Its been a while since I’ve wrote on here or updated the site at all for that matter— largely because I haven’t found the time with my current day to day workload, and time spent on the computer is usually dedicated to landscape/farm design, administrative work, etc. However, I’m making a goal to begin again with periodic updates and postings. There are countless topics, ideas, concepts, photographs, and bits of content I’ve wanted to share for a long time that haven’t gotten out, so hopefully by setting this goal I will be motivated to share some of that material through the website. As life goes in spurts, and as we pass through the various phases of personality, desires, likes and dislikes—certain activities stick with us while others become less valuable or less useful, perhaps permanently or temporarily; as I develop my businesses and continue on my path I find that blog writing, to be quite frank, is not my favorite thing to do, nor a close runner up. What I DO enjoy is sharing what I observe, questions I have, ideas, so on and so forth. When I get emails or phone calls about how a certain video or podcast or article was beneficial to somebody, that is very satisfying and a big reason why I enjoy this work. When I began The Fruit Nut a major impetus was to fill what I saw as a ‘content void’ in the realms of uncommon fruits, genetic diversity, and ecological orcharding. Fortunately these topics are becoming increasingly popular and accessible it seems. My 1 Post a Month Goal will be a way for me to re-engage with the online world and share what I find interesting and of value to those topics.
In terms of the website, one of the questions I’ve been pondering is— given I have a decent understanding of my own blog writing strengths and weaknesses, how can I best structure posts, website management, and my overall time spent putting content out, so that it will best work with my strengths and weaknesses to create a positive workflow. I don’t necessarily have the answers to that but I intend to explore that question in the coming months. The goal is to avoid getting burnt out and continue to enjoy and actively use this tool I’ve created. All that being said, one pattern I’m attracted to is short, quick posts; that may mean a handful of photos with brief descriptions of each one or a few paragraphs telling a story about a certain fruit I recently found. Stuff of that nature— fast, easy, streamlined posting that will actually keep me posting! I digress. Below are some photos and a video of recent happenings…
My buddy Grant Schultz of Versaland is always up to some pretty cool stuff, recently he posted a video of a large American persimmon tree he found growing in Iowa. Good fruit set indeed, he even shares the cross roads. Scionwood anyone? Check my American Persimmons for Zone 5 to learn more about these heavenly sugar gems.
Its seems increasingly unlikely to find time for any extensive posting these days— with the busyness of summer and all of it’s seemingly infinite activities, computer time is low priority. So for now I’ll share some quick thoughts with photos and a few video clips of recent harvests and happenings!
And of course there is always more to share, but to avoid lengthiness, which I may have nearly failed to do— we’ll wrap it up with these fascinating video clips of Dennis Fulbright explaining biological control of chestnut blight. Cutting edge research…
Upon first taste black currants fascinated my palate and they’ve succeeded in doing so ever since. Over the years I’ve increased my collection to a dozen or so varieties. With white pine blister rust being a prevalent issue in Michigan my selection criteria has been narrowed down to only varieties which exhibit partial or full resistance to WPBR. I started with Consort and since then the collection has grown to include Crusader, Titania, Blackdown, Minaj Smirou, Ben Sarek, Belaruskaja, and various others that aren’t bearing yet like Kirovchanka, Vertti, Otelo, and a few that aren’t coming to mind.
There is a wide variation amongst varieties in both bush habit and fruit quality/flavor. That to me is very exciting as I love subtle nuances in flavor and its a fun way to broaden the palate. For the 2014 season I’ve taken tasting notes for the seven cultivars previously mentioned in an attempt to compare and assess the different traits of each and acquire first hand varietal information–
Crusader was an early introduction from the Central Experiment Farm in Ottawa, Canada. It was released in the 1940’s as a rust resistant variety for North America. For me it has been a very consistent producer of medium sized fruit. They tend to be thicker skinned and very sharp(high acidity)…not one of my favorite for eating out of hand but still enjoyable, especially when dead ripe. Crusader holds onto its fruit for a long time and the thick skin slows down their perishabilty which is a nice quality. The bush itself, like all of the others developed by A.W.S. Hunter, is upright and open compared to some of the more dense varieties, particularly those from the Scottish Research Institute.
Consort was released from the Central Experiment Farm to replace Crusader as a commercial variety in the 1950’s. Why, I’m not sure…as I tend to prefer Crusader. Consort fruit are small and relatively poor quality in my opinion. They’re sharp and have that characteristic ‘musky flavor’ but lack depth and seem inferior to Crusader. Consort does produce long strigs that tend to ripen pretty evenly. Consort is entirely WPBR resistant. Coronet is another one from the Canadian breeding program that I’ve yet to try.
Titania is a Swedish variety that was developed in the 1980’s using Consort as one of the parents. This is the first season I’ve had a substantial crop from Titania and so far it seems similar to Crusader and Consort both in fruit quality and bush form. It was very productive this year and is a vigorous grower; thus far it seems rather quick to mature compared to other cultivars that have been in the ground 1,2, and 3 years longer. Titania is reliably resistant to WPBR.
I haven’t been able to find much information about this variety besides that it was developed in Bulgaria and is a more recent introduction. This has been hands down the most productive variety for me. Also the most vigorous grower that requires aggressive pruning. The branches tend to lodge when holding big crops and are more laterally dominant than varieties like Consort and Titania (conducive for layering). The berries ripen over a long period starting early in the season (need to take more notes on ripening times*); generally its the first to ripen here. This is a great variety for somebody new to black currants or for the more tamed palate as it is very mild. Thick skin can be a turn off for some folks, Minaj scores well in this department with the thinnest skin of all. It lacks the tart punch that almost all black currants have which makes it nice for eating out of hand. However, if you’re after that traditional black currant flavor than Minaj is probably not for you. I enjoy the berries because they ripen first and I always realize its blandness when compared to some of the later ripening cultivars. Minaj is reliably resistant to WPBR.
Blackdown is an English variety that is reportedly not 100% rust resistant, however its never showed any signs in my trials. The bush is more compact than most with very close leaf nodes making the canopy dense. So far it has been a little less productive than the other varieties but produces the highest quality fruit in my opinion. The flavor of blackdown is outstanding– they have the same acidity thats common with varieties like Crusader except they’ve consistently had a higher sugar content which really supports the sharpness and makes for an overall more pleasant mouth experience. The berries are medium sized with moderatly thick skin. Higher sugar content would make Blackdown more acceptable for the average American palate I think. I am going to plant a lot more of this variety because I like it so much.
All varieties with Ben in their name come from the Scottish Research Institute. Ben Sarek is a more compact plant making it nice for the home garden. It bears resemblance to Blackdown in bush form and holds its berries in tight clusters. For me it has been only moderately productive. The berries are larger than all of the other cultivars and tend to have a unique flavor that I’ve yet to figure out. Less complex and less tart and almost a mild dirty flavor…as if they’re slightly rotten. It also gets this weird rot where the berries become very soft with an unagreeable flavor, unlike any other cultivar. Aside from the compact nature and large fruit size Ben Sarek doesn’t have much going for it. It is partially resistant to WPBR but has never shown signs in my trials.
This is a variety I added to my collection per request from Lee Reich and I’m happy I did. I planted it in the spring of 2013 and cut the bush back to a few buds and it put on considerable growth last season and set a small crop for this first time this year. The berries are somewhere in between Blackdown and Titania in flavor with a nice sweetness as described with Blackdown. So far I’ve only sampled a few dozen of these and look forward to further evaluation. I see good prospects for Belaruskaja as a premier fresh eating variety.
It has been a joy to compare these different varieties and if it weren’t for the diversity than the contrast would be minimum and there wouldn’t be much to judge against. I hope to pay closer attention in future years to ripening times and pest resistance, primarily regarding currant borer and aphids. Also, further experimentation in the kitchen will prove which varieties are best for cooking, juicing, etc. All in all black currant has been one of the most successful, less-maintenance fruits in my gardening experiments.
I’ve finally gotten around to posting theRoots To Fruits 2014 schedule of events! We are psyched to be offering many exciting classes and workshops in the coming year. More information for each event will be posted to the RTF website soon. Stay posted for registration details…
This weeks cider review comes from Flushing Michigan’s finest: Almar Orchards. Almar is one of the few certified organic apple orchards in southeast MI. Using integrated pest management the Koan family grows over 30 apple cultivars on their 500 acre farm. They also raise grains and livestock including pigs which feed on spent apple pomace after pressing! All of the apples used to make J.K.’s Scrumpy Hard Cider are grown, harvested, pressed, and fermented on the farm.
A testament to their holistic orcharding and cider making practices from Almar owner, Jim Koan:
“This Original Hard-Cider has been made on our family-owned farm in Flushing, Michigan for well over a hundred years. It was first pressed back in the 1850’s. Not much as changed in the process since then. We use the same apples from the same orchards as my great-great grandfather did before the time of the Civil War. We are proud of that. It gives us a sense of history….
Our cider is not only natural, it is truly organic. It always has been. It’s simply a fact of what we do – and how we do it. We use no insecticides in the farm orchards. Rather, I do what my grandfather did. I have a large flock of guinea fowl that wander about and eat the bugs. Fallen apples that have hit the ground are always a food source for pests, so I let my Berkshire pigs wander the orchard and eat the fallen apples. In a fast-paced, instant gratification society all this may seem a little old fashioned, or not “cost-effective.” But, we have a cider that is not like any other, and the idea of playing around with what makes that happen… well, it just ain’t part of the plan.”
They bottle various ciders including their Northern Neighbor Saskatoon Cuvee and J.K.’s Cuvee Winteruption (both of which will be looked at in upcoming reviews). This week’s review will cover their flagship cider known as Orchard Gold Gate. As the label implies, their ciders resemble ‘scrumpy’ ciders from England in that they’re produced in small batches using traditional methods. As a sentiment to the terrior and craft nature of J.K.’s Scrumpy Cider Jim Koan proclaims:
“I consider Orchard Gate Gold as a unique Artisan Michigan Farmhouse Cider, somewhere between English Scrumpy and a Normandy Cidre.
The bottom line is that it could not be made anyplace else. It is reliant on the soil and the climate. Open a bottle and decide for yourself!
After the harvest, we press our organic apples and allow them to slowly ferment for up to six months. We then carefully hand-fill and label each bottle and let it age for several weeks to properly condition.”
Orchard Gate Gold and the rest of the J.K.’s Scrumpy cider line are readily available throughout MI and can be found in 17 other states. Orchard Gate Gold is sold for around $8.99 and weighs in at 6% ABV. Upon pouring the cider is hazy and lacks clarity. Bits of yeast and lees float in the bottle. It has a beautiful golden straw color and the aroma grabs you immediately—it’s somewhere between butterscotch and caramel with the aromatics common of fresh apple juice. The flavor is reminiscent of apple juice left in the fridge to slowly ferment for a month or two. It is very sweet with high residual sugar and has virtually zero sharpness or bitterness. What I’d call a dessert cider. The booziness distinctly pulls through and complements the nearly overbearing sweetness. This cider is certainly not sparkling but it does posses a subtle effervescence— I believe it’d be referred to as a perlant cider. The slight bubliness adds a pleasant mouth feel that also supports and balances the high sweetness. For a sweet dessert cider it is very agreeable and nice, but for me, drinking more than a glass would be too much. I’d imagine Orchard Gold Gate would be lovely served warm and mulled. Stay tuned for coming reviews of other ciders in the J.K.’s Scrumpy Hard Cider line. Cheers!
My enthusiasm for cider drinking, cider-making, and everything involved in the culture of cider, is ever expanding and one resource that’s been monumental for me is The New Cider Maker’s Handbook by Claude Jolicoeur. Being a noob to the cider making world, I am beyond grateful to have this gem— and from what I can tell this is perhaps one of the most comprehensive guides to date. The book is beautifully put together with rich text and loads of high quality photographs and diagrams adding even more clarity.
Claude lays the foundational principles behind cider making and outlines all the step necessary for making a good cider, from grinding and pressing your apples to fermenting and bottling the finished product. He compares various types of presses and highlights the pros and cons of different apple grinders. He even shares his basic plans for making aDIY apple grinder that grinds a bushel of apples in 1-2 minutes! In fact, while scrambling around earlier this year deciding how to improve upon our (slow) sink disposal grinder unit and while getting overwhelmed by the seemingly infinite number of plans online and choosing whether to buy an entry level commercial grinder or build our own— Claude’s timely book came in clutch with the ideal plans for us to move forward! Many thanks to Claude we adapted his plan and came up with this nifty, high efficiency home-scale grinder:
Claude has won awards for his craft ciders and takes a detail oriented approach to sharing his deep understanding of the processes involved in making high quality cider. The book covers both the scientific and practical aspects of the process, such as measuring gravity with a hydrometer, testing the acidity of your must, choosing the right yeast strain, and blending apple varieties to make the type of cider you’re after. He outlines the techniques for making sweet or dry cider, sparling or still cider, and even Québec’s finest: ice cider!
With some 70 gallons of cider fermenting in my basement this year, I’ve constantly been turning to the book as a reference. Claude explains potential challenges in the process making troubleshooting a breeze. What Claude has offered to the cider community is invaluable; The New Cider Maker’s Handbook is a crucial resource for beginner cider makers and will offer a range of tips, tricks, and new ideas for the advanced cider maker. Visit Claude’s website to learn more about his cider brilliance.
With the conclusion of the growing season I am starting to focus more energy on renovating the website, adding new podcasts, and writing more— with that I am introducing a new aspect to the blogroll, that is CIDER REVIEWS!
I’m certainly far from a cider expert, but I am extremely geeked on this lovely fermented beverage we call cider. Before going much further I’ll make the necessary distinction between what I’m referring to as ‘cider’ and the raw, unfermented fresh apple juice that most Americans call cider. In England, France, Spain, and practically every other neck of the world the term ‘cider’ refers directly to fermented apple juice, not fresh apple juice that has been misleadingly called cider with the craze of the autumnal trend of cider and donuts.
I digress. There’s an artful craft and beautiful tradition to cider making that is ages old and is making a timely resurgence in North America and particularly here in Michigan. Not to mention it’s the second fastest growing beverage industry next to craft beer! The apple after all has become a universal fruit whose fermented juice is not only an excellent, nutrient dense, preservable food source and inebriating drink, but also a very delectable beverage that can range from sweet and bubbly to dry and tannic, and everything in between. As I write this I can hear the rhythmic ‘plump…plump’ of the airlocks releasing gas on the some 70 gallons of cider fermenting in my basement! More on that later…can you tell I’m a bit excidered?
The cider I’ll be reviewing today comes from the outspoken permaculture expert and tree crop guru— Mark Shepard. New Forest Farmis his 106 acre perennial ag sanctuary in southwest Wisconsin; there he raises chestnuts, hazelnuts, hazelnut finished pork(!), apples, and a variety of other crops. They’ve been producing cider for a few years in an expanding on-farm facility and the cider is currently available only in southern WI (I got mine from a friend who took his PDC earlier this year). His ciders go by the name Shepard’s Hard Cyder. Note the spelling here… cyder with a Y is another variation simply referring to the real-deal stuff made with love and craftsmanship, not the watered down, from-concentrate, preservative ridden, commonly available neo-American hard ciders! Whew.
Out of the three cider offerings from Shepard’s Hard Cider we’ll be looking at one called Adam’s (which you could guess accompanies it’s counterpart—Eve’s). Upon opening it was very gaseous and perhaps too carbonated from being over primed, furthermore we had to open the bottle over the sink and it took a few minutes to settle down. Once poured the cider had a light golden color and moderate clarity, with a foamy head that slowly receded to about a quarter of it’s initial size. In both appearance and aroma it resembled a champagne with a very subtle apple pie fruitiness on the nose. Upon first sip the boldest character was its crispness and effervescence. It was relatively dry and lacked the sometimes overbearing cloyingly sweet flavor so common in the lesser grade commercial ciders. I also appreciate the moderate acidity that gave this cider its refreshing tang. However aside from it’s dryness and mild sharpness, it lacked overall body and depth of character…almost bordering bland after the immediate burst of flavor. I am unsure but perhaps this is because Shepard is using run of the mill dessert apples rather than some of the bitter and bittersharp cider varieties that offer richer body and complexity. For a mid-range gravity sparkling cider weighing in around 5.5% ABV it was GOOD…one I’d really enjoy on a hot summer day. I look forward to eventually tasting more from the Shepard’s Hard Cyder line.