Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cider Pressing

As I mentioned in my last post, this fall Whitney and I got to take part in my Dad's Apple Cider Pressing Party at the GHJ Tree Farm. It was a beautiful day with friends, family and lots and lots of apples!

Rome Beauty apple

Apple cider has a long history in America and in Europe before that. Often clean water was hard to come by, so apple cider was the common drink. Before beer, hard apple cider was the main alcohol for the common people. In fact according to at least one book that comes to mind (The Botany of Desire) eating apples like the phrase "eat it like an apple" is a fairly new concept, as before that apples were nearly entirely grown for cider. The truth is that Johnny Apple seed was not a health nut apple eater, but much more interested in hard cider! Of course nowadays we know apples are a healthy food and often cider takes a backseat, but the making of cider is still a tradition across the country. Pressing cider is one of the family traditions my Grandfather passed down along with growing Christmas trees and bee keeping. Here is a look at how it's done where I come from.
First off, the apples must be picked. Sometimes you have to get a little creative especially when picking the taller trees! This year on the GHJ Tree Farm, my Dad estimated he picked around 1000 pounds of apples to sell, donate and crush into cider.
After the picking, the apples are sorted (saleable apples are not crushed) and washed. Since all the apples are completely chemical free, the washing is just to get the dust off. Then comes the cutting.  

Each apple is quartered and any bad spots removed, before being ground into pulp. The pulp is loaded into the press, and compressed.

Pressing apples in my Grandfather's press.
The juice is filtered, and then poured into jars for the helpers to enjoy and take home.

Fresh Apple Cider
Since the emphasis is place on enjoying the whole process, most of the cider is consumed during the course of the day and we have no good idea how much is made. But one thing I know is everybody got at least a taste and most got to take a few jars home. I think we were guessing we crushed 16, 40lb boxes of apples, so there was plenty of cider to go around. Thanks to everybody that came out and helped make it such a fun event!   So that in a nut shell is cider pressing, if you get a chance sometime give it a try. The taste of fresh cider is beyond delicious.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Our first honey tasting

This Columbus Day weekend Whitney and I had the pleasure of taking part in the 13th Annual, Apple Cider Making Party at the GHJ Tree Farm! It was a beautiful day on the farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California where I grew up, and a wonderful time to catch up with family and old friends. It was Whitney's first Cider Making Party, and my first in many years, so it was a truly special day. Look for a blog post all about Cider Pressing coming soon.

While there we had our first (unofficial) honey tasting. One of the reasons I have always been pro honey bee is my good memories of having bee hives and honey when I was young. Years ago my Dad used to sell comb honey at his road side stand along with apples in the fall and Christmas trees in the winter. In more recent times, the bees were maintained for pollination, but not honey. Eventually with the onset of Colony Collapse Disorder and other pests and diseases, the bee hives went away.

Around the same time that Whitney and I became interested in bee keeping, my Dad also decided to return to bee keeping and purchased a package of bees. His first attempt didn't survive, but since then he has been successful, and this year for the first time in many years he harvested honey!

Our honey on the right and my Dad's GHJ Tree Farm honey on the left.
One amazing thing about honey is the variation that can occur between hives. Color, taste and aroma (as well as length of time to crystallize) all depend directly on what plants the bees were feeding on when they filled the comb. Honey truly is a local crop, meaning that what is in the jar is a true representation of what is available within 3 miles of the hive (and often closer when flowers are plentiful). Like ours, my Dad's honey supers were pulled off the hive in the Autumn, so it is a summer honey, as opposed to a spring honey some people extract. Due to our location, our honey is likely a mix of wildflowers, flower gardens and vegetable gardens. It has a full rich flavor, that may come as a surprise at first but is very enjoyable. The GHJ tree farm honey, I suspect has much more wildflowers (weeds) and tree pollens in it due to the remote location. To me this dark amber honey had a light crisp flavor that instantly reminded my of Dad's honey of my youth. To mix things up further, we added a craft third honey, from Snyders Honey in La Honda, CA.

The two Johnson honeys on the right and Snyders Honey on the left.

Again, the light color had no impact on the flavor, which to me was mild and very pleasant, but taste is subjective so one person's sweet is another's mild.
What I do find interesting is that Americans seem to prefer lighter colored honey, so when the big honey houses bottle their batches, they mix it all together and shoot for a nice light to extra light amber like the Snyders Honey above, which is why that's what we are accustomed to seeing in the stores.
Honey colors are expressed in terms of mm according to the Pfund scale, so an Amber like ours has a range of 86 - 114mm, while a Dark Amber like my Dad's is >114mm and an Extra Light Amber like the one of the left is 30 - 50mm. In order to grade honeycolor , one uses a specially tinted piece of glass that has the scale printed on it from light to dark. Source: Does this matter to the honey taster? Nope not a bit, I just find it interesting.
In any case, our first Honey Tasting was a lot of fun, made even more so since we could visit with family while enjoying! Take care everybody, and thanks for reading. KJ