Monday, September 20

Picking Apples Day 14: Cider Apples

Chisel Jersey
For many people cider is a sweet fresh pressed juice that can be found at any orchard in the autumn months.  Historically however, the term cider referred to hard cider, which was the only kind of cider for centuries until refrigeration and more recently pasteurization allowed cider to be kept fresh for weeks or even months.  Today's fresh cider is pressed from the very same apples that we are used to eating, ones like McIntosh, Cortland and Honeycrisp.  Hard cider on the other hand can be made from a wide variety of apples, many of them seedlings.
Cider apples are rarely consumed fresh, many of them are lovingly referred to as "spitters," due to the high concentration of tannins and generally unsavory texture that makes them unpalatable.  Historically hard cider was made from almost any apple in the orchard and early cider orchards were often planted from seeds and did not require the grower to have mastered the art of grafting.
At Cornell Orchards there is a far corner block of apples with names like Summerset Redstreak and Chisel Jersey.  This is the cider block where they cultivate a handful of different apples that have traditionally been used for making hard cider.  Last week we took a few afternoons to pick some of these apples.  It was a nice change of pace from the usual picking.  One does not have to be nearly as gentle with the cider apples being as they are going straight to the press.  Unlike other apples cider apple drops can also be collected since the fermentation and alcohol will kill any unwanted bacteria.
picking cider apples
First we picked up the drops under the trees with five gallon bucks, the apples making a fun "ker-plunk" as we dropped them into the empty buckets.  The drops went into a separate bin from the ones that came from the trees, but all will find there way to the press.   What cider apples lack in taste they make up for in appearance: they are beautiful colors and a single variety can range from green to yellow orange and red depending upon their ripeness.  They are also varied in their texture, some are very firm while others feel almost spongy.  Picking cider apples feels much more relaxed than picking where one is getting paid per bushel.  The crew moves together though the trees, stripping the apples from the branches.  There is usually conversation and banter and sometimes even a bit of singing when the tractor is not around.
We will revisit the block a few more times this season as different varieties come ripe.  When it is all said and done and the apples meet the press, I hope to get my hands on some of the juice and try my luck at a batch or two. 
A full bin of Chisel Jersey ready to be hauled away

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