We have about five big apples trees on our property but because we do not spray them, the apples are only really good for cider. One year we tried making our own with an antique apple grinder and press that we borrowed from a friend. A day later, we had managed to make about two gallons of unfiltered cider. Not only did it taste bad, but it also made us sick.
Instead we now collect our apples and take them over to our friend Bob Sewall’s place. He runs an organic orchard and is known for his great cider, as well as his cider vinegar.
Bob specifies that the apples must not have been sprayed or picked up off the ground (his cider is certified organic and he does not want to risk contaminating his press). He also requires a minimum of at least five bushels of apples.
Gathering enough apples for the pressing is one of my favorite parts of the process. For weeks before my appointed time on Bob’s press, I drive around with empty bushel baskets in my car, looking for apple trees whose fruit has not been harvested. This also allows me to come up with a blend of different varieties.
I always get some from my mother’s backyard- she has a nice old red delicious. Sometimes I get some from my doctor who has a Wolf River tree outside his office — really big apples with a fairly bland taste. This year I found some pears in the backyard of a house near my office — they taste great in cider.
This year we had help from our neighbors, the Cranes. Jon Crane is just as much of a scavanger as me. He found some Tolman Sweets, a very sweet green apple, Northern Spies (tart and crisp), and Macouns (sweet and crisp). We added these to my Cortlands, Empires, a few Golden Delicous and some UFOs from a friend’s orchard for a total of seven bushels and headed up to Bob’s place on the edge of a mountain. It’s a glorious place to be on a fall afternoon. You can stand in the doorway of his pressing shed and and see the ocean in the distance.
Bob has an old press he bought second hand. We poured the apples into a hopper where they are hosed down. They are carried up into a grinder and the mush comes out of a fat hose. Bob lines each tray with a heavy cloth, fills it with the mush, wraps it up and piles another tray on tap. When he has a stack of enough trays, he puts them under the press where powerful hydraulics extract every bit of juice, leaving behind only a thin mat of skin and seeds — all the pressings from our apples fit into one big rubber bucket, which I brought home and put in my compost bin. Of course the whole time during this process, juice drips down the sides and into the big vat underneath. The fruity smell of apples is intoxicating.
Eventually when our load has been pressed, Bob bottles it in plastic jugs. Always important is the taste test. Delicious. Sweet, but not to sweet and a nice backbeat.
Our seven or so bushels make 28 gallons of cider and it only took about 45 minutes. We will freeze most of it to drink over the winter. Each time I drink some I will remember this lovely fall day, the apples, and the neighbors who made it all possible.