The New York Times reported this week that the one upside to global warming is that the foliage in autumn is more vivid. The drought we’ve been suffering means leaves make a vivid shout out to fall and cling to the trees longer.
Today, as I wandered toward B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill, I jumped off the highway to avoid an accident and took some winding roads through scorching hot foliage territory. Spicy reds, sunshine-ing yellows, and sparkler oranges. Thank you, global warming, I guess…?
By the time I got to the Cider Mill though, the trees were already bare. I guess it’s just a tidge cooler there.
Operating since 1881, Clyde’s is the only steam-powered mill still in operation. Six generations of the family have worked the press, and I was there to see the apple cider get made. They can make 500 gallons an hour of cider. That might seem like a lot to you, but when you figure how many people had the same idea as I did today, well, maybe not so much.
The apples are loaded into the chute as you see above. Today’s were Honey Crisp. The cider and baked goods all shift in flavor through the long season depending on the apples that are harvested and used.
Once the apples are washed, they are funneled into a grinder, making a really thick apple sauce. The sauce is raked, yes raked, four times and put on a rack, swung around and pressed until the liquid flows. The smell is just wonderful.
The engine room powers the machinery. This cider mill is a, wait for it, National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark, for all this original equipment. They have a little historical display, and I was most taken with the pamphlets and articles on prohibition, one extolling the virtues of drunkenness. What?
Well, Clyde’s makes 8 kinds of hard cider. I visited the tasting area, where a long line formed so that each of us could taste four of the 8.
While waiting, Mary became my guide for all things cider. She had tasted all these various styles of hard cider and knew all about the subtle flavor shifts as the apple harvests come in. What a palette!
Mary also clued me in to the apple cider donuts, which I admit are pretty outstanding. Who knew that a Honey Crisp donut would taste different from a Micun!
I’m most grateful to Mary for turning me on to Shagbark Syrup. Turkeywoods Farm was there selling various syrups they create from hickory trees. Without Mary’s deft guidance, I might have fallen for hickory nut syrup or the hickory ginger syrup. They are wonderful.
Shagbark. That’s the find!
Now with wine tastings, you have all these descriptors that distinguish the various nose, mouth feel, etc. You know how it goes.
Same thing for syrup. Shagbark Syrup has a complex flavor profile, blending woodsy, earthy, nutty, smoky, even honey overtones. This from the bark of the hickory tree. Not the nut, not the sap like a maple tree.
So yes, I’ll be eating bark with my French toast for some period of years to come. That’s how long it will take me to finish a bottle this size.
Okay, bark with some processing. It is boiled and then aged. Yes, age your cheese and your bark. Then the aged bark is blended with natural sugars. It’s divinely delicious.
And no trees are hurt in the process. The shagbark hickory tree naturally sheds its bark starting at age 7. The bark is harvested when it falls from the tree or carefully removed when loose.
We can thank the Connecticut Native American population, likely the Pequot, for this wonder. They drank tea prepared by steeping hickory bark in hot water, sweetened with honey. It’s supposed to help with arthritis. But who cares? It helps with my spirit.
So did my visit to nearby Enders Island, home to the St. Edwards retreat/monastery.
I watched rocks and water for a peaceful retreat of my own.