Every year in autumn when all the carefully planned and accidental colour schemes fade away and the whole garden turns into a firework of warm autumn colours and when some plants are literally in flames, another event transforms the garden adding more vibrant colours and liveliness to the otherwise rather tranquil spot: the cider making.
Then the apples from our orchard, which have arrived in small heaps appearing everywhere in the garden where there is space to temporarily keep them, intermingle wonderfully with the yellow, orange, ochre and various brown tones of the garden and the surrounding landscape. In particular the ‘Sternreinette’ adds bright red beauty spots to the glamorous autumn picture.
Bright blue, green, pink little dots appear all over the place as some of the cider making equipment such as numerous plastic buckets, barrels and other vessels go into action. And of course all the friends helping with the work add multiple colours to the picture and keep it changing all the time.
Then in the evening at dusk when all the hard work is coming to an end, lights from lanterns appear everywhere in the garden as if starting a competition with the star lit sky. The big table gets ready for the party, loaded with last year’s cider and plenty of food to restore the lost energy.
The process of cider making is simple but the result as rewarding as an elaborately produced champagne in particular when the cider is the produce of your own work.
Generally we pick the apples rather than using wind falls, although this year we were very late and had to deal with the wind falls which means that after washing the apples we also cut off the parts that have been damaged. This takes some time and the people in charge of the preparation of the apples sit for hours and hours cutting and chatting until they have blisters on their fingers (and tongues).
Once ready, the apples are shredded and then put into a press to extract the raw juice. Some juice is then pasteurised and filled into bottles to be kept in the cellar, where the cider will join them after its separate journey of first fast-and-stormy and then slow fermentation in barrels. Generally we add some yeast to help the fermentation at low temperatures (Kitzinger Kaltgaerhefe) although this is not strictly necessary. Once the main fermentation process has been completed, we take the cider off the sediment and either bottle it, thereby allowing some sparkling as the fermentation and ripening slowly continues until the cider is mature. We now only use Champagne bottles as we had to deal with a number of explosions in the cellar which made the fetching of the desired drink a rather hazardous mission.
When not bottled, the cider will be transferred into a new clean barrel where it can mature without causing mischief.
They came as a complimentary present to an old centrifugal cabbage shredder which we were given last year and which we had re-furbished and wanted to test with one or two cabbage heads.
So there we were, well equipped to dive into a full scale sauerkraut production line as there was no way of us and our friends eating 50 cabbage heads, no matter how delicious a meal we might make of them. Luckily, years ago we also had inherited a number of clay pots used to keep sauerkraut which have been standing in the attic, full of dust and nearly forgotten. Now, they suddenly had their chance to come back to life.
So one part of the garden had rather big pale green dots added to the autumn colours together with the pink of the vat taking the cabbage from the shredder.
Once shredded, the cabbage was mixed with salt, finely chopped carrots and juniper berries and put onto the old clay pots. There it had to be compacted to extract some juice needed to cover the cabbage during the process of its transformation into sauerkraut. This was easy enough with the small vessels where we just used our fists to smash the cabbage. But there was one very big vessel (of about 100 litres) where it was rather difficult to reach in and to fight the masses of cabbage with your fists. We therefore fell back to the traditional way of using our feet rather than fists to get the desired result and give the cabbage a good start into its transforming life.
Nothing was wasted at this cider and sauerkraut making event – on the contrary: the remains of the pressed and de-juiced shredded apples and the cut-offs of the cabbage heads were given to a friend who has some small pigs, in exchange for an apple-fed pig which we will all share: roasted, with sauerkraut and, of course, some cider.
Many thanks to all our helpers Beate, Bertram, Christian, Grit, Helga, Johanna, Marianne, Marlene, Kerstin, Sophia, Siggi, Sylke and Werner who made the autumnal garden transformation such a pleasant event – despite all the hard work!