Every year, we travel across the state to an orchard owned by family friends to do a bit of cider pressing.
The apples aren’t completely organic. The ground around the trees is sprayed with an herbicide before the apples begin forming. This makes walking possible in the orchard during harvest; otherwise, the weeds would be chin high. There are no chemical pesticides used. The arsenic problems in commercial apple juice come from pesticides, so I’m thankful that we’re able to press our own at a farm we can trust.
The year these pictures were taken, we did two bins of apples. A bin is roughly 850 lbs; we took home 143 gallons. Not all of this was for our family, of course – there were several families involved! A total of 45 gallons ended up in my pantry and freezers.
45 gallons sounds like a lot of cider, but this was for the full year. Not just for our table, but for potlucks, parties, and other events. My family can polish off a gallon in just three days if left to our own devices, and I try to let at least a week or two go by between gallons.
The family that owns the orchard will pick the apples for a minimal amount per bin, and they have the apple bins ready and waiting for us when we arrive. Because our group does a large amount, we always make an appointment.
Cider day begins by setting up washing stations. I prefer to overdo the washing rather than end up with dust or grit in the juice. We do one wash and three rinses.
The wash water in bin #1 contains water plus (roughly) a half cup of white vinegar, a teaspoon of liquid dishsoap, and 10-15 drops of grapefruit seed extract. I want any possible bacteria washed off and dead; vinegar and the GSE are supposedly quite effective. The dish soap helps dissolve any natural oils in the skins and remove any grit embedded there, plus any potential tractor exhaust that might be clinging to the fruit.
The apples then go through three water rinses, to get rid of the soap and vinegar. Final rinse:
We’ve since gone to to a final rinse that’s simply another bin.
Apples are then run through the grinder. This one piece of equipment makes the whole speed of the day possible. The presses are impressive… but without a real good grinder (and I think this one is ¾ horsepower), they wouldn’t do much good.
One of the orchard owner’s sons built the presses. It’s a family business – they live, farm and homeschool together. They’re a wonderful family!
Once we have apple puree, it’s loaded into plastic forms lined with netting. I’m not sure what this fabric is called – it’s a synthetic, and feels like sheer curtains to me.
The corners are gathered up and tied with shoelaces (never used on shoes!). The pulp is then loaded into the presses.
Three packets of puree can fit in one press at a time. The handle is cranked, and fresh cider then runs into the buckets waiting underneath. As soon as a bucket is filled, then we slap a lid on it and duct-tape it in place.
Cidering generally takes us about four hours. We had a crew of six the year of the photos, with two additional helpers joining us about ¾ the way through. (Thank you, Mom, for bringing the cinnamon rolls! They were great, as usual!) This last year, we had a crew of 17, and did 3 bins.
As soon as the cidering’s finished, and the equipment’s cleaned, we pay our bill and head out.
We generally take our apples for applesauce with us, and that project takes the following week. The year these pics were taken, we took home 1000 lbs. of apples for sauce.
Some were for friends, 50 pounds were dried, and 800 lbs were made into applesauce. (It made about 230 quarts. Last year, I had 70 left over, so I didn’t can quite so much applesauce last fall!)
Once home, the cider destined for the freezer is poured into smaller jugs, leaving a couple inches headspace. I learned that lesson the hard way – the first year I froze cider, I didn’t leave headspace, and had sticky frozen cider all over the freezer. I like Costco milk jugs (well washed and sterilized) for freezing cider. They’re squared off at the corners, and use the freezer space more efficiently. I ask a couple of friends each summer to save me their milk jugs, and I generally have plenty.
The rest of the cider is poured into pots, brought up to a simmer, then poured into jars and canned.
Since we don’t have a fridge big enough to hold all the cider for canning overnight, we do it all in one long day. Cider pressing generally starts about 8:30 AM; with the drive home and the massive pouring and canning party at our house at the end of the day generally lasting till about 3:00 AM the following morning. The fall weather has generally gotten pretty chilly by the time we make cider each year, so I’m not too worried about bacterial growth in my cider.
Last year, when we left for the weekend, I left the house fully set up for canning. Clean jars were upstairs waiting for the dishwasher, the propane stoves were set up and waiting to be put on the deck. Pots were ready. Instructions were printed, and keys handed out.
When the cider was 90 minutes away, phone calls were made to the families that hadn’t joined us for pressing. They met at the house to get everything freshly washed, canners filled, and ready. This canning party hit the ground running. By the time I made it home two hours later (we stopped to pick up grapes, beef and more jars on our way out of town), they were about half done with the canning.
I was so blessed by all the hands that helped! A lot of people have enjoyed cider this year because of the work that was put in by many fellow workers that day.
I’ve found that hot, spiced cider tastes best when made with canned cider rather than frozen. I don’t get that, but I generally can about ten gallons to use for hot cider each year.
Our cost per gallon tends to run about $1.75 – 2.75/gallon. This doesn’t include the fuel getting to and from the orchard, which is about four hours away. It also doesn’t include the cost of running the freezers, or using propane and lids for the canned cider. But I’d still guesstimate that we come in under $3/gallon, which I believe beats most retail “100% apple juice” pricing.
Our cider is a three-way mix, generally of golden delicious, Fuji and Granny Smith apples. That mix sometimes changes year-to-year. The first year we made cider, we used Red Delicious rather than Fuji. The orchard owners decide each year what varieties will make the best cider that year, and the cider’s always great. I’ll put my ‘homemade’ cider up against any store variety, any day!
I like it best half-frozen, sort of a cider ‘slushy’. I also like it hot and spiced. My children love it straight, and for special treats we’ll add carbonated water to it for sparkling cider. Some year, I’d like to make cider vinegar. We use a lot of that for making pickles…
… but that’s another story!