Monday, September 21, 2009

A change of pace - fall harvest

For the first time since the ski box was traded for the kayak rack sometime in March, we headed north and right past Lake Superior with no boats on the roof. Weather and waves were perfect and in fact a number of the SKOAC Renegades were on Sand Island for the annual Fall Ball. Our mission this weekend had no time for paddling in the mix. It was time to convert the summers bountiful harvest into food and drink.

The main event of the weekend was brewing beer. Twenty years ago I was deeply immersed in the fledgling homebrewing movement, a hobby made possible by the repeal of stupid prohibition era laws at the normal Congressional timeline of 50 years too late. A variety of things, including kayaks and the availability of really good beer at the liquor store, cut back on my brewing but the Podman had planted some Centennial and Cascade hops, as well as 6 row barley on his and the GurneyGranny's estate and needed some instruction in making Real Ale. Yet another avocation opened up by his retirement one year ago this month. We whipped up two five gallon batches, one of a brown ale to replicate the excellent South Shore Nut Brown Ale brewed 20 miles down the road in Ashland, and some IPA, India Pale Ale. India Pale Ale was concocted because English brewers in the mid 19th century needed to come up with a product that would make it around the Horn to the troops in India with out spoiling; this was of national importance at the time because of rumblings of mutiny amongst Her Majesty's troops and a real fear that crappy beer could be the straw that broke the camels back. Back in rural Gurney, WI we had put our batch of brown ale to bed and had just started on the IPA when the KingOfIronwoodIsland showed up to lend moral support. Cynical observers (GurneyGranny and the VoiceOfReason) suggested that the chance of making more beer than we actually drank during the lengthy brewing process had now plummeted to almost zero with the King's arrival. Photographic evidence would suggest however, that we were not the only ones depleting the beer supply. The womyn were also out in the summer kitchen with we intrepid brewers, producing and bottling horseradish, which had been dug, cleaned, and was being blended with vinegar, sugar, and possibly a secret ingredient, we don't know for sure. Ambitious ladies that they are, they later ventured out into the woods to a large blackberry patch to compete with the bears for the sweet berries.

The summer on the south shore of Gitchee Gumee has been very cool this year. Possibly because of that, the gardens, berry patches, and apple trees have been positively laden with fruit and veggies. Locals can't recall a more productive year, although there is worry about the tomatoes actually ripening before the first frost. Sunday's mission was to pick and press a bunch of apples in the neighbors cider press. There were so many apples on the tree that the ladies recruited a tall guy (guess who?) to shake the branches and just stood underneath them with a blanket. The cider press was a sturdy looking contraption that would have been familiar to people in the 17th century. A large flywheel was cranked by hand as the apples were pitched into a cylinder that had a hardwood wheel with metal teeth. This ground the apples and they were then pressed using a wooden cylinder that was forced down using a big screw that reminded everyone of the sort of device used to ferret out heretics during the Spanish Inquisition. A solid three hours of cranking the grinder and screwing the press by 8 willing workers produced several gallons of excellent apple cider. Because several varieties of apples were produced, each gallon had its own distinct taste, all of which were eminently drinkable.

Even though we were kind of wistful as we rounded Chequamagon Bay with no boats on the roof, it was a very productive weekend. The best thing, other than the bounty of cider and veggies that came back with us, was that even though it was work, it did not feel a bit like work. I think we may have even had some fun.

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