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.
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.