BOOK REVIEW: The New Cider Maker’s Handbook by Claude Jolicoeur

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.

Cover-Final-320Claude 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 a DIY 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!

Varietal blending chart from The New Cider Maker's Handbook.
Varietal blending chart from The New Cider Maker’s Handbook.

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.

CLICK HERE TO BUY THE NEW CIDERMAKER’S HANDBOOK FROM CHELSEA GREEN

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Old Apple Tree We Wassail Thee

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Wassail-Image-1It was an unusually mild January night amidst a long stretch of bone-chilling cold. Warm air blew in during the day raising temps to 45 degrees Fahrenheit…pretty warm for January 19th. This was last Saturday, the evening of our 1st annual wassailing ceremony. ‘Waes hael’ is an Anglo-Saxon word that means ‘to wish well’, or ‘to wish whole’. Orchard wassailing is an old English tradition where each year around January 17th (The Old Twelfth Night) people gather together to perform a ceremony in honor of the apple trees. The ceremony is meant to promote the health of the trees and to ensure a bountiful harvest in the coming season. This age-old custom is still practiced until this day, particularly in England and throughout the British Isles. With apples being a cornerstone to British culture, this tradition was at the center of seasonal festivities and followed the celebration of Christmas.

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Serving mulled cider to the group…

The ancient earth rite begins with the group gathering in a circle around the largest or most significant tree in the orchard, known as The Apple Man, which is meant to represent the rest of the orchard treesfrom there the butler, or ‘king’, brings forth a piece of toasted bread; the master, or ‘queen’, then takes the bread, dips it into mulled cider(which all ceremony participants are given), and then hangs the bread on a fruiting spur of the chosen tree. The cider-soaked bread is an offering to the robins, which are thought to be guardians of the orchard. A proper toast is then given and everyone drinks to the tree. The ceremony comes to a finale as the group sings a wassailing song. Everyone bangs on pots and pans, drums, and tambourines to ward off any evil spirits that might be dwelling in the tree and the ceremony is concluded. After researching numerous wassailing traditions and songs, I synthesized this version:

Old apple tree we wassail thee in hope
that thou will bear
For the Lord doth know where we shall be
’til apples come another year
to bear well and to bloom well, and so
merry let us be
Let every man take off his hat
And shout to the old apple tree
(Repeat twice more)
Old apple tree we wassail thee in hope
that thou will bear
Hats full,
Caps full,
Three bushel bags full,
And a little heap under the stairs.
Hip, Hip, Hooray! Hip, Hip, Hooray!
Hip, Hip, Hooray!

That’s a basic overview of one wassailing ceremony; there are many, many slight variations and each has its place in a different locality. The beauty is that it can be adapted to any place, and although there are some general guidelines, anybody can do it anywhere. For me it seemed like a custom worth integrating into our community, and in a very real sense we are only RE-integrating, as a lot of us trace our ancestry to places like the British Isles and other European countries. I speak on behalf of many when I say there is a major hunger for connection in our modern, technologically-rampant culture. There is a hunger for connection to place, there is a hunger for connection to community, and there is a hunger for connection to our customs and traditions which have been stripped away over the last 300+ years. I see it all around me as full moon potlucks, skill share groups, harvest parties, and other community celebrations once again become common. After all, how can something so central to human existence be left behind?

Our first annual wassailing ceremony was met with great interest as 20+ friends and fellow apple-lovers came out to celebrate. We started the evening around 5:30 with the ceremony and a large bonfire in the orchard followed by a lovely potluck indoors. The evening went on with drumming, delicious and seasonally appropriate food and drink, and many wonderful conversations and laughs. Simple gatherings like these bring us closer together as a community and feed the deep hunger within—the hunger for connection.

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