The Nectar of the Gods with Harcourt Apples and an Homage to St. George and the Dragon!
And as I looked out at t=our gorgeous apple tree and the fragrant abundance weighing down the branches, I knew what we had to do. We had to learn how to crush our own apples to try to make the Nectar of the Gods that I had tasted at Zica, an ancient Serbian Monastery, in Northern Serbia, last summer. We had wound through narrow pathways up the rustic mountainous terrain to tour some of the oldest sanctuaries on the planet. It was at Zica that I decided I must have a hand-painted Orthodox icon of Vanja’s family’s patron saint: St. George and The Dragon. We asked to see the Monastery artist. She is actual famous throughout the religious icon painting world and was trained by an artist in the 60’s and the 70’s who has work in the Louvre. (I would give my eye-teeth for the notes I made, and verified, of this visit.) She offered us a drink in the Monastery dinning hall as we sat to discuss the painting she would do for us. And, it was the most incredible precious liquid that has ever graced my lips. She was very proud: we crush the apples. There is nothing else in it. Only apple juice from our Monastery apples. I had no frame of reference for anything like this. I was definitely under her spell.
We talked and sipped, and savoured. A few days later, we visited the parents of V, our Tuesday night dinner guest, and were served a very similar nectar. I was spellbound. Having this twice on the same trip left me determined to learn more about how to make it. And, do you see the glass below, to the right? That is what we made ourselves, last week!
A commission from a Monastery is a very precarious and precious thing. Art is something I must bring home to connect me to my travels. See the photo on the left, below? We had asked for that image of St. George, and asked for it to be the same size as her photo, in a square, about 1/4 inch thick, with only a gold halo. She took detailed notes. She was so lovely and so interesting. As we left, I knew that this was a rare experience, and I was eager to get our icon. Three months, she had said.
Six months later, it was delivered, as pre-arranged, to Vanja’s brother, Igor, in Belgrade. We decided to wait for the summer to pick it up. He sent us a photo. I was dumb-founded. It was nothing like we had ordered. It was what I didn’t want. It was about 1 1/2 inches thick, an arch shape, almost completely golden, and with printing on it. Hmmm. Vanja laughed when I said that I wanted to return it to the monastery for the one I had ordered. “I will send the sister the photo I took of the one we wanted.” He laughed some more. “You are lucky to get it.” was his comment. And, when I saw it, how could I not love it? The detail surpassed my imagination. It is maybe a bit “over-the-top” and a little tacky… to some, but to me, a precious keepsake of a very special sojourn through Northern Serbia exploring the ancient ruins of so many who had come before. And, it is hung at our front door, on the East wall, as it should be.
I cannot look at it without thinking of the apple juice. Look at our harvest!
In addition to this, there was one other huge bowl full. And, yes, they really are this red.
Vanja is not a committed gardener. He definitely gardens, but it is my passion. However, this tree, he claimed the day it was planted. He would count the apples every Spring. “My tree has 100 apples this year!” If the branch bears apples one year, it will not bear any the following year. This was the first year that we really had a lot of apples and the first year that they were as red as they are supposed to be. He is one proud daddy!
Aren’t they gorgeous? They are a flavourful eating apple. The flesh is crisp, but must be eaten the day it is picked, or becomes mushy, quickly. They do store for a considerable time, but I would only cook with them after the first day. They are best used the day they are picked for whatever you plan to do with them. I must admit, I am very proud of them, too. They are on the small side, but definitely much bigger than a crab apple. (I have been tweeting and trying to get some bright red tart crab apples, locally, to make Pomette with, but no one has responded. Hopefully, someone will read this and have some for me!)
Here is the gorgeous tree before and after the harvest.
I learned how to crush and press my own apples from reading Kevin Kossowan’s post on it as he crushes his to make his famous (delicious) homemade Apple Wine. We watched his videos and posts, we thought, carefully, and Vanja build a press equally as primitive as Kevin’s. We decided that the Thermomix would be perfect for the initial crush, instead of the garborator Kevin bought, because I had it, and I knew it would work. Boy, did it! Twelve to thirteen apples in the TM bowl, on Turbo less than a second twice, and then for 2 seconds, and they were completely crushed. All of the apples were done in thirty minutes. Talk about fast! And, I only used one machine.
Vanja’s set up is a little different than Kevin’s but worked well – at first. How can we be out on such a glorious day at the end of the summer and not take in our flowers?
I used two TM bowls; Vanja would fill it, pass it to me, and I would work the machine. Then, pass it to him, and take the other full TM bowl and work the machine again while he dumped, and refilled the one I just handed him. It worked like a charm.
This is how fine the apples (yes, core and all) were crushed in two seconds: below, left. Below, right, is how full we filled the TM bowl.
Vanja was worried that the mash was too fine. I was not. I loved how red it was…. and how fragrant and delicious.
We set everything up at the front of the house as it was too cold for me in the garage. And, better for taking photos outside in this sun, too!
This is how course the apples were when crushed for less than one second. Truly. I love my Thermomix!
After thirty minutes, this is how much mash we had from the apple harvest.
I am easily excited. I was so thrilled that we were doing this together. It was a lovely day and we were starting a new family tradition!
Vanja had used his BMW car jack…so, though it was definitely a primitive set up, we both laughed at this.
You must watch Kevin’s video and visit his site for the real “how to”. As, we did have more than our fair share of problems this day. Here goes the first batch, below. A bowl full of the mash is dumped into the cheesecloth and then pressed by hand to release the juices.
Gorgeous red juice. And I could tell there was a lot of it there.
The top of the bag was twisted and squeezed until we could squeeze no more, then placed in the white bucket away from the drainage hole. The extra cloth folded over it, and then a board placed on top to do the pressing.
From there, some plastic plumbing tubing was placed on top of the board, and then the jack was maneuvered into place to connect with the tube and press the board to release the juices from the apples.
Tongue placement does make a difference to your success.
We were very successful. That little package gave up an incredible amount of juice.
It is flowing into the jar!
This is how flat the mash looked after the pressing.
There was still some juice in it, thought, so I rearranged it, and we pressed it again. See the juice?
The colour was surprisingly vivid. Below is the juice from the next batch of mash.
This time, we poured it into the bucket and let it work its way into the bottle below.
This is how much we got from just the first batch and the hand squeezing of the second batch. I was over the moon. Below is the disc of pressed mash that has absolutely not one drop of liquid left in it. The compost sounds like a plan for this. Or… any ideas?
We found the jack was eating the tubing, so Vanja found a flat piece to use in between the jack and the tubing that really helped stabilize the tubing during the pressing. But, we had other issues. The top beam of lumber was being pulled away from the bottom beam at the top of the press when we pressed. So, we got out the C-clamps and tried to stabilize the press.
That didn’t work so well, and before we fixed it, the press was ripping through the fabric. Hmmm. So, we need more glass containers for the juice. Vanja thought that one bottle would be enough for the entire tree. (I was being a respectful wife, but did say I thought we would get a lot more than that from it.) Now we need more cheese cloth, and the top of the crusher is falling apart.
Mom and dad stopped by just as Vanja returned with the new items. We were so eager to show them what we were doing!
But, it didn’t work. I broke the bottle the juice was going into by tilting the crusher. The top of it was still pulling away from the beam the jack was screwed to. We needed to stop and redo a few things. (See the crusher below There are two pieces of wood on the top of it. The jack is screwed to the bottom one. That piece of wood was pulling away from the beam on the top.)
As we were rescrewing and rethinking, the calking on the white jug dissolved. Hmmm… So, it went to the white jug graveyard, and Vanja went back to the store. See the new white jug he bought, below, right?
The work continued. If we had done what we needed to do properly, the first time, we could have pressed all of the apples in about 2 hours, tops. As it was, it took the better part of a day. But, isn’t the juice beautiful?
We realized, in the end, 18 litres of apple juice. The big jug, the smaller one, and one litre and a half (below, right). We refrigerated the smaller jug and jars, and covered all overnight for the juice to clear.
But, it didn’t clear. Hmmm. An emergent message to Kevin resulted in some information I had missed on his video. One must add pectic enzyme to the juice the night before if you want clarity. He buys his here. He says it doesn’t affect the taste at all. If you watch his video, you will see the beautiful clarity he acquired the day after his pressing.
We would have had more if we didn’t syphon the juice. There was considerable spillage there. Not a huge amount. Just enough to make it a challenge!
The juice truly was the Nectar of the Gods. Seriously. We did it! It blew me away… but, it did have to be processed for storage. That was clearly going to change it. After much reading and research, I found that the best route would be to process all at 75Â°C, and then immediately chill each. I could not do that. I didn’t have the space. The next best way was to process all at 75Â°C and then sit on the counter to cool. That is what we did.
I filtered the juice with a cheese cloth when pouring into each jar. Ours had sat overnight, and not come clear like Kevin’s did. We were miffed. But, we proceeded.
I never rely on one thermometer.
This photo was taken at night. The pinker jars are the ones not processed. The yellower jars are the ones that have been processed.
The processed juice is nothing like the fresh juice. Nothing. I now need to find out how they process it in Serbia to keep that magic in the nectar. But, we did find out why the juice didn’t become clear. Kevin puts an enzyme in it after he fills each bottle. When it then sits, covered, overnight, the enzyme works to filter the juice and the thick bits fall to the bottom.
I am so happy that Vanja loves his tree and his apples so much because he is usually not into foodie things likeÂ I am and this project would have been dead in the water without his enthusiasm and help.
And, St. George? He will be slaying dragons while I slay culinary problems… one at a time. Next year, we will definitely build a stronger press. I will never look at St. George without thinking about and tasting the Nectar of the Gods and the sweet darling Sister who painted ours.
And, Beavie? He is always in the way where good food is concerned. He had his little eager nose in this the very first pour!