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Uncultivated: Wild Apples, Real Cider, and the Complicated Art of Making a…

por Andy Brennan

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Today, food is being reconsidered. It's a front-and-center topic in everything from politics to art, from science to economics. We know now that leaving food to government and industry specialists was one of the twentieth century's greatest mistakes. The question is where do we go from here.   Author Andy Brennan describes uncultivation as a process: It involves exploring the wild; recognizing that much of nature is omitted from our conventional ways of seeing and doing things (our cultivations); and realizing the advantages to embracing what we've somehow forgotten or ignored. For most of us this process can be difficult, like swimming against the strong current of our modern culture. The hero of this book is the wild apple. Uncultivated follows Brennan's twenty-four-year history with naturalized trees and shows how they have guided him toward successes in agriculture, in the art of cider making, and in creating a small-farm business. The book contains useful information relevant to those particular fields, but is designed to connect the wild to a far greater audience, skillfully blending cultural criticism with a food activist's agenda. Apples rank among the most manipulated crops in the world, because not only do farmers want perfect fruit, they also assume the health of the tree depends on human intervention. Yet wild trees live all around us, and left to their own devices, they achieve different forms of success that modernity fails to apprehend. Andy Brennan learned of the health and taste advantages of such trees, and by emulating nature in his orchard (and in his cider) he has also enjoyed environmental and financial benefits. None of this would be possible by following today's prevailing winds of apple cultivation.   In all fields, our cultural perspective is limited by a parallel proclivity. It's not just agriculture: we all must fight tendencies toward specialization, efficiency, linear thought, and predetermined growth. We have cultivated those tendencies at the exclusion of nature's full range. If Uncultivated is about faith in nature, and the power it has to deliver us from our own mistakes, then wild apple trees have already shown us the way. … (mais)
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*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

I really enjoyed learning more about apples and cider production; reading the book made me excited to learn more about this natural way of producing cider and my husband and I even were moved to buy cider from Brennan’s cidery because we were so interested in it. I found his thoughts about apple farming and food production in general to be engaging.

However, this read was a bit of a slog for me. While I think it would be very useful for those who want to start making their own cider and possibly turning it into a business, for the average vaguely-interested-in-this-concept person like me, I didn’t really need to know all the different information about soils, root stocks, types of apples, etc. Again, I thought it was fascinating to learn about how he made his cider and what he does himself for his business, but the background information about building it as a business and the nitty-gritty agricultural aspect wasn’t a huge draw for me. I do think it’s incredibly comprehensive though, so if that’s what you’re looking for, this book has quite a lot of information within it.

This book is an enjoyable read, though, and it will definitely make you want to try some cider while you’re reading it! Anyone interested in cider-making would find something to like from this book, even if they don’t need to read the whole book to get what they’d like out of it.

Also posted on Purple People Readers. ( )
  sedelia | Aug 2, 2019 |
Andy Brennan becomes a maniac before your eyes. In Uncultivated, he morphs from introverted struggling artist to manic spokesman for marginal, but historically fulfilling and naturally satisfying apple ciders. Not the canned ones, not the ones made from industrial apples and processes. He likens those to apple spritzers. No, what’s writing about is naturally fermented ciders made from wild apples in upstate New York.

The book is all over the place. It constantly switches from the issues and heroes of cidering, to personal milestones in his life, to historical facts about his local area, to personal issues and development as a farmer and neighbor, to the mechanics of making a living, and to the state of the world of agriculture. And all of it goes to support his increasingly strident view of working within nature and not for the most potential dollars. “With each passing year I seem to be getting more and more insane with my stubbornness,” he freely admits late in the book.

It’s a real rollercoaster of a tale. In the middle of the book, in the midst of otherwise sane discourse, Brennan suddenly erupts, or perhaps blooms, with a rant on cider:

“It’s the tannins! You might try to spit it out but it’s too late. The apple has already released a chalky, woody quality that acts like the little people of Gulliver’s Travels tying down a tingling sensation to the front end of your mouth like a 9-volt battery. Shit, this actually hurts! you unexpectedly say to yourself. You’re used to juicy apples exploding in your mouth before swiftly falling off the back waterslide, but this apple is setting up shop like a sadistic dentist and you’re alarmed at what the Novocain precludes. Maybe the bitterness means the apple is poisonous. Maybe Denniston Red [Brennan’s favorite tree] was the model for Snow White’s witchy queen after all. Maybe this is why the fruit is forbidden? Doomed, you just tasted a cider apple.” 148

His cider is rated top notch. It is used by highly-rated Manhattan eateries. He spent a lot of time as a media star, hyping the value of apple cider, how it is made, its place in US history, and what to look for in a cider. He only makes 1500 gallons a year, because that’s all he and his wife Polly can handle without driving themselves to drink. He forages for wild apples, and neighbors dump bags and barrels of them in his driveway, because they are no good to eat.

Brennan divides the apple world into two. The vast majority are industrially raised, exact clones of thin skinned, large, juicy fruit for commercial production. Wild apples are small, thick skinned, mottled, rusted, dirty, dry and chewy. He says they are meant for animals, not humans. Animals take them and spread the five or ten seeds in each one. That is the purpose of an apple. Apples for humans are artificial constructs. But the wild ones make apparently unbelievable ciders.

Ciders have a wide range of flavors and tastes, subtleties and character. Like the trees they come from, each one is an individual personality. Brennan attributes anthropomorphic characterizations to wild apple trees according to their fruit, their location, their shape, size and habits. He gives them names. Apple trees have DNA three times as dense as human DNA, and so every offspring is different from its parent, like human children. Planting the seed of an apple you like will almost certainly not give you a tree with more of the same fruit. Only cutting and grafting branches onto other rootstock will do that. And that is the essence of the modern orchard, which Brennan detests.

There is a lot of repetition in Uncultivated, as Brennan seeks to hammer certain points home. He mentions far too many times how introverted he is, so he refuses to have a store or tastings at his farm. Yet he gives lectures, addresses crowds, appears in all manner of media and deals with total strangers at farmers markets within about 90 minutes of his home. His writing is bold, brassy and assertive, very unlike introverts. Methinks he doth protest too much.

There is lots to love about the book. It even has a climax of sorts, when he tries to take delivery of a shipment of bottles for the current crop. It is a wonderfully unexpected story of struggle that I won’t spoil for you. All this to say by the end of Uncultivated, readers know more about Andy Brennan than his old neighbors ever did in Brooklyn where he largely failed to become a recognized artist, and probably more than most of his neighbors in Wurtsboro in the Catskills know about him today.

The writing is firm, informative and entertaining. Brennan gives lots of credit to others: experts, farmers, neighbors, and all kinds of help. Both requested and serendipitous. It is a rocky (literally) trip to a state of contentment and mastery of an age-old, remarkably simple process he has chosen for his life. Brennan has backfilled with both local and apple history, which overlap continuously. It is fine entertainment with a serious message.

David Wineberg ( )
1 vote DavidWineberg | May 5, 2019 |
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Today, food is being reconsidered. It's a front-and-center topic in everything from politics to art, from science to economics. We know now that leaving food to government and industry specialists was one of the twentieth century's greatest mistakes. The question is where do we go from here.   Author Andy Brennan describes uncultivation as a process: It involves exploring the wild; recognizing that much of nature is omitted from our conventional ways of seeing and doing things (our cultivations); and realizing the advantages to embracing what we've somehow forgotten or ignored. For most of us this process can be difficult, like swimming against the strong current of our modern culture. The hero of this book is the wild apple. Uncultivated follows Brennan's twenty-four-year history with naturalized trees and shows how they have guided him toward successes in agriculture, in the art of cider making, and in creating a small-farm business. The book contains useful information relevant to those particular fields, but is designed to connect the wild to a far greater audience, skillfully blending cultural criticism with a food activist's agenda. Apples rank among the most manipulated crops in the world, because not only do farmers want perfect fruit, they also assume the health of the tree depends on human intervention. Yet wild trees live all around us, and left to their own devices, they achieve different forms of success that modernity fails to apprehend. Andy Brennan learned of the health and taste advantages of such trees, and by emulating nature in his orchard (and in his cider) he has also enjoyed environmental and financial benefits. None of this would be possible by following today's prevailing winds of apple cultivation.   In all fields, our cultural perspective is limited by a parallel proclivity. It's not just agriculture: we all must fight tendencies toward specialization, efficiency, linear thought, and predetermined growth. We have cultivated those tendencies at the exclusion of nature's full range. If Uncultivated is about faith in nature, and the power it has to deliver us from our own mistakes, then wild apple trees have already shown us the way. 

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