Cider Making

Cider apples growing on the tree waiting to pick cider apples Picking cider apples Using a ladder to reach and pick cider apples

Last week we added new activity to the ones we traditionally use to welcome and celebrate the autumn season, and I’d love to share a bit about it. For the first time, we attended a community cider pressing near our home in Maine, bringing apples from our trees to add to those picked and brought by neighbors, with the resulting collection of apples pressed into sweet cider for all to share.

Like the rest of New England and the Northeast, Maine has a long tradition of growing apples and making cider dating back to the days of the early colonists, with cider once seen as a safer and more sanitary choice than water for drinking. With apples trees found on nearly every farm, producing cider was easy, inexpensive, and in the days before filtration and refrigeration, a reliable choice. The cider produced was hard (alcoholic) cider that had naturally fermented, and even children drank cider in a watered down form called ciderkin. At one time, one in every ten farms in New England ran its own cider mill, which would have been used a place for neighbors to gather and share in the harvest. Recent years have seen a revival of the craft cider industry in Maine and many other parts of the United States.

When we bought our home in Maine nearly three years ago we were thrilled to see a number of apples trees dotting the property, some more than 120 years old. While they haven’t been tended or pruned properly in some time, most of them still do produce some fruit each autumn. The apples themselves are almost certainly old heirloom varietals, grown more with an eye toward making cider and cooking than with eating fresh from the tree. All this to help explain why it was so exciting to learn of the community cider pressing – such a great way to make use of our apples! Together with our local natural food store, a local orchard and nursery offered the use of their cider house to members of the community for an afternoon of cider pressing. We spent the morning picking apples from several of our trees, hauling out the ladder and the step stool and taking turns grabbing apples to drop into buckets and baskets.

cider apples ready for cider Market basket of cider apples Bushels of apples at the cider pressing Cider doughnuts at the cider pressing

Apples picked, we headed to the orchard. There, our apples were added to bushel buckets of apples brought by other community members, and careful notes were taken regarding how many apples each family contributed so a proportional share of the resulting cider could be taken home later. Once all the apples had arrived, we listened intently as the owners of the orchard explained how the cider press worked, and then watched as the initial steps began. First apples were washed, disinfected, and scrubbed clean. Then, a belt moved them onto rungs of a revolving ladder, which dumped them into a machine that crushed and mashed them whole. The resulting pulp came through a tube to fill cloth-lined wooden racks, which were then stacked and moved to the hydraulic press. The press funneled juice from the pulp into a stainless steel vat, and then the juice moved through tubing to a final vat where it accumulated before jugs purchased from the orchard were carefully filled. The process itself took some time and was quite loud, so we were happy to make our way up the hill a bit to enjoy some cider donuts while we waited.

Apples being washed apple pulp filling racks for pressing A gallon of fresh cider

Once the pressing concluded, we walked back to the cider house and waited patiently while the owners carefully filled gallon jugs with cider.  Our share of apples netted us two gallons of sweet cider, and we happily carted them home and then immediately retrieved glasses to bring outside to a blanket spread in the grass, enjoying a gorgeously sunny autumn day and a small taste of the trees surrounding us. The first gallon of cider disappeared within 24 hours, a sweet way to celebrate the season.

What about you? Have you ever pressed cider? Have you added something new to your fall celebrations this year? I’d love to hear what you’re enjoying most about autumn!

Shannon x


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