Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Cider Press in Greenpoint

Let's start with a simple question, in the category of sights from your kitchen window: can you get more perfect than a man standing in a pear tree, holding up a painter’s pole with a tin can tied to the end, enclosing and pulling pears off the branches like a fisherman pulling catch out of a stream?
Not when it’s sunny, and the tree stands within a verdant Greenpoint backyard, surrounded by more backyards, weathered wooden fences, and old brick and stucco walls. Not a chance.
As the fruit fisher plucked away, the tree’s burden was incrementally relieved. Lots of pears hung out of his reach near my fire escape, where I watched the operation. My neighbor, Joe, passed me the pole to remove a few.

“I’m just so happy for the tree,” he said. “It can relax.”
The harvesting was a revelation, because we in the neighborhood are wary of the soil. In 1979, an oil spill along the nearby Newtown Creek contaminated the ground, and toxic ash from a waste treatment facility also poisoned locally grown fruits and vegetables.

But Joe and Elissa, who own the yard where the tree stands, hired an expert to test the dirt. Nothing wrong, the man said. Eat away.

And soon, drink. The couple's friends, Chris and Marty—Chris stood in the tree, and Marty fished from the ground—spent part of the following weekend in their own backyard on Java Street, grinding and pressing the brown and green fruit with some friends to make cider.
On the morning of the People’s Climate March, Chris invited me into his basement and showed me three glass bottles, or carboys, filled with yellow-green liquid. Tiny bubbles floated to the tops of each, the carbon dioxide excretions of cider yeast eating the sugar in the juice, he explained.
And then he showed me a fruit grinder with a screw-studded wheel, powered by a washing machine motor.
“It’s medieval, isn’t it?” he asked.

The press itself was partially disassembled, but Chris shared the funky name of its intended object, a stack of rectangular, cloth parcels of ground fruit pulp called a cheese. The hybrid brew--Concord grapes from Chris and Marty's backyard also tasted the screws--will be ready in spring, “when the first cuckoo sings,” Chris told me.

A bottle for a blogger and cuckoo, please.