next day I read up on brewing cider and made my own run to the local homebrew store. Brewing is a hobby I'd considered pursuing, but had always told myself I'd wait until I owned a house so I didn't have to move with a delicate glass jar full of mead. But cider only takes a month or two, so the gear will be empty by the time I have to pack it up.
I left the wild yeast in one gallon of cider and pasteurized five gallons and added wild ale yeast, not wanting to trust my whole initial zymurgy experience to whatever yeast is ambient along highway 66. Then I did what you spend most of the time brewing doing: wait a couple weeks. The next step is the second most time-consuming brewing activity: clean and sanitize all the things. In the middle of racking from one jug to another I discovered that I only had one gallon size, the other was smaller. So we got to try half a pint or so of the wild cider. By itself it was a little hard to drink, but when we added some of the original unfermented cider to the mix it was quite delicious.
The subsequent step is to wait for about a month. But then as I was about ready to start the bottling process a month later, I got sick with a virus. Which is definitely a bad time to handle beverages you intend to give to friends. After recovering from my stomach rebelling, my body losing too many fluids, and my brain struggling with complex activity it was Christmas time, which meant lots of family and social engagements. So after pressing on October 11th and racking on November 1st, I spent Boxing Day cleaning and sanitizing all the things, racking once again (to leave the sediment behind), and then filling 27 beer bottles and 7 larger flip-top bottles. With the long delay, my hydrometer suggests that the final brew is a strong 6.5% alcohol, and after a day of measuring and tasting, we felt quite fruity.
The wild cider remains in the jug, having stopped bubbling several weeks ago. I think I'll add some of its brethren cider which my parents had been sending on the path of vinegar. We'll call that the by-the-seat-of-the-pants jug.
Of course, my autumn apple adventure didn't end with cider. We've still got several bags of apple in the fridge and freezer. Some went to a curry apple pie for Pie Nite. I'd meant to make more apple pies for the holiday season, but my folks and my brother's new girlfriend had the pie course well-covered. And then there're the amorphous plans for cinnamon spice apple sauce.
In the back yard, I think there might still be a couple very committed and stubborn apples hanging from twigs. A week or two after the first frost burst expanded the juice and broke all the cell walls, the trees still had a dozen or two brown apples hanging as poetic symbols of fall and the lack thereof. Dozens more apples started decaying on the ground before we could collect them, slowly providing nutrients for future bumper crops of apples.