Historic Flavors of Fall


Once upon a time, cider-making, not football was the fall preoccupation throughout much of this country.  Wherever apples grew – and thanks to pioneering nurserymen like John Chapman that included much of the Midwest and upper South as well as the Northeast and Pacific Northwest – the fruit was gathered up into barrels, crates and wagons and hauled off to the nearest cider press.

Golden Russets Monterey
‘Golden Russets’, the premier New England cider apple

There this fruit was converted into a beverage that could be consumed fresh or fermented for long-term storage.   Nor was this cider the insipid stuff we pour today from plastic jugs, the juice of left-over desert apples.  My grandfather dismissed the modern stuff as “McIntosh Posh”, because he could remember the real thing.  In his youth, the bulk of the cider came from apple varieties selected and grown especially for this purpose.

That juice had a robust flavor, a balance of tart and sweet, with just enough tannin to add body.   Fresh and fermented, it was the vin de pays of American apple country, with each region favoring different apples and producing characteristic flavors of its own.

Fortunately, with a bit of enterprise, most of us who live in areas where apples flourish can reproduce something like this old time product and at not much cost, other than a small investment of time. The first necessity of course is to locate a cider press.  If you are lucky, you may find that a local orchard will press your apples for you – I have gone that route in the past, paying the same price fer gallon as if I had purchased the orchard’s own cider.  By asking around or even advertising, you may find someone with a cider press they are willing to share, perhaps for a share of the product.

If you intend to make cider every year, it’s worth purchasing a press of your own – homeowner models start at about $275-300; you’ll also need a grinder with which to pulp your fruit before putting it in the press, and this will run another $200 or so.  If this is more than you care to spend, why not share the press (and the cost) with one or more neighbors? Personally, I share a press with an institutional farm –  I donated an electric apple grinder and earned the right to use the farm’s hydraulic press.  I only use this equipment a day or two each year; the farm not only stores the machinery and provides a working space, but it even shares extra apples with me.  It’s been a great arrangement for both parties.

In succeeding posts I’ll include tips on scouting for free apples and the actual process of cider-making itself.

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Thomas Christopher

My father was a compulsive tree planter, but it was my mother who taught me the finer points of gardening.

Her homeschooling was followed by two years in the New York Botanical Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture, and then ten years as horticulturist at an Olmsted Brothers designed estate on the Hudson River Palisades.

I’ve worked as a horticultural journalist for 35 years, contributing to publications ranging from Martha Stewart Living to the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society and The New York Times.  My most recent book is Nature Into Art: The Gardens of Wave Hill, which is a tour of the lessons to be learned from that great public garden.  I’m currently focusing on my new podcast (at thomaschristophergardens.com) which features weekly interviews with leaders of environmentally-informed gardening.

My special enthusiasms include sustainable gardening, especially sustainable lawns;  heirloom chicken breeds; and recreating vintage New England hard ciders.


Contact Tom by email


  1. I tend to prefer Perry, as I’m not a bitter-y lover.
    One place with a terrifically high reputation for good quality and service is https://www.lehmans.com/c-289-orchard.aspx?rsort=asc

    They have have five different models, with a few accessories for them. As mentioned, they are not cheap. Gardener’s Supply only had two models, and the one also carried by Lehman’s was considerably less expensive, before shipping.

    Whether you plant natives or exotics, this item they sell could make your job more entertaining…

    • I’ve used Lehman’s for other tools and always been very satisfied with their products and service.

  2. Some of the home brew supply store have presses you can rent, our local store rents to folks for cider and pressing grapes for wine at a reasonable fee.

    • That’s a fabulous tip, thanks for passing it along. Rental would be ideal for a machine you use maybe one weekend every fall.

  3. It’s great fun to press apples. Good post! Fortunately for us our neighbors have a press – and a party every fall. In addition we have a couple of local cideries that make all kinds of fresh apple cider, pear cider AND hard cider. We even have a big Cider Days weekend every year – coming right up in Franklin County, MA.. http://www.ciderdays.org.

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