Andersen: Brown apples make the sweetest cider

Brown apples with translucent skins are not at all appetizing, but that’s what you get after half a dozen freezes. These small pouches of ambrosia, however, are raw material for the tastiest apple cider I’ve ever had.

Harvesting frozen apples is fast and easy. Climb up into the tree, get a good grip on a limb and shake for all you’re worth. The apples rain down on the ground with staccato thuds and land on tarps for easy collecting.

The trick is choosing when to harvest. You don’t want the apples to be frozen solid, just thawed enough to keep their insides fluid. Soft and pulpy they go through the grinder on the apple press with little effort, churning into a mealy applesauce dripping with sweetness.

Apply the first squeeze and a gush of golden liquid pours into the collecting bucket. Catch an ounce or two in a glass and ahhh — there is nothing like the savor and flavor of brown apples.

Where crisp apples produce a bright, tart flavor, frozen apples offer a honeyed elixir, a smooth, succulent tonic for a November day when snow plops down in big, heavy, wet flakes.

And so it was last weekend when my heritage apple tree in Emma — a tree I adopted 10 years ago to prune and care for — was ready to harvest. This great grandfather of a tree stands in a small meadow browsed by horses and goats. MT and I spent five hours that day harvesting and pressing 300 pounds of apples for a dozen gallons of cider.

A lot of these apples were worse for wear — worm-eaten, bird pecked, brown, gooshy, loaded with all kinds of organic matter in varying stages of decomposition. Still, we sampled these draughts with lip-smacking gusto, quaffing it like fine wine made all the better by looking around us at the quiet townscape of Basalt, the hills becoming frosted with fallen snow.

“Look where we live, Michael!” I exuded more than once. “It’s paradise!” We clinked our glasses and downed another quaff. When we took a break, MT brought out one of his choice microbrew beers — “Rock Bottom Fresh Hops Pale Ale” – which he made with hops he had harvested near Rock Bottom Ranch this fall.

The beer complemented the apple juice perfectly. So did a bowl of homemade chick pea hummus, a stew of locally grown vegetables MT fermented in a salt solution and some thick corn tortilla chips for dipping. Simple pleasures, we call these moments.

By the time I got home my feet were soaked from shuffling through snow-covered leaves in MT’s yard, and my fingers were numb from working in sopping leather gloves. A hot bath made everything right again and beautiful snow came tumbling down from a dark gray sky.

The next morning I picked up MT and we met some good friends at Tiehack for the first skin-up of the season. The snow was dense, heavy and wet — perfect material for the foundation of a good base. Up we went under blue skies and a warming sun — with beauty all around us, panting, sweating, feeling our legs work, restoring our muscle memory as if we hadn’t been off skis for a day since the last tour in the spring.

At the top we stripped off skins, broke trail to Racer’s Edge and dropped down the steeps. The untracked powder pushed up around our hips, deep and soft, with nothing beneath but grasses and occasional shrubs to slalom through. At the bottom we turned and looked back at our tracks, the only ones there. What a great first run of the season! We were happy beyond mere pleasure, pushing the boundaries of elation.

Back at home up the Frying Pan, my share of the cider settles still in a cooler on my porch. I’ll can quart jars of it and squirrel it away for later, for when the snow is deep and the air is cold. I’ll warm that golden liquid on the wood burning stove, add a little cinnamon and sip with deep appreciation for the place we all call home.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Monday. He can be reached by email at Connect with him on Facebook at paul.andersen.9003