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On a chilly Saturday morning in early October, Ben and I went to an old-fashioned apple pressing. I’d guess about a dozen people showed up, between the morning and afternoon.
First, we had to pick the apples. We sorted the ones on the ground; good apples went into bushel baskets, rotten ones didn’t. Simple. Except for the apple with a wasp on it. We didn’t do anything with that one. Ben wisely decided to leave the wasp to his meal.
Then, we spread tarps on the ground, and some of the men shook the trees to make the apples fall on the tarp. I tried it too, and got lashed across the tree with a slender, whip-like branch. So much for playing with the cool kids. One of the guys climbed up and shook the branches from above. The last time I climbed a tree, I got scared and wouldn’t jump down. So I stayed on the ground, putting apples in baskets.
When we’d filled enough baskets, Joe, whose orchard it was, loaded them into a charming, tractor-pulled cart, and took them to the garage. The little girl who was there got a ride on the apple cart. It was ridiculously cute. Children are kind of like cats; they can be a pain, but they’re adorable enough to make up for it (not that the little girl was a pain; she’s a good kid).
Altogether, we gathered enough apples to press 200 gallons of sweet cider. That’s the estimate I heard, anyhow. All that apple gathering made folks hungry, so we had a potluck (and bottle share, of course). One guy brought a small barrel of maple wine. Like mead, but with maple syrup, instead of honey. It was tasty. I wanted pancakes to eat while sipping it, but there weren’t any.
The apple press itself was cool. Someone told me Joe got it from his great uncle, who used to run an apple mill, or something like that. First we washed the apples in warm water. They got macerated, then squished. Working at the business end of the press was a messy job. Everyone who did it got squirted with apple juice and crushed apple bits. I took a turn at operating the press, and at being the person to place the burlap and the forms. Washing the apples was good way to warm up my hands, and was an easy gig, so I helped a little with that, too.
I’ve been told the forms that the crushed apples get poured into are called cheeses, and the burlap squares are referred to as cheesecloths. I have not verified this, but it seems reasonable. The stuff that comes out of the macerator, and is then pressed to make the actual cider, is called pomace. This makes me wonder why some people say that olive oil from pomace is inferior, since cider from apple pomace is delicious.
We drank a lot of cider, and went home with 10 gallons to ferment. We borrowed a carboy, since one bucket of cider didn’t seem like enough, once all the apples were stacked up and the press was going. Some people took home several buckets or carboys of cider. It will be interesting to see how the products turn out, once all the batches are done fermenting. Thanks to Joe, and to UNYHA in general, for a fun day.
Photos by Benjamin Wilson