If anything in Lamoine, Maine can be called ubiquitous, it is the apple tree. Most yards have at least a couple, either on the lawn proper or somewhere along the periphery, and more than a few can also be seen along the roadside on state Highway 184, where about this time each year, they let go their holdings all over the road, to lie like billiard balls until they are squashed by passing cars or scooped up by wily crows. “Apples, apples everywhere,” as it were.
Grinding is the first step. Photo courtesy of Douglas C. Jones
Apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge for co-opting his “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” but after watching nearly every species of wild bird and animal in Lamoine, from gulls to crows to fox to squirrels to porcupines to deer (even Labrador Retrievers get in on the act) gorge themselves on fallen apples throughout the Autumn, a few local humans got a little jealous and decided to appropriate some of this fruit for themselves. These are our yards, after all, where the trees have taken root. So recently, on a cold but sunny afternoon, about 7 friends brought many bags of apples, gleaned mostly from their yards and a nearby pick-your-own apple farm, to a house on Walker Road, where the owners are in possession of a wonderful antique Jaffrey Manufacturing Company apple press.
The pulp is pressed. Photo courtesy of Douglas C. Jones
Prior to this get-together, we were encouraged simply to “get out there in your yards and jostle with the wildlife for your rightful share of apples. And don’t be finicky. Pick up any variety you find, even some crab-apples.” As a preliminary step in the manufacture of our cider, we laid our many plastic bags of apples around the Jaffrey press for easy access, because once the pressing process starts, it moves apace. The apple press has a small hopper with a wooden lid, a top-mounted corkscrew T-Bar, and a side-mounted hand-crank wheel. Underneath the hopper, a bucket lined with burlap is placed to receive all the discard of the grinding apparatus on the press. A volunteer with a strong arm is placed at the grinding wheel, and after the apples are washed, they are tossed willy-nilly into the hopper. The person at the hand crank rotates the wheel rapidly and relentlessly. Another person holds the small hopper lid on top of the tumbling apples, all the while pressing downward to keep the apples in contact with the ruthless blades. As the apples are forced into contact with these rotating blades by pressure from the hopper lid, they are shredded into bits and come out into the waiting burlap-lined bucket. There are chunks, cores, stems, seeds, and the odd leaf, but not to worry, as all these elements of refuse are snagged by the burlap. When the burlap gets full, the cranking ceases, much to the relief of the volunteer, and a circular lid is placed on top of the scrap mound. Next, the T-bar at the top of the press is lined up directly over this lid and cranked down tightly, squeezing cider through the burlap onto a slightly inclined rectangular wooden tray with a drain hole. Under the drain hole, a bucket is placed to receive the apple juice.
Photo courtesy of Douglas C. Jones
When the burlap-lined bucket gets full of apple parts, and no more cranking of the T-bar is productive, the cranking is ceased, and the bulging burlap is lifted out of the bucket. The scraps can be discarded in various ways, of course, but in this case, our host had designated a small area behind his house as a compost pile. The burlap got carried over to that pile and emptied as compost. The burlap was then shaken out a bit and fitted back into the wooden bucket beneath the hopper. Meanwhile, each bucket of collected apple juice was decanted through a funnel, lined with cheesecloth (the second stage of a double filtration process), into standard plastic (previously cleaned and sterilized) jugs, such as might appear full of orange or apple juice at any supermarket. When the burlap is placed back into the bucket, more apples are tossed into the hopper, and the whole process begins anew, although the previous wheel cranker is replaced by a new volunteer with fresh shoulder muscles. We managed to crank out several gallons of cider that afternoon, and despite its mongrel pedigree, it was quite tasty. The cider can be drunk on the spot, of course (a good deal of it was); refrigerated to be served cold on another day; or frozen to be thawed and heated up for cider in the dead of winter.
As mentioned, the particular Jaffrey model we used on this occasion was an antique, purchased at a yard sale more than 20 years ago, but there are updated versions available for perusal at http://jaffreypress.com. While anyone can go to their local market and buy cider, there is something to be said about enjoying the fruits of your labor and honoring a long time tradition.
Photo courtesy of Douglas C. Jones
Thanks to my neighbor for this guest post. Anyone notice how cider has suffered from the new pasteurization trend? Cider ain’t what it used to be! We have to make it ourselves! Bruce