|Picture it... Minnesota, October of 2009. It was our second year in our new house, and -unlike the year before - the giant apple tree out back was fruiting.
Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. The giant apple tree out back was loaded with hundreds of pounds of apples, with even more apples on the ground rotting. We’d never had to deal with an apple tree before, so between a lack of experience, a lack of planning, and a shortage of time - we were woefully unprepared to deal with the onslaught of apples.
As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to have my best ideas while I’m sleeping. My husband really shouldn’t have been surprised when I woke him up that Sunday morning with the words he has grown to dread: “I have an idea!”. He *claims* to dread them anyway, saying that whenever I utter that phrase, it means money or effort. Well, true... but it also means things like doing something crazy for a cake competition, making pretzels stuffed with jalapeno poppers, or - in this case - making hard apple cider.
Unlike the vast majority of times that I
drag his ass out of bedwake him up early on a Sunday, he took to this particular idea right away, and with enthusiasm... though we’d never so much as looked into brewing before, and certainly didn’t even have any equipment for it!
Taking a team approach, he went out to handle the outdoor portion of the work, while I set about inside. I did some quick research into equipment, recipes, and technique, and cleaned off our diningroom work table, while he went outside to do the hard labor. He raked all of the rotting apples, transferred them to compost... laid out some huge tarps, and set about harvesting all of the apples in that tree. That part actually involved getting up on our roof and using a broom to shake individual branches!
As he brought in garbage bag after garbage bag full of freshly harvested apples, I was working like a fiend trying to get them cored and juiced.
What a mess! Our little juicer was obviously never intended to juice hundreds of pounds of apples at a time. It took forever, and the pulp it spit out retained at least as much juice as it gave up. He hauled huge tubs of wet pulp out to the compost, while I desperately tried to get all of the juicing done in some sort of a reasonable amount of time. Obviously, the scope of work involved was far beyond what I’d had in mind when waking him up with my most recent bit of genius :). We were both covered in apple juice... but were having a great time doing this new activity together!
At some point, we cleaned up and headed to Midwest Brewing Supplies, to pick up a few basic pieces of equipment: 2 brewing buckets, a couple air locks, a racking cane, and some yeast - that’s it! We calculated - The cost of the initial equipment investment was still a fair amount less than 5 gallons of any bottled cider / cooler. Even if we only brewed this one batch and gave up, we’d still be saving money. Score!
Once we were done juicing, there was very little labor involved - heated the juice to sterilize it, cooled it down, and added the yeast. Simple!
We may have been fumbling around sort of blind, trying to figure out how to best harvest and juice all those apples, but learned a lot in the process. For instance, we would have gotten at least twice the yield if we’d re-juiced the pulp left over after initial juicing. We had NO idea just how many apples our tree produced - next time, we’ll have to look into renting an apple crusher!
At the end of our big project day, we were completely beat... but it was totally worth it a few months later, as we sampled our hard cider for the first time! It was tasty, clear, bubbly... at LEAST on par with anything we’d ever purchased before... and it was OURS. That proud feeling of “I made this!” is always good, but it’s even better when you’ve made something that you’ve always considered something you have to *buy*.
If you follow me on Twitter, you know that this initial foray into brewing was not our last. We’ve really adopted it as a hobby together, and have had a lot of fun in doing so. From choosing ingredients and preparing them, to hanging out in our basement “brew room” while cooking up a batch of something tasty... to racking, bottling, and finally sampling the finished product, it’s just been a really great hobby for us to share. Now, I’m not the only one in the house who blurts out “I have an idea!” while sporting a conspiratorial grin! Whether we’re doing our grocery shopping at Cub, or strolling through a Farmer’s Market, it’s so adorable when he gets an idea about something new to ferment. Cantaloupes, watermelon... even cans of mango puree.
From left: Lingonberry-blueberry wine, lingonberry wine, cranberry wine, mixed fruit wine, mixed fruit wine 2, mango wine, lemon wine
In the 13 months since we started, we’ve brewed up more than 14 types of wine! 2 meads, 2 batches of hard cider, and many kinds of fruit wine - not one of which is a grape wine! Pear, mixed berry, blueberry, lingonberry, cranberry.. Yum. So easy, so tasty... and SO economical! Also, with only a minimal amount of additional equipment, he’s gotten in to brewing his own beer from scratch! I mean, going so far as to growing his own hops this year!
I had originally intended to blog about wine making back in September. As a lead-up to posting our Hard Cider recipe, I thought it would be a great seasonal blog entry, and a fun project for apple season. Well.. I dropped the ball. Whoops! Now, I’m looking at this as another type of seasonal blog entry : gift inspiration!
If you’re looking for a unique gift, something that you can do together... I highly recommend some basic brewing equipment. A basic set up can cost under $50 to get started, and - cliches aside - it really IS a gift that keeps on giving!
In the near future, keep an eye out for blog updates here - we’ll be posting our hard apple cider recipe, as well as some other favorites.
From left: lingonberry wine, cranberry wine, "Cuties" orange mead, hard apple cider
|Fan of hops? You'll LOVE my latest cookbook, Hedonistic Hops!
Hops are prized for their ability to impart varied, complex flavours to beer… but did you know they can also be used culinarily? While hops may seem like a bizarre or exotic item to cook with, it’s the same as using other herbs and spices in your kitchen… you just have to know what to do with them. Appetizers, main dishes, beverages.. even desserts can be uplifted with hops!
Even those who are not fans of beer will love the unique flavours that various types of hops can bring to their plate. Floral, earthy, peppery, citrusy… Cooking with hops is a great way to expand your seasoning arsenal!