From Blossom to Bottle

The Summer Rambos

I’m trying to wrap my head around thinking of apples when the weather is summery and sweltering.  Like most people, apples come more to my mind when summer “falls” into autumn.

But, Summer Apples, aren’t unfamiliar to me. One of the most delightful things I’ve ever eaten is simple applesauce made from apples that ripen in July & August like Summer Rambo. Applesauce made from them is sweet and tart – like a cold glass of lemonade. It’s even more refreshing to me than a cold summer watermelon.

When the temperature hit 19 degrees this spring while the trees were blooming, I worried that there wouldn’t be ANY apples. So I tried not to think about specific varieties that I would miss more than others. Like a quote from one of my kids’ elementary school teachers “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit”.  I didn’t let myself worry about missing out on early-season applesauce.

But, …we have a bountiful crop of Summer Rambo apples. We all can enjoy the BEST applesauce you can put in your mouth.

We just started harvesting them.  They’re large, smooth & full of flavor. Don’t miss out.

Fresh Summer Rambo Apple Sauce

  • ½ Peck Summer Rambo Apples, peeled, cooked & sliced
  • ¾ Cup Water
  • ¼ Cup White Sugar
  • Pinch Salt

In a saucepan over medium heat bring the apples, water, and salt to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Add the sugar, simmer another 5 minutes.  Enjoy warm, cold or my summertime favorite – frozen slightly like a slushie.

Are you up for making some for later?  Increase the ingredients above proportionately, pour the finished applesauce into freezer safe containers and pop them into your freezer. Easy Peasy!

Give Gifts of Kindness and Thoughfulness

Give-Gifts-of-Kindness (1)The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is upon. Between office parties, our children’s activities, and other pressing holiday matters, we still have to find time to shop for The Perfect Gift. Every year, we stress about what we can buy family and friends that will top last year’s gift. It has to be bigger…it has to be better…it has to be Perfect!!! But sometimes, perfect isn’t always what it seems. Sometimes it isn’t perfection that our recipients crave. You would be surprised to learn…it is thoughtfulness and kindness that they are truly after.

I work in customer service on the orchard, this place I love to call my second home. It is part of my job to listen to my customers, as they have stories to tell, and they want someone to listen to them. During this most wonderful time of the year, I wanted to share a couple with you. As I think, you will be as touched by them now, as I was at the time. Let me introduce you to a young gentleman, who every year before Christmas comes into the barn and purchases a bushel of apples. He explained that he has an elderly neighbor lady who loved” The Showalter’s apples” (as she calls them) but didn’t have transportation to the orchard. So…every year at this time, he buys the apples and takes them to her (1/2 peck at a time) weekly during the winter. The smile of delight that she gets when he brings her” The Showalter’s apples” ….is worth more than any extravagant gift money could buy. Another was customer squealing in delight as she found a jar of Damson Plum jelly on our shelves. I thought she had hurt herself and rushed over to check on her. She explained her grandmother often spoke of her love of Damson Plum jelly and it had been years since she had some. She immediately purchased several jars and was going to give them to her for Christmas. An inexpensive gift, but one that surely brought her grandmother joy not only each time she spread the jelly on her morning slice of toast, but knowing that her granddaughter listened…and bought her something she truly loved and would enjoy.

Sometimes, I think we lose sight of what is truly important during the season. It is the season of giving, but maybe instead of giving bigger and better, maybe we should concentrate on giving gifts that are full of kindness and thoughtfulness. Remembering someone’s favorite apple or jelly is a simple reminder to that person that you listened and you cared. This year, when you visit your family and friends, listen to the stories, pay attention to the details, and when you shop for The Perfect Gift -it may be a lot simpler than you think. — Jane

Cider Week Virginia, Take 4

cidwerweekva276by199In 2011 we joined the ranks of Virginia’s Cideries. Our participation in the “maiden” Cider Week VA, mostly involved sitting on the sidelines. We observed the other VA cider companies pour and tout their beverages. Fortunately or unfortunately, we had sold out of our first vintage of ciders, well before cider week in November rolled around. But the experience was meaningful to us because we learned and taught others about cider, at a time when everyone’s interest was being piqued by a loud and unified message. Cider is being revived and reinvented in the commonwealth.

During Cider Week, we are able to share the diversity of ciders and also of Virginia’s Cidermakers themselves. Our differences as cider producers make us strong. Together our ciders create a consummate offering for our customers. It sounds cliché to say “there’s something for everyone,” but in Virginia’s Cider Industry, truly there is! Our similarities are somewhat obvious. We all ferment apple juice and proudly offer it to others. But it is the similarity that makes our Cider Week the most valuable. We all have an overarching aim at teaching Virginians and others about cider. What is it? What isn’t it? How is it made? How is it appreciated?

Cider Week reminds us, on the Old Hill, to not get so content in our “cider literate bubble” lest we become complacent; self-assured to the degree that we forget to spread the word about what real, orchard cider is, and how it’s different from many beverages labeled with that same name. Although this week and every week I’m thankful for the Mega Cider Producers who launch national advertising and marketing campaigns, which draw attention and focus not only to their macro brands but also to the likes of our tiny farm cidery.

IMG_4674At our cidery we experience every day, not just this special week of the year, how Shannon, our cidermaker, cares deeply for the liquid in our bottles. He tends the libation from the time when the trees are sleeping, as he prunes them, to the break of bud in the early spring, to the timing of harvest~which does after all make all the difference in the world~ for the cider that you and I enjoy. This is why we proudly named this blog “blossom to bottle”.

The combination of a new found interest in cider in general across the nation and our gubernatorial Cider Week Virginia affords us a chance to shout from the “Old Hill” top about these things, which we feel passionately about. We welcome the opportunity that this busy and rapid week of the year provides for us. We enjoy taking the opportunity to help people understand what Virginia’s orchard ciders that are carefully crafted are and can be.

Light

I’ve always thought if I ever move out of the orchard farmhouse, I’d want my new home to have large windows and open spaces. Our home’s age lends character for sure, but also “common-of-the-era” small rooms and windows.

Light evokes energy and clarity, two things I appreciate more and more. Over the last couple of months we’ve been lighting up the Old Hill you might say.

The tasting room changes have been the most dramatic. We tore out the old fluorescent task lights and installed beautiful new pendants. We replaced the old discolored, foggy windows with new clear (and insulated) ones. They looked so nice that we left the window treatments off. Now each day light streams in. It’s just dreamy!

In our barn turned orchard market and mercantile, we replaced the inadequate lights with much brighter ones. It’s easier to work and shop now.

We’ll continue to shed light with our customers and each other on all things apple too. It’s a pleasure to talk about the varieties we grow and the ciders we create.

Happy Harrison

I can’t help it! I love my dogs. My relationship and love for them is human-like in the way they bring joy and peace to me. Except when they don’t… because sometimes they won’t…  just like humans I love dearly.

So here begins my week with our 11-month-old English setter, Harrison.

Of course we call our farm an orchard… after all we grow apples. For most the word orchard invokes a vision of well-groomed trees in neat rows with short orchard grass blanketing the ground-imploring visitors to picnic and sip some cider.

But, there are THOSE areas, to remote to mow, out of sight—out of mind… just not quite “company fresh”.

For us this particular area is laden with cockle burrs. Our 4-year-old Brittany, Remi, has never come home for dinner with matted fur… infused and entwined with those nasty, prickly things. Harrison, the newest family member, on the other hand… must be some kind of burr magnet. When we were researching what kind of dog to choose for our family; I pored over beautiful pictures of English setters with long, wavy, feathery fur. Harrison is… was… no exception. He’s a beautiful stately looking little man. However, he’s a magnet for anything unsightly. If there is mud, or smell or cockle BURRS he will find it. Or rather it finds him His flowing, long feathery fur became matted this week right up to his skin. He was overspread with those nasty, prickers, and impossible to remove spheres. I didn’t have the heart to pull them out. I knew it would be painful. I can not, and won’t ever intentionally hurt him.

Long story short, his long feathery fur, is currently short and spiky after his recent hair cut to remove them. He looks a little goofy, but the burrs are gone from Harrison and also from our farm… I think.

As if this weren’t enough to complete a story, he also became the infamous star of the show during an elementary school’s fieldtrip to the orchard. Often when youngsters and their leaders visit, they bring packed lunches to enjoy in our meadow. On this particular day the bus door remained open to allow the breeze to blow and the busses; temperature to stay comfy. While the kiddos were touring around, Harrison hopped aboard their bus and helped himself to all of the teachers’ lunches. I sure hope they were satisfied with our crackers, hummus; apples and cider that we offered as nourishment until we could pay them back better.

Last, but certainly not least, my loving mom, knowing how slammed we are at the peak of harvest, gifted us with a beautiful baked ham to get us through those evenings and lunches when there just weren’t enough hours in the day to prepare a “real meal”. I wish I could say that Shannon and I always had time to eat lunch together, but we don’t. Thinking that I would follow shortly to scarf down my mid day vittles, Shannon left the ham out on the kitchen counter for me. I’m sure you can guess where this is going. Harrison, taking advantage of the doggy door that allows him free reign of our home, trotted right in, picked up the wafting smell of the ham, grabbed the whole darn thing, and ran off like a bandit.

Fortunately, the joy that his huge heart and deep green eyes bring to my soul, far, far outweigh any begrudging I might hold for his mischievousness. In our youth, just like puppies, we act on whims. These aren’t to be regretted but to be cherished. Life becomes too serious and to unforgiving far too quickly than it ought. I hope that I will always see the pleasure in and be grateful for “a free lunch.”

Learning From Experience

Sometimes Shannon and I feel a little guilty that our farm kids have expectations that interfere with a few of the contemporary and social activities of their peers.

However, the values and faithful expectation that they gain from a life in agriculture mostly outweigh them.

Work ethic, hope and reward are merits learned from experience.

One would assume that Shannon, our farmer, would have started in the beginning with apples. Instead, he worked up to being entrusted with the caliber and scope of growing apples on an orchard. He began a lot of years ago with cultivating another fall staple, pumpkins. After all these years, he still plants, grows and harvests the symbolic fall veggie annually. The planting plays a significant role in the stewardship of our farm. After felling a block of orchard that is too old to be productive, he plants pumpkins in that spot for several years as the earth recuperates from the burden of maintaining the demanding fruit trees.

Just as pumpkins build up the support for the future fruit bearing timbers; projects like toiling over annual crops,  build up our kids to support the fruits of their spirits.

 

Thankfulness

We usually hit the ground running in the mornings. Rushing off to school and work is normal. We race past the trees and into the market, or cidery or office. Many lovely folks depend on us to keep business going along as usual. On Thursday of this week Shannon and I got stopped from our habitual hurry. Some journalists from Virginia Tech visited to film some documentary footage on the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service. The most formidable task they asked me to complete was to describe our relationship with extension service. The VCE is essential to the livelihood of our farm. Suddenly a rush of cognizance that felt like the gratitude we conjure up at Thanksgiving washed over me as I realized how much we depend on the agricultural community and in this case the research community for answers on questions that arise every single day as we push forward to be innovative and creative in our field. With that thankfulness on my mind, the camerawomen insisted that we move out into the orchard for some shots. I’m embarrassed to admit how little time I’ve spent out there this fall. Shannon is there often, but always for work and critical analysis or problem solving. The videographers asked us to pose and talk to each other about the fruit and the trees and the place we were standing. We both had an epiphany of sorts. It was a renewed awareness of all that we have been gifted and entrusted with. As we push through this intensely full season, we’re praying together that we are ever mindful of just this. May we continue to be exceptional stewards.

New Tasting Room Hours

We hope everyone had a great weekend! Tasting Room will reopen Thursday-Saturday 11am-5pm!