Saturday, April 28, 2018

A Quality Drink from Tree to Pint

Gary and Maher planting hard cider specific apple trees

Tractor and auger for drilling the holes for trees

The saying goes, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, but what it doesn't say is that those seeds will be completely different apple trees. We are all similar but different from our parents no?

If you plant an apple seed it has all the genetic variation of its forebears, meaning, the tree could be any combination of these genetics and result in an apple quite unlike the tree it came from. To ensure the variety of tree that we want, farmers use a technique called grafting. This is where the scion (the desired bud wood) is cut and sealed onto a root stock. The scion is the trees' mini me, a genetic copy that will grow into the same variety of apple. The purpose of grafting this scion onto a different root stock (such as Bud 9) serves two main purposes. Firstly, the root stock is often dwarfing, which enables the spindle system of growing orchard trees close together. Secondly, it often has improved disease resistance raising the bar for the clones' successful establishment. So what's with the Johnny Appleseed folk character? Why is he spreading seeds?   

In Elementary school, I remembered some vague mention of Johnny Appleseed. Looking back, the nursery-school version left out some details. John Chapman born 1774, became an orchardist and nurseryman along the Northeast; establishing apple trees that were used primarily for hard cider and applejack (distilled apple ferment). Interestingly, orchards were one way to mark land claims along the frontier at this time. Somewhat of a quirky character, he was nomadic, religiously pious, but had wealth from his economic business of establishing and selling hard cider orchards.[1]

The common apples we know today have been selectively bred for sweetness, texture, and other qualities that appeal to consumers. Traditionally, Crabapple trees and tart apples were more common. From the Middle Ages (dating before this too), when lack of fresh clean water led to deaths from dysentery, people drank hard (alcoholic) cider. Fermentation has always been a way for people to survive through unfavorable seasons and scarcity. The preservation of food and drink that enabled perseverance and social bonding became tradition in many cultures. Britain, where tradition is staunch, still serves local hard cider at every pub. My parents took a cider tour of Britain, because in their minds, when they travel, they're still not off the clock. They wanted to get a business sense of traditional hand-crafted cider. After meeting fellow hard cider farmers who hosted and shared their knowledge they returned enthusiastic, repeating, "They're our kind of people!"

The simplicity of cider ferment becomes more of a craft when you want a replicable taste, smell, and quality to each brew. At home, you can just add cider yeast and let your cider bubble. If it tastes right, then it's right and if it's tastes off, then you might have cider vinegar. Here at the farm, the planning has started. Gary and his crew planted new varieties of apple trees that are hard cider specific, reaching back to the genetics of Johnny Appleseed's time, such as, Cox Orange Pippin, Albaramaryle, Arkansas Black, Newton Pippon, Harrison, Ashmeads Kernel, Yarlington Mill.

Some hard cider varieties we already grow because about half of our customer base prefers the tart apples for eating and baking. Varieties such as Gold Rush, Stayman, Winesap, and Crimson Crisp all make good hard cider. Amy has been putting in weeks of paperwork and research to complete every step that needs doing for a license to sell hard cider here at the farm. And Gary has a couple of single vintage varieties brewing, as well as table blends, spending days, weeks, months, perfecting and tweaking to create a quality drink from tree to pint.

If you are interested in being the first to sample or learn about when we launch our product there is a special email list that you can get onto. Send a message with the subject HARD CIDER, with your interest to

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Apple butter and the wisdom of Bob Marley

I took a trip last week to Bauman's, a traditional apple butter business run by a husband and wife near Kutztown. We dropped 10 mixed bushels of apples off two weeks prior and received the rich brown butter jarred in return. Apple butter does not contain butter; it is made simply, crushing the apples and cooking them until they are reduced to the consistency of butter. Its tart-sweet flavor lends itself well to a meat marinade or a breakfast topping for toast or oats. I also make my own vegan, gluten-free baked goods and I find that adding a couple tablespoons to my flour and oil mixtures helps combine the baked goods for a better consistency.

After squeezing the truck into a parking space, the processing building takes up a small acre lot in between houses and a narrow lane, I unloaded the boxes into the truck and introduced myself to Mr. Bauman, "Harvey," he said. If it had been a younger person I might have paid and left, but the older generations approve of small talk. The weather was the main subject; spring is variable, the winter was hard, but the crops will pull through, they usually do. Then he asked, "So you're working on the farm, did you go to college?" Tentatively, "Yes," I said, "I went to college for communication and got my masters in development communication. I'm working on the farm, helping with the retail side, but also learning more about the outdoor work involved in the fruit." And with a smile that couldn't lift the corner creases of his hurt eyes Harvey said, "That's nice, my children decided not to continue the family business." Where could I go with that? I think that any family business suffers some degree of hurt when the next generation fails to continue their legacy, but there is a special kind of sadness that I've seen and read about for farmers. Maybe because, for most farmers, work is more than an occupation, it is one's blood and bone, blessing and curse. There's a reason most farmers as they age, look like the land they tend to; like a geologic natural progression, the sun, the earth, the wind and the rain work away at a farmer's solid form. Man starts out fine skinned and pale and ends looking more like an obsidian arrowhead than a polished marble bust, polished through work rather than refinement.  

It's not just farming that's threatened; any skilled trade that takes time to learn is perceived as obsolete. I say perceived, because like the bumper stickers say, "No Farmers, No Food." Not only do we need farmers, and other skilled trades, I would argue that there is a growing trend amongst the younger generations for these products and eagerness to learn these skills. Our reliance on large commercial agriculture owned by a few big names isn't what I mean by farmers. The younger generation in this farming trend doesn't follow the traditional model of taking on their parents work, as it used to be done in the early 1900's, rather they often arrive at this line of work because of personal convictions or exposure through traveling, for example, (WWOOF) World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Popularity and interest in CSA's, Community Supported Agriculture, where one pays a certain amount upfront and gets a fair share of whatever crops the farmer harvests that season, are another way that we can see local resurgence in small-scale farms. Organic is another buzzword that hit the mainstream media and has been taken up by many new young farmers with an interest in integrated often, non-profit driven farming. You can find them at the local farmer's market with their Michael Pollan books, hipster attire and vegetarian inclinations. I kid. But by far, there are less farmers in the United States then there ever have been since it was conquered by our forefather immigrants, not settled as it was land taken by force.  

I can't deny the importance of the work farmers do but the question I wanted to ask Harvey, was, "Is a legacy more important than your kid's happiness?" People tell their kids, you can be anything you want to be, but what most mean is, Do something that makes us look good so we can brag about you, Carry on my legacy because why else have I put in all this effort for if not for your stability? The message is not usually so clear-cut, at least in white suburbia, normally it's disguised in good intentions. Truly, in contrast I picture an image of Buddhist monks, living symbols of non-attachment, and through ritual remind themselves of this non-attachment. For example in their works of sand art, huge mandalas made from painstakingly placed grains of sand laid in whirling precise patterns, which, upon completion, are swept away by the own artisans hands. Why? All that effort for something so beautiful, and they intentionally don't keep it. Then again, monks don't have kids, so this comparison may be unfair.

For me, I feel a physical pain when I am asked this question of carrying on the farm. My parents have spent 30 plus years growing this farm, but I have spent 28 of them here too; I don't have the same skilled knowledge and experience, but the farm has always been a responsibility that I've felt tied to. I can sympathize with both parties, the grown child who feels guilt from parents, and the parents who can't imagine a life on the farm without their children. I see both and the only happy message I can pull from it, is that we all die. HA. We all have a choice to leave our mark in the world whether we choose to pour our efforts into careers, children, charities, but for each and every one of us, that is our choice. Maybe that's optimistic, we don't always have a choice about the things that happen to us, but we have a choice as Bob Marley so wisely wailed, "Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds."