Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pressing Asian Pear Cider

With the Asian pears on our trees ripening a little earlier this year, we found ourselves with many full baskets and the question of what to do with them. This is one tree fruit that doesn't keep well in our cellar, you can only eat so many fresh, and I dried enough last year so that we still have plenty. We really enjoyed making different kinds of hard apple cider last fall, and this presented a good opportunity to branch out into different fruit ciders.

With all of the fruit picked off one of the trees, we set aside a weekend morning for pressing.

A friend of ours up the river offered to lend us his "old hippie cider press" which we were glad to use in lieu of an extra trip into town for a rental at the homebrew supply shop. There was nothing fancy about this one, but it was sturdy and would do the job we needed. I found myself enjoying the low-tech qualities of the press, with a hand cranked grinder for the fruit rather than the motorized one on the Correll presses we have rented in years past. It really wasn't that much more work, and allowed for a more peaceful, almost meditative experience.

Once we got into the rhythm of grinding fruit and pressing fruit, the morning flew by, measured out in empty baskets and gallon pans.

When it was all said and done, we had squeezed the rich brown juices out of five baskets of fruit and filled a five gallon carboy and gallon jug for fermenting. There was one particularly delicious Asian pear cider I tried at some point during the year with a distinct fruit character, so I picked out an English ale yeast that promised to be delicate with the flavor.

As we cleaned up from pressing, so did the chickens. Cider pressing is a good time for everyone around here, with the first batch of pressed fruit pulp emptied down by the chicken coop for a fine feast. The rest makes for some lovely layers of compost.

It feels like early fall around here with jugs of cider fermenting in the kitchen, and the rhythmic sound of the air locks bubbling away. We have one more Asian pear tree to pick and press, and then the old homestead apple trees along the driveway. Little by little, the cellar shelves are filling up with bottles and jars, storage crops for the winter and the visible results of earnest labor. When I stand back and look at it, I see the ongoing work of art that is our life, and feel rich in ways that cannot be measured.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Changing Course is Possible

Yesterday marked a new chapter for the Elwha River and for river restoration efforts all over the world. With the final blast and demolition of the Glines Canyon Dam, the Elwha now flows unimpeded from its headwaters in the Olympic Mountains down to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. As the largest dam removal project in the United States, this is an especially significant event. There is a wonderful documentary film that was just completed called Return of the River. They are just beginning to screen the film at festivals and have not reached their funding mark, so if you are interested in contributing to the project or want to help make a screening happen near you, here is a link to the website with information and an exciting trailer clip:

As I hear this news of the Elwha, I recall all the times I spent hiking and playing along the banks as a child, I recall an epic overnight backpacking trip as a young adult when I made it out of Elkhorn Guard Station by 9 AM to meet my college advisor for a tour of my internship site, I recall another summer internship for the Lower Elwha Tribal Hatchery doing riparian restoration work to improve salmon habitat and all the hopeful conversation I heard about the future removal of the dams, I recall a backpacking trip with friends when I played along the banks with my own children, I recall hearing bits of encouraging news about the progression of the dam removal from back home, I recall my first sight of a drained Lake Aldwell and walking out along the free flowing river channels, I recall a hike last spring down to Humes Ranch and Goblins Gate with a friend who runs an eco-tour guide service who showed me a close-up view of the elk and birds along the banks through her spotting scope, and will always recall the feeling I had upon hearing the news of the final blast at Glines Canyon Dam. It was a powerful, overflowing feeling, much like a river spilling over concrete rubble and boulders.

This video of  was posted today by one of the film's directores, John Gussman, of the final blast of the Glines Canyon Dam. Although short in duration, it is vast in emotional impact. I must say, it's the best action film I have ever seen in my life.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Hiking Olallie Mountain

In honor of the end of summer, we took a hike up Olallie Mountain on Sunday. Having just been up near Indian Ridge on the other side of the South Fork of the McKenzie, I liked the idea of getting a different perspective and was intrigued by tales of an old lookout tower on the top. We had also managed on Saturday to pick and freeze 10 quarts of huckleberries for the winter and pressed 6 gallons of Asian pear cider from one of our trees, so a purely recreational excursion in the mountains felt much needed and well deserved.

The trailhead at Pat Saddle was a bit closer drive than some of the others, so we were able to get some morning work done around our place and set out mid-day. This trailhead is also shared with the other end of the French Pete Creek Trail, and having only been as far as the creek crossing from below, I am now curious to explore the rest of that drainage from the top. We encountered some folks camped out in their hand-build gypsy wagon with a flock of ducks, so I imagine it's also a nice area for a base camp.

The 7.2 mile round trip trail started out with a very gradual ascent through towering forests, giving way to some steeper sections through meadows near the top. The final switchbacks to the top of the mountain were the steepest, but offered some amazing views of the French Pete Creek drainage. Once we popped out on top, the 360 degree views and the old lookout were a treat to take in.

Although in a state of disrepair, the lookout was beautiful, and easy to imagine in its prime with glass windows allowing full views of the surrounding peaks and valleys.

A guestbook on the table in the middle of the room shared some brief stories of the lookout's other recent visitors.

Through the remaining windows that were not broken out and boarded up, we looked out at the Three Sisters, Broken Top, Bachelor, and Mt. Jefferson far off in the distance.

We enjoyed the sweeping views for a while and rested with our picnic lunch of trailmix, cheese and crackers. Not quite a summer's end harvest feast from days of old, but for a couple of  hikers preparing to jump back into the busy schedule of school, kids activities, and teaching, it was appropriate and appreciated. We savored our lunch in the mountain sunshine and began the descent towards the trailhead and all that Monday morning would bring.

On our hike down the mountain, I paid more attention to the plant life. The word "Olallie" means berry in Chinook Jargon, and this mountain was aptly named. The top of the peak was covered in Saskatoon Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), and just about every other variety of edible wild berry crowded the edges of the trail all the way down to the trail head.

The Huckleberries (Vaccinium sp.) were positioned right at eye level, so that one could hike along and pluck them off the bushes for a juicy snack without even breaking stride.

The Thimbleberries (Rubus parviflorus) grew low and thick along the ground, tempting passers-by to stop and taste them.

There were a few Salmonberry bushes (Rubus spectabilis) along the way adding their bright orange fruits to the colorful display.

Although bitter-sweet, and not a favorite for everyone, I enjoyed popping a couple of Cascade Oregon-grape (Mahonia nervosa) berries in my mouth. The flavor seemed fitting with the ending of the Summer.

A final majestic view we enjoyed taking in was this ancient Douglas-fir along the trail reported to be the largest diameter tree within the McKenzie Ranger District. After standing on top of a mountain looking out at the Cascade peaks, and standing before this tree, we descended from our hike feeling quite humbled and immersed in the world around us.

I noticed a couple of very fine looking fire rings at the top, and imagine this would make a great backpacking destination as well as a day hike. Who knows, perhaps we can squeeze a fall backpacking trip in before the snow falls in the high country.

 For more information on the Olallie trail, you can visit these USFS websites: 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wildflowers of Indian Ridge

There was a riot of color along the roadside at Indian Ridge the other day, and I felt some of these beauties were worth sharing. Aside from the Yarrow, Lupine and Pearly Everlasting that I'm used to seeing at lower elevations and in the Coast Range, there were a few other wildflowers in bloom that I enjoyed observing at this higher elevation I don't visit quite as often.

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata)

Yellow Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris)

I am left feeling uncertain about this one, but my best guess is something in the Spirea family. It bears strong similarity to Subalpine Spirea (Spiraea densiflora), aside from being rust colored rather than pink. I'm still in the process of getting acquainted with the plant life of the Cascades, so it's probably time to brush off my skills in keying-out plant identifications.

Lastly, one of my very favorites that I also enjoy cultivating in my garden at home and drying to enjoy year-round:
 Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea).

As much as I enjoy cultivating and tending my garden at home, there is a different level of appreciation that comes from observing plants in their wild habitats. The Pearly Everlasting growing by my front door will always mean something different to me than the Pearly Everlasting growing on top of the rocky ridge above the South Fork of the McKenzie River. It's a good balance to strike in life, taking the time to appreciate both.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Arctic Homesteading Documentary

Several years ago, when I was on an Alaskan homesteading documentary kick, I discovered this gem called "Braving Alaska," which I mentioned in a post: Braving Alaska: Food for Adventuresome Thought. Aside from the various high-quality documentaries on Dick Proeneke's homestead, I was unable to find anything else substantial at the time, and the Alaskan homesteading documentary kick eventually passed. Some years have gone by, and my Adventure Partner and I recently discovered Alaskan homesteading reality shows on Netflix. Although overly-dramatic, repetitive, and over-produced, they were interesting in their chronicles of the lives of families living on the margins of remaining frontier, and invigorated my desire for seeing what new documentaries were out there. Not only did I discover that "Braving Alaska" is now available on Youtube, which you can watch by clicking the link, but we found something even better. I stumbled across a homesteading website called The Walden Effect, with a link to a five-part documentary about one of the families from "Braving Alaska," the last people living a semi-nomadic hunter/gatherer life in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge: Heimo's Arctic Refuge. The narrator flies in by bush plane to spend a week with Heimo Korth and his wife, Edna, in one of their three rotating cabins in the wilderness, and his interpretation and humorous dialogue with Heimo creates a very entertaining and informative look into their life. Heimo Korth is quite a character, and gives some thought-provoking monologues on the shift from hunter/gatherer societies to agrarian societies throughout history, and how these have negatively impacted people as a species. He also discusses the importance of solitude balanced with our need for social interaction to maintain good mental health. The tone of the film is direct, matter-of-fact, and absent of any overly-dramatic music or WWF wrestling style narration. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and am pleased to pass the experience along for your end-of-the-day, unwinding enjoyment. 

You're welcome.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Huckleberry Heyday

I heard a rumor that the huckleberries were ripe up in these hills, so one evening this past week, my mountain man and I headed up to gather our share of this purple treasure. I thought maybe with the blueberry season being so good, that the huckleberry season would follow suit, and was pleased to find out I was correct! It's a great year for huckleberries.

The bushes were loaded down everywhere we looked, and the berries were fairly good sized. Some were the size of our blueberries at home!

It wasn't long before our fingers were stained purple and our buckets were filling up. Huckleberry picking can be slow going, and we started late in the day, so we ended up with three quarts for freezing and plans to make another trip or two in the coming weeks.

I'm already thinking about that hot oatmeal on cold winter mornings sprinkled with huckleberries and brown sugar. It's like having a little bit of summer in a dish.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Fruits of Our Labor

One of my favorite things about this time of year is all the fresh fruit. During most of the year, fruit is such a treat or thing to be rationed, that having as much as I want around is a wonderful thing. It feels like a huge bonus paycheck for all the hard work that goes into growing and picking food. Apples, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and huckleberries are all coming on in abundance, and we are literally enjoying the fruits of our labor every day. 

Strawberries are putting on a second wave and they are big, juicy and delicious.

We are still picking blueberries off our bushes and have frozen over 30 quarts for the year. At this point, everything else is just for bonus munching.

Those pesky blackberry vines are good for something right now while we fill up quart bags to freeze for the winter and enjoy some delicious treats. It is turning out to be a good berry year indeed, so much so that we have turned on and filled our separate chest freezer of just berries. Now there's room in the upright for freezing other foods like elk meat, pesto, chanterelles, cream of mushroom soup and diced tomatoes.

It's a good enough feeling just to look in that freezer and know we're stocked up for the winter, but one of my favorite ways to enjoy the fruits of our labor is with reckless abandon in the form of berry crisp. To heck with dessert. We've been working hard. This is for lunch!