Apples to spare

Our neighborhood pressed cider Sunday. As summer turned to late summer, now to fall, we’ve been seeing apples EVERYwhere:  along roadsides, in front yards and pastures. How could we pass up a year like this?

Radio Bob gets some help from J.J. and Scotty. photo bu Shelly Pike

Radio Bob gets some help from J.J. and Scotty. Photos by Shelly Pike

The cider press is big and old, and has a permanent home in the Baileys' barn. It's tidy and orderly in there: concrete floor, hose nearby for washing apples (outside) and cleaning up (inside). There's an old chopper on one side of the small room. After over 20 years of pressings, the core crew is experienced. And there are always newcomers to lend a hand.

Usually (and I can’t say “normally” anymore) one of the more challenging parts of making cider is finding enough apples. It involves hiking up the hill to glean known good wild apples, calling up neighbors and friends with backyard trees…and often the raw material of our cider is a motley mix.

This year?  So many … we ran out of daylight after pressing 20-plus gallons, and there are apples left over!

The cider is sometimes surprisingly good, sometimes not so much. This was a really good year. Five batches, each sweeter than the one before.

third-batch-of-ciderXShelly Pike and her boys, Scotty and J.J., brought apples from Grandma's yard. They went in the press for the third round.

Every batch gets a tasting and general review. People brought donuts, pumpkin cake and apple cake. There was good cheese and local sausage. A beer tasting was added this year: brews from the region, and some outliers from breweries in New York City. All-in-all it was a well-rounded local harvest celebration.


There's more about our process and some the usual crew at our pressing three years ago in this audio postcard.

We’re not the only ones remarking on the apple-abundance this year, by a long shot.

As the Harvest Moon was rising late last week, Cornell sent a press release around titled:

From grapes to apples and pumpkins, bountiful harvest season for all

Cornell professor and apple breeder Susan Brown writes:

 All that rain caused the abundant fruit to size well, and high temperatures and sunlight have helped to develop the flavors and sugars. Recent high temperatures and cold nights provided the optimum situation for quality.

The press release goes on to list New York State apples, from old to new varieties, before turning to how great a year it is for other new York specialties:  wine grapes, juice grapes, and pumpkins. Pumpkin growers had the more challenging year, apparently. The crop is large, but early, so the tip from Cornell is to get your pumpkins early, and choose carefully to make sure they last till Halloween.

We have two long rows of  Concord grape vines in our yard that date back to the mid-19th century. Most of them are left to make what grapes they can, on remains of old fencing. But a few years ago we raised a section up on to a pergola and sturdy split rail fence, and started pruning them a little. In a good year we might pick a couple bushels of ripe grapes, which make superb grape juice for canning.

This year, pergola is packed with grapes.  Frost last year led to a “very heavy crop load” this year, according to Cornell’s viticulturist Luke Haggerty. In fact, he says, “In the Lake Erie grape belt, 2013 is going to be an exceptional year and will probably be talked about for years to come.”

I’ll surely be talking about our loaded grape arbor for years to come, And, in the hindsight-is-better-than-nothing department,  in future I might get a lot more RIPE grapes after reading this:

For some, the vines put on more grapes than it could handle, which could cause the fruit to not ripen properly as well as hinder the health of the vine.  To alleviate some of the risk, many growers used crop thinning.  Crop thinning is a technique developed by researchers at the Cornell Lake Erie Regional Grape Program where grape harvesters are adjusted to only take off a portion of the grape crop.  Having a vineyard with over 16 tons an acre was common in the Lake Erie Grape Belt, but many growers decided to thin the crop down to a manageable 8 to 10 tons per acre.  This ensures the grapes will meet the appropriate sugar levels and the vines will maintain good health and put on another good crop next year.

Here’s hoping. Cheers!

P.S.: We also have a bumper crop of butternuts. Any ideas?


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  1. We've not yet had a frost here in the village of Potsdam. We're still picking beans, the peppers are still loaded, and even the tomatoes keep ripening, thought they are completely devoid of foliage due to aggressive pruning to get rid of late blight. The second planting of buckwheat is beginning to bloom, and I seeded another section on the 24th where the potatoes came out (though that was probably over optimistic).
    Though the season has definitely changed, the work of the garden goes on. The pumpkins are ready to be carried upstairs, the potatoes and onions are ready to go to the cellar, and the window sills on the porch still hold a hundred tomatoes…we've still got an apple tree to pick.
    Even after that final killing frost, the garden work goes on. We'll gather and spread two or three hundred bags of leaf mulch before we call it quits; feeding the worms may be the most important process that happens in our garden; the soil they create over the winter is what we'll plant in next year.

  2. I enjoyed this post, as we are celebrating fall here with my family for our annual cider pressing part soon. We purchase apples from the orchards nearby, and have considered doing some experiments with wild ones. Did you harden off your squash? My favorite recipe is for a roasted squash soup: tomatoes, garlic, carrots in a hot oven drizzled with olive oil and lots of oregano. Blend it together and add chicken stock. The only caveat is having to peel those things, but, I find its worth it, especially when I pull the soup base out of the freezer in February.
    My husband is convinced butternut squash is just as good as pumpkin in a pie. So there's another thought. Happy harvesting!