If you’re like me you remember a day, way back in your youth, when you were able to purchase and enjoy real, unpasteurized apple cider. You remember how good it tasted, and you lament that you can’t seem to get it anymore (the government now requires all producers to pasteurize their cider in order to prevent consumers from getting sick). This has bothered me for years now, especially each autumn, and now that we live with a small orchard – well, let’s just say we have to do something with all these apples. Well now it’s finally happened – we got ourselves a cider press! Take a look at this beauty:
As I posted earlier in the weekend, Lizzy found it for sale on Craig’s List. It certainly qualifies as “Like New,” in that it is clean, intact and works flawlessly (though not effortlessly). And it cost us half of what a new one would (God I love Craig’s List). The only downside to the deal was that we had to drive over two hours to pick it up; a quickly arranged dinner with some Berkeley-based friends on the way home, however, took some of the sting out of that. We got back to the house after dark and had a friend over the next day (Sunday), so it wasn’t until Monday that we were able to experiment with our first batch. We hiked down to the orchard with a five-gallon bucket and came up with this:
I’m not nerdy enough (yet) to have an opinion on what ratio of apple varieties produces the best cider, so we just trudged around and grabbed whatever seemed ripe enough to consume. Ultimately we were able to come up with about 20-25 lbs. That is, at least I think that’s how much we got – by the time I finished lugging the bucket up to the house I could have sworn the damned thing weighed then times that. Yes, I’m that weak.
Of course many of the apples were pretty spotty, but for the most part they looked pretty darned good – a miracle, it seems, considering none of the trees have been sprayed or pruned for at least a couple of years. Still, I thought it best to wash them, and sure enough, as soon as we hit them with the spray – out pops a pretty hefty, annoyed-looking spider. So…I washed them with a little extra vigor. Then I washed them again. Then I wept.
There are two steps, it turns out, to this process, and we dove into them with aplomb. First we fed the whole apples into a grinder attached to the front of the press. I hand-cranked the wheel on the side, pulverizing the fruit. The apples (now all mashed-up bits) dropped into the muslin-lined bucket underneath.
Pictured below: me cranking the grinder like a boss. Not pictured below: me sweating like Albert Brooks in “Broadcast News” and breathing through my mouth like an over-excited gorilla. Trust me, it’s there – it’s just not pictured…
Once that grunt work was done we moved on to the second step. We tied the muslin bag up loosely and placed the flat, wooden, circular lid on top of the mound of apple chunks. Then we cranked the large, threaded metal rod down, down, down until it hit the lid, forcing it onto the bag of apples – and then we kept on cranking. The apple mash was squished, and voila! Cider issued forth from a small hole in the bottom like ambrosia.
*Note that we placed a large pot underneath the hole to catch the liquor. I know, I know – it seems obvious, but as anyone who has ever changed his/her own oil knows – remembering that part isn’t a given.
I admit – Sarah had her hands in the pot the whole time, but I figured it was no big deal. I’m sure there are worse things in your average bushel of home-grown apples than a few kid-germs (I mean, the government didn’t force producers to pasteurize their cider for nothing). Anyway, the whole thing was done in about ten minutes. Here’s what we got:
And the result: from about 25 lbs of apples we pressed just over a gallon and a quart of totally awesome cider. And when I say awesome I mean it – this stuff tastes just the way I remember real cider tasting. So sweet, but with depth and a just the right amount of tang – nothing at all like what you find in stores.
Lizzy took a short video, as well:
Wish us luck – there’s going to be a lot more apples to press before the end of the year!