October 15, 2011
Depending on what part of the country you’re from, there are probably apples yet on the trees, hangin’ like a promise and achin’ to be picked.
More than likely, though, there’s a bounty of apples on the ground, too. These are called windfalls. Some of ‘em are ugly. Some of ‘em are bruised. But are they useless in the kitchen? Absolutely not.
At this time of year, just about everyone’s food blog lights up with suggestions of what to do with fresh, gorgeous apples; pie recipes abound, apples get baked, converted to fritters, or stuffed in the mouths of suckling pigs. Y’know. Simple stuff.
So I’ll focus on the apples that I see as getting short shrift: the big ol’ half-bushel baskets of windfalls they sell next to the donuts at the apple orchard. They’re half the price of the kind you pay to pick, and they’re just as useful and delicious, in a slightly different way.
For months, I had dreamed of Cider Season – I made some last year in Indiana, using a food processor, sixty pounds of apples, and a couple sheets of cheesecloth. I pasteurized it and fermented it and turned it into very tart hard cider. I had been thinking of doing it again this year, but properly – I commissioned my friend Josh to build me a real live cider press, but work was picking up for him, as well as training (he’s a USATF qualifying runner, and, if I ain’t puffing him up too much, supposedly he’s one of the fastest sprinters in the country. Are you a sportswear company? Throw him an endorsement!). So he couldn’t build me one.
Carolyn and I went apple-pickin’ with our friends Adriana and Noah and Zev and Adam and a coupla others and we came away with, oh – maybe three-quarters of a bushel? About 35 pounds or so. About 20 pounds of that were windfalls, which aren’t great for eating. Mutsus and Empires and Connell Reds and Ida Reds – all sorts of marvelously tart, funky, nuanced apples. And I was gonna chop them into bits and drink them.
I realized I didn’t need a cider press after all. Because I had a MEAT GRINDER.
Homemade Apple Cider
Makes about a half-gallon of unpasteurized amber wonder
Now, you can make this with a food processor quite easily. I wouldn’t recommend it for making, say, a six-gallon batch, because, well, that took hours and hours to do. But for a half-gallon, it’ll take you about half an hour.
You will need:
- 5 pounds of assorted windfall apples
- a food processor, meat grinder, or juicer
- a knife
- a cutting board
- some large bowls
- a large cloth or fine-mesh bag
1. First, wash your apples. Then cut them into one-inch chunks. Cut out the brown, bug-eaten, or soft parts, but there’s no need to discard the stems or the peels – everything’s getting pulped, and everything contributes to the flavor of the cider. This will taste like drinking an apple whole, and that’s why it’s special.
2. I set up my meat grinder on its coarsest grind setting, and prepped a bowl under it to catch all the runoff. I’m also about to put a cloth bag over the spout, to catch all the solid pieces.
3. Start the grinder! Or your juicer, or your food processor. And work in batches. Grind the apple pieces up until they’re as crushed-up as they can get, and then remove them from the workbowl of your processor and put ‘em in the bag in the bowl.
5. Wash your hands thoroughly, put the bag over a strainer, and squeeeeeze. You will get a ton of liquid out, this way. Normally, this is the point where the cider press would come in (people that are really committed run their apples through a specially-built garbage disposal in their garages, and then put that pulp on meshed racks for pressing.), but your hands will have to do!
6. High five! You’ve got cider. There’s gonna be some apple-particulate matter that escapes and gets into the cider, but do you really care? If it’s anything, it’ll be a tiny, tiny piece. And that’s delicious. Meet your cider.
Funnel it into a bottle, refrigerate, and enjoy! Drink it within a week or so, because it’ll start to sour and ferment if you let it alone for too long (and that’s no good, because you probably didn’t sanitize the plastic bottle you’re storing it in in the first place. Don’t think you’ll make applejack, because you’ll just end up making Clostridium botulinum or something.)
This cider tastes like a short, powerful gust of wind, blowing red and brown sheaves of leaves off a tree. It’s good. Of course, it also depends on your apples, here – try to strive for a mix of as many different kinds as you can, and go for reds over greens. Tart apples are good, but you don’t want them to predominate in this cider. Avoid mealy, coarse apples like Red Delicious; although, if you’re going to the trouble of finding an apple orchard to get windfalls, I think you’re probably as tired of Red and Golden Delicious apples as I am. As Carolyn likes to say: “They are neither golden nor delicious.”
In the event that you tire of drinking your delicious, unpasteurized cider, I have someone you’d like to meet. His name is Żubrowká, and he is very tasty. He comes from Poland!
Żubrowká, which you can say /ʐuˈbrufka/, if you wanna, is a vodka made with extract of bisongrass or sweetgrass. The bottle comes with a It has a woodsy, cinnamon-vanilla sort of flavor to it, and by God does it pair well with apple. My friend Ania, who is Polish, told me about this liquor a long time ago, and she’s had it with apple juice – the clarified, clear stuff. And I think it’s a world of different with cloudy, funky, full-on-apply cider.
In Poland, a one-to-one mix of Żubrowká and apple juice is called a tatanka, from the Lakota Sioux word for buffalo, or a szarlotka, from the dessert called a Charlotte, which is sort of like tiramisu meets custard pie meets bits of fruit meets upside-down-cake. I want one.
But in the interim, I’m happy to make this cocktail, which, since it’s not exactly a tatanka or a szarlotka, I have dubbed “The Buffalo Soldier”.
The Buffalo Soldier
- 1 fl. oz Żubrowká bisongrass-flavored vodka
- 8 fl. oz unfiltered apple cider
- cracked ice
1. Fill highball glass with a lean handful of cracked ice or ice cubes.
2. Pour vodka over ice and swirl it around. Pour in the cider and stir with a long-handled spoon.
3. Serve, and enjoy.