Harvest season continues, so we've been dividing our time between picking, pressing and preparing the orchard site for a fall planting. We estimate we've picked and pressed up to 20,000 lbs. of apples (and pears) so far on Pender Island this fall with the help of family, friends, our cidery partners, and backyard growers (the top left photo shows about 5500 lbs.) As Noel says, we've turned all of Pender into an orchard--sometimes picking in five different backyards per day! We also ferried and boated about 4000 lbs. from our wonderful growers on Mayne Island. It's been an unexpectedly good harvest season considering that some of our favourite trees had a low cropping year.
Since the majority of trees are now picked, we've slowed down a bit and have had time to track down some nice, astringent seedling apples to put in our late season blend. The best are usually the hardest to pick, being found in unpruned hedgerows engulfed in blackberry bushes--but we find creative ways (such as suspending an extension ladder across the bushes), even if it's just for a bushel or two.
Wild seedling apples are generally just chance offspring from nearby apple trees, grown from a seed. Because apple trees almost never reproduce true to parentage from seed (hence grafting, "cloning," as the primary method of propagation), the result is often an apple tree with inedible, bitter fruit. Perfect for cider. Perhaps you could say they are the Gulf Islands' answer to the traditional bittersweet cider varieties used in Europe. Used in a blend, they add a surprising amount of tannins, complexity and flavour.
Blending our varieties takes some strategy and allows us to use the more bland, dessert variety apples available on the old trees around here. In a properly balanced blend with astringent seedling apples and tart apples like russets, these dessert varieties shine. And we know that this strategic tasting, choosing, and blending goes back to the deepest roots of cidermaking. If you're up for a great additional (though somewhat academic) read, we shared this link on a cidermaking forum recently and we should share it here too: A Mouthful of Diversity: Knowledge of Cider Apple Cultivars and the United Kingdom and Northwest United States. This article reminds us that the North American cidermaking tradtion is still in the making, and perhaps the most we can do to develop its complexity, beyond grafting and planting traditional English cider varieties, is to track down, experiment with, and propagate some of those wild seedling apples that have a character yet to be tasted and appreciated.
PS. You may also notice we have a new look! As our cider has developed over the season so has our identity, and we were lucky to have the creative team of Caste Designs in Victoria work with us to develop the crafty new logo above.