Monday, September 24, 2007

Gramma Ruby's cider.

Nothing brings memories back for me like the smell of a fresh picked apple. My Gramma Ruby had an orchard in Laytonville. As kids we would have apple fights in the orchard. It would be a free-for-all fight, and anyone caught in the open would get hit with a rotten apple. The hard part was finding an apple without yellow-jacket wasps on it. The wasps in the orchard were kept down with a wasp trap. My grampa Bill made a yellow-jacket trap out of an upside down glass gallon jar with a screen cone in it. The jar was suspended over a piece of chicken liver and a chunk of apple. The wasps have a stage of their life were they eat fruit, and then they have to have meat for breeding. So the wasps that didn't go for the fruit, went for the meat. The jar and the bait was hung over a pan of soapy water. The wasps would get their fill of the bait, and try to fly away. If they hit the screen, they would climb up into the top of the screen funnel and into the jar, where they never came out again. Wasps always climb upward. The Wasps that made little pigggies of themselves, and were too heavy to fly, fell into the soapy water and drowned. Few yellow jackets made it out of grampa's yellow-jacket trap.

My grandmother would catch us fighting with apples and would chew us out for wasting good food, with; “the kids in China are starving while you kids waste apples”. Apparently, China was the place that kids starved to death back then. Our line would be; “but we are only throwing the rotten ones”. Then she would give us all a milk pail, and have us pick up the good apples before they rotted. It seems like no matter what we kids would be doing for fun, the adults would turn it into productive energy. We would have to clean and make the good apples into cider. We would clean them in a wash tub full of water. We would take turns “bobbing for apples” while we cleaned them. It made no difference what we did back then, it always degenerated into some kind of a game or a contest. For you city kids, the trick is to hold your mouth up to the apple and suck in your breath like a vacuum cleaner to hold it to your lips while you remove it from the water. Everyone tries to bite them, but that never works. We “ranch kids” would always win the apple bobbing contest at the PTA fair every year. It’s strange that such a simple concept never occurred to the city kids. Of course, if you didn’t get a good seal on the apple you ran the risk of drowning, but that didn’t often happen. We were well practiced! My grandmother had an apple grinder and cider press, and all the kids had as much cider as we could drink.

We had one tree on the ranch that had particularly sweet apples. I don’t know what they were called, but it was one that Albert Etter from Ettersburg had developed. They were so sweet that when you cooled the cider, it would become thickened before it froze. Not as thick as honey, but as about as thick as pancake syrup. After it started to freeze we would stir it slowly as it set up, to keep the syrup from becoming grainy. Then we would scoop it over grandmas home-churned real vanilla ice cream, made from fresh cows cream, ranch eggs, and sugar. What a treat! Gramma used to take great pride in knowing that she provided all the ingredients for that special treat. Plus it kept a crop of mischievous kids out of trouble while they took turns turning the crank on the cream separator, the apple grinder, the cider press, and the ice-cream freezer.

Now, you can’t even get real cows cream, and most kids will never know how good something that you make yourself can be. Is it just me, or have we lost something? I think I’ll make a trip to The farmers market to buy some good homemade cider, it’s surely the last of a tradition! If you set it in a cool place and wait about a week until it's fizzy, You get the "adults only" version of apple cider, and it's even better.

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