Cider and the City

by Beth Shepherd
( October 15th, 2014 )

Give me your tired, your poorly shaped, your pock-marked, your huddled masses of unused apples, yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse from your teeming trees. And, with them, make apple cider!

This past weekend, I did just that when I attended ‘Cider and Apple Juice Basics,’ a free class at my favorite neighborhood garden store, City People’s. The class covered which apples to use, the basics of pressing juice, making apple juice and then moving on to hard cider. Among other facts, we learned it takes between 14 to 16 pounds of apples (about 36 apples, depending on size) to make one gallon of cider.

Although everyone has an opinion about which apples make the tastiest cider, in general, a blend is best. Just like other beverages (wine and beer come to mind) you want to find a balance of four key qualities: sugar, acid, tannin and flavor. A typical “recipe” includes 30-60% sweet, 10-40% tart/acidic, 5-20% bitter/tannic, and 10-20% aromatic. A few examples of sweet apples: Cortland, Golden Delicious, Rome Beauty; tart apples: Granny Smith, Gravenstein, Pippin; tannic apples: Liberty, Northern Spy, crabapples; and, aromatic apples: McIntosh, Red Delicious. Together, they make beautiful music in the form of apple juice and cider!

Apple cider

After the class, we headed out to the nursery where City Fruit was hosting a Cider Press Event. They had a cider press set up, and volunteers to help cut, grind, and press the apples into juice. I brought a bag of not-so-perfect apples from our espaliered apple trees (purchased, by the way, at City People’s a few years ago) to donate to the cause. City Fruit helps urban folk understand that fruit trees in our midst are a valuable resource. Sadly, most urban fruit falls to the ground and is wasted. People don’t really know how (or have the time) to pick their trees, they’re not so keen on eating fruit that’s blemished or housing a pest or two. So City Fruit has taken up the mantle of harvesting, preserving and promoting the sharing of fruit, along with working to protect urban fruit trees.

City Fruit cider press

Acquiring apples is the first step in juice or cider making. We had those thanks to generous donations and the hard work of City Fruit volunteers who help with residential harvests and Urban Orchard Stewards who harvest fruit from Seattle Parks. More than 30 Seattle parks have fruit trees, often the remnants of heritage orchards, and several parks and pea patches have planted mini-orchards as part of a community garden.

City Fruit apple cutting

Step 2 is cleaning and cutting the apples for grinding. At the Cider Press Event, lots of hands (and knives) were used to cut out the bad spots and slice the apples into sections. Next, for Step 3, the apples were run through a fruit grinder. The end result looked like this: apple mash.

Ground apples for cider

Then the apples are put inside a mesh bag and—Step 4—placed inside the press. I took my turn cranking the hand jack to press the apples through the mesh. It’s pretty easy at first and then puts up more of a fight.

City Fruit cider pressing

And look! There it is, literally cold off the press. Delicious!

City Fruit cider

When you take a few (pounds) of less-than-pretty apples, and turn them into cider…

One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl.


If you’re a cider aficionado, check out  City Fruit’s upcoming events, such as the 4th Annual Cider Fest, the Seattle Tree Fruit Society 2014 Fall Fruit Show, or the 3rd Annual Cider Press and Food Drive.

And if you want to learn more about gardening, City People’s offers some awesome free workshops.

Take the road less traveled, Beth

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A girl from Gyumri

by Beth Shepherd
( October 10th, 2014 )

Three years ago we met a tiny girl from Gyumri…

The girlA baby girl

A girl

The girl and her DadaA girl and her dad to be

A girl and her dad

The girl and her MamaA girl and her mom to be

A girl and her mom

The three of usThe three of us 2011

...and a kittenThe three of us and Maggie Moose

Take the road less traveled, Beth


Vin Chaud: Mulled Wine Recipe

by Beth Shepherd
( October 8th, 2014 )

A blustery day in Paris, chilly even. Ominous clouds loom. People begin to put on their jackets and open parapluie to guard against the rain. Your mood feels a bit gray.

Then you remember. You’re in PARIS, nestled under cover at a sidewalk cafe in the Tuileries. Autumn leaves dress the surroundings in rich hues of red and gold. You feel as though you are in La Musique aux Tuiliereis, Manet’s famous painting. You’re dining on French cheese, a baguette and a fresh pear. And…you’re drinking Vin Chaud. mulled wine, the perfect accompagnement for a day just like this. In fact, Vin Chaud almost makes you wish for a day like this.

Tuileries on a gray day

Mulled means to heat, sweeten, and flavor with spices for drinking, as ale or wine. Mulled wine is a global tradition with myriad recipe permutations. Glögg (Sweden), Glühwein (German), Vin Brulé (Italian), Negus (English), Navegado (Spanish), Forralt Bor (Hungarian), Wassail (also English)… and Vin Chaud (France). The common denominator is wine, red or white, sometimes fortified (adding a distilled spirit such as brandy), sometimes not, infused with spices and served warm.

The process of mulling wine goes back centuries. Hippocras, a drink made from wine mixed with sugar and spices, usually including cinnamon, and possibly heated, was a spiced wine popular in the Roman Empire, as seen in the writings of Pliny the Elder and Apicius. After steeping the spices in the sweetened wine for a day, the spices are strained out through a conical cloth filter bag called a manicum hippocraticum or Hippocratic sleeve (originally devised by the 5th century BC Greek physician Hippocrates to filter water). Apparently, the recipe for hippocras was brought back to Europe from the Orient, following the crusades. The drink became extremely popular and was regarded as having various medicinal or even aphrodiasiac properties.

Mulled wine and cheese in Paris

You can use any fruity, though not overly sweet, red wine (or white if you’re not a red wine drinker) to make Vin Chaud. I suggest going light on the tannins. The wine doesn’t need to be expensive, just something you find drinkable. Your ideal mulling wine is an inexpensive burgundy, petite syrah, tempranillo, beaujolais, malbec or other “middle-of-the-road” red. If you’re going white, try an aromatic white wine like Riesling, Muscat (moscato) or Chenin Blanc. The recipe, below, also features a finishing splash of cognac. You could substitute any eau de vie, port or brandy, but Cognac seemed appropriate since I’m writing about a drink I enjoyed in Paris.

Mulled wine vin chaud

Vin Chaud: Mulled Wine Recipe


  • 1 bottle fruity red wine

  • 1/4 cup honey or 4 tablespoons granulated sugar

  • 5 black peppercorns or a pinch of ground pepper

  • 2 cardamom pods

  • 1 star anise

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 5 whole cloves

  • 1/3 cup Cognac (or another eau de vie, port or brandy of your choice)—optional

  • 1 piece of orange zest (white pith removed), a few inches long, per glass

Note: There are myriad combinations of spices for mulled wine. Some people like to add a cinnamon stick or two, and others prefer a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. If you want less of a zing, you could omit the peppercorn. And, while I have access to fresh bay leaves, you could use dry or forgo.

How to:

Use a nonreactive cooking pot or saucepan. Add spices and honey (or sugar) and simmer. Do not allow to boil. Turn off the stove and let the wine simmer 10-15 minutes. Reheat and, just before serving, add the cognac (or eau de vie). If you prefer your mulled wine with a tad less alcoholic punch, you can omit the cognac altogether, or add a tablespoon or two to the glass or mug and ladle the mulled wine over it. Strain wine into heat-proof serving glass or mug, removing spices (although you can leave the spices in, just don’t eat them). Garnish with a strip of orange zest.

Take the road less traveled, Beth

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