Throughout my college years, I worked at a small, family apple orchard about 10 miles away from the school's campus. As most remaining farmland in New England, this orchard started out as a family homestead, home to one of the founding families of Rhode Island at the end of the 17th century. Apple and other fruit trees played an integral role in making this rocky, moist, well drained soil a productive, working landscape. Several generations later in the 1950s, as many New England farm families shifted away from the land, and relied on other sources to provide food for the table, the Hill family planted hundreds more trees to form an orchard and family business.
Lindsay and Katherine gather cider apples
It is at Hill Orchards that my appreciation for the apple, in its multiple and delicious varieties, was borne. While I have been transplanted from the New England coast to the Pacific Northwest, my fascination with the role of fruit trees in both the modern American food system and a sustainable food system continues. In fact, it is the warm valleys in eastern Washington State, fed by irrigation from the Columbia River and its tributaries, which supply much of the United States with the apples it consumes. The climatic and soil conditions, extensive irrigation and low pest populations combined with the interstate trucking system and low fuel prices allow Washington State growers to produce vast amounts of fruit at low costs and maintain the production and distribution power that modern super-markets demand. Ultimately, this forces smaller growers, such as Hill Orchards 3,000 miles away in Rhode Island, to find alternative markets for their produce.
This same story manifests itself differently here in Klickitat County, with a much shorter record of European settlement. Fruit trees commonly grow in front yards throughout the county, once carefully planted and tended to by families who recognized the value in growing their own food. Fruit trees that grow scattered along the sides of the roads as volunteers grown from seed are a testament to the abundance of fertilized seeds in the region. However, much of the fruit from all these trees now falls, undesired, to the ground. Instead, families travel several miles to the store, where they can pick shiny apples from the neatly stacked displays, and pay similar prices for apples grown in Chile or New Zealand as they do for a Washington grown apple.
Apples awaiting the cider press
Rising energy prices, however, already are permeating what has become the global food system. Enhancing the production and distribution of locally grown foods will be essential to overcoming the continued rise in transportation costs, while at the same time helping to stimulate the local economy and reduce carbon emissions. However, if we want to maintain the integrity and productivity of the land and its ecosystems, we cannot simply attempt to downsize and localize the existing model of food production-we need to establish a new model. The practice of cultivating food and trees in a single land management plan, known as agroforestry, can play a key role in this transformation. If intentionally designed, trees in an agroforestry system play multiple functional roles. In addition to providing nutritious food for a household such fruit or nuts, trees can produce fodder for animals, supply lumber and fuel, provide shade and wind barriers, regulate microclimates, prevent erosion, and provide wildlife habitat.
In temperate climates, the apple tree will have a critical role in such an agroforestry model. So I have been spending time this fall determining the various uses for the apple here at Windward. In doing so, I am reminded of the traditional kitchen wisdom of utilizing a seasonally abundant resource that is so well reflected in cooking recipes for all sorts of apple creations: apple pies, apple crisps, applesauce, apple butter, and the list could go on and on. The rabbits and sheep are taking great delight in feasting on the wastes that come out of the kitchen: the peels, cores and ground-picked apples. Yet, the most exciting development is getting our first ¾ of a gallon of freshly squeezed sweet apple cider.
our rebuilt cider press
We are using a traditional style, home-sized apple cider press that Walt restored a few weeks ago. After several trials and some internet reading, we have realized that the finer the apple pulp is that we add to the press, the more cider we get out of it. So mixing old technologies with new to maximize our benefits, I used the electric Cuisinart to crush the apples before using the traditional cider press to squeeze out the juice. The cider has a deep, satisfying flavor.
apple mash ready for the press
At this point, making cider may not be the most efficient method to create different types of human food from the apples, as about 3 gallons of crushed apples made ¾ of a gallon of cider. However, no waste was created in the process, as the sheep happily devoured the dry apple pulp. I am hopeful that if we fiddle with the press design a little more, we will be able to get more juice from the apples.
Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 67