Time to get the winter squash in. Collect the squash, wash them off, and then go over each squash completely with a wash cloth soaked in clean water with a little bleach added. Allow your squash to air dry and store in a single layer, not touching. They keep well at cool room temperature, 50 - 60 degrees F. Eat in reverse order of keeping qualities. Check the seed catalog or on line. The small C. pepos don't keep as well as the big C. maximas, so plan on Sugar Baby pumpkin pie and baked delicatas this fall. If you didn't grow any winter squash, now is the time to buy some. If the stem breaks off where it joins the fruit, eat that one early because the scar spot will rot.
It's time to glean the apples, windfalls and all, and make cider. Cider is properly a fermented beverage, so the "cider" sold at this time of year is properly labeled "fresh apple juice". Purchased "cider" is pasteurized, just like milk, raised to a specified temperature to kill the various micro-organisms. Hard cider can be made with pasteurized apple juice, but if you can get your hands on raw juice, use that.
The best way to get raw juice is to press it yourself. For that, you will need access to a cider press. Sharing a cider press is a shady activity. See Sandor Katz' book, "The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved", for the gruesome details of how this traditional American subsistence activity was sorely crimped in modern times. Due to the possible transmission of e.coli, we are all expected to invest in a large, bulky, expensive piece of equipment which has to be stored and kept clean 11.5 months of the year if we want to make our own cider. Almost as if private citizens were being actively discouraged. Since making hard cider from your own apples is the cheapest, fastest way to make a goodly quantity of a quite decent alcoholic beverage, Katz has some dark thoughts.
So when you get access to a cider press, fail to put it on your Facebook page. Next, you will need a standard beer kit. This can be purchased from North Corner Brewing Supply for a modest sum. It is certainly possible to make your own from parts and two food grade plastic buckets with lids, one 6.5 gallons and the other 6 gallons, but it's hardly worth the trouble. The break even point for a beer kit has remained 2.5 batches of home brew since I started brewing up in the 80's. Purchase some packets of champagne yeast while you are there and store it in the refrigerator. Beer kits come with a bottle of iodine sanitizer concentrate.
Small quantities of cider can be made in a glass gallon jug. Take the jug to Robert at North Corner Brewing Supply and purchase an airlock to fit. A five gallon plastic bucket (ask nicely at your favorite deli) of apples will squish down to fit in a gallon jug. I once ground up apples in the grater attachment of my Kitchen Aid mixer and squished them with a tabletop wine/cheese press to make a gallon of cider. Worked great but it was time consuming.
Cider has joined the long list of artisan products, so you can get really involved if you wish. Cider is properly made from a mix of sweet, sour (20%) and bitter (5-10%) apples. The sour and bitter apples give cider a full, clean taste. This being a town of old apple trees, there are a surprising number of cider apples lying on lawns. I've used all sweet apples from older varieties (King, Queen, Gravenstein) and the result was quite decent. I also used 15% Dolgo crabapples for the sour/bitter flavor and that got rave reviews.
Once you have press, fermentation setup and apples arranged, you are ready to go. Wash the apples in water with a little dish detergent and rinse in a separate container of clean water. Washing off the deer poop is the step that private citizens supposedly cannot be trusted to do. The fastidious trim the apples, removing soft spots and insect damage. I just trim off anything black, on the principle that alcohol is a disinfectant.
Using the press is a two step process, first grinding the apples and then pressing the pulp. Strain the juice into your clean, sanitized primary fermenter, pitch the wine yeast and allow to ferment 5-7 days at room temperature, out of direct sun. The kit comes with beer making directions, so just follow the step by step with your apple juice. Once the bubbling stops, transfer the cider to the bottling bucket and bottle. I use recycled wine bottles. The kind with the screw on lids work particularly well, as you don't have to be trying to jam a used cork to seal the bottle. The artisan cider makers are rolling their eyes at this point.
Go ahead and drink some. The cider will be better after 6-8 weeks, really good at 6-12 months, and start to turn to vinegar if kept too long, due to the low tech bottling technique. Robert will sell you proper equipment when you are ready.
Oh yah, and your beer kit comes with ingredients for a brew up. Project #2, eh?
Brew Sludge Bread is excellent stuff.
As a side effect of primary fermentation, you will get a 2" layer of dead yeast and cloudy apple juice at the bottom of the primary fermenter. Pour this off and mix with two cups whole wheat flour in a glass or ceramic bowl. Cover with a tea towel and leave it sitting on the counter for day or two. Put some in a quart jar in the fridge for a sourdough starter. Take the rest and make sourdough bread. See Celt's Garden - Slow Bread for the details or just search on the sourdough method.
I will be teaching seed saving on Sunday, October 16 at Bennett House in North Bellingham. Check it out on the Transition Whatcom Events page. Register through the Whatcom Folk School. I've given a basic introduction to seed saving at the Annual Seed Savers Exchange to standing room only for three years. I've had several requests to present the material in more depth, with a quieter venue and more information about breeding vegetables. In this class, we'll start with the basics of seed saving and get into backyard vegetable breeding. See you there.