Cider Press Rules!

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:

Which we carefully portioned out…

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.

Now for the next, obvious step: learning how to make hard cider! I’m thinking with a little sweat and patience we won’t have to buy beer ever again!

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!

Jason

Chicken coop and Sarah driving

In the last two days we’ve had a blast staining the new chicken coop

and Sarah made sure to put her signature hand prints on the East side.

The wonderful thing about this project is that it doesn’t matter how sloppily we slapped on the stain – it’s just a coop!  We let Sarah do her own thing with almost no intervention, and didn’t worry about our own technique either.  We just did our best to keep from painting any windows or doors shut.  It was happy, busy chaos – perfect for a future fond memory.

Then Jason said: “Next up: Sarah’s room!”  Ooooh no, thought I, not like this!  We’d have pink and purple splatted across the floor, on the ceiling, hand prints, drips, globs…  No no no.

But one thing we did agree on, after putting in a good afternoon of chicken coop staining, was that Sarah should drive us home.  Yes, she is only 5 1/2 but the girl’s gotta learn sometime:

Note that we kept saying she should keep her eyes on the “road”.  Actually, that was just our driveway.  Most of our driveway, not the whole thing.  Because of this enormously long driveway, Sarah gets to sit on our laps fairly regularly and practice steering (with help, of course).  Once, when I had the car down on the flat part, in a field near the driveway, I really let her steer by herself – what a riot!  We laughed ourselves silly!  We eventually made it to the driveway, and then I started helping so we wouldn’t go careening into the apple orchard below.

Here’s a photo of the start of the driveway, by the street, showing how far away the house is:

It starts out flat, as you can see, but then it really goes uphill pretty steeply – Sarah should be an expert by the time she’s old enough for a license.  Speaking of which, did you know there’s no license required to drive a tractor? Dun dun DUN!!!

– Lizzy

Them Apples!

Let’s start with a few pictures.  Most of these were taken on the four-ish acres of apple and pear trees that make up the front of the property. There are several older trees (upwards of 100 years, we think) – gnarly, half-dead, hollowed-out relics that are still, somehow, producing bushels of apples with nifty names like Bellflower and Pippen. There are also a dozen or so newer trees (Red Delicious, it turns out. Blah) which look far more healthy. A couple of pear trees, which our neighbor (whose parents owned the land from around the early 1900’s) ominously referred to as great “canning” pears, keep the apple monopoly at bay. About thirty-five trees in all. None of these have been pruned or sprayed for at least two years, and the fruit is blotched, discolored, misshapen and tasteless. Kind of like me, back in High School…

The land was pretty much unattended to for a few years; consequently we’ve been doing a lot of brush-clearing and chainsawing. Fortunately we’ve got a new toy – a Kubota B series tractor with bucket, mower and tiller attachments. We’re both crazy about the thing, but I’m afraid that Lizzy’s affection for the orange miracle-machine may be pushing the limits of what most would consider normal. I swear the other day I overheard her whispering to it something about “always being together” and “never letting them come between us.”

Sarah’s been getting in on the act, as well. Is is appropriate to let a five and a half year-old clear brush with a hand-saw? Probably not. Does it make her happy? You bet. Will I be spending an inordinate amount of money on first aid? Probably…

One of the best things we did when we got out here was buy a pickup truck (we sold one of our Honda Civics when we were still in Long Beach). I know, I know – pretty cliché. Still, you gotta admit it looks cool. Sarah’s going to love wrecking it in ten years!And that’s about it for now! More updates later!

Jason

Yep, we bought the farm.

Hello there! On this page you’ll find all you’ll ever need to know about our recent giant leap from living on a 2,400 square-foot lot in Long Beach to a house on 9-ish acres of farmland, apple trees, redwoods and a whole bunch of vindictive thistle outside of Monterey Bay. Both I (Jason) and Lizzy will be posting – hopefully with some regularity, but we’ll see. Lately I’ve been so busy I haven’t even had time to water the poison hemlock that little Sarah has been nurturing under her pillow.

Anyway, there’s a lot to catch up on, so check back in and we’ll do our best to keep you updated!

Jason