Cultural Shift Incoming: Wild Apples & Natural Cider

Hello again you all,

My quiet retreat from the blog section of the website is now officially over! With Spring finally touching ground this week, we are all rocking out to the warmer weather. Some of you may have begun to notice some apple tree buds swelling, perhaps at silver tip or green tip, getting ready to erupt in flower. This is an exciting time, no doubt! But let’s not look too far ahead of where our feet stand now; we enjoyed a unique and wonderful pocket of protective cold weather leading up to the true Spring. A notably slower awakening is a huge benefit: with this slower start to Spring, fruit bud sheaths will cling tight to the elements of the flower, keeping them protected from the errant late frost after leaves emerge. We, orchardists, apple growers, enthusiasts and consumers alike, are thankful for that extra bit of time to tie up the loose ends Winter left us. Now it’s time to enjoy the sun’s sweetness of the and to take part in the real work.

Aye, enough with the grand abstractions. Since the last time I wrote, a lot has happened. Pruning trees commenced, then it concluded! It is April, near May. It is doing time. I have begun grafting for new plantings in 2018, hopefully including some wild apple scion wood. If one was diligent and finished Winter’s work early, there may have been a little bit of time to travel! We’re going into grafting season full on in the next few weeks, with many public trees to be topworked and many bench grafts to begin coming to life. In the photos below, a small dispatch from grafting season! At left a photo of wild grafts on a wild tree: wild apple varieties being trialed for no-spray cider production grafted onto central vertical shoots on a big, healthy, old seedling tree in Chester MA at Wild Acres Farm. On the right, it’s your boy Matt giving the seal of approval on a volunteer tree grafted over to documented varieties.

 

 

           

 

Natural Cider, the [pome] wine that grows here.

For those of you reading this who are regular cider drinkers, the number of choices available in the cider section of your local package store may be rapidly growing. Cider’s transformation in the past few years has been huge. A critical mass of grower / producers all over the country and world have increased the amount of true cider that’s out there. This has had the effect of increasing the time for our decision-making at the package store,(and probably increasing our cider budget-allowance too), and also helping to educate the consumer base about cider, what it is, how it is created, how it lives, interacts with us, our food, and of course, our culture! These are milestones of a cultural shift incoming. Apples, orchards, and cider represent a bridge between the agricultural and the gastronomic, a valuable key that has made wine such a revered and coveted piece of the table setting for so long. Why is cider different? In truth, it is not so different. Cider is wine, malic wine. Beyond that, it has the potential and promise to rise far above Think about your connection to the land. Is it much? I assume if you’re obsessed with apples to the extent that you’re reading this blog, then you must be very attached to your landscape. But I beg that you put yourself into the mind of someone who isn’t so connected to the land, yet finds intrigue, allure, culinary value to drinking cider. Then you can understand the value that linking the agricultural, the ecological, to the gastronomic, has on a society of people who drink as part of their culinary and social tradition.

The wild apples that grow in the untended spaces of New England, and North America at large are a big part of this statement that cider has the possibility of growing far beyond wine. Consider that you drink a glass of wine: it was made in California, 3000 miles from where you live (separated by the Rocky Mountain range, and then the Appalachian mountains.) It is a beautiful glass of wine, burgundy in color, delivering a huge aroma, weighted tannins, a warm and smooth finish, with peppery aromatics that create a lingering effect on the palate after you’ve swallowed the deep red. It is good. It is great, in fact. But it is only so great, for you or me, as a glass of wine can be that was made so greatly disconnected from the landscape I know to be home, on grape varieties domesticated hundreds of years ago in a different country, bottled with sulfites to keep the wine stable while it was aged, awaiting its journey across the country to eventually end up in my wineglass.

Now consider that you are drinking a glass of cider. It is hazy gold, smells of late Autumn waft from the glass. An impenetrable funk emanates from the liquid atop other errant drifts of aroma, and light, perlant bubbles emerge from the bottom of the glass and settle at the top before disappearing. It is from a place you know; perhaps that you drive or walk by regularly, a tree you’ve looked at many times, a tree that has a history that you have observed (even briefly!). The cider is made of many trees that can be called one-of-a-kind. Even though the trees only exist in that one place, it is somewhat reassuring to know that this cider is something that can only be enjoyed right where you are, with the amount of enjoyment and love you approach that drink with. And as the cider goes down your gullet you revel in everything. What I am suggesting is that for those of us who have known the joy of cider making, apple foraging, and apple growing, the cultural experience of cider is a great component of our sense of place, our pride of home. This is a small piece of terroir that you are entitled to. I encourage all you who read this to contemplate this and respond to me about it. I want to hear your thoughts!

  

Take this above series for example, a side-of-the-road view, nothing too spectacular other than a pretty meadow over the hump in the road. The tree in the center of the background is an apple tree, easily and clearly glowing red. In the second photo, a walk to the tree reveals a nice find, a heavy crop of beautiful apples, damn near the sharpest thing I’ve ever tasted. This is the stuff natural cider is made of….  I’m trying to locate the intersection of cider and the everyday experience of a land or an environment.

This has all been spurred by a new movement of cider emerging that can potentially be classified as “natural cider,” (real original, I know). The Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition (a.k.a GLINTCAP) recently added a new category into the style guidelines for commercial cider also called “natural cider.” I am going to choose to respectfully disagree with their description of this style. Put simply, they characterize natural cider as being a cider crafted in the Spanish tradition and esprit. While Spanish Sidra is wonderful, and natural indeed, this definition truncates a HUGE potential for Natural Cider. What about all the other points of production?!?! So here’s to resisting that stuffy, lame definition and forging forward with our own, as a community! Here’s somethin’ else for ya:

The cider orchard and label that I work for, Carr’s Ciderhouse, has made a big jump this year. The jump is to align all of their commercially offered products with criteria matching a high standard of natural cider production. This approach can be compared with the natural wine movement, wine made from grapes managed in chemically non-intensive systems, and bottled without sulfites, put simply. Natural cider isn’t all that different. The points of interest in production criteria are that the cider be pressed from apples grown in a manner that does not utilize pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides (this applies to wild apples, and those orchardists who do not spray their trees), and no pre- or post-fermentation use of sulfites, and no artificial carbonation. Carr’s Ciderhouse is an exemplar of these criteria, and there are many more small grower-producer cideries in the Northeast (and further afield!) that should deserve such accolades and such a label. To produce cider in this way is the most brave, because it assumes the most risk. Crop failure/loss and inconsistency are the principal risks that are assumed with natural cider methods. It doesn’t matter if you want to make cider one way or another, using chemically intensive or no-intervention means. However, if one wants to truly understand cider, it must be studied through this lens! To acquaint one’s self with the equation APPLE JUICE + TIME = _________ and the various appearances of that sum is to really begin to know cider. Cider is a natural, probiotic, nutritive drink that should be revered as just that.

Apples sent to the press and to the barrel that have been treated with fungicides during the growing season will resist fermenting naturally. So we must get apples that were not sprayed. To muddle the fruit’s intent to ferment naturally with the advent of sulfites and cultivated yeast strains is to take away part of what makes the cider unique. Get the fungicide lobby out of cider! Curse me…. I digress! Yet I hope you get my message.

If this sounds like your style as a cidermaker, cider enjoyer, or both, the same thing applies: tell me what you think about this whole racket! We are looking for collaborators and a critical mass of commercial cidermakers to join the movement and put the united seal of natural cider on the bottle, metaphorically and physically. Here are a few suggestions of New England-made natural ciders to seek out and explore.

Carr’s Ciderhouse – Wild Apple Blend, Bittersweet Blend 

Flag Hill Farm – Sapsucker, Sparkling or still Vermont Cyder,

Shacksbury Cider – Lost Apple Cider Series

 

In each of the ciders produced by the above listed makers, you will find individuality and locale, wildness and homeliness, and at the bottom line, damn good cider! Check out the respective websites for sourcing information.

 

New Pruning Saws Off The Lot

New pruning saws in black walnut and spalted black birch, visit the Shop section! 

 

I have been experimenting a lot with the shapes and forms of my pruning saw designs of late, They are evolving, just like all of us are evolving, to be better to our hands and better to the trees. The new saw handles take likeness to a milkweed seed-pod. A smoothly curving hilt, filling the hollow the palm with the swell in the middle, tapering off to a tip, rather than a scroll. I favor this form over the older shape not only for its appearance but because it forces the hand to grip the saw in a more thoughtful way, rather than relying on the study scroll at the tip of the handle to exert all of the hand’s push-pull force against. It may be a challenge to understand this description in words, but once you feel one of these saws in your hand it will make sense! New saws listed in the Shop section are curved blade (Barnel, US-made steel) medium tooth pruning saws with belt mounted arborist sheaths. An excellent saw that will make your pruning cuts a lot cleaner and your working hands a lot less tired after a day of pruning away dead wood or grafting onto big limbs…

Well that’s it for this week folks, more updates including grafting updates, wild apple trial plantings, and a whole lot more coming up on here! Stay posted on Instagram @gnarlypippins…

       

 

 

 

Until next time! You know what I’ll be doing…

150 grafted apple trees. Varieties include : Cave Hill Pearmain, Medaille d’Or, Tewkesbury Winter Blush, Golden Russet, Old Roxbury Russet, Blue Pearmain, St. Edmund’s Russet, Calville Blanc d’Hiver, Maiden’s Blush.

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