By David Fried
They are not lifting a zucchini or an olive to say this, but something magical and transformative that they can drink.
We who grow and harvest fruit can have the pleasure of producing drinks we can pour from bottles. I have made apple cider, perry (pear cider), grape juice, wine from grapes, apple wine, apple cider vinegar, and “hootch.” My friend loves the hootch, so I bring him some on his birthday.
Here is how to make the hootch. Start when you see a tree filled with small perfect apples or pears that have a special autumn glow. Harvest a bunch of them and pack them into gallon glass jars. Pour vodka over them and let them sit in the dark for a year or two – in a room with good feelings. When the result is ready, pour off the liquid into smaller bottles with screw-on caps using a funnel. Sip with friends. The apples or pears that remain are also good sliced and served with a meal, especially at festive times.
Other drinks start with gathering apples and pears for cider and perry over a week or two and letting them “sweat”. This means they sit a little and their flavor develops. Hand grind and press them with a cider press, such as those from Happy Valley. Immediately capture the clear, cool juice in plastic jugs; these could range from a half pint to a gallon, but tall quarts may be best. Put them into the freezer right away, to preserve their “taste of autumn harvest” for any time through the year. Just thaw a jug and lift your cup. An apple and pear blend is one of my own favorites.
A jug of cider left on the counter at room temperature for a few days may turn into wine with no more work than securing a piece of cheesecloth over the top with a rubber band. When you like the flavor, put the bottle into the fridge with a cork in it. If you want cider vinegar, leave it on the counter and the microbes in the air will work their magic and transform it into excellent vinegar in about three weeks. After it has stopped bubbling and it has the aroma of salad dressing, funnel it into saved bottles with screw-on caps.
You can make an excellent drink from harvesting “bluebell” grapes and hand-pressing them with a tomato sauce-grape food mill or strainer. Since it was not cooked or canned, the flavor is pure, innocent and fresh. You can freeze some of this, too, and it is still excellent when thawed, 10 months later.
You can also use a Mehu-lisa steam juicer from Finland. Fill the bottom chamber with water, then the top chamber with apples, black currants and pears. On the stove the water boils and in about 15 minutes the fruits release all of their juice into a middle chamber, from which it can be released through a siphon hose (that is part of the contraption) into clean jars with new caps. This can provide many sealed jars of juice for the winter without any additional canning. Write the year and the variety of fruit on the cap with an indelible marker.
The harvest is over when there is no more fruit on the bushes or in the trees, and the cupboards and shelves are full with the fruit of my labors. Please come over. Sit down. Let me pour you a glass of something good. I lift my glass to your good health! The Zulu say, “Oogy Wawa!” It means, “Sante,” or “Salud.”
David Fried is the grower-poet-juicer of Elmore Roots Nursery in Elmore, Vermont.