May 28, 2017

The Lasting Effects of Sweet Cider

Wolf River apples are massive, pictured here with the smaller Macintosh in the foreground

Janine Pineo Photo | Wolf River apples are massive, pictured here with the smaller Macintosh in the foreground

• By John F. Chisholm •

Sweet cider.  We make it every year.  With 54 apple trees in the orchard behind the house, there’s no excuse for not taking the effort.  In addition, there are a couple of dozen more trees surrounding the cellar hole on the old Tay homestead.  There are several varieties in both locations, most antique and some even older.  I struggle identifying them all.  (There are hundreds of varieties to chose from, many developed right here in Maine.)  In fact, there are several trees about which I’ll never be certain.  But, you bet, that doesn’t stop me from eating their apples or squeezing their fruit into cider.

There is one variety of which I am confident.  Wolf River apples.  We’re fortunate to have several trees.  I like them so much that I’ve grafted others, ensuring our future supply. Large, softball-sized red apples, they’re firm and very juicy.  They make the best cider, pies, apple sauce and crisp.  They’re great eating apples, too.  Unfortunately, they don’t store well.  So it’s either freeze them as apple sauce, press them into cider and bake them into pies or let the crop go.  Speaking personally, I hate even the thought of that last option.

Some of our other varieties ― in order of my confidence in their proper identification ― are red pippins, winter russets, golden delicious and harvest gold apples.

Invariably, I try mixing and matching the different varieties to come up with the best cider.  It’s wet and sticky but delicious work.  In truth, there’s nothing better than sweet cider straight from the press.

That’s the problem.

This year we made extra.  Daughter Kim and her fiance, Corey, helped me pick, wash, grind and press the apples.  Having their help made such a difference.  The process is repetitive, I admit.  Never mind.  With everyone pitching in, laughing and living in the effort, it was joy.  We were at it all day and still didn’t finish.  That didn’t matter.  None of us cared.  Tractor exhaust made blue smoke columns in the fall air.  Ladders, bushel baskets, pole pickers and wheelbarrows crisscrossed the orchards.  Yellow jackets, mud wasps and honey bees competed for the cider.  Basket after basket of apples mounded up, spilling over with red, yellow and golden fruit.

Kim and Corey joined me in mixing carefully calculated percentages of different varieties into innumerable separate ciders, too.  Of course everyone tries the different batches, then takes sips of former brews, just to refresh our memories ― of course ― trying to be certain which is best.  Me, too, although I’ve been doing this for years.  You’d imagine that I’d know better.

No.

That’s because they’re all terrific.  In fact, that’s at least half the trouble.  More.  Because after an entire day of sampling dozens of different ciders, I stayed up most of the night, too.  It wasn’t merely a whim.  It was more of a necessity.

This happens to me every season.  But this morning, seated rather gingerly at my computer, I admit that with sweet cider, the price is worth it.  In fact, I’ve got a glass on my desk right now.  I’m sipping carefully as I write.  I simply can’t do without it.

Some things are too precious to miss.

Ah!  Sweet cider!