A ferocious slurry of winter has thrown itself at us. We've been snowed at, iced on, shoveled half to death, and collapsed upon. A few of us have snow-shoed and snowmobiled our way to some joy, and some of us have sworn off stepping outside until it's gone. Whichever side of the fence you're on, there's no denying this winter's intensity.
I've been on the inside of the fence, well, doors, of this winter. While I'd prefer to practice my newly acquired ability to nature walk despite freezing temperatures, I was not prepared for teasing zero on most of the days, with a few feet of icy snow to boot. So inside I've been, concentrating on hearth and home.
Like a tiny volcano, the mist of apples swirls up from the opening in the green glass bottle.
The lady at the market was selling these fine treats along with savvy-sales reasons why I should buy them. When I told her with delight that I was on my way home with a carriage of apple cider as a novice cider-maker, she perked her eyebrow and tested me on my "right apples".
Indeed her fancy cider tasted similar to a fine white wine with a little sparkle to it, I won't deny. But for my first round of apple cider, mine was arguably better. It was sweet, oh so appley, sparkled like an opera gown, and made for an exceptional birthday toast for a dear friend. And, it cost me under $4 for a gallon.
I bought a bottle of the fancy cider from the apple cheeked lady, if not to appease her woo to bring my carboy to be filled at the farm, or to prove that I was willing to compare. (Or - just because I really wanted some cider with my venison for dinner). But I did not put my 3 gallons of sweet apple cider back. I brought it home and filled my little glass jugs, and set them up with a kiss to ferment.
The fizz and bubble snake down from the lip of the green glass bottle to the lip of my wide mouth crystal wine goblet passed down to me from my Grandfather, a fine wine-maker himself. I sip, slowly, intentionally, inviting in the lineage of libation.
Magic is undeniable in the fermentation process. If there's such thing as a yeast fairy, I believe in it. The transformation from one sweet farm thing to a sour sassy healthy one is like a good date that turns into soul mate material. Keeps you wanting more.
My first round of cider kept the neighborly company of a lacto-fermented herbal infusion-soda and a mead. The latter two went bad. The mead, because I used tap water which had just enough chlorine in it to inhibit proper fermentation, and the lacto-soda because I failed to strain the whey well enough. Bummer.
But the cider - oh my. Oh my. After just a few days the magic starts; the bubbles begin, and the fragrance is like pie. Then on goes the airlock and then begins the battle of waiting.
After a week, the whole family enjoyed the sparkling, pro-biotic beverage with dinner. After 10 ish days, the alcohol began and it was just for mum n dad, and privy guests. By two weeks, there was a mere two glasses left, and the hardness began to set in, like the taste of sparkling white wine, and it was truly exquisite.
Someday I might have the "right" apples, but for now I am very happy with my wrong ones. Whatever this orchard is giving to the local market is blossoming beautifully in my home and I have no complaints (other than I need some more carboys).
Fermented foods and beverages are a new part of my herbal journey that I'm delighted to be on. Not only is it a nourishing commitment to our health, it's a new way of knowing plants, and a dimension nearly lost to our western culture. It is also a fight for the health of our water.
I'm spoiled by amazingly good well water. Here at my new abode, the water has chlorine. Not very much at all, perhaps even undetectable to someone not paying attention, but I smell it and feel it acutely. My hair is drying out, my skin nearly cracking, and I gag if I drink the water from the tap. Water is essential in all the ways I can think of - it's the root of all life - and being a life form and a river lover and plant lover and mama, water is indefatigably important to me.
My fermentations agree - hence the rotting of my mead. I'll soon be taking a trip to the town hall, for more information on our water source. Being in a small farming town, I really wonder what is shed into the sources, the land, our faucets.
I give my belly a rub of love as dinner makes it's way into my body, back into life.
And in everything there is a spiral. Everything is connected. That spiral of mist from the cider tops, to the birds going crazy outside my window the past several mornings. They come in noisy flocks to forage from the white ground. They squawk and chirp and flap. They devour! For all over the ground lay bite sized crab apples.
They relish them; a delicacy in the scarce month of February, the meat of the apple is deep sustenance, and reason to celebrate.
Soon it will be mating season for the little winged ones. What better to prime their fertility than wild little apples? Can you blame them? Apples have been a symbol of fertility and love for centuries.
As I watched these little creatures dine, I thought about this. About apples. The apples in stories, in myth, in medicine, and in my glass. I thought about the apple tree that was the seat of so many of my childhood fairy tale moments; perched on her branches eating cinnamon powder from a toothpick; dreaming of what my life would be when I grew up. I loved the act of climbing the apple tree. How nimble and strong my little body felt! How clever I was to perch and teeter just so on her branches. How sweet the oval leaves of spring were on my fingertips, the delicate blossoms in my nose, and the bitter, astringent meal on my tongue as the fruits appeared. I always tasted them as if one year they would arrive with sweetness, and they never did.
The land at Great Hollow is an old apple orchard. The trees still give apples, and the flowering is intoxicating. If I knew better how to prune them, I would have. I always adored their gnarled beauty and admire their accessible nature. When last spring's storms knocked down a large couple of branches, I pruned them to take home.
For this year's plant ally, I'm choosing the apple tree. It's a daunting plant to pick, really, for it has a history larger and deeper than I can ever know, and a breadth of enormity. But if I've got all year, I can learn at least a little, and maybe not run out of curious notions. I'll be starting my journal soon, and feverishly catching up on my tasks. I love that apple provides such a variety of preparations beyond just your basic ones. I love that it's a food and a medicine, a love potion and a dessert, a sour fermented vinegar which can even hold other herbs, and a sweet, sparkling hard cider.
I'm anticipating a grand seduction, and perhaps a grand surrender.
Here's to you, great granny apple. Cheers
I take the last sip slowly. The sparkle has settled and the sweetness has opened up like warmed honey. I am contented, warm, and lovingly sleepy.