Despite the fact that we have no fruit trees on our property, we found ourselves in ample supply of apples this fall, thanks to neighbors' and families' trees. And as usual, those with laden trees are more than happy to have you pick surplus rather than facing the messy ground clean-up of fermented fruit, half eaten by squirrels, birds and dogs.
Years ago during my first marriage, my parents gave us an old-fashioned cider press made by Jaffrey. In splitting up the household inventory during the divorce, I neglected to make note of the apple press and it sat with my son's father for years. Recently, he decided to downsize his home and returned the press to me. It sits on display in our family room just off the kitchen, part of my food-obsessed home decor. When sizing up the overage of this season's apples, it didn't take me long to decide cider making was in the offing.
We made three batches of cider over a period of two weekends with great success. With each round, we included apples from at least two trees of different varieties to round out the flavor. In our mix were Granny Smith, Jonathans and Red Delicious. Knowing that we would be drinking raw cider, we used apples picked directly from the tree, none that were on the ground. Ground apples are more susceptible to microbial contamination from animal droppings. Two bushels of apples is a good amount for a cider pressing and will yield about two to three gallons of cider. After picking the apples, we fill the containers with water and let the apples soak. That helps remove dirt and debris as well as worms (not that a few worms matter much when pressing cider at home).
The washed apples are tossed whole into the grinder, which is turned manually. The apple bits land in a wooden drum that is lined with a nylon mesh bag. As the drum begins to fill, cider starts to seep, and a hole in the wooden tray under the drum allows the cider to collect in a bowl or pot. But that's just the start. Once the drum is full, a wooden disk is inserted over the top of the chopped apples and the screw press is tamped down. As the apple mash is compressed, the cider flow increases dramatically.
Pressing cider is not a one-man job. A minimum of three people is needed, making the process perfect for a fall gathering or family activity. During our first stint, my teenage stepson managed to coax his father out of the Bat Cave (our friendly name for physicist-dad's home electronics lab), and by gosh, if Herr Professor didn't actually have a good time! My 4-1/2 year-old nephew was more than a bit excited to be included in our second effort, along with his mom and my dear friend, Barb. During the grinding stage, one person tosses the apples into the grinder, another turns the grinder crank and a third helps to balance the press. For pressing, one person turns the screw press and another ensures the cider receptacle remains properly aligned, switching it out as it fills.
In return for sharing apples, our neighbors received über-fresh apple cider in quart jars filled right from the press. I felt like I was carting off moonshine as I meandered through the neighbors' backyards with my liquid-filled quart canning jars. A friend and my sister went home with containers of fresh cider as well.
We had more than our fill of fresh cider so I decided to process eight quarts for later consumption. I was tempted to start a batch of hard cider but decided I didn't have quite enough to justify the expense of purchasing the equipment. Maybe next year. Apple cider can be frozen or canned. I chose to can cider, following the simple directions provided by the National Center for Home Preservation.