The crabapples from the trees at the college are remarkably sweet, and the ones from the tree on our land have good flavor too. They are just so incredibly abundant and delicious that we wanted to put them to use somehow.
(Some of the crabapple haul is pictured above and below)
We decided to make a cider-ey fermented beverage from them.
We juiced the crabapples and used a basic mead recipe (see below).
I'm not sure what the resulting beverage should be called. There is apparently a lot of very highly specialized mead-making terminology. Meads made with fruit are known as melomel. But meads made with fruit juices are technically called metheglins. When the juice used in making a metheglin is from apples, the drink is called cyser. And scrumpy seems to be a catch-all term for strong and usually chunky fermented apple drinks. So who knows what to call this beverage that we are making. Do crabapples count as apples? Can it be simultaneously a mead, a melomel, a metheglin, and a cyser? All of those last three terms sound vaguely pharmaceutical to me, so I'm going with just plain Crabapple Mead, or maybe Scrumpy, which sounds sort of dirty and scrumptious at the same time.
Basic mead is very simple. Its ingredients are:
- Honey (we use 1 gallon for a 6 gallon carboy)
- Fruit (optional), juiced, smushed, or sauced. A lot, or a little.
- You can also add herbs and spices, and
- Wild or storebought yeast
We had a lot of crabapples to juice, which was the most time-consuming part. A cider press would have helped.
We added some pears from a tree in our friend Sharon's yard, and an heirloom local apple I had leftover from my recent adventures in birthday cake. The pears and apples went into the mix after being turned to sauce in the food processor.
After the seemingly endless juicing process, we heated some water to dissolve the honey, whisked the honey in, added the crabapple juice, and poured it all into a big carboy with enough water to fill the jug up to its shoulders (where it begins to taper in to the neck).
For this batch, we added a pack of yeast (Lalvin K1-V1116 saccharomyces cerevisiae, $1 at Hops and Vines in West Asheville), but you don't have to. Wild yeasts will do the job. Either way, just throw everything in a jug and let it sit for a while, and see what happens.
Here's our 6 gallons of mead in the making. In a few days it should be bubbling mightily. After it's done with it's most fervent fermenting, we'll top off the carboy with water and let it go a while longer until the flavor's just right, and then we'll bottle it up.
Over the summer we made our first meads --one with wild blackberries and another with pears, and we've since made a very strong batch of pear-ginger mead. It's so easy, and so good, and so cheap! This batch will have cost $24 to make ($23 for a gallon of local honey and $1 for a yeast packet), but if you have your own bees or access to honey and use wild yeast, it could easily be free. We estimate that it will end up costing about $1 for a wine bottle-sized bottlefull of this mead. Beats the heck out of the price of a bottle of wine. And it's organic, local, and homemade with very simple, nutritious ingredients.
While we were stirring everything together, I was reflecting on how these fruit fermenting traditions must have evolved - what a great way to take fruit and honey, which are hard to come by in the winter, and preserve their goodness in a warming drink for the cold months.
I have a good feeling about this one, because the flavor of the crabapple juice was so very fine, and the edge of tartness from the crabs goes so well with the honey flavor. But only time will tell...