Sunday, September 28, 2008

Processing Day - Hard Cider 2008

We decided to upgrade our production line this year. For the last four years I have been forced to rent an antiquated hand-crank grinder. I hate using the hand-crank for two reasons. First, I'm lazy. I don't like slaving. Secondly, hour after hour as I'm sweating and dying of exhaustion, I know just by looking that the quarter-sized apple chunks being spit out of the grinder are going to be wasted all because I can't seem to get the apples ground small enough.

That said Dan and I discussed a few options. We talked about contacting a cider mill and paying them to press our apples for us, but we found that there was only one commercial cider mill in Canon City, Colorado. They were busy with their own apples and couldn't help us.

With that option put to rest, we, meaning Dan (he's the problem solving brain of the operation), put his mind to solving the pressing problem (I made a pun!) of simplifying our production line. We decided on a super-burly stainless steel garbage disposal, which I named "the consumer." I was counting on the thing being insatiably hungry.

I'll admit I was a little nervous about the upgrade. I loved the idea, but I didn't trust it. In fact, "the consumer" gave me plenty to mistrust. It crapped out on us on day one.

The other major improvement that we made this year was buying a stainless steel pressing basket to replace the traditional "cheeses." "Cheeses,"for those of you that don't know, are linen cloth filled patties of ground apples that are stacked like coins and then pressed. Making "cheeses" is tedious and messy work, so we decided to buck tradition. I'm glad we did.

So, with the advent of our new-fangled gadgets and extra apples, we boldly decided to double our production. We made 24 gallons of hard cider last year. This year we were shooting for 50 gallons of cider. We acheived that goal, then we shot it out of the water.

Even though we still had over a hundred pounds of apples in the garage, we were finally forced to close shop because we ran out of carboys to put the cider in. All told we ended up with an unthinkable 70 gallons of cider this year!!!

I'll let you know how it turns out in a year.

Here's a photo journal our weekend.

Here's my truck with all of my brewing tools in it. The guy at the homebrew shop dubbed it the "fermentation wagon."

We started with so many apples that I couldn't even get all them in the picture. This is the best I could do.

Dan and I built this hydraulic press last year for $140. We operate it with a 2 ton bottle jack. If you look on the righ side of the press, just to the right of the orange bottle jack, you can see the white power switch that Dan fashioned onto the frame.

As I've already mentioned, grinding apples is a pain. This year, however, was different. To ease our collective pain, Dan wrigged up a super-powered garbage disposal with a stainless steel sink. How do you like them apples?

Here's another picture of "The Consumer."

We did run into a little trouble with "The Consumer." He died on us about four hours into our first day of processing apples. We tripped his thermal sensor. That wasn't acceptable, so we chucked a few ice packs on him and waited for him to cool off.

Here's another picture of our cooling system.

This stainless steel colander was Dan's brilliant solution to the messy and wasteful world of "cheeses." It worked like a champ after we drilled a bunch of holes in it and learned that we needed to wrap the pomace in cheese cloth before pressing so it wouldn't spit at us.
Dan's doing a little surgery on our strainer. The operation was a success. We'll probably drill more holes next year.

Here's Dan chugging some fresh worm juice.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Photo Journal - 4

Day 2 - Hard Cider 2008

I've got a confession to make. It's been a week since I harvested my last apple. While I've been scratching around, Dan has been working. He picked another four boxes of apples.

I bought a fruit picker today at the hardware store. I can't believe I've been making hard cider for five years and I'm just now buying a fruit picker. Rediculousness!!!

Harvesting fruit today was a joy. The sun was soft, the fall colors were ablaze, and I was in the shade most of the day.

With the help of my super-human friend, Kristal, we harvested five giant boxes of apples today. We even had time for a leisurely two hour luch break/photo shoot.

After lunch we drove up the street and picked three trees in the middle of an abandoned lot. We would've kept picking, but a thunderstorm blew in.

Here's me tempting Old Man Death. I guess he wasn't in my neighborhood that day. Luck for me, eh?!

Here's a great staged photo of me. This picture was taken while I was harvesting the first tree of the day.

Me and my new fruit picker. This photo was taken after luch in the abandoned lot. Most of the apples were way up in the crowns of the trees. Thanks to Kristal's fearlessness about heights, we harvested two huge boxes of primo apples.

Here's a picture of an overflowing box of apples. You can't see my face, but I'm really happy.

It's been a wonderful year for apples. Dan and I have outdone ourselves this year. It's safe to say that we've harvested at least twice as many apples this year as we did last year. I'm glad that we're done harvesting apples, but now the hard work begins - grinding and pressing.

We're planning a "white washing" party on Friday the 26th. The name is in reference to the famous scene in Mark Twain's novel, Tom Sawyer, when a sly Tom fools a bunch of neighborhood kids into painting the fence for him.

Grinding and pressing apples is a tedious and dirty work, but it is fun - at least for the first couple of hours.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Day 1 - Hard Cider 2008

Today's harvest was glorious!!!

My day started at 7:15am. To get ready for the long and dirty day, I threw on my old Carhartt bibs, a pair of broken boots, and jammed a ratty sun hat on my head.

I arrived at Dan's place a little after 9am. I found him in standing in the driveway hosing out the plastic bins that we were going to use to haul apples.

I was happy to learn that Dan's dog, Sampson, "The Ghandi Of Dogs," was going to pick apples with us.

Here he is in the back of my '86 Toyota exhuding his dog like tranquility.

First stop, Eldorado Springs. The trees that we picked last yeare were empty this year. On the way into the canyon we passed this tree. Sadly, because the tree was growing on a steep embankment, we couldn't reach the primo apples at the tippy-top.

We did, however, pick the first apple of the season off of it.

Here is the first apple of 2008.

I always get really tired when I see the first apple of the season. 10 months from now, after the long and tedious process of sweating, crushing, pressing, fermenting, stabelizing, racking, aging and bottling the "green" hard cider, I'll be able to enjoy its delicious essence.

Here is me at our third stop of the day. The tree was huge and drooping with fruit, but we only harvested one box.

Here is an arty shot of the apples in a container. This was taken in a scorching parking lot of a condo complex in South Boulder. I think we harvested three big boxes of apples.

There's Dan, "The Cider Man," up in an apple tree.

After lunch we went to our next "appointment." It was a beautiful tree slouching with crimson tinted apples. I didn't notice at first, but we weren't the only ones harvesting fruit that day. At our feet there must of been thousands of busy hornets eating the rotten fruit on the ground.

After harvesting the crimson apples, we decided that it was time to go home.

In all, we picked 7 1/2 big boxes of apples today.

Here is a picture of what Dan's living room now look like.

Last year, I stored 1000 pounds of apples in my living room. At night when it was really quiet I could hear the maggots eating the apples. It sounded like a bunch of tiny hands crumpling litte rice paper squares. I'd never heard anything like it. I thought it was cool.

My brother's girlfriend, Lee, didn't think it was cool. In fact, she hated it, especially after I flicked a writhing maggot at her.

We found eggs and worms and egg sacks everywhere for months.

Its so worth it!!!