Archive for October, 2011

Pie Day!

October 31, 2011

Not 3/14, rather the first snowy day of the season. Apparently last year the gang here celebrated the first snow with a big fry (tempura, samosas, doughnuts) and regretted it for days afterwards. So, this year we celebrated with pie – apple pie for starters, pumpkin for second course, and chocolate cream pie for dessert, seasoned liberally with cookies, ice cream, and whipped cream. There was some minor regret after third helpings, but we were happily eating pie leftovers today, so I think it was a success.

As for the snow, we got maybe 3 inches of heavy wet stuff, which is about half gone by today.


The Dirty Life

October 30, 2011

I borrowed “The Dirty Life” by Kristin Kimball from Kelsey, and I started reading with my teeth on edge, for a couple reasons. First, I can’t stand chicken-pimping, after grinding my teeth about this from the NYT – why do photographers insist on spotless clothing and improbable intimacy with chickens when presenting agricultural stories to the general public? I mean, the book is called ‘The Dirty Life’ after all – the author is an urbanite who falls in love with a farmer and moves to upstate NY, where they build a CSA.

I first learned about the book when Andy (who is a professional farmer, and has about as much tolerance for this sort of thing as I do) read a couple of over-the-top food prOn passages from early in the book at dinner. One of them involved jacklighting a deer (presumably on some kind of ag nuisance permit), preparing a rustic-yet-luscious meal of its liver, and consuming it in an intimate setting, with the scene fading as it enters the bedroom. But, by halfway into the book Kimball won me over, basically by the sheer volume of work that she and her husband (Mark) took on, and how they not only persevered but kept adding more and more aspects. Their CSA model is to provide customers a whole diet, which means providing grains, maple syrup, meat, dairy, eggs, etc, in addition to the usual vegetables – one of the primary limitations of common CSA practice (and most casual gardening) is that it doesn’t actually produce a lot of food on a percent-of-total-calories-required basis. At least by their own account, these guys are actually delivering the calories to feed a lot of people.

Farming is cool these days – everybody and their hipster cousin has chickens in the backyard, and not too long ago I witnessed a well-dressed woman walking goats on the green in Lexington MA. But doing it for real is a truly amazing amount of work – actually getting up every single morning at the crack of dawn, doing the milking, washing up, processing the milk, etc. Making maple syrup using buckets instead of a tube system means staggering through the snow with heavy containers of what’s basically water, processing the massive quantities of firewood needed to boil it off, and keeping a constant eye on the evaporator for days at a time. The Essex Farm folks are actually doing it all, and they’ve been doing it for near on ten years now. She also scores points by freely acknowledging how many people helped them out, and how lucky they were – but what really comes through to me is how hard they work.

Real Snow in October!

October 29, 2011

The forecast just kept getting worse, so we spent the day battening down the hatches. Split up the last cord or so of oak, stacked it out of the way, and tarped it over. Schlepped some random half-rotting hunks of pine out of the way. Picked up this and that in the yard. Used plastic and tape to seal up a cheap double door that opens out onto a porch that never got built. Took about half a ton of debris to the dump. Now I’m sitting by the fire with a glass of our 2008 cider, which started out with some kind of funk (that’s why there’s a few bottles still kicking around) but has mellowed and is actually pretty nice. Big flakes are coming down outside, and the ground already has a good fraction of an inch. After growing up on a peninsula sticking out into the gulf of Maine I’m always skeptical of a forecast for unseasonable snow, but now that we’re a few miles inland maybe it will actually happen. Plowing it over soft unfrozen gravel isn’t going to be fun, though.

Pics from cidering

October 28, 2011

The two bins of drops we bought from Brackett’s had set in the shade for a week, and required some picking through. The washing crew requests a pedal-powered apple washer for next year.

Um and Pops surveyed the scene while tub after tub of apples met their fate:

The post-crushers eject finely shaved and mashed apple guts. Except for a few loose set screws, the grinder worked well this year – note for next year: LOCTITE!

Rhonda and Nelle load apple pulp into the press. The overwhelming power of the hydraulic press resulted in some ruptured herniations last year, so we double-bagged this year and didn’t have any further blowout problems.

Holly and buster pedal the press:

Joshua and Jo run the press:

Cider flows (this is like 1/20th of the max flow when the stack is first pressed):

Filling carboys:

New this year was a bottling/drinking station. We bottled about 20 gallons of hard cider (minus some for the operators and assembled crowd) using the twin counterpressure bottling setup:

There were more kids than ever. There was a play tent set up in the middle of the field with a brand new air mattress for jumping on, which was promptly popped. 3/5 of the Gates family:

Cider Year Seven: 183 gallons in about six hours

October 23, 2011

Just got back from Five Islands; a full report will follow when I can get some pictures, but Cider Weekend was fantastic. The weather was great, light overcast and still on Saturday with just a few sprinkles in the afternoon, then beautifully sunny today. Things were a bit chaotic, but as best we can tell we made about 183 gallons of cider on Saturday. The equipment ran smoothly for the most part; we got the upgrade to the hydraulic return line done, the kids pedaled the press (till they got tired of it), and the only issues with the grinder were when set screws came loose or a key fell out. We also bottled four tanks of 2010 cider which had been sitting in carboys in the root cellar all year, ate like royalty thanks to the efforts of the entire crew – especially Stroudwater South (homemade puff pastry, breakfast burritos, coffee cake) and Summer Street (wood-fired pizza in the Glenwood C) – and the and the increasing large flock of kids ran around like banshees. Our cups, jugs, and carboys runneth over. Thanks to everyone for making it the best cidering ever!

Not-remotely-healthy wicked chocolate cookies

October 17, 2011

Some friends asked for this recipe, modified from my mom, for the chocolatiest cookies I’ve ever consumed:

1.5 sticks of butter
3/4c dark brown sugar
3/4c white sugar
2 eggs
1t vanilla
1/2t almond extract
(butter and sugar in mixer, then the other stuff, usual deal)
2c white flour
1/2c (or more) King Arthur double dutch cocoa
1t salt
1t baking soda
2c (or more) G’delli dark chocolate chips
(add dry ingredients and mix, then mix in chips – a recipe would say to mix the powdery stuff together first, but I just dump it all in then turn on the mixer – to no ill effect as I can tell)
Bake 350 till just on the underside of done – AC prefers them gooey vs crunchy.

A pedal-cider convert!

October 9, 2011

Somebody named Steve writes to report that he has built a pedal grinder and bike-hydraulic cider press setup. See his video here:

It looks solidly built and effective. It’s not clear how the cutter drum was made, but it looks like a nicely made rig over all. If he sends more detail I’ll post it here. Well done!

to Poverty Lane

October 9, 2011

AC and I made the annual pilgrimage to the upper valley to get cider apples. It was a beautiful day and a nice trip, but the haul was a bit disappointing. Where last year the bittersweet fruit was the only thing that didn’t get nailed by the early frost that decimated most of the apple harvest, this year for some reason there was a lot of regular stuff but basically no cider fruit. Steve didn’t even have a spare bin of anything to sell me. We ended up with a couple hundred pounds of Dabinet, Wickson, and Golden Russet. Here’s Alexis in a tree:

There were a lot of big watersprouts – what the trees didn’t do in fruit the last couple years, they seem to have done in greenery instead.

The previous weekend, we used the second-string cider equipment (garbage disposal and screw press) at home to make cider with apples from the tree in Keith’s yard and the wild trees on the north side. We did about 25 gallons in an afternoon; not too bad but nothing like the pedal equipment productivity.