Wednesday, October 28, 2009

hood harvest

Despite the lack of posting, activity around the monkey ranch has continued.

Back near the beginnings of September I went out and harvested some elderberries. Not wanting to repeat my recent bout with poison oak I opted to collect the berries along a well traveled paved road in the Oaktown Hills not far from my house. A gallon of them to be exact. They were easy pickings and just loaded with yeast. Mead was on my mind. I had near a gallon of local honey. Visualize mashing, mixing and much dissolving. Now, after a good month and a half of fermenting, it is reaching the teens in alcohol and tasting much like a big rich port. Patience, is a blessing.

My local hop obsession continues. This year's harvest sure looked good. Not quite as prolific as last year, but better quality and way less bugs. (Although, in this picture there is at least a noticeable spider web lower right, a ladybug lava mid level, and multiple small white fly-ish things near the top of the hop cones.) The cascade variety (pictured) made it from the plant to the kettle in less than an hour. Now in a bottle, carbonation is the operative word. Once again, this involves much patience.

I was riding my truck to the market. It had rained a few days earlier and the first true fall leaves had collected here and there. Brown and crisp, they went crunch under the tires. Paying attention to the road, I looked down and saw a bright green leaf. As my brain registered "not a leaf" I swerved. Keeping my eyes on a spot a few inches to the side, I missed the mantid. Circling back, I fished out a food container and put my friend in the safety of my keeping. Beat up ever so slightly by the monkeys until being let loose in the garden, he made it out there at least 10 days before "moving on." I look forward to "harvesting" more mantids in the future. With patience I'm sure.

Two years ago, I gave my neighbor a hop rhizome. Now, healthy and two stories tall, they required a big ladder and teamwork to pick. While harvesting, another neighbor a few doors further down walks buy and says "dude, you harvesting your hops, you gotta come pick mine." Less than half an hour later I had at least a few ounces. Not knowing what variety I was dealing with, I cracked open a homebrew for some inspiration on how to proceed. The unknowns were somewhat garlicky smelling with red vines. I brewed up a small batch of beer, keeping it firmly on the red side of things to stay with the color scheme and used the house yeast for keeping it local. The patience pays off now, as the carbonation is good. More importantly, the garlic smell is gone and the beer is good. It's all good. Apparently my neighbor four doors down was this year's hop angel.

After dealing with various harvestables, it was time for another kind of food collection. I'd been hearing much about a famed fried chicken sandwich here in the hood that causes folks to form a long line every day come lunchtime. Being a local with a flexible schedule, I made sure to be early. Little monkey and I snarfed down some pumpkin bread on the way and opened this bad boy at home. One glance and shit damn, was I happy. Two honking bigtastic deep fried chicken breasts served on a sweet roll with some screaming yummylicious slaw. People weren't kidding when they said it was good.

The harvest is not over. Squash are still coming in. The tomatillos are still giving fruit. More beers with more hops are on the way. It keeps me busy with all the harvesting and fermenting, but I just love it when the picking is easy.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

pressing cider

When these beauties hit the kitchen counter, the cider making season began. My neighbor Professor Evil gave me a grocery sack filled with apples. He called them "drops" from his boss who lives here in the east bay. Before I even saw what variety they were, my nose told me I was in familiar territory. I opened the bag and got hit with the smell of my childhood summers in Sebastopol: Gravensteins.

I immediately ate one. I whacked up a few and dehydrated them for snacks later. Then I gave the rest a pass through the juicer. With a yield near a quart and a half, I poured it into an empty glass milk jug. I added about 3/4 cup of blackberry blossom honey. Shaking vigorously to dissolve the bee love, I put it on the counter and began waiting for the magic to happen. The next day bubbles arrived.

With one little experiment up and running I began thinking about doing a bigger batch. It wasn't looking like Reedley was going to happen this year, so no free Granny Smiths to juice up. That's okay I thought, my friend P told me that "your apples" were looking good and ready any time I wanted to come over and pick.

At the next market my favorite peach farmer Carl asked me "hey, you have any use for hundreds of pounds of apples this year? Like for cider?"
Uhh, sure, like how many?
"Oh, at least 20 boxes, so about 400 pounds or so, but easily more if you think you could use them."
You talking like giving me the apples and I give you cider back?
"We could work it out that way......"
I was already considering renting a press. So, 34 boxes later, it looked like the best idea I'll have all year.

The press came apart somewhat and managed to fit into the back of my wagon. Over at B's (my pressing pal) house reassembled, it looked like something straight out of the middle ages but with an electrical cord at one end. Plug it in, start tossing the apples into the hopper on the upper right, and then keep them coming until the press basket below it is full of pulp. (Make sure to place the basket under it when actually performing this task.) Fold the mesh bag lining the basket over itself on top and insert the pressing plate (not easy to see but being used under the auger press on the left). Crank away and watch nearly a gallon per basket flow down and into your carefully positioned, non-breakable vessel.

The juice from this ancient technology was clear and pretty much pulp free. Five gallons into it and I was impressed. At 10 gallons I was considering a way to build one. Nearing 15 gallons and I wanted to go buy one. By 20 gallons I thought it the best invention since liquid soap. 25 gallons and I was convinced a genius designed it. 30 gallons and I was glad we ran out of glass carboys to fill before we ran out of apples.

Now, what did we do with 30 some odd gallons of cider? We decided to split up the fermenting task and each claimed responsibility for roughly half. Then we used different yeasts in different containers and let the microrganisms get to work. Three short weeks later and I have now completed the first racking of my portion. Rumor has it B is working on his. I bottled a sample of each of the three kinds I have going.

Now, I'd write more, but after sampling a touch while performing the aforementioned tasks, I'm feeling rather spent. Also, I'll have to wait a week or two and try the bottled samples before deciding on how to proceed. Still or sparkling? Blended or not? Only time can tell. I'll give a bottling update when it happens.

Go press some juice, would you?