Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Cider Days 2012

It's been a while; if I've neglected this blog in the last couple of months because my summer was busy: sorry! But I have not been neglecting my love of orchards and apples. I finally got to attend Cider Days in western Massachusetts and had a great weekend. My friends and I rented a house in Shelburne Falls and had a wonderful time together, eating, laughing and relaxing. The weather was a bit chilly but sunny and gorgeous. I used to live in the Pioneer Valley and it was wonderful to go back and enjoy its beauty and progressive approach to life.

There was a marketplace full of crafts and some books. I bought a copy of Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors, and Why They Matter by David Buchanan. I started reading it that same night but too much cider tasting made me sleepy! I plan to review it here soon; it looks to be a fascinating chronicle of the author's adventures growing and preserving forgotten and heirloom plants, including heirloom apples he is growing in Maine.

I attended a workshop on amateur cider making and helped my friend Berta pour and serve samples of homebrew by cider makers whose efforts won them prizes. My favorite was an ice cider made by Steve. It was tart and sweet in equal measure and very flavorful. he questions from the audience were lively and there was a great discussion. Things got a bit heated when the members of the panel recommended using artificial sweeteners (such as Splenda) to "finish" the cider and add extra sweetness. This was really very puzzling and most of my friends were kind of horrified, as was I. One of the panel members even admitted having used aspartame for this purpose! Earlier in the same talk they had stated how important it was to use organic heirloom apples; so I find their recommendation of using artificial sweeteners to be confusing, to say the least. When a number of people asked about this practice and questioned its wisdom, the panel members did seem to get a bit defensive; one of them even responded to my own comments about the toxicity of artificial sweeteners by saying "drinking too much water will kill you." Hmm, perhaps, but it would do it a lot more quickly than dying of cancer caused from ingestion of artificial sweeteners. Not to mention, that stuff tastes nasty. If cider brewing is a celebration of food and flavors, why on earth would anyone want to add chemically-derived sweeteners? This seems very wrong-headed to me. I wonder if this subject will cause any controversy among the home cider brewing community in the future. Even with those eyebrow raising moments, the workshop was enjoyable and fascinating.

After the workshop there was some "tailgating" where amateur brewers share their brews with others from their vehicles. It was fun to taste cider, mead and perry, and meet new friends! There were other workshops, such as one for identifying heirloom apple flavors in cider, but there is only so much you can do (plus the locations of the different events are a few miles away from one another, being spread throughout Franklin County) and my friends and I were happy to relax a bit before the evening.

That night, after a potluck dinner of smoked salmon, chili, ribs, and pizza, my friends and I attended the Cider Salon, a cider tasting event that is the hallmark of this wonderful weekend. The salon is so popular they have to schedule two of them, and they almost always sell out beforehand. Cider Days has been happening for over a decade and the hard cider movement is growing more popular every year it seems. There were ciders from all over the United States, as well as some from France, England, and Spain. One of my favorites was Autumn Gold from Eve's Cidery in Van Etten, NY! I also enjoyed some terrific ice ciders from the award-winning Eden Ice Cider in Vermont (not surprising "Eden" is a popular name for cideries!) I also enjoyed a perry (pear cider) from France, a delicious apricot wine, and a number of other fine beverages. The volunteer pourers did a great job keeping everyone's glasses full and doing their best to answer questions.

I've been trying to go to this event for years but different things always got in the way. I'm now determined to attend Cider Days every year. I highly recommend this wonderful autumn event for anyone who enjoys apples, cider, and enjoying the autumn harvest.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Warm Spring, Endangered Orchards?

It was a very mild winter in most of the Northeast United States, and the record warm temperatures of the past few weeks have a lot of plants behaving more like it's mid-April, not mid March. Daffodils are blooming, hyacinths and showing color in their buds, and fruit trees are already blossoming in some areas.

This article describes the anxiety some orchardists are feeling about the weather, and how vulnerable trees are. A late frost can kill blossoms and wipe out an entire crop. I've seen this happen in western New York more than once, where the wild apple trees of the Brushwood Folklore Center went two years with practically no fruit.

There is little orchardists can to to protect their trees in this situation. With Northeast winters seemingly becoming milder every year, will this mean problems for orchards and fruit growers? It is a worrying trend.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

New apple variety discovered in Australia

An apple grower in Australia has been able to license a new variety known as "Crimson Snow" which is also being test grown in orchards in the United States, Italy and France, and may soon be available throughout Europe and Turkey. Grower Allan McLean says he did not "create" the apple, merely discovered it about ten years ago. It has bright coloring, with vibrant red skin and white flesh reminiscent of the Fameuse or Snow apple first discovered in France. Crimson Snow also has a unique taste and fragrance, and low acid which is increasingly popular among consumers.

How exciting! Consumers do seem to be attracted to these bright red, white-fleshed fairy tale apples, so here's hoping Crimson Snow catches on!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Cidery in upstate NY

Though they only became an official winery a short time ago, the Cidery in Wurtsboro, New York is quickly becoming one of the up and coming places for the hard cider renaissance of the Northeast.

They are also one of a growing number of upstate New York wineries making apple and other fruit wines and hard cider, and thereby celebrating and encouraging orchard preservation and the cultivation of heirloom apples!