It’s late September here in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, and the locals all know what that means – apples. As the first chills of autumn settle on the Common and over our campus, the tree branches are almost breaking from their plethora of heavy, ripe fruits. Apples mast every other year, meaning they have light years of production and heavy ones, such as this fall. With so many apples burdening the trees and filling our cellars, it is the perfect opportunity for the Value-Added Products class of Fall 2015 to experiment.
Value-added products are just what they sound like. By processing a raw ingredient into a marketable product, the value of those ingredients collectively increase, and the producer can charge more. The class at Sterling focuses on the logistics of what is necessary to enable a business to make their own products (such as food safety policy, sterilization, commercial kitchen procedures, and how to cost goods and products), gives students the opportunity to practice making value-added products, and also tour local businesses making a living through this strategy.
Today’s class was about transforming the apple. Together, we harvested our raw products from the Virginia Russell pasture on the property adjacent to Sterling ($.50 a pound) and took them to the Houston House teaching kitchen. In no time at all the porch was bustling with students washing apples and pressing cider (Cold Hollow Cider Mill, a cidery in Waterbury, Vermont, charges $8.95 per half gallon online). The press squeaked as apples were put through the grinder and squeezed until they had given up all their juices: ranging from tart, mild, and bright like lemonade to burnt sienna rose and unmistakably apple-y, depending on the variety used.
Inside, the rhythmic slicing of coordinated knives were busy quartering in preparation for our apple butter and applesauce. We cooked the quarters down with water and cider, and put them through a food mill. The resulting puree was as silky and unctuous as the finest olive oil (our class agreed we could get $6 a pint).
The smell of cinnamon blended with that of boiling apple cider turning into a rich, potent syrup (sold at Wood’s Cider Mill in Springfield, Vermont for $11 per 12 oz. bottle). With the leftover press pulp we added water and sugar and left it to ferment into apple cider vinegar. We dried some apple rings in the oven and the rest in a dehydrator.
As our afternoon came to a close of sterilizing jars and washing up the dishes and labeling our finished products, it became a little easier to imagine a future where these kinds of foods are widely available and valued for what they are worth: the small-scale farmer who is now able to make a living selling whole foods to the local community.