Sunday, January 4, 2015

Honey, I'm home: nectarine thieves, apricottage, and Operation Cyser

Hello blog! Hello 2015! Hello Lalor (from which magnificent outer northern suburb, we - Timnus, Harriet & Bea Cat, a posse of chooks and I - absconded for the hols)! We returned home from our abscondage just in time for 2015's first bout of Melbourne HellWeather, so it was only after we'd thoroughly watered the garden, shaded the bees, wet the worms and set out five million waterbowls for the chickens that we noticed that the entire crop of some 100 or so nectarines we'd left on our frontyard nectarine tree had vamoosed.

Melbourne HellWeather MMXV, Bout the First

I planted the nectarine the day after we moved to Lalor, in the rain (sigh), just over four years ago. Pam from up the road popped down to introduce herself and invite me over for tea (nice work, Lalor Welcoming Committee). Someone whose name I've never learnt but who lives in the next street along warned me sternly that if I put a fruit tree in my front garden kids would steal my fruit. Oh no!, I thought, Not the national scourge of fruit-eating children! and then I continued on with my row of alternating apples and stone fruit along the front perimeter, imagining the occasional youngster helping herself to afternoon tea on the way home from school. Had I known that "kids will steal your fruit" would mean "some audacious individual of unspecified age will strip your entire crop", maybe I'd have grown a thistle hedge, sunk a moat and installed a pair of lusty piranhas.  Or maybe not. I have mixed feelings about this fruit theft. I myself am an A-grade salvager of abandoned fruit, for one thing, and if someone thought our under-ripe nectarines were so delicious that she/he/they persisted in denuding the entire tree, then happy Christmas, someone. More to the point, we're lucky it was just fruit we lost. There's some serious loot in our house, just waiting for the burgling. A sack of alpaca fleece, for instance. The complete set of the Season Eight Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic books. Several hundred bottles of variably potable homebrew. A 1940s sewing machine I found abandoned on the verge in Preston and lugged home at great cost to my dorsal muscles only to find that it didn't function. The $0.99 lounge suite from ebay. The coffee table snaffled from hard rubbish. So, nectarines schmectarines.

It has also helped reconcile me to my nectarine loss that we happen to be, right this minute, rather rolling in fruit. We found a wild apple in Bright (as you do) with precociously juicy apples. Who knew apples could ripen in December? Go, you good tree! Accompanied by my trusty nieces-in-crime, K and H, and the Tim-meister, we picked almost 15kg, without making much of a dent in this tree's fructifying.

Back home, the apricot tree was groaning with fruit (safely stowed in the backyard, away from Lalor's Stonefruit Filcher of Doom). Thinking we were in for hail last night, I pulled down half the apricots - 7.5kg as it turns out - and while scoffing the ripest, Fowlers Vacola-ed 11 bottles of apricocks (in the no-not-at-all-bawdy parlance of Mr. W. Shakespeare).

7.5kg of Moor Park apricots. Was pleased to note that Mount Alexander organicky Moor Parks are selling for $10/kg, which means that these kids have already more than paid for their insect/bird exclusion netting. In foreground: remains of my lentil deluxe dinner, eaten outside to maximise benefits of cool change. In background: dwarf peach (fruiting for the first time this year, yay!) and water chestnuts in blue pond thingy.

Eleven jars of apricottery with a dollop of honey per jar, all rustically packed. Ain't winning no CWA awards for handsome fruit-packing anytime soon.

Excess apricots (is there such a thing?) safely preserved, we got down to the serious business of making out first cider of the year.

Which, once the apples are assembled, begins with apple crushing. The apple crusher is a spendy bit of kit that is entirely worth its spendiness (say I, having laboriously crushed the apples in my 2L blender the first year we made cider). Of course, as with all positive spendiness to worthiness ratio calculations, this one assumes regular and passionate use (a fair assumption, as I'll be in the cider-making lark for many years to come, dog willing, and may yet manage to cultivate friends who want to borrow the crusher (or The Crusher, to give this fine article its due Arnie-Schwarzeneggerisation)).

The Crusher in its most fearsome aspect. 

You can't see 'em, but underneath those apples are teeth on wheels. They bite the apples up and spit them out into a bucket below. Then we take the apple spit bits and stuff them into the apple press and press away and out oozes the juice. No photo of this stage, because all hands are either engaged in manipulating the press or covered in bits of apple.

It turned out that while these apples were perfectly juicy and while they tasted (to me) sweet, their sugar content was pretty low, according to our trusty hydrometer. Our juice would have made the light-beer equivalent of cider, which sounded fine to me, but my co-vintner was having none of this namby-pamby barely-fermented, cideresque excuse-for-a-drink, and promptly poured a 600mL jar of our honey into the juice. Voila! Cider turns to cyser, i.e., apple-honey wine (at which point, it behooves me to point out that mead-making, aka, mazing, has all the best vocabulary: mazer, metheglin, pyment, cyser, melomel, hippocras), and its future alcohol content approximately quadruples.

5 litres of cyser-to-be

But on that I'll have to get back to you in the fulness of time. Five years or so should do the trick.


  1. Welcome back.
    And you have reminded me of something wot I had forgot. Home grown trumps commercial most every time. Duh.
    But it is MOST evident in home grown tomatoes. And apricots.

  2. Am very pleased sense took over and the lilly-livered cider has been Arnie-d up. Nice one. Also, how does the sewing machine not work? Really not? Can't the cider machine operator have a tinker? Maybe an application of honey?

  3. Hello Kate! Yep, it was probably the right decision, adding the honey, esp. because, using only one variety of apple, we wouldn't have achieved a very complex flavour: honey brings all the flavenoids to the yard, and on top of them there'll be a lovely apple-y (apply?) smell.

    As for the sewing machine: by dog it's a handsome (and heavy) beast. I couldn't get the upper and lower tension to reconcile, pulled the machine to pieces trying to work it out, and may not have put it together again quite the way it began. I suspect it's missing a bit. A more conscientious version of me would find a suitable mechanic to look at it, but this version of me has stowed it in a corner for further attention in 2037.

  4. Thanks for the welcome, Elephant's Child :-). I fell off the internet there for a bit. Yes, homegrown/home-made whatevers have some metaphysical quality that makes them entirely superior to everything else. Happy noo year x

  5. Could the nectarine theivery be bird or possum rather than human? At least you have cider. And apricots. I have a friend with a laden apricot tree who promises to deliver me some orange and red morsels of deliciousness for bottling soon. Sadly until my juvenile trees man up and produce me some fruit I'll be relying on others for my apricot needs.

  6. Hi Bek. I'm pretty sure it was a human. Birds and other critters tend to leave behind a mess of seeds or half-nibbled fruit. This tree was plucked clean. Ah well.

    Bounteous apricots and fermenting apple juice are some pretty good compensations, I agree. Hoping some apricots find their way to you soon ...

  7. I have to say, fine machine oil and WD40 have got me out of several sticky machine situations, but the best medicine is a visit to the nice mechanics at the Chatswood Sewing Centre. Which is no help to you, O Queen of Cyser. The nice internet tells me there are washing machine repairers in Lalor, but they don't mention sewing machine equivalents. Sigh. You need to find someone you could pay in apricots, or mead (I would be ideal except for location and lack of mechanical skill). Shall keep my fingers crossed. Also, impressed and alarmed at your nectarine theft, which puts my battle with possums coming onto the balcony and ripping off the olives, sage and begonias into perspective. Sort of. Rankles a bit ;)