Foraging: Wild Alchemy Cider
As cider lovers, we all know that the magic is in the fruit, the apple! Less often thought about is how all apples don’t always come from a large orchard — which may be obvious. But, a much more exciting, homegrown method of getting apples for cider is by foraging them yourself from various trees across local, public land. One of the local ventures into foraging is happening close to our home in Aurora, IL. This endeavor is called Wild Alchemy Cider. It started as an at-home passion for cider making into a co-op for the area to share the foraged and pressed apples. The resulting ciders have been entered into contests over the past 15 years and won several awards and recognition. This project has really developed a love for the flavors of the area and the unique taste of Illinois.
There is also a cider club for those who can forage and supply apples to the cause. If you give enough apples after the cider is complete you will get a bottle of those delicate, fermented fruits sent to you. If you don’t have or can’t find trees to pick, you can join and pay a low membership fee to be part of the fun.
The question is where do all these apples come from? They are all foraged from untended, public trees in the community. Most of the fruit comes from Aurora, Naperville, Batavia, Warrenville, St. Charles, Maple Park, Sugar Grove, South Elgin, and Marengo. These areas are all in the Northern Illinois region.
If you are interested in adding your apples to the program, you will need to follow some of the guidelines set by the owner, Nathan. Good apples can be ugly with some insect damage but remain firm. They also should be fully ripe and the apples should be falling off the trees by themselves. What is not wanted is soft, brown and decayed apples. They should not be washed or purchased from the grocery store as they use fertilizers in the commercial orchards. If you come across any pears, these can be used as well and you can contribute as much as you like, for example: 20 lbs = 1 share, 40 lbs. = 2 shares, etc.
We had a chance to try a bottle of the 2016 Pressing 5:A, which had the following mix of apples: Golden Delicious, Fuji from Barnes Rd.(60%), Red Delicious/ Macintosh from Thatcher Rd. (20%), Idared, Macintosh (10%) and Bartlett Pears from Rt. 38 (10%). This cider was fermented with native yeast, minimal sulfites, used post-ferment to protect from oxidation and spoilage, and had an ABV of 6.9%.
The cider was dry, as you would expect, and had wonderful yeasty, natural notes you desire from native yeast. The blend was developed and quite complex with a good mix of apple essence and notes of apple skin. The pears did not come through as much but added a depth of flavor mix of acid and tannins that balanced. The most intriguing part is that each year this will taste different from the blend and the year, like a vintage wine! If you want to get your own bottle or learn more make sure to visit their website: http://wildalchemycider.wixsite.com/cider