For several weeks we’ve had our eyes on another neglected apple orchard in the neighborhood, which we pass every week on our way up and down the mountain to get into town. We watched as the apples got rosier and darker and started to fall to the ground. Finally one day I urged T to stop at the nearby house so we could ask what they plan to do with them and if we might have some. Wary of approaching a stranger’s house unannounced and possibly being greeted with a shotgun (too many movies about remote Appalachia), T convinced me just to leave a note in the mailbox. I rifled through my purse and wrote the friendliest note I could on a little piece of paper printed with frolicking kitties (thanks Maya). How could they resist?
Sure enough, we get a call and are invited to have our fill of whatever we can reach. The orchard is old, we are told, and hasn’t been properly pruned. But there are 100 fruit trees there, and no one is using them! When we get there, it is easy to see why. All the trees are on a steep slope, completely overtaken by chest-high bramble. A few branches overhang the driveway, but most of the fruit is out of reach, and since the trees haven’t been pruned in years, they aren’t climbable either. We picked up the good looking ground fall, knocked some apples down with our hiking sticks, and finally rolled the car under the tree and climbed up on the roof. We came away with about 250 apples of two varieties – a beautiful dark red that my mom guessed might be Arkansas Black, and something that looked like a miniature Fuji or Gala. I tried to reach the other trees, which had some yellow and green varieties, by scrambling through the bramble, thrashing my stick around in case of snakes. But I only ended up with a nightmare tangle of little green velcro-like hitchhikers in my hair.
The apples sat in the fridge for a couple of weeks, but we finally processed them yesterday with S & S’s cider press, which sealed the arrival of fall.
There was something incredibly satisfying about the chopping, mashing, cranking, turning, and watching the sweet nectar dribble into our bowls. One of the nice things about making cider is that you can use even bruised and battered apples, stems, seeds, skins, cores and all.
T felt that we had connected with something quintessentially American and fall-ish, like hay-rides, corn mazes and jack-o-lanterns. The whole process, including the prep and clean-up, took only about 2 hours, and yielded 2 and a half gallons of cider – that’s about a gallon per 100 apples (obviously the size, juiciness and variety matter – someone we met today at a community gathering said 3/4 of a bushel generally makes a gallon, but “bushel” really has no meaning to me).
I was really hoping to try to ferment some homemade hard cider, but with only 2.5 gallons, it didn’t seem to make much sense. Still, we’re excited to have what we do, some of which we will freeze for the winter. And I’m happy to have the bottom shelf of my fridge back – which has been full of apples pretty much since we moved in.