Today, most folks don’t know what kind of apple (or pear or plum) tree is growing in their yard and just enjoy the fruit that nature brings. But, often, their fruit trees can produce an overwhelming quantity.
Ashland residents have an outlet for that over-abundant harvest and windfall fruit thanks to the Community Cider project, a collaboration now in its third year between the Ashland Food Co-op and Apple Outlaw, a cidery on Thompson Creek in the Applegate Valley.
The excess fruit can be dropped off at the Co-op and, in January or February, Apple Outlaw will return it as Backyard Cider, available for purchase at the Co-op to benefit the Ashland Emergency Food Bank.
Bruce Crowell, the Co-op’s beer and wine buyer, thought up the idea with Apple Outlaw’s Justin Skinnell.
Cory Ross, who lives in Ashland’s Railroad District, has joined in that effort and dumped boxes of smallish green apples and good sized yellow apples into the large bins outside the Co-op.
“The trees were really prolific this year and we can’t use them all and some of them fall on the ground anyway,” Ross said. “Mine are Granny Smith and yellow delicious, from trees that are about 20 years old — we inherited them.”
Crowell says that some of the fruit that’s donated is unusual and odd-sized and the mix of fruit will determine the taste of the cider that year.
“I always bring in a box or two from my tree and I can totally taste my pears in there,” says Crowell, who lives on Easy Street in Medford and has an old pear tree in his yard.
This unique, hard cider is dryer than most and not sweet. Kelly McNamara, the Co-op’s specialties manager, describes it as a farmhouse, country style.
Ashland is full of backyard fruit trees, many of them remnants of the acres and acres that were planted during the orchard boom at the turn of the 20th century. Records kept by the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center show that the number of apple growers peaked in 1910 at about 400 growers with about 10,000 acres. By 1930, most of the apple trees had been pulled and replaced with pears.
Back in the day, apple aficionados in the Rogue Valley could find Rome beauty, the white winter Pearmain, a yellow bellflower, Jonathan apples, the Ortley pippen, Stayman winesap, Ben Davis and other varieties. Two varieties that thrived here and were widely planted are the red Spitzenburg apple and small, green Newtown pippin.
Blair Smith, cider maker at Apple Outlaw, says that he’ll press several bins of fruit to produce 70 to 100 gallons of community cider. The pressings will ferment with the natural yeast found in the fruit, taking about two weeks to rack and blend.
Apple Outlaw will release the 2018 Backyard Cider early next year and the Ashland Food Co-op will buy it all.
“This year we sold 100 cases (1,200 bottles) from the 2017 fruit drive,” McNamara said of the cider that was released in February 2018. He said the alcohol content was 7.2 percent and the cider was sold at cost at $2.49 a bottle.
For more about the 2019 release of Apple Outlaw’s Backyard Cider, call the Ashland Food Co-op at 541-482-2237. Visit Apple Outlaw’s website at www.AppleOutlaw.com to find out about locally made craft ciders. To learn about apples you might find growing in the Rogue Valley, the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center at 569 Hanley Road in Central Point is offering a class, “Uncommon Apples: The World of Heritage Fruits,” from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 22; call 541-776-7371 for more information and to register.
Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at email@example.com.