A.K.A. "Bad Idea Chowder", with Oyster, Painted Suillus, Shaggy Mane, Puffball, and Cinnabar Red Chanterelle mushrooms. Using apples instead of potatoes which worked pretty well:
I'm trying different commercial ciders, and mostly focusing on ciders without extra added flavors (maple, cinnamon, ginger, hops, etc.). I'm curious to see what real hard cider tastes like.
Nine Pin Cider (Draft, Brewed in Albany, served at Druthers) - Very similar to Mott's apple juice, including the slightly syrupy-sweet taste. Plus alcohol. Nice and light, though I think even the slightest taste of syrupy-sweetness is not to my liking. And man, a pint of cider is a lot for this beer/wine hybrid.
Stella Artois Cidre (Bottle) - Crystal clear, very light carbonation, sweetness really well balanced so that it tastes neither dry nor particularly sweet. "Off-dry" describes it perfectly. Apple-y without tasting like apple juice. Very wine-like. Two thumbs up. (After doing some research, the ingredients list is long and a bit suspect - apple juice concentrate, natural flavoring, sugars, several additives, etc.). I've always like Stella, cleverly marketed at fair-weather weekend snob wannabes like myself. "Who raised you?" asked my Dad when I was caught ordering one.
Naked Flock Cider (Draft, Warwick, NY, Served at Henry Street Tap Room, Saratoga) - Ok but kinda tastes like something was brewed, then additions were made with the goal to bring the general flavor back to that of apple juice (plus alcohol). Crystal clear, beautiful effervescence. But not something I would drink unless I had a strong craving for apple juice.
Cider Creek Hard Cider (Bottle, Canisteo, NY) - Very light color, champagney sparkle. Tastes like a better-than-usual New York State white wine, with a hint of apple. Very light flavor, seeming almost watered down on the first taste, which is maybe appropriate for a pint of cider. The driest of the ciders I've tried so far, yet it is still a little on the sweet side, but well balanced and really tasty. Two thumbs up. The best so far, but I'm still waiting to taste a cider that is actually dry.
Angry Orchard Traditional Dry (Bottle) - Dark apple juice color, very slight carbonation. I had some hopes for this one, being that it is labelled 'dry'. However if I think of wine while I sip, this cider tastes like an appley sweet white wine. It has the apple juice plus alcohol flavor, with slight dark apple taste, making it tad more exciting just apple juice. Ingredients include 'natural flavors', etc. making this another disappointing cider. Or should I say awesome cider, because my crappy first attempt, fraught with mistakes, tastes way better IMO. :)
Doc's Draft Hard Apple Cider (Bottle) - Light color, champagne-like bubbles. Appropriately sweet, drier than all the others I've tried so far and it's still not exactly dry. If it were wine, it would be pretty good, even though I don't like a sweet wine. Label states, 'Made from pressed NY state apples, fermented with champagne yeast and malic acid.' *Could be* orc mischief (even evil cider is made from pressed apples). But sounds reasonable. And it's pretty close by. This place deserves a visit for sure. Also worth mentioning is that this cider was inexpensive compared to the others. I think it was roughly $5 for a 22 oz. bottle, sitting next to other ciders selling for $10 or more. Three thumbs up. See here for a video from Doc's cidery.
Le Brun Organic Cidre (750ml Cork Bottle) - Light and bubbly, low alcohol at four percent, and very dry. Made and bottled in Brittany, France, with an Illinois importer. Unpasteurized. Really good and interesting, although I definitely tasted more than a hint of cleaning supplies. Not a bad taste, but makes me wonder. Is this how it tasted when it left foreign soil or was some mishandling involved? Excellent regardless. (Relevant quote from a great cider making podcast: "A lot of the things we associate with ciders made in Normandy or Brittany, we might think of those as faults if they appeared in our new world clean ciders but those are the exact same things that make those traditions, that define what those traditions are.")
Downeast Cider House (Draft, served at Park Side Eatery in Saratoga) - Oh my god. This tastes like exactly what I've been looking for. Cloudy, with a tiny bit of bubbliness. Dry with a rich cidery character, rather than the apple-juicyiness of some other ciders. This is by far the best I've tasted so far. Perfect.
1911 Original Hard Cider (Bottle) - Foamy head that quickly subsided. This cider falls under the apple juicy category, but is one of the best of the apple juicy ciders I've tasted, clean and dry. I'm not sure it's my thing, but it could grow on me. Definitely one thumb up, maybe one and a half. (And please remove a thumb from the Stella Cider, er I mean Cidre, my tastes are changing).
* C1 (Cider 1) - Cloudy with no carbonation. Very dry, doesn't taste very apple-y, and has a bit of sour (as in sour beer) taste. Noticeably watered down. Drinkable and enjoyable, not bad for a first run. The biggest room for improvement is not to water it down. I like the sour taste, but could be minimized. (Note: After resting in bottles for a week or so, the 'watered down' taste is gone, and the sour taste is very agreeable.) After tasting some less messed up ciders, the sour taste feels like a bad sign. Not terrible, in fact gives it a uniqueness that I might miss when it's gone, but not ideal.
* CS1 - Cider Soda - Sweet, slightly fizzy, slightly alcoholic version of C1 (before it fermented all the way). Really tasty and fun to drink, but challenging to tame the carbonation.
* GC1 - Grape Cider - Cider with a small bit of wild grape juice added. Really well balanced, simple, underpowering, light wine-like taste. I'm very tempted to make more of this stuff. Doesn't taste like cider at all, but really bumps up the quality of the light grape juice.
* C2 100% apple cider, no water, yeast or anything added (aside from a bit of no-rinse sanitizer), fermented for about a month naturally. At this point it was still very high in sugar, low on alcohol. Tastes great, similar to the CS1. After bottling and leaving in the fridge for a week or so, has a pleasant slightly complex sweetness with a hint of alcohol, would benefit from further fermentation. Bottles that did not make it to the fridge and instead were left in the warmer kitchen fermented more. These were great. Nice and fizzy with a magnificent (but still definitely on the sweet side) rich fermented cider taste. Such a clean taste, I think this is what I was hoping for from cider with no additives. I also pasteurized a few of these bottles, and they still tasted really good. It's only my prejudice that is keeping me from saying pasteurization didn't affect the taste taste (I need to do a side-by-side comparison). I should also mention that the sweetness of these ciders, even the excessively sweet ones, is incomparable to that of most of the commercial ciders. It's a complex, exciting and in all but the extreme cases well-balanced sweetness. As opposed to the overpowering medicinal sticky sweetness of many of the commercial ciders.
... To be continued
I found some really tiny Hen of the Woods (Maitake) mushrooms today:
Also found a few honey mushrooms, and cooked them up with maitake in a creamy wine sauce over brown rice:
The bread on the side is a spinach feta scone from Bake For You in Albany.
Fermented pokeberry ink with a stick pen:
Recently I've been trying to identify berries that I see around the area. Pokeweed is common, including a large plant growing on the side of my house. The bamboo-like stalks grow very tall. As a kid, stick-in-hand, it was always great fun to have at a large patch of the plant. A swung stick slices through the thick stalks like a machete, and a 10-year-old could make quick work of a thousand weeds in a few short minutes.
Dark purple berries grow on the plant, however they are apparently dangerously poisonous. However! Juice from the berries can be made into temporary ink. Fermentation makes the ink permanent. Click here for more details about making the ink.
Types of Cider
Sweet Cider: Straight from the press (blender)
Cider Soda: During active fermentation, the cider is fizzy, some of the sweetness is taken away due to mild fermentation, with a hint of alcohol. This stuff is *really* tasty. Better than sweet or hard cider in my opinion. At least of the stuff I have made so far. Just need to be careful: either keep under an airlock, keep it loosely capped, or regularly release pressure, otherwise bottles might explode.
Hard Cider: The cider after it has completely fermented. Very dry because pretty much every last bit of sugar has been converted to alcohol.
Pressing the Cider
I am using a Vitamix blender to crush the apples. The process I use is to:
1) Pick the apples from the tree, ideally after it hasn't rained for several days so that naturally occurring yeast has a chance to build up on the apples.
2) Disinfect work surfaces, blender, containers, knife, hands, etc. using IO Star no-rinse sanitizer.
3) Halve apples, remove stem, and scoop core/seeds with a spoon.
4) Chop apples
5) Blend, adding liquid (cider or water) to make blending easier.
6) For sweet cider, use a nut milk bag to strain cider from the apple puree. Or, for hard cider, place the puree directly into a sterilized fermentation bucket sealed with an airlock.
Fermenting the Cider
1) Place unpasteurized apple puree into a sterilized fermentation bucket sealed with an airlock.
2) Leave alone for 3-5 days. This gives the natural yeast on the skins a chance to permeate and multiply in the cider liquid. Maybe punch it down once per day to stir up the floating apple bits that are exposed to air. **Note: steps 1 and 2 might be better served by starting with a small pied du cuvée, then adding that to fresh-pressed cider.**
3) Strain the cider from the solids, squeezing out as much liquid as possible using a nut milk bag.
4) The cider is naturally sparkling cider soda at this stage, and should remain so for several days as the sugar slowly ferments into alcohol. It might be nice to try putting it in a bottling bucket (a plastic bucket with a spigot) at this stage, and over a week or so pour glasses of the fermenting cider.
5) Primary fermentation: Put cider into a glass carboy or fermentation bucket sealed with an airlock. I don't think it is necessary to fill the carboy at this stage because co2 from active fermentation should fill any airspace in the carboy. Primary fermentation should take maybe a week.
6) Secondary fermentation: Transfer to another carboy or fermentation bucket using a siphon using a racking cane to ensure that the sediment is left in the bottom of the primary. Seal with an airlock.
7) Leave in secondary fermentation for a few weeks to months.
8) Transfer to bottles, possibly adding an ounce of cane sugar (dissolved in boiled water) per gallon first in order to carbonate the bottled cider. Better yet, maybe add some fresh-pressed cider for it's sugar content.
Hard Cider (C1)
On my first batch of hard cider, I made a few mistakes. I fussed with it too much, not a big deal. I used a faulty airlock (hole) for several days during primary fermentation, maybe not a big deal because the cider was actively exhaling out the hole. I kept the seeds in the apples, also not a big deal, but seeds contain some bad stuff that I would prefer to keep out of the cider. Also, when I transferred to secondary, I wanted the carboy to be full so I added water, and you can taste the fact that it's a little watered down. I bottled several bottles with screw caps and no sugar. The unsugared cider is extremely dry, probably too dry. After 1 month and 5 days since picking the apples, I added sugar and bottled. I expected the sugar to add carbonation, however no carbonation occurred, at least as of a few days later. I'm guessing all the yeast died, which is a good thing. The sugar instead took away some of the excessive dryness, and now it tastes quite good, although you can taste the fact that it is slightly watered down.
Cider Soda (CS1)
I bottled some of C1 during mid-primary fermentation using twist caps. It was really tasty stuff, although I had to constantly release pressure from the bottles.
Grape Cider (GC1)
I made a small batch of cider with a bit of wild grape juice added to give it a little red wine character. The mistake I made here was that I strained the cider from the solids without letting the yeast build up in the cider first. This meant that the airlock never actively bubbled. After a few weeks, the sugar content was gone, so it seems to have fermented. The grape cider, at the time of bottling, smelled like dirty socks, but tasted ok. After maybe 3 weeks, this has been bottled without adding sugar. After bottling, the bad smell went away, and the wine tastes really simple, clean, and right in between dry and sweet. I'm trying to place the taste. It could be a light rosé wine, or maybe a wine you might get at the farmer's market.
Next time I would like to avoid all of the above mistakes. Also I would like to try keeping a batch of cider soda in a bucket with a spigot to be enjoyed as it ferments. At some point I would like to try killing off all bad stuff with sulphites and pitch a beer yeast. Just to see how different it ends up from the all-natural approach. Maybe a small batch. Also, I have been fermenting at summer basement temperatures. I could probably ferment at warmer temps.
Mistakes to Avoid
* Don't add water to increase volume
* Don't rinse apples or strain the cider right away if using natural fermentation. It needs to ferment with the skins if using natural yeast.
* Don't process the apples immediately after picking. Give them a week or even months to mature, increasing the sugar content. (I'm way to impatient to obey this one).
* Avoid oxygen exposure as much as possible. My current processing involves a lot of oxygen exposure.
* The cider spend lot of time exposed to air. A faster grinding/pressing process or having help would lessen this a bit.
* It seemed like pressing cider immediately after grinding was a little easier and more effective than pressing 3 days after grinding. So maybe it makes sense to do a small pied de cuvée rather than try to build yeast in the entire mass of apples. This would also help reduce some of the oxidation because the surface apple mush turns dark over the 3 days. (Bingo - I just found this. Really interesting that he mentions the acetone smell which plagued my natural wine making attempts.).
* 50 apples made 1 gallon of cider.
* 15 medium-sized apples yielded 10.5 cups of apple mush, which made 6.5 cups of sweet cider.
* "allow the fermentation itself to generate the carbon dioxide by 'natural conditioning'. One way of doing this is by racking and bottling the fermentation early, say at a gravity of 1.010, and allowing the cider to finish fermenting and to mature in the bottle."
* This is interesting: "Sweeter ciders are slowly fermented and repeatedly racked (moved to new containers) to strain the yeast that feeds on the cider’s natural sugars. Dryer ciders (meaning they contain less sugar) allow the yeast to consume the majority of cider’s natural sugars and result in a less sweet drink with a higher alcohol content."
* Starch/sugar in apples - Apples start out starchy, and eventually the starch converts to sugar. You can use the starch-iodine test to get an idea of how far along the apple is in this process. As I understand it, keeping apples in storage after they are picked for 5 days to several months helps move the conversion process along.
* Picking apples in France sometimes involves picking up apples from the ground: (Link here)"At harvest time the Sallins' trees are given a good shake and the apples that drop are then vacuumed up. It does not matter if they are bruised, says Mr. Sallin, for they are made into cider immediately."
* This video says they don't add anything (yeast, sulfites, sugar?), how do they manage to ferment for 5 months and end up with a carbonated product? Hmm, they could add additional cider to add sugar. But how come their yeast survives that long when mine didn't? Lower temps?
8/29 - process started, chopped apples
8/30 - carboy is fullish
Second Roundage (C2)
My friend A was kind enough to let me pick apples at his house. He's got three beautiful apple trees with all kinds of apples, big ones too. Hopefully I can turn it into a proper batch of hard cider. And sweet cider. And everything in between - it's a *lot* of apples. Two big bags of apples pureed into 6 gallons of mush, and that was only roughly half of what I collected:
After 3 days of letting the natural yeast activate in the 6 gallons of apple mush, I used my poor overworked nut milk bag to juice maybe 3.3 gallons of cider. I then rinsed, ground, and juiced enough apples to fill the carboy to roughly 5 gallons total. Within a few hours, tiny bubbles have started forming at the surface, and the airlock is bubbling slowly, but progressively faster.
Three days later the cider is fermenting aggressively. I removed 12 ounces of cider because it started to foam over. The cider at this point tastes disgustingly sweet. I guess I'll just let it do it's thing. I'm curious to see if the natural yeasts will survive at higher alcohol levels making a dry cider, or if they will die off before all the sugar is consumed and leave behind a sweeter cider.
10/07 - Picked apples at A's house
10/08 - Ground apples using the Vitamix
10/10 - Painstakingly strained 5 gallons of cider
11/3 - The cider has been bubbling steadily in the cool basement. The best thing probably would have been to just let it do it's thing, but I fussed with it, for a couple of reasons. First, impatience. Second, I have another batch of apples ready to go, but first I need to free up the 5 gallon carboy. So I transferred 3 gallons to the 3 gallon carboy and bottled the remaining cider (C2.0). C2.0 is cool stuff because it contains *only* apples. According to hydrometer readings, I think the cider is only 1-3% alcohol. So I added some beer yeast to the 3 gallon batch and placed it on the ground floor where it's a little bit warmer.
Fresh-pressed cider in the fridge reads 1.05, which equates to maybe 6.56% alcohol potential.
Third Batch (C3)
I picked some more apples on 10/25/15 from A's house. I put the pristine apples into storage, but 50 or so apples were a little chewed up or beaten up. I went through and removed any holes or spots from the apples, and discarded 2 ugly apples. The rest were rinsed and went into the insinkerator. I squeezed them through a (bigger) nut milk bag. 2 bagfulls, not quite full, squeezed a full gallon of cider. I'm curious to see if using rained on and rinsed apples will ferment despite the fact that most of the natural yeast could have been washed away.
Fourth Batch (C4)
10/25 - Picked lots of apples at A's, put into cool storage.
10/27 - Picked a few more apples in Clifton Park. These had some black splotch on them, so I gave them a good scrub and rinse.
11/7 - Ground all the apples in the insinkerator. Strained through the larger bag. The entire process took around 2 hours to make 5 gallons of cider. Not bad. Although straining is still a lot of hard work. Added a Belgian beer yeast and left on the ground floor (temp in the high 60's).
2/14 - Bottled the five-gallon cider carboy. I had put bottling off mostly because I didn't have enough empty bottles (because they are storing my poisonous-tasting c2.5). Bottling was difficult. The carboy bottom had several inches of sediment, but the siphon accounts for a only a half inch of sediment. And there was no easy way to suck the cider from several inches up. Meanwhile on the other end, the bottle filler would fill relentlessly unless I used my 'other hand' (which was clearly busy trying to keep the siphon out of the carboy sediment) to hold the filler off the bottom of a bottle. Eventually I figured out that I could stuff the bottle filler into the handle of a growler to hold it steady while I dealt with the sediment sucker in the carboy. Seems like a two man job to be sure. I filled a case of bottles plus some growlers. I probably did not get anywhere close to 2 gallons of end-product due to the large pile of sediment and cider that was wasted on account of accidents. On first tasting, the cider is... ok. Definitely drinkable. It has funk to it, which could be a positive attribute associated with the Belgian yeast I used. For now let's call it a positive attribute, although so far my previous ciders have only gotten worse after sitting in bottles. This time things will be different, I just know it! After bottling, I put the bottles in old, war-torn 6 packs which I carried to the basement. On my second trip downstairs the cardboard bottom fell out of a six pack, and six bottles fell. One onto my foot (saved!), one shattered, one (amazingly) survived but the cap popped off. Leaving 4 full bottles and a big nasty mess to clean up at the bottom of the basement stairs.
C1 - I don't quite understand why, but this became very dry within a little over a month. I bottled it, and the bottles didn't build up any significant carbonation.
C2 - After a month of primary fermentation, the cider was still very sweet (it went from something like 1.05->1.04 if my measurements were correct). I transferred most of it to a smaller carboy, but bottled the remains. I put some bottles in the fridge, some in the basement, and some in the kitchen. The different temperatures affected the carbonation level. A few weeks later, the fridge bottles had no significant carbonation. The kitchen bottles tasted delicious and were perfectly carbonated, so that when opening them up, they foamed up to just over the rim. I opened and recapped some of these to ensure they wouldn't blow up. I also pasteurized some. As much as I am loathe to pasteurize, the pasteurized bottle still tasted really good. Lessons learned: fermenting at room temperature is good. Bottling with sugar and yeast is difficult, although refridgeration and quick drinking can help with that. Or perhaps measuring the specific gravity, though I haven't tried this approach. Starting gravity: (probably) 1.04-1.05. Final gravity: 1.002. ABV: 5-6.3%.
Batch 5 - C5 - 2016
I juiced 2-3 gallons of apples from A&H's. They spent 1 day in the 3 gallon carboy with camden tablets. after 28 hours or so I poured it via funnel into a 5 gallon carboy to get rid of some of the sediment, it probably left half of the sediment behind. Added a packet of cider house select cider yeast and additional yeast nutrient, optimal in 60-75 degree temperatures. I gave it a really good swirling to mix it together and put it in the upstairs closet. It only has 2 gallons or so of liquid in a 5 gallon carboy, so there is a ton of space.
These came out tasting very good. An apple juice color, with a lot of nice apple flavor without being sweet.
Batch 6 - C6 - 2016
I left half of the apples from c5 sitting in the (very) cool room of the house for way too long. As apples rotted, I tossed them. All of the apples were maybe just a tad soft before I finally found the time to grind and squeeze them using the disposal and nut milk bags. The apples were pretty sketchy but I decided to put them in a carboy and see what would happen. After a few days, some black spots appeared on the top of the cider in the carboy. After maybe 2 weeks pellicle (a gross bubbly slimy skin) had formed on the surface. I removed the scoby, bottled 2 bottles, and transferred the rest to a 1-gallon carboy to continue fermenting. The 2 bottles tasted absolutely delicious - an extra sweet carbonated delight. After another week or so, the fermentation continued slowly in the carboy until it was very slow at which point I filled 9 bottles and left them to sit.
Apples are everywhere right now. They make great cider. In this case I'm using ugly apples that I wouldn't necessarily want to eat. I rinse them, scrub away most of the sooty blotch, halve, remove stems, dig out the seedy core with a spoon, chop, and toss into the blender. Add a little water, blend, and strain with a strainer bag. Really tasty stuff.
Shaggy Mane Mushrooms
These mushrooms taste a lot like oysters. They make an awesome mini soufflé. Recipe involves whipped egg white, a yolk, onion, basil, cheese, and shaggy mane. Yum!
Hen of the Woods Mushroom
These prized mushrooms have been showing up on local oak trees. Tonight I froze what I had since I was eating other things.
I've been meaning to try something with acorns ever since last year, when we had TONS of acorns everywhere. Cracking one open reveals an amazing familiar smell that I can't quite place... Some kind of yummy desserty smell. However, it is super tannic and devastating on the palette. I busted these open, dug out the nuts, blended with water, and repeatedly rinsed at the sink in hopes of leaching out the tannins. To no avail, however, they were still impossible to eat. I'm soaking them now, but don't feel much enthusiasm for putting more effort into making these nasty things edible
I happened to spot one of these. Removed the green skin and cracked it open. Inside is a nice nut, a lot like a walnut only smaller. Not too bad to eat, although I guess they are much better with some kind of aging process.
After a long summer with hardly any rain at all, we have finally gotten a steady rain. So far only for a day or so, but it should continue throughout the week. Meanwhile, the hot summer temperatures finally dropped, and the first signs of leaves falling from the trees has started.
Two days ago I had 15 minutes to spare, so I went for a quick walk in to woods to take a quick glance at a few Hen of the Woods spots. Miraculously I found a perfect one and took it home to freeze and make dinner with.
This morning, after a night of rain, I checked out several new areas as well as my old favorites. I found several Hen of the Woods mushrooms in a new spot, none in an area with tons of big old oaks that should have been home to many of them, and four baby Hen of the Woods in my old favorite spots that should hopefully grow nice and big with all the rain that is coming.
Meanwhile, I came across an area with several mushrooms that looked an awful lot like supermarket mushrooms. These looked like portobello-sized button mushrooms. When I got home, I looked them up, and it seemed like there was a very good chance these are a 'choice' edible that I have yet to try. I returned to the spot, fetched the mushrooms, brought them home, and did some research and identifying. I think they are meadow mushrooms.
I cooked up this recipe, added milk until it had a sauce-like consistency, and served it on pasta. I gotta say, this mushroom is amazing. It's like a supermarket mushroom on steroids. It has a very rich mushroom flavor. Even with a quick and sloppy job of preparation, the dish tasted like a fancy expensive gourmet meal.
This is what a mushroom should taste like. Fantastic.
The recipe is very clean and simple, and made a sauce of pure mushroom. I could see spicing it up a little. Maybe adding a bit of cream, wine, herbs, vegetable (I think there is asparagus in the original recipe's picture).
Harvest season is here, what a great time of year! Today we enjoyed Three Mushroom Stroganoff with fresh pressed grape and apple cider. I used this recipe, with some modifications to use what we had around the house (specifically: greek yogurt instead of heavy cream, basil instead of parsley, onion instead of shallot, and chicken mushroom, black staining polypore, and viscid violet corts instead of portabella mushrooms). Good stuff!
It has been a spectacular year for chicken mushrooms. This is the fourth year in a row of finding giant chicken mushrooms growing in Clifton Park!
First B found a huge tree with chicken mushroom growing like mad and was kind enough to share. This is the same spot he found some last year:
This alone was enough to make a huge meal of chicken mushroom parmesan, freeze lots for using in the winter, and there was still plenty to share with friends! It's amazing how much like chicken this mushroom is. Take a look at the drumstick!
Shortly thereafter, a giant patch sprung up near my house on the same log where I found it two years ago:
B, S, T, and I made plans to run at the Tongue Mountain Range near Lake George. It's a challenging 12 mile loop over a range of small mountain peaks. None of us except T have run the loop this year, so we all agreed to get one in before the year escapes us. The Tongue Mountain has many unique features. Foremost is the fact that it is the toughest, wildest run that B and I can get away with squeezing in before work. That's 2 hours of driving and 2-3 hours of running before sneaking into work just under the radar. As long as the hair is combed and the bleeding legs are hidden from view it's just a normal day at the office. The timing worked out for T's job and S is a school teacher with summers off and this is his last week of freedom.
The run couldn't have gone better. The four of us made good time dancing over the rooty, rocky terrain. We spotted a really nice pile of Chicken Mushroom early in the run. We tried to miss all the turns, but someone always corrected the mistake before going astray.
It was an amazing feeling to be in a group of four bounding through the woods, not a fear in the world. We took the easier 5 miles first, then the extremely steep roller coaster of peaks, and finally the long and joyous (and a little harrowing) descent. As we ran down the last long slope, I smelled the perfectly distinct, crisp, cool, smell of freshly cut cucumbers.
Me: "Hey, does anyone else smell cucumbers?"
S: "Yeah! I smelled it a few times during the run."
B: "That's my new vegan cucumber after shave I'm wearing."
(long pause as we run)
Me: "Are you seriously wearing vegan cucumber after shave?"
B: "Ah ha ha... I'll let you figure that out for yourself."
And that was the end of it. We ran back to the car, drove south, and dispersed back into our daily lives.
A few days later, I typed a quick Google query into my phone. As I started to type, "cucumber smell..." Google auto-suggested, "cucumber smell in the woods", which I selected.
The very first search result is a question starting with, "I have been told by more than one person that if there is a rattlesnake in the area there will be the strong smell of cucumbers in the air near where they are resting."
Which brings me to the second of the unique features of the Tongue Mountain Range. It is well known for being a rare New York State ecosystem where large Timber Rattlesnakes thrive. B has seen them here before on a hike with his family, and others have posted youtube videos. I distinctly remember visiting the Utica Zoo on a field trip as a kid and seeing a rattlesnake behind glass. They explained to us that rattlesnakes exist in rare places in New York. I would never have believed I would ever see one (which I haven't) not to mention discover them by their smell. Of cucumbers no less!
I have since read several online discussions about the smell of cucumbers being associated with rattlesnakes (and copperheads). 95% of the comments from self-proclaimed experts say that it's a myth. While it does not prove anything, I find it hard to accept that the following three facts are a coincidence:
1) A myth exists that a cucumber smell comes from rattlesnakes
2) The Tongue Mountain Range is known for harboring rattlesnakes
3) The only place I have ever smelled random cucumber is the Tongue Mountain Range
Which leads me to believe the tiny minority, that rattlesnakes do in fact give off a cucumber smell. What's exciting (kind of like seeing evidence of Sasquatch) is that there seems to be no proof of the smell. However, here are a few comments that give some credence:
"I had heard this also several years ago - Rattlers give off cucumber smell. I can't add much in favor or against this belief, but it had been told to me about 10 years ago."
"My Grandmother swore by this cucumber smell = copperhead thing. I went with them to their summer place on French Creek many times as a kid. On one trip we arrived and as soon as she got out of the car she told my Grandfather that she smelled cucumbers and that copperhead was nearby. My grandfather mumbled some words of disgust through his lips and around the stem of his pipe and trudged off to unlock the cabin door. He came back to the car faster than I had ever seen him move. There was a copperhead curled up on the front door stoop. A good time was had by all (especially my grandmother and for a long, long time afterward). This incident became official family folklore."
"...I hate to tell you but it is true the smell of cucumbers and the smell of stinky sweet Lily of the valley. I physically have traced the smell directly to the snakes multiple times on my property. I don't care that people say it's a myth, I'm crazy, etc...I have smelled the smells and found the snakes. I wouldn't panic, I never do, it's just an extra warning to avoid that area right now. You could put a plastic owl on a stake near the areas and see if that helps."
"I was working with a USGS survey team one summer and we unearthed a nest of copperhead young (eggs and some newborns) - the whole area smelled like cucumbers. I don't know if the same would hold true for rattlesnakes or not."
So maybe it's the smell of *hatching* rattlesnakes.
Or maybe B really was wearing vegan cucumber aftershave.