2013 Cider Press

After last year’s experiments with cider, I wanted to ramp things up a bit and get a better process.  I’ve had plans for Herrick Kimball’s Whizbang Apple Grinder for awhile now, which basically repurposes a sink garbage disposal with a better motor in order to make a great apple mash for pressing cider.  With all the other new house projects, we were already well into this year’s apple crop before I realized I was running out of time to put together a grinder this year.  So I quickly started ordering parts to build the grinder.  The grinder itself is not that difficult of a project to put together, once you have the right materials.  So I was able to finish that up this past Saturday morning and it looks like this.


On Saturday afternoon, we attended a local CiderFest at Happy Valley Orchard, one of the local orchards where we like to get apples. They have teamed up with Citizen Cider, a local hard cider company and have quite an operation going over there.  Super nice folks too, with a well maintained orchard.

I decided to use their drops for my cider and they had them in abundance this weekend, so we decided to go ahead and grab our apples while we strolled through the orchard and sipped on some Citizen Cider.  They directed us to the section of the orchard where they have a few heirloom varieties and we scored a nice selection of Russets (probably Roxbury Russet and Golden Russet) as well as a large golden variety (Grimes Golden perhaps) and a few others.  We rounded out the base of the cider with Jonagolds, Macs, Red Delicious and Honeycrisps, as well as a few others.  We were able to score 2 1/2 bushels in about 20 minutes and many of the drops were in fantastic shape, all for only $4.50 a half bushel bag.  Can’t beat that.

Sunday afternoon we started prepping the apples for pressing, which consistent of a quick wash and brush and quartering the apples.  This went pretty quickly, considering how many apples we had.  We weighed as we went to get a sense for how many apples overall, as well as how many of particular varieties.  We threw in some crab apples from a Bristol neighbor’s tree and a few from a tree on our new property.  We ended up with about 88 lbs. of apples.

After a brief scare with the grinder that just involved tightening up the shaft coupler, we were off to the races grinding all the apples.


The grinder worked magnificently, chopping apples about as fast as we could push them in.FirstPulp

The yield when using this grinder was a night and day difference from our attempts last year, where we used a Cuisinart food processor since we didn’t have anything else.  As soon as we loaded the mash into the bag, juice started flowing.  Below our friend Christine who is visiting for the weekend helps load the pressing bag.


Check out the lovely flow of cider.


Ezra provided some management and quality assurance.


I was aiming for at least 5 gallons to ferment this year and we blasted well past the goal.  I couldn’t believe the great yield we got using this mash.  The only thing I want to try different is to use multiple bags with some pressing rounds between them.  It’s hard to get enough top pressure even on a half bag to get all the juice out.  I was rearranging the bag several times on each press and always got a bunch more juice each time.  I did go back and repress after we got our main press done, but I think I could’ve still gotten a bit more.

Still, we ended up with 8 gallons altogether.  Along with the 5 gallons which I am fermenting with a pitch of Nottingham ale yeast, I set aside 1 gallon to naturally ferment on the porch and a couple of gallons for drinking.  I didn’t go anything this year to kill the wild yeast, so it will be interesting to see what we end up with.  The Nottingham should jumpstart the main batch enough to do the bulk of the fermenting.  Here’s the carboy full of fresh cider ready to start its journey to the hard side.


2012: The Season In Review

So our first gardening season in Vermont is pretty much over, although we still have a number of things under tunnels again.  Looks like we may have some cabbage, carrots, beets, chard and a few other things.

Overall, we are pretty happy with how things went, although we still have a lot to learn.  But considering I haven’t worked a garden this big since I was a kid, I think we did okay. We mostly kept up with weeds and getting things picked. One thing we didn’t expect to struggle with so much was the insect pressure early in the season.  We had certain crops we planted multiple times and still didn’t get anything going. Next year we will probably use more row cover until the plants get established.

The good

  • Peas –  got a decent little crop early on, both shell peas and snap peas. We only had one row, so not enough to get much. Definitely want a lot more when we have some land. Had better luck with pre-sprouting the peas before planting than seeding directly.
  • Carrots – Tried a bunch of different types and got a good yield eventually, but they take awhile to get going.
  • Tomatoes – Mostly did pretty well with these, although had some disease issues with certain varieties. Had some volunteer plants from the compost as well, mostly cherry.  We were able to dry and slow roast a lot and put them in the freezer.
  • Peppers – Once again, some of these took awhile to get started in the New England climate, but once they did we got a fairly prolific yield. Even the habanero we started ended up loaded late in the season, although it would have been nice to have a bit more warm weather for them to finish ripening.
  • Tomatillos – We only planted a couple of plants, but they grew over 6 feet tall and got loaded with fruit.  Once again a couple more weeks of hot weather would’ve helped, but Kristin was able to make a bunch of salsa verde anyway. The main thing we learned is even though the stems get pretty thick and woody, when the plants started getting loaded they needed extra support, particularly in the wind.

The disappointing

  • Cauliflower – We didn’t have great luck with any variety, but the Purple of Sicily from Baker Creek was particularly disappointing. The thing is, it was wonderful in every way except fruiting. It germinated quickly and at a high rate, was very hardy when transplanting, responded well to insect pressure and grew really large. So maybe it was the season or something we did wrong. I’ve heard cauliflower tends to do better in fall plantings since it likes it colder when fruiting, but didn’t get around to starting fall plants early enough.
  • Zucchini – Yes, really, even though this is normally one of the easiest plants to grow and you end up with more than you want. We tried planting this multiple times and the bugs kept getting it.  We finally go a few plants started in mid-summer, but they never did much.
  • Melons – Same thing, too much insect pressure for them to get going and they need a whole season here to do much.
  • Tomatoes – like I said above, we did okay for the most part. But the Brandywines succumbed to some sort of rust or blight and we got maybe one or two decent fruit. Plus the slugs would start eating them before they got fully ripe, so was hard to get one that was nicely sun ripened. This seems to be the story with Brandywines, they are notoriously tricky to grow. The Paul Robesons did much better and I like them just as much.

    The other plant that seemed to have disease issues was Stupice, although it is very widely grown.  In retrospect I don’t think I allowed enough spacing between plants and they probably could’ve have use both more air flow and pruning. Something to remember for next year.

  • Brussel Sprouts – similar to the cauliflower, plants looked great and never sprouted. Another one I think I’ll reserve for fall planting next year.
  • Cucumbers – we had some issues with cucumbers here that we never had in Chicago.  Same variety, but they formed stunted fruit that seemed to be an off shade of green along with some brown. I expect it is some type of mineral deficiency or something, but we never figured it out.  We did plant Mexican Sour Gherkins later in the season and they actually did great. But we were hoping for more pickling cucumbers of other varieties.

Well, there is a lot more I could go into, but that’s probably enough. I would like to post a list soon of the various food we were able to put up.  We’ve got a pretty nicely stocked basement now and should be able to have some food this winter from our garden. We aren’t close to being most self-sufficient in food yet and we’ll probably need more land for that, but we are another step closer to that goal.

How did your garden do this year?

Not toxic but tasty – Habanero Hot Sauce

I really love to grow peppers.  There are hundreds of variations, so there is always another one I want to try.  I tried to grow some habaneros in Chicago, but the little plot we had just didn’t get enough sun.  We were able to grow some Thai chilis and I actually think they may have grown better in a pot on our deck in Chicago than they did this year in our garden.  But that’s partly because I started the seeds myself and without a greenhouse, it’s tricky to get healthy robust plants that produce in Vermont’s short growing season.  The ones we did start are looking really great about now: tall, vibrant, healthy and loaded with fruit.  But we could get frost any day now.

I was able to get a great Fatali habanero to grow this year and we also bought a nice plant of some other habanero variety from Red Wagon Plants.  We also have jalapenos, cayenne, Fish peppers and Hungarian Hot Wax.  If you do get a lot of questions, then you have to find stuff to do with them. We’ve pickled some, put them in scrambled eggs and pasta and made salsa.  But the habaneros are a bit much for most of those uses.  They don’t get as hot here as in warmer climates, but they still pack a punch.

So yesterday we were canning applesauce and I decided to try to make some hot sauce while we still had the canner going.  After we were done with the apples obviously.  I really like carrot-based habanero hot sauces, but instance I fell in love with Marie Sharp’s “Belizean Heat” when I visited Belize a number of years ago.  So I tracked down a couple of recipes that I could can and ended up doing something like this Agent Orange Habanero Sauce, but without the mustard or something like this recipe.  In addition to the peppers, the carrots, garlic and most of the onion were all from our garden as well.


So donning some gloves, I set to making the recipe.  I used a Cuisinart mini food prep for most of the chopping as I didn’t want to handle the peppers any more than necessary.  The air did get pretty pungent and it’s amazing how that stuff gets throughout the house.  Fortunately we were going out last night so it had time to dissipate.

Here’s the sauce ready to put into jars.  I used an immersion blender to blend everything. The habaneros aren’t cooked, they are put into the mixture fresh after you boil and blend the rest of the ingredients.


I’m actually very pleased with how it turned out.  It’s definitely very hot, but not unpleasantly so. I could actually taste a bit on a spoon without setting my mouth on fire for 20 minutes. The carrots add a bit of sweetness and the habaneros have a bright fruity flavor in addition to the heat.


Morning harvest

August vegetable harvest photo

Quick harvest this morning before work. Various green beans, cherry tomatoes (mostly Sungold), Serrano peppers, Hungarian hot wax peppers, Stupice tomatoes

The harvest begins

Looks like soon we will be heading into a busy time of harvesting, but we’ve already gotten a few things.  The first batch of potatoes was harvested last week; this batch was planted about 2 weeks before the main group of potatoes.  We are starting to get some tomatoes, although it appears we are fighting some blight or something.  Hopefully we’ll get a decent number before the plants go south.  We had a bunch of volunteer tomatoes pop up in the compost, but I think most of them are cherry.  Still, might give us some backups if the main plants don’t work out.  I am seeing some decent Brandywine and Paul Robeson on the vine, so hopefully they will hang on long enough to harvest.

We’ve also harvested a row of carrots.  The best of the lot seem to be the St. Valery from Baker Creek.  We also had some Purple Haze, which look very cool, but tend to go woody and get a lot of roots if you leave them in too long.  I think the others are Napoli and Parisienne or Paris Market.  We are trying to keep everything labeled, but eventually the labels succumb to rain and dirt.


We are starting to get beans. We have 4 or 5 varieties, including some soybeans for Edamame and Dragon Tongue which is a cool purple striped Dutch heirloom that is pretty popular.

Anyway, this is starting to get long and I really just wanted to post some photos, so without further ado…

Red Norlands




St. Valery carrots



Purple Haze carrots



Dragon Tongue beans



More beans (I think these are Kentucky Wonder)