Sunday, September 16, 2012

Cider party 2012

Self sufficient we will never be. And thank goodness for that.

Several Gardens Farm includes an old orchard with majestic standard apple trees that had not been pruned in decades when we moved here.
The trees produce generous crops of sometimes questionable quality fruit.

Some apples are good for eating, but many are too small, spotted, puckery tasting or damaged to save or give away, and instead get ground up for cider. 

Over time, by removing and destroying every prematurely fallen apple and picking and harvesting all the healthy ones, we have reduced the population of pest bugs and spot-causing fungus.

This is an ongoing process, and cider making provides a thrifty way to capture what's best from apples that don't please the modern palate.

As time went on, we came to cherish our annual cider making party as much more than just an exercise in orchard hygiene.  It has become a focal point for taking control of food production, and having fun doing it.

Among our first guests of the morning one family with young kids asked if we needed help raking up the few truly unusable bad apples. The apples that fall too early are often mushy, pecked at by birds, and starting to ferment. They host apple maggots, scab and coddling moth.

Cleaning them up is no one's choice job - our friends offered because they knew it would be most helpful. We love that there are people who understand how important the tough, icky jobs are and jump in to help. Hopefully that's not their only association with us!

In any case, they filled a wheel barrow with downed fruit before most guests even showed up.

Fort builder and defender

Next came Noah's scout den. These boys needed a team building activity, and had some extra energy to burn.

Their awesome den leader put the scouts to work hauling bales of old hay into long rows to serve as forts for a water balloon fight.

It shaped up to be a hot day, and later the younger kids benefited from the dose of cold water and the excitement of battling in a fort built by the big kids. It got them through the difficult mid-afternoon slump, when kids' tempers often take a nose dive.

Meanwhile, the serious fruit picking had begun. We gathered boxes, bags and buckets of apples.

People picked from ladders, stood on the ground, or climbed up in the branches and picked from inside the canopy itself.

Our three beloved orchard ladders had their busiest day of the year, and any other ladder we could get our hands on was pressed into service.

Even an old children's ladder/slide combo was put to use, for a little boost to get those almost reachable apples.

For me, it was a chance to be inside the canopy of a tree, where I feel most at home. The feel of scaly bark on my hands, the slight sway of branches under my weight, and the lure of apples just out of reach. I would have stayed all day if my guests weren't still arriving!

 Once the the apples we picked, buckets of them were tossed into bins for cleaning. There were always a couple of wash bins full, and over the day, more and more apples waiting in line to be cleaned and made into cider.

Friends showed up with boxes and bags of apples from their own trees. One guest brought some honeycrisp apples that weren't as sweet as they should be. A crowd of knowledgeable friends tasted, assessed, and suggested techniques to help grow a tastier fruit.

There were always hands at work with the cider press. The apples go in the tall wooden hopper, where they are ground into pulp and dropped into bags.

Then the bags of ground apples are pressed dry, and the juice is caught in pans and then transferred to a honey storage vat we temporarily gave a new job to.

All day long, people brought and ate goodies. They saw old friends, picked apples, made juice, filled their bottles and jars with juice, played with the animals, told stories, and met new friends.

Either because the work wore them out, or because the food was so good and the sun so bright, all the children and animals were in an exceptionally good mood.

Cosmo, our little rooster, got so relaxed he fell asleep in a young childs' lap, as she gently rocked on a swing.

More helpers arrived in the late afternoon. One great-spirited person did a load of dishes and the folks who had been picking and juicing got a late lunch break.

Tired kids started nodding off, and the first round of families headed home. The sun beat down, and a few people needed to take serious hydration breaks, either by drinking cider or getting hit with water balloons.

A mountain of pomace (ground up apple pulp) started to grow. Anyone who wanted took buckets of it home for their livestock.

Then David fired up the tractor and hauled the rest off to an overgrown part of the yard where its acidity will kill the weeds. Later we will cover it with lime and plant a garden there.

Entomologists and beekeepers stood in the late afternoon sun, talking about ways to keep pesticides out of beehives. A guest who showed up a bit late offered us a flat of organic tomatoes. A friend dropped off a pile of wood chips, saturating the air with the scent of shredded fir. Honey fans sampled honey made from three seasonal flower sources.

The last of the apple pickers, our fanatical cousins and an awesome neighborhood garden mentor, brought me a surprise - dozens of perfect apples and pears, sorted out from the cider fruit because it was of eating quality. If I can preserve it, this fruit will last us all fall and into the winter.

I started preparing cider to bottle. We guessed that upward of fifty gallons had been made that day, and nearly all was carried home by our awesome helpers, leaving us with a very manageable six gallons of our own.

The bird (a failed attempt with an iPhone).
And then, as if the day had not already been perfect, a huge pileated woodpecker flew across the orchard and landed in the neighbors' tree. It's shrill "wick wick wick wick wick" cry poured down over the remnant of friends still on the porch. Its flight and song became part of the act of washing off the cider press and of clearing the empty serving dishes.

Today was all about shared work, shared joy, and the need to depend on others. Even without the help of so many friends, we probably could have spent a grim workday and made the six gallons of cider we kept - but how many apples would have lain rotting in the orchard? We would have gone inside, ordered pizza maybe fallen asleep in front of a movie, aching from work, unaware of the spectacular day we could have had.

Moments of great need so often remind us that we are not self sufficient. We all need help in times of loss and grief, or to celebrate important transitions. We need help in times of abundance too. It isn't always easy to ask, but when we do, it sometimes becomes its own celebration.

Thank you everyone.

Shared at: Green idea reviews, Frugally sustainable, Simple Lives ThursdayLHITS DIY

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