Writer’s block descended upon me early this morning. It is not so much writer’s block as having too many ideas for too many topics all at once and not being able to decide between them. Then there were several interruptions. It is one of those days when people assume that I can do as I please since I am self-employed. They are right. I can do as I please, and what pleases me is to be doing my work, right here, at this keyboard, to research topics and concoct articles, to read, to learn.
The interruptions today brought me to a pause, much like when we have placed all our skill and energy into preparing a special meal and reach a moment when all that remains is to wait for guests to arrive. We lose ourselves in the process until a change of pace makes us keenly aware of every detail again.
Perhaps everything we do is like that. Yes. Now that I think about it, every single action or process leads to a pause, many in fact, when we look at what we have accomplished so far and cannot help but give in to a few philosophical musings. This mind shift is what turns our daily activities into living poetry. It connects us to everything in a fresh new way. Some call this epiphany. It is at the source of our greatest moments of gratitude. It comes upon us through the senses, triggered by an object, a color, a smell. The poetry goes like this…
After installing a weed mat, kneeling by this year’s new garden plot - There is a place and time for weeds and a place and time for sustenance, just as there is a time for rambunctious humor and a time for serious, down to business living.
Looking back at the garden, after seeding the first rows – Now the wait. We do not want to wait, yet it is in the waiting, as much as in harvesting, that nourishment is found. Waiting grows our sense of awe. It makes it impossible for us to take anything for granted.
While cleaning the pressure canner and putting away the canning accessories and recipe book - There is much reassurance in knowing that a fresh store of wholesome food awaits. There is much reassurance in realizing that, in spite of our technological advancements, we persist in digging our own hands in the ground to give birth to our own nourishment. This, perhaps, is one of the surest signs of our immutable humanity.
As we disassemble the juicer or blender and take great, carefree gulps of the refreshing, living liquid - If only we could drink in each moment with such a sense of renewal. Each moment is renewal; it is only the observer who refuses, or fails, to know this. Maybe we should drink a fresh gulp of juice, or at least water, every time we lose faith in the possibility of renewal. Maybe that is all it takes to shift our thoughts and find hope again.
My writer’s block is gone at the moment. So I’ll pause while I’m ahead!
These days, it seems difficult to begin any article without pointing out that spring is at our door. Yet as I write this, today, it snows and snows and snows. Just 24 hours ago, the ground was nearly bare and we could be walking on grass again by Friday. Everything is possible.
Maybe stating that spring is here is a personal reminder for all of us. We do this instinctively, as if we could hear our internal clock urging us to get busy. So many projects await in the garden shed, in the yard and the kitchen. Here in the northeast, gardens are merely a thought at this time, yet we are already planning canning projects. Apple season is even further down the road, but the arrival of spring brings fresh energy and we will be busy preparing, repairing and cleaning equipment so that all is in order well before it is needed.
Yesterday, I shared a great picture of an antique cider press on our Facebook page. This reminded me that preparing the cider press for the new season will be on many to-do lists this spring, so I thought I’d review a few frequently asked questions about cider and fruit presses.
1- Why is there a grinder? Won’t the press itself do the grinding? The press alone compresses the fruit to extract its juices. The grinder’s purpose is to turn your fruit to the right consistency for maximum juice with minimum effort, because small pieces mean there is less resistance to compression. It makes the pressing process efficient and fast. Chopped fruit offers more exposed flesh, which increases juice flow. Without a grinder, you would have to pre-chop your apples (or other fruit) for optimal results. Can you imagine doing that, bushel after bushel?
2- What is the best way to clean a cider press thoroughly? As with any tool, appliance or implement that is used to process food, proper cleaning is vital. A dirty cider press puts you at risk for food-borne illness. To clean your press adequately, you will need a hose, hot water, a clean sponge, mild soap and chlorine bleach. First, rinse the cider press down with the hose. This will remove any food particles. After this, you must still clean the cider press thoroughly with warm water and soap. Water pressure alone will not suffice.
Disassemble the cider press and thoroughly wash each component by hand with hot, soapy water. This will discourage bacterial growth. When this is done, rinse all parts with the hose. Next, rinse again, using a sanitizing solution made of 2 ounces of chlorine bleach and 10 gallons of water. When this is done, rinse twice with the hose, to ensure all sanitizing solution is removed. Allow to dry completely before re-assembling.
Disassembling your fruit or cider press to clean it thoroughly also gives you an opportunity to inspect all of its components and make sure everything is in good order. Cider presses are extremely well built pieces of equipment, but they have moving parts and this means normal wear and tear over time.
3- Are pressing bags really necessary? Pressing bags allow you to get more juice out of your fruit. They help contain the pulp within the pressing barrel while allowing juices to flow out.
If you are not yet familiar with cider presses, the pressing bag is inserted in the barrel with its opening folded over the sides. Apples (or other fruit) fall into the barrel from the grinder. When the barrel is filled to desired volume, a plug (pressing cover) is fitted to the mechanism above it. As pressure is applied, pulp, seeds and skins remain in the barrel, within the pressing bag, and the juice filters through in perfect drinking consistency. Without the pressing bags, you would get very chunky cider and pressing would be inefficient since the pieces of fruit could escape through the slats of the barrel. Pressing bags are reusable, of course.
4- Do I have to seal the wood on my cider press? How do I do this so it does not end up in the cider? The barrel and all wooden parts of your cider or wine-press should be sealed so that moisture does not damage the wood. This also prevents mold from forming. To this end, be sure to use a non-toxic, food-grade polyurethane. We have used and recommended the EZ-DO Polyurethane Gel for many years with all of our fruit and wine presses. It is an FDA approved, food safe product. Ordinary lacquer or varnish seal wood, but are not food safe and do not have the durability of a specifically designed product like the EZ-DO gel.
The next question is for you to answer: What wonderful wine or cider concoction will you be making this year?
Of Mud - “I rose from marsh mud algae, equisetum, willows, sweet green, noisy birds and frogs.” – Lorine Niedecker
Of Abundance - “When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.” - Anthony Robbins
Of Sweetness - “The pursuit of perfection, then, is the pursuit of sweetness and light.” – Matthew Arnold
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Mud season in Vermont. Each season brings its own challenge. Those who garden and tend various animals or a farm must keep a schedule and adapt, all at once, on the spur of the moment. There is no other alternative. There is always something to do: keeping a routine so the animals feel secure, fixing, starting over even. Perhaps we start over a little bit every day, even under the sun; sometimes a lot.
On a spring day, years ago, I walked out near a pond we had in the backyard and my foot sank deeply in the mud. The rain was pouring on a downright depressing day. And now this. The only way to retrieve my foot was to abandon my boot. But wait, there is more! When I returned home, in an attempt to remove mud from the base of my pants before changing them, I stepped in the shower to use the tap from the tub… but it was set to shower, so I drenched myself completely… and laughed and laughed!
As a Vermonter, I tend to forget that this season spreads far beyond the Green Mountains.
It’s always good to tour the “farmy,” with Miss C. This is what Cecilia, at The Kitchen’s Garden, calls her homestead. It is mud season where she lives.
“I squelched my way through fields with my arms out like wings trying to keep my balance,” she explains in a recent post she titled, The Mucky Murk or is it The Murky Muck. “That kind of mud sucks in your gumboot and keeps it while you lurch forward unaware…”
Sometimes, it is as we brave the elements yet one more time that we experience sudden moments of levity. Like the look on the sheep’s face in Cecilia’s picture.I think it is saying, “What?! Don’t laugh Miss C. This is not funny.” And miss C smirks on the other side of the camera, because she loves this muddy, wooly beast.
When levity sets in, even for only a few minutes, your entire perspective changes and even drenched fields that change the usual routine of the week seem like just a passing moment that is very much bearable and a part of life. [Go to The Kitchen's Garden]
Well, while we have our feet in the mud, we might as well discuss digging our hands in the soil.
“It seems that every year, more and more people are coming back to the art and joy of gardening. Not just because they love the feel of getting their hands in the soil – but because they ultimately want to feed their families better tasting and healthier food while saving money… you can maximize those gardening efforts into a virtual year-round pantry…” begins a recent article at Old World Garden Farms. It is titled, Growing A Garden For Canning – How To PLAN TO CAN and Save Big!
If this year will be your first foray into the delicious and simple art of canning, this very thorough article from seasoned gardeners will provide the perfect blueprint for success. If you simply think you want to refine your existing process, this is for you as well. We can always learn a new trick or perspective and what better way to learn than from each other?
The article is divided in four segments. The last segment begins with the words “Thinking outside of the box.” Precisely, and very well thought out too. [Explore]
We’ve walked around the farmy with Cecilia (in the mud no less) and talked about the many, many jars we can fill with an abundance of wholesomeness this summer. It is only fitting to pause for a sweet treat at this time. To this end, we stop by Bits & Breadcrumbs‘ kitchen for a Quick Loaf: Cranberry Apple Walnut Bread.
This, I believe, is a perfect way to bridge two seasons, enjoy a wholesome treat at the end of a busy day or create a special moment, which I am sure you have earned many times over.
Our days tend to be marked by routine; some more than others. Our routines include all the stops we make on the way home, the places where we get lunch, and those special sweets that only a particular shop carries. Returning to these flavors our days. It gives us a sense of freedom and it adds silence and sensation to our otherwise busy schedules.
Our favorite foods become part of a rhythm. When something changes, a little something is lost… unless we find another way; a new, delicious rhythm.
“For many, many years I used to run up to the local health food store and get one of their delicious muffins… the health food grocery closed their little deli section…” recalls the author. And this is the beginning of the inspiration for the treat she shares with us today. I’ll let you go make some too. Enjoy. [Go]
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