October 21, 2008

Forays into Cider-making...and bear-tracking!

Alright, so perhaps the 'bears' part is a little exaggerated, but I just HAD to mention that while hiking around a lake the other day we were as good as following a bear, and ran into not only 9 bear 'patties' but also several pairs of footprints...luckily no bear though. It's a strange feeling being so close to them- your heart performs little leaps of excitement and fear and often your legs start carrying you in the opposite direction. We've been collecting various tidbits of information from locals who have had run-ins with bears. Apparently it's best to ward them off by trying to make yourself as big and scary as possible ('playing dead' is sooo passé). If you're cycling, then it's best to lift your bike up over your head and wave it around like a mad person, and then you'd best be on your way ; )

Okay, back to food!! Or shall I say drink!

My culinary adventures have been a little all-over-the-place this season- more so than when I lived in the UK, which may have something more to do with the ability to now pursue more diverse activities than was possible before. Such as Cider making!

Another difference of course is that we now have a car, which is wonderful for hauling things around, such as large glass bottles (carboys) for fermenting apple juice, and we also have the space required to set-up an indoor fermentation area. I realise that producing your own rustic alcoholic apple cider may not be a priority for everyone, but I couldn't resist sharing this adventure with you, even if the cider doesn't turn out (it's always trial and error for the first attempt).

Additionally, I've been working in a winery all summer long, and because the company's training was so good I've subsequently developed a taste for great wine and learned heaps about winemaking- just the tip of the iceberg mind you- but more than I would have learned by just drinking the stuff. This has sparked a longing to produce my own brews at home. I wouldn't however really recommend wine-making at home (although everyone here does it!) because the quality will probably not be as good as the $20/£10 bottles you may have become accustomed to. So, we decided to take on the relatively simple project of cider making. For one, because we really like it, and two because it's nice to have a beer-replacement on hand when you're gluten-intolerant.

I won't go into too much detail about how we made it because we're still unsure of the results, but I can say that we used roughly 20% wild crab apples, 30% dessert apples, and the remaining apples were sweet, but higher in acidity than most dessert apples. The blend of various types of apples directly affects how sweet or how dry your cider will be. We prefer a sweeter cider so we used more dessert apples; this is just as well because there aren't many non-eating apple varieties in this valley.

A good cider, like a good wine, may rely a lot on wild yeasts that will have accumulated on the actual cider making equipment and in the cider production room over the years. Because this is an old fruit-growing area we reckoned there were plenty of nice wild yeasts, but because we didn't have any age-old equipment we gave the cider a helping hand with one small packet of champagne yeast. Apparently in the UK you can order cultivated cider yeasts, but champagne yeast will also do the trick. We didn't have a mechanical press so it was advised that we hand-squeeze the pulp through muslin bags. Luckily what we do have is a Vita-Mix- a super powerful blender that will even chop wood! So we chucked the apples in there bit by bit until they were puréed, then emptied the blend into a bag and squeezed it. Sounds simple right? Well the whole process took over 8 hours of hard manual work and lasted until 1 a.m. But given that we may have 30 bottles of (hopefully good!) cider at the end, it's really not that much effort, and the whole process is also so very fun and satisfying.

The cider has been fermenting for 10 days now and is starting to slow down. When it stops we will have crossed fingers hoping for a sweet, not dry, cider (the basic rule being that during the fermentation sugar is turned to alcohol and the longer the cider ferments the more sugar is converted to alcohol and the less sweet your cider will be).

I will let you know what the finished results were as soon as we open the first bottle! Strangely enough cider making is a win-win situation. If it all goes wrong then at the very worst you're left with cider vinegar, which is perfect for cooking with. If you too are interested in pursuing the art of making cider then a great place to start is at the UKcider site. I hope you enjoy the rather graphic, and not at all pretty, action photos attached.


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