Yesterday the sun sank behind the mountains at the same moment as the final round of applause burst forth from the tents lining the roundabout at Shipyard’s park — a poetic end to the farmer’s market season.
Well, the end of Thursday markets at least; this year, the Saturday affairs will continue through the end of September.
Conversations among the market-goers seemed to be all focused on the season: the surprising speed at which another summer sped by, the brilliant colours that adorn the mountains, and the uncharacteristically beautiful evening that saw farmers and artisans casting great shadows as they stood outside their tents to catch the last rays, instead of huddled underneath, escaping the rain, or hanging on lest they become one more kite swept away by the Whitehorse wind.
Foraging days, like those for gardening, are numbered. My mind is constantly on what I can put in a bucket or a bag in preparation for winter as the frost begins to nip, and wandering the streets of Whitehorse instead of my usual wild grounds doesn’t alleviate this seasonal affliction.
And so, bidding a happy farewell to my farmer friends, I struck out for an urban forage. Many alleyways I have noticed are host to forgotten rhubarb plants, overgrown raspberries, and dock and lamb’s quarters, heavy with seed. But last night I was after something special.
In preparation, I went for a glass of wine at a local establishment, and succeeded in rallying an accomplice. We set out with a 5-gallon pail under the twin glows of the moon and streetlights, neither of which it turns out did more than provide the suggestion of visibility at our destination.
Note to self: I can no longer deny that headlamp season has arrived. We entered into a gated yard, feeling slightly illicit despite the permission that had been granted for this late night harvest.
I felt along the branches of a small tree whose branches just stood out in the moonlight.
Aha! A prize — A small, hard fruit, bursting with a tart, crisp tang — the much-maligned crabapple. An hour of feeling our way along branches to the hard, round prizes of tartness gave us a full bucket and grins spreading from ear to ear. A hand each on the handle of our bucket, we sauntered through the streets of Whitehorse, drunk with success — and perhaps the wine too.
This morning I examined our haul by the light of day, delighted with this sudden windfall of red and green, ranging from pleasantly sweet-tart to mouth-puckering astringent. I pulled out an old cast iron meat grinder and proceeded to grind the tiny apples, which fit two-or-three at a time into the small hopper, and poured the resulting mash into a large wide mouth jar.
It began bubbling almost immediately, the wild yeasts that make their home on the skins of the fruit eagerly taking advantage of my maceration. I sat back and crunched on some raw apples, content to have this traditional symbol of fall, apple cider, happening in my Yukon home.
From apples to cider
One day perhaps I will make an apple press, but until my infant tree has grown up a bit I will continue with my old method:
1) Grind apples — skins, cores, the whole deal. If you don’t have a grinder, a food processor will do. Don’t wash your apples first, as you’re relying on the wild yeasts on the skin.
2) Place the mash in a jar, topping up with water if need be so that the whole thing is stir-able. Cover with cheesecloth.
3) Stir vigorously many times a day until nice and bubbly, one or two days.
4) Strain into a narrow-necked container fitted with an airlock, and let ferment for at least a month. If there is a lot of sediment, you can rack it — siphon from the top into another jug.
5) Once you no longer see any bubbles coming out the airlock, siphon into sterilized bottles and cap. If desired you can add a small amount of priming sugar to each bottle for extra fizz – but be careful! Too much carbonation can have explosive results.