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Picking Flowers on the Farm

August 30, 2017

Do you know what happens when you wake up early, drive down to Pennsylvania, take a stroll around Wegmans, drive back from Pennsylvania, stop at a local farm for a sandwich, drop in for a visit with an old friend, and manage an Official Yelp Event all in the same day?

It’s exhausting. Which means last night when I should have been writing today’s post, I just crapped out. All of this is simply an excuse for why today’s post is going up late, and invariably will be poorly edited.

But the blog is a beast, and it must be fed. Daily. Besides, I’ve got to tell you about the thing I did yesterday at Indian Ladder Farms. Because it was fantastic. In the simplest of terms, we picked flowers. However, these weren’t just ordinary flowers, and we did a little more than just pick them.

Just in case you didn’t already know this, but Indian Ladder Farms now has a cidery and brewery. Yes, they are making beer and cider from ingredients grown on the farm. Naturally, that includes apples. But they are also growing their own hops, which are being dried on the farm; and two-row barley, which is being malted nearby at a small regional operation. It’s all delicious stuff, and they even have built out a couple of tasting rooms at the farm.

Well, yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the farm and pick hops for the first time in my life.

Right now is hop harvesting season. Like any produce, different varieties ripen at different times. So some hops have already been harvested, and others won’t be ready for another week or two. But if you drive by the farm in Altamont, you can see the hop yard on the other side of the street from the main building.

Hops are flowers, and they grow straight up in leafy columns of green. Imagine something out of Jack and the Beanstalk, except instead of reaching up into the clouds, they stop at the top of the super-tall trellis. Unlike beans, hops don’t grow on vines. They are bines. Which means instead of clinging onto the trellis with tendrils, they have little anchor shaped teeth that grip onto surfaces.

When I was told we were going to be picking hops, I imagined standing on ladders, working our way from the top of the bines to the bottom, plucking the flowers as we went down.

Nope.

The bines get cut. They grow back even thicker and fuller in subsequent years. Each bine was draped along a table, where we were able to pick off the hops from the safety and stability of a chair. We did this in the tasting room, and the smell of all the bines gathered in a relatively small space was wonderful.

It takes about an hour for one person to pick off all the hops from a single bine. With the 30 of us working for close to a half hour, we estimate that we were able to yield about five pounds of hops. They are very small and light flowers.

Then we got to see the antique German machine, in a significantly older barn, that Indian Ladder Farms uses to actually remove the hops from the bines. They call it Heidi. And she’s magnificent.

In fact, Heidi services other hop growers around the area too. She doesn’t move. The hops have to come to her.

My only regret was that I didn’t break open more of the hops and rub the hop oils all over my hands to try and bring back more of those marvelous aromas. We did get to sample some of the beers and ciders, including a hopped cider. And there was food to go along with these treats.

Indian Ladder Farms Cidery and Brewery does a lot of collaboration beers to expand its own production volume. They will soon be building their own 10 barrel brewhouse on the farm. But one of their partners is Interboro down in Brooklyn, and together they made a beer called Super Local.

Anyhow, the kitchen at the farm made an aioli with Super Local and served it with roasted potatoes. Which we got to try alongside the beer itself. And that was delicious. But still, my favorite treat from the kitchen are the deep fried cheese curds, that are dipped in a cider batter, and served with a hot pepper jam.

Soon, everyone will be descending on Indian Ladder Farms for the annual rites of apple picking and cider donut eating. And that’s all well and good. But there’s so much more going on at this great farm in our backyard. This Sunday will be the last of the summer Sunday cookouts.

They’ll be making a paella over the fire, like it’s supposed to be made. As large as the paella pan is, it still only produces about 25 servings. Next year there is talk about getting a larger pan.

And while hop picking isn’t an activity that’s open to the general public, in the height of the hop harvesting season, I’m sure there will be fresh hops all over the place. If you ask nicely, I’m sure you can get someone to crack one open for you, so you can be treated to the heady aroma of these crazy flowers.

If you’re daring, and enjoy intense bitterness, you might even give it a little lick. You know, for science.

 

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