You want to know how many apples are in 20 bushels?
A bushel of apples equals an average of 42 pounds of apples. Each bushel will yield 2-3 gallons of cider. So 20 bushels == 840 pounds of apples, or 40-60 gallons of cider, or the equivalent of a bit less than half a 1967 Ford pickup truck's worth.
It's also about 5 bushels more than a group of quasi-serious adults can press in an afternoon.
This weekend started out crisp and beautiful - I had just gotten home from a business trip, and the air was that Gilmore Girls clear, orange leaves, idyllic Saturday morning at the farmer's market, leaving you craving a cup of cocoa and hot cranberry scones. Or, if you're a Grady, a second Diet Coke. There was a pumpkin patch involved. It was Very New England.
We got these back to the house and dumped them out onto a giant tarp for a good spraying down, and set things up for Sunday's pressing. The weather started to look a little iffy, so I figured it was a good excuse to buy a tent, and ran to Wal-Mart. They have a few of those in Massachusetts it turns out. More than half of the people I run into there look like they just stepped off the Pigeon Forge express bus, complete with camouflage velour baseball caps emblazoned with tractor emblems or NASCAR t-shirts that look like they have missed more laundry days than they've seen. These are my people, and I love them. I'm pretty sure the Massachusetts state legislature has restricted them in a sort of 'natural preserve habitat' to Wal-Marts and select KFC franchises.
Good thing about the tent. Sunday dawned gray and got worse. We were collecting and readying the apples in the cold, chill rain. Thankfully, we had called in the reinforcements.
What had started out as "Hey honey, let's have a couple of friends over for a light-hearted afternoon" turned into "Hey honey, how many cars can fit into our driveway? What if they parked on the street across the way?" There were 15 couples and families that came by for some apple cider and some pulled pork in the end. (Pulled pork? Oh yes - because ever since Alice wrote "pork chops and applesauce" on the chalkboard for Mike, Carol and the kids, I've known that those things go well together. And the BBQ sauce recipe I have kicks ass - it's a Carolina-style sauce, so heavy on the vinegar. It received a fantastic number of compliments. I'm almost ashamed to tell you how easy it is, but I will later on down, so keep reading. Try it. You'll love it, and be surprised how easy it is to make.)
To keep folks warm, I lit a fire outside and in. And soon enough, some of that fantastic cider was pouring out. If you're interested in trying this, here's a couple of things I learned.
1) Use apples that have been 'sweated' for a while. Which is how apple professionals refer to 'these apples are old and mushy'. You wouldn't want to eat these, but all that mush means 'easy to press'. (If you think about it, they're mushy because the cell walls have begun breaking down. All that crunchiness == pain to mash. Also, the sugars are being developed, which again equals sweeter juice, and later on, more alcohol if that's what you're going for).
2) Seriously, you're going to get a lot of juice out of the apples. You will be amazed.
3) Make sure people bring their jugs. No, really. Check at the door. And send them back to get theirs if they forgot them.
We had people show up to a "bring your own jug" pressing party, not realizing that the intent was for them to, you know, actually bring a jug and take it home with them. People: I can't store this much cider. You either take it with you, or you drink your gallon before you leave my door.
We ended up putting away 15 gallons for fermenting into hard cider. No, we don't know how to do this, but our neighbor who loaned us the press also loaned me a couple of books on this. With conflicting and sometimes obtuse instructions, and anecdotes of how the settlers made this stuff in rough, not-particularly hygienic barrels. I can barely follow a somewhat complicated recipe to make my favorite Chinese meal, let alone figure out which of the 47 varieties of cider in this book I should follow. So I picked 3 of my favorites and we're trying a little of each.
I sorted each barrel to keep them organized and make sure I followed the recipes carefully. I then moved them to the basement and have set them up for a few months of healthy fermentation. Too bad I forgot to label them before I moved them to their final resting place, and will never be able to figure out which was which, if I want to recreate the recipes in the future.
Hey, my Bride is the organized scientist in the family. I'm lucky if I find my way home at night most days.
About halfway through the day, the rain turned white, and big fat flakes of snow(!) began to fall. Snow. In mid-October. We ended up with about a half-inch on the ground before the evening was complete.
In hindsight, having that fire was brilliant.
I've still got a few bushels left to press, and a few more gallons to put up. So yeah, there's definitely some work involved.
Was it worth it? Well, on a purely financial stance, decent cider sells for at least $4/gallon at the market. I paid $3 a bushel, giving us more than 50 gallons of cider. Or roughly $1.15/gallon, if we just drank it all as sweet cider (i.e. no fermenting). There was some work involved in the setup, hauling, bottling and cleanup, but that was all done by us, and what else would I have been doing? Playing on my new xbox?
But even without that, first sip of cold cider fresh from the press was incomparable. It was amazing. It was intoxicating in its flavor and light, sweet flavor, without any special treatments or anything done. If all you've had is stuff you buy at Kroger's or Safeway, you have never tasted anything like it.
And even better, it gave us a great excuse to have friends and neighbors over for an afternoon that I hope will be memorable for everyone.
So yeah. It was definitely worth it.
Here's that recipe I promised:
Pulled Pork & Homemade Carolina-style BBQ Sauce
- 3 tablespoons paprika
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon dry mustard
- 3 tablespoons coarse salt
- 1 (5 to 7 pound) pork roast, preferably shoulder or Boston butt
Cider Vinegar Barbecue Sauce:
- 1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
- 1 cup yellow or brown mustard
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 or so teaspoons cayenne (depends on how you like it. If I'm coming over, please add more)
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Mix paprika, garlic power, brown sugar, dry mustard, and salt together in a small bowl. Rub the spice blend all over the pork and marinate for as long as you have time for, as little as 1 hour or up to overnight, covered, in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
Put the pork in a roasting pan and bake for about 5-6 hours. Basically, roast the pork until it's falling apart and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 170 degrees F.
To make the barbecue sauce: combine the vinegar, mustard, ketchup, brown sugar, garlic, salt, cayenne, and black pepper in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer gently, stirring, for 10 minutes until the sugar dissolves.
Remove the pork roast from the oven and transfer to a large platter. Allow the meat to rest for about 10 minutes. While still warm, take 2 forks and "pull" the meat to form shreds. Using 2 forks, shred the pork by steadying the meat with 1 fork and pulling it away with the other. Put the shredded pork in a bowl.
To serve, put some pork on a hamburger bun. Top with a healthy spoonful of sauce. Eat. Enjoy.