I've been canning applesauce, and mourning the absence of a cider press. They are now up to $1000 in price and I do not have the money, nor the skills to build one, so the only option I have is my tiny little juicer, which is neither efficient, nor fast, and juicing more than four apples in it at a time is pure torture.

We had a double cider press growing up, and we had cider pressing days with extended family. Hopper and chopper on one end of the press, with slat bucket underneath, and press with another slat bucket on the other end. We had the boys on one end showing off cranking as fast as they could, while the aunts or cousins tossed apples in as fast as THEY could (one of the aunts washing apples in an old wash tub before the apples went into the hopper), and on the other end the girls would press it down. When it was pressed out, we'd dump the pressed remains into the pig bucket, and send the slat bucket back to go under the hopper while the bucket under the hopper slid forward. A great big bowl under the run off trough. Someone was assigned to the bowl, to replace it and run the full one into Ma, who filtered it and poured it into bottles. She processed ours, everyone else took theirs home.

We did it many years just our own family (six kids, so plenty of muscle power), and Ma bottled gallon after gallon of cider in large cider jugs, some in half gallon jugs if she ran out of the big bottles. Other years we had various cousins and aunts and uncles.

The uncles would climb the apple trees and shake them (Pa did so when it was just our family), and the kids would pick up the apples and haul them by the bucketful up to the press. Everybody pitched in. Potluck lunch. Good times, and sweet cider to last the winter.

Nothing was ever as good though, as the first cups of cider straight from the press! I still think that fresh pressed cider is the absolute best drink in the whole world. Forget spiced cider, I can't stand the stuff. Give me cold sweet cider, either just pressed, or ice cold and browned just a bit. Mmmmm.

In Colonial and Pioneer times, cider was pressed, and stored in barrels, where it became first hard cider, and then vinegar. (Contrary to popular contemporary belief, apple scrap vinegar is a relatively new invention, it is NOT the "historic" way of making vinegar, which was always made from apple cider, and not some wimpy brew made from leftovers - after all, why go to all that trouble when your pigs and chickens would happily feast on the scraps, and when you already had cider leftovers that had gone to vinegar every spring anyway?) Hard cider that froze was concentrated into stronger and stronger drink (apple jack), by removing the ice each time it froze, and leaving behind the alcoholic beverage that remained.

From the fall cider pressings came a number of products, and plenty of fat pigs to butcher once the apple harvests were over, just as the weather was cold enough to cool a pig without having to put it on ice. Apples, you know, are the very best fatteners of pigs - windfall apples from the orchard (great for other livestock also), or apple scraps from canning, cidering, and drying apples.

I do not make hard cider. I do not make apple jack. I have no need of mind altering substances, and I don't want to do any more damage to my intestines than modern life already inflicts on them. Apple cider is never as good after canning as it is fresh, but that is as good as it gets when preserved, so I'll take it if I can get it!

This year we have dried about 40 lbs of apples. Condensed down into about 6 quart jars. We dried other things too, while peeling and coring apples for applesauce, apple butter, apple jelly, apple pectin concentrate (still working on that one), and apple pie filling. No apple trees, the apples were all either purchased, or given to us - most of the ones given to us were wormy, but wormy apples are a godsend when you have nothing.

Not one glass of apple cider. OH I want apple cider! I'd buy another box of apples at $30 if I could make it into cider and can it up for use later in the year! But that little inefficient juicer would not give me enough to be worth the cost! (OOOH! I JUST FIGURED OUT HOW!!!!)

Someday I'll have a cider press again. And I'll have not just apple cider, but a social venue for gathering family and friends for a day of fun and productivity. Someday.

Until then, I'll keep working on figuring out how to make what I have do just a little more than it was meant to do. And sometimes, I'll be lucky enough to have a glass of fresh pressed apple cider, and remember all that it means.

 

UPDATE: Ok, so I tried with the little juicer. 5 lbs of Gala apples, and 5 lbs of Fuji apples. I peeled and cored them before I put them in, so I could use the pulp. The little juicer is pretty inefficient, it spews juicy pulp into one side, and pulpy juice into the other. So I took the pulpy juice and strained it, and dumped the pulp into the juicy pulp. Dumped the juicy pulp along with some water, into the crock pot to cook down - yeah, I know, it was already thick, but I wanted it carmelized, so that it had a good flavor. I eventually added vanilla, and some grape syrup to it (failed white grape jam that I had to do something with - it worked instead of sugar). Tossed in some pumpkin pie spice also, and a little cinnamon. It made apple butter.

I got 6 cups of juice. From 10 lbs of apples, I got only 6 cups of juice. I suspect I'd only have gotten about 8 cups from a better juicer. But still. At the price I have to pay for apples, no way I can afford to put up apple juice! I need to find a source of deer apples, or windfalls, or someone's tree to pick. Then I can have cider. A bit of a pain to process them in that bitty juicer though. A big mouth would be better, though it is barely more efficient. It is faster though!

 

SPECIAL HISTORICAL NOTE: So the aunt who washed the apples. There's a story.

Every year we made apple cider. Pa would shake the trees, and us kids would pick up the apples, and haul them up. Pa would supervise making the cider, and ma would can it up, or Ma would get us started and then go in to filter and can the cider.

We picked up the apples from an orchard where cattle ran under the trees. We did NOT Pick up the ones in cowpies! Just so we make that clear! We did have standards, even as children! We picked up apples that had been in the trees, and hit the ground, and all they picked up on them was maybe some grass or a leaf. They were pretty clean.

They also usually had some worms. Not a lot. Pa never sprayed the trees, nor pruned them. But they did not get overly wormy. But maybe every fifth to tenth apple would have worms in it. Some had bruises, or bird pecks, or other blemishes. For cider, you only sorted for the worst issues.

And then Pa invited the cousins and aunts and uncles to a cider pressing one year. He shook the trees, and everybody helped pick up apples. When we got them up to the press, we usually just put them from the buckets right into the press.

One of the aunts demanded a washtub. My mother had a round galvanized one, so out it came.

The aunt filled it with water, and ran those apples through it until she came to some wormy ones. Then she demanded a knife! She washed and pared apples before they went into the press. It had never been necessary, in hundreds, if not thousands, of years of making apple cider. But it was necessary now! (And we did it that way every year after. Once you start cleaning things up, you just can't really go back!)

Out poured the cider. A pale vanilla colored stream of cider, not the rich brown stuff that usually came out! She was trimming off the bruises and the wormy parts, which have darkened juice in that area, so the cider color was much lighter.

Someone remarked on the lighter color, and accused her of taking out all the flavor! Brown cider, you see, has more flavor than light colored cider. But if you let the cider sit for 20 minutes or so, it develops the rich brown that gives it the deep home pressed flavor anyway.

Some people will be alarmed that we made cider this way, and never thought to wash the apples or trim them. But that is just how apples were turned into cider, century after century, before my aunt changed our personal history, and before other aunts, mothers, and cider producers changed their methods.

Apple cider, you see, was made with the leftovers. The apples that were not fit for any other use. Oh, yes, you planted a tree or two of cider apples, to add a specific flavor, but you did not limit yourself to specific apples. Any apples will do for cider! It is the blend of flavors that makes it wonderful. Sweetness, tartness, richness, mellowness.

First, you picked the apples as they ripened. You carefully placed them into picking baskets, and then into hauling baskets.

You sorted - apples with worms or bruises into one bunch of boxes or baskets or buckets. Fresh eating apples (that would not store) were used or given or sold. Baking apples usually store short term. Storage apples store long term - but some longer than others. The unblemished storage apples and baking apples were put into the root cellar, to be used in order of keeping.

All the bruised, battered, or wormy apples were used for applesauce, canned apples, apple butter, mincemeat, and dried apples. We haven't even gotten to cider yet!

Crab apple trees, here and there in the orchard - some for pollination, some for pure practicality, are used intermittently. Cooked down and milled to mix with the apple butter for a stiffer butter. Juiced out to use for pectin for other fruits. And some are suitable to add a tang to the cider. Some get pressed in the cider press, before we ever get to cider making. Just a little work to run them through, to produce bottled juice for use as pectin next spring and summer. And at one time, spiced crab apples - canned whole - were in vogue. But not anymore. Slice and dry some - peel, core, and all - to use in the spring and summer for berry jam.

Apple scrap jelly doesn't happen. Apple scrap vinegar doesn't happen either.

There is no point. There are better ways to use the scraps, and better ways to get the jelly and vinegar, because apples are plentiful when you have your own orchard. The trees are generous, and you'll be tired of apples long before you get them all from the trees.

Windfall apples were either eaten by cattle and deer, or gathered for the hogs. An orchard is a wonderful place to run cattle. Most natural windfalls are not really suitable for kitchen use anyway, they are often immature (though some immature ones can be used in place of crab apples for pectin, but it is not as strong).

After the trees were picked, all but the tops where the ladders could not reach, and nobody could climb, with bare branches on the sides and bottom, and apples still clinging to the tops in the middle, it was cider pressing time. Generally done in a day, sometimes two or three, depending on the size of orchard - we had perhaps 20 or 30 trees. It took most of a day with our family all helping out - Ma, Pa, and six kids.

Someone climbs the tree. Someone who has a sense of adventure, but who also knows how to contain risks. Because this is a risky thing. Like skiing. Positioning themselves in the tree, they'd climb high enough so that their weight could bend the branch, and shake. Hang on here, sway there. Hang on there, bounce here. A fun job. If you are careful. You can stop when the tree is bare, or nearly so.

Let someone else try the next tree, it's only fair! No, the little kids won't be able to do it, but Pa let us try anyway. Not enough weight to shake the big branches of the old overgrown apple trees. These little things people grow now, but still can't reach the middle of the top... a kid would be perfect for that.

The fallen apples get picked up. Bruises don't matter for cider, they just darken the color and richen the flavor a bit. You pick up the newly fallen. Anything too bad for cider, you leave behind. Worms don't matter. Bird pecks don't matter. Weather splits and scabs on the skin don't matter.

Leave the spoiled ones. Leave the bitty green ones that fell a month ago before they were ripe. Leave that one in the cowpie, no matter how good it looks! Just get the ones that are good enough.

Get them all, because this is the end of the apples. Everybody is already tired of making applesauce, they don't want anymore for that, so cider takes all.

The orchard has sweet apples with a light cripsness, and tart apples that crunch but have just enough sugar to keep you from puckering. It has baking apples that are firm and somewhat tart, and storage apples that are hard, and seem not nearly ready to use. It has large crab apples that have a nice tangy flavor. It has winey flavored "cider apples", most of which have already been picked also, and have gone into the pot with everything else, or have been sold or given away. But the ones at the tops of the trees come down with all the rest, and go into the mix, to give just the right amount of flavor, but not too much.

You better mix them up going into the press. Because the way it comes out of the press is how it goes into the bottles.

Into the bowl at the end of the press (the press end is too low for a bucket), and then poured into a bucket to be hauled to the kitchen. It is filtered (through an old sheet - though I must say, an old white t-shirt works much better and does not clog up as easily), and then heated to boiling and poured into bottles and immediately sealed. In the old days, that is all that was done.

In the really old days before THAT, it was put in barrels where it hardened over the next few months, being used as it hardened. Now, we water bath the jars after we seal them hot, because we like the extra months of storage we get out of them when we do that.

Some goes into jars, fresh, unheated, teaming with all the microbes that fresh raw apple cider contains. There, it hardens, then ripens into vinegar. Rather strong vinegar that needs to be diluted before using.

Some gets set aside, to make jelly tomorrow. Easier than fussing with heating, mashing, straining, and all the usual work of apple jelly. Cider is better anyway, the jelly is beyond good.

And then the apples are done. Almost. The urgency is done, anyway. But if you did it right, apples are never QUITE done, until springtime.

Because there, in the root cellar, lie the baking apples, and the short term storage apples, and the intermediate storage apples, and the long term storage apples. Best to check them every month or so, just to make sure some bruises or hidden wormy spots did not get past you, because those apples will spoil, and one spoiled one indeed can spoil the entire batch. Where do you think the phrase originated anyway? Check them and remove any that are starting to spoil. Work from short term to long term.

Use them for pies, and apple bread or cake, to stick into lunches, or to bake with cinnamon and sugar inside, or with those nasty little red hot candies tucked into the apple before it is baked. And if the kind of apples you are working with looks like it is going to spoil entirely before you can use it fresh, then make yet another batch of applesauce, or dry yet another batch of apples, or give yet another basket to the neighbor, who has no trees and does not know the satisfaction, the joy, or the fatigue, in having enough apples.

Cider is the last. The last before winter, and using the apples kept for winter.

Come spring, the apples in the root cellar are gone, and the last of the cider is lonely in it's corner, being saved for special occasions, and all that is left is the dried apples that keep forever it seems, and it will be five more months before you have to peel, core, mash, chop, mill, or press another apple, and your mouth is already hopeful for the fresh bright taste of newly pressed cider.