It has been a grand apple year here in Nebraska, at least in our neck of the woods. I tell you, if I didn’t have anything else to do (and had another chest freezer, hint hint BRYAN) and perhaps had a small army of little people anxious–anxious, maybe even eager!–to do my bidding day and night, I’d have a freezer stocked full of jugs of apple cider and apple pie filling. Also I’d have one of these with a hundred trays atop, (mine’s just too bitty, honey) and I’d have gallons and gallons of apple rings dehydrated and waiting for winter snackage. Also to add to homemade granola. Can’t you just picture it?? Heaven!
There are just so many apples. And they don’t last forever, you know. You only get that unique starchy snappy sweet delight from a freshly-picked apple off the tree.
Oh! (I’m just getting started here) also I’d make lots of that good applesauce that I’ve made a couple times (you know, with the fresh ginger and the freshly ground nutmeg and cloves, and just enough honey) that we eat up while it’s still hot. I’d put up enough in jars to fill that last empty shelf in the pantry, instead of letting the apples out in the garage turn soft one by one and then throwing them to the chickens.
But I do have other things to do. And I don’t have an army of minions. And sadly, I only have one chest freezer, which (as a matter of fact) is full, full, full. And little Mack is doing well in his piano lessons, but he does much better if I sit with him as he learns his new songs, one by one and note by note. Amalia says we need to work harder (and smarter, Mom!) on our Halfling-inspired recipe book. I’ve only got about half my tomato cages torn down in the garden. And there’s (land’s sake!!) cleaning and de-cluttering to do, you have no idea. So much. There are a whole lotta critters and folks around here that need to be fed every day, too, usually more than once.
And I do have a few friends and some family, too, who like my company, from time to time, God bless them.
Yup. It’s been a grand apple year. And if we don’t use up all the apples that we’ve brought home from my folks’ apple trees, and if we don’t use up all the apples we brought in from our little trees, and if we don’t use up all the buckets and boxes of apples that we brought home from that orchard in the country that we got permission to pick from, we won’t go hungry.
We can go to the store and buy apples at any time. They aren’t exactly fresh, with that starchy snappy crunch that we’ve gotten used to from freshly-picked apples, but we won’t lack a thing. We can buy applesauce, too, for that matter, and apple-anything else we want. But that doesn’t keep me from wanting to go pick every last apple in that orchard (there must be 30 mature trees there) just so they don’t go to waste.
It’s probably the way I was raised–my folks planted fruit trees and gardens and edibles everywhere they lived, and we tried not to waste a thing–but I can’t stand the thought of wasting anything, either.
So we wear ourselves out picking and paring and making cider and sauce and filling, and I know how good it all will taste this winter, when the apples in the store are not so great. And it’s a great feeling to be able to put up so much of our own food. Everything we raise (and forage) is organic, too, so it doesn’t get much better than that.
Making cider is not for the faint of heart. You can’t really do it if you are in a hurry. It takes a bit of planning. It’s a labor of love, and it takes more time than you’d imagine. First, you start with lots of apples. Well, you have to go pick them first.
When some folks get together, invariably there is tomfoolery. I don’t know why this is so, do you?
After you’ve picked as many apples as you want, and you’ve indulged in a bit of fun, then you make a date with my folks, because they’re the only ones with an apple cider press in the area, at least as far as I know. We’ve been using it to make cider since I was a little girl. We lived in Nelson then. Dad was the local pharmacist–and the mayor, for a time–and we had the only cider press in town then, too. (For pete’s sake, doesn’t anybody else have an apple cider press??)
Dad made a deal with the folks in town who had apples and wanted cider made: we’d press the cider for them for either a share of the cider (I think we kept half of it) or one dollar a gallon. Those folks really got a bargain.
Sometimes the apples that people would drop off would be in great condition (not wormy) and we’d just run them through the press with a quick washing first. Other times, the apples would be full of worms. Invariably, when the apples were wormy, folks would want us to press cider for shares. Then the work began. I learned how to use a paring knife early in life.
Because you don’t want an off-taste that the mold in the middle of some apples will give, or (horrors) worms pressed into your cider, you cut each apple in half. If the apple is clean inside you drop it into the bucket and press it. If it’s wormy or moldy, you take the time to cut out the yuck. It takes a lot of time, but if you do it with the right people, it’s something you look forward to every year.
Of course as the hours pass, some people get sillier. And some people get less fastidious with how well they cut the apples. It always happens. You start wondering if one little worm in the mix will matter . . . or even be noticed.
Eventually you start believing that a little protein won’t hurt a thing . . .
As soon as you have a bucket or two full of washed and cut apples, the pressing can begin. The old press is a dangerous machine, and for years and years (decades, actually) Dad wouldn’t allow anybody but himself to operate it. Now that he is
a geezer (cough) a bit more trusting of his offspring, he lets a few of us operate it, as long as we are being appropriately respectful of the inherent danger, sober, and very, very careful. And as long as he can oversee the process. I suspect it is quite a test of will for him to give up this task, even just for part of the time. It’s hard work, though, and really gets your heart pumping!
“Forget the cardio workout today, honey, let’s just go make apple cider!!”
This is how the process works: one person grinds the apples into the first open-bottomed basket, above. Once it is full, it is slide to the front position, and then another person tightens the crank, which presses the apples down tight. The very best apple cider that you will ever taste will start to drip, and then pour out of the bottom of that basket. See the foam? It’s delicious, too.
We set up a kettle to catch the cider, and a strainer to catch any bits of apple or the inevitable bee or two who will find us. There’s plenty of time to watch and visit and tell stories and sing Roger Miller songs while the cider fills kettle after kettle.
“You can’t roller-skate in a buffalo herd . . . “
Sometimes friends will stop by, and Dad’ll let them try a crank or two.
And then, of course, everybody must have a taste. Or three.
If you have lots of apples, this whole process can take the better part of an afternoon and evening. Your fingers get sticky and stiff from all the cutting, and you start to get cold from all the sitting. At the end of the day, you’ll have buckets and buckets of dry apple pulp to haul to the pickup truck. It’ll get thrown to the chickens in the morning.
Once the kettle is full of cider, then somebody (usually Amalia gets this job) strains it into clean jugs.
At the end of the evening, we haul buckets of crushed apple pulp to the pickup, do a hasty clean-up and divvy up the gallons of cider. There’s not as much as you might imagine from an afternoon and evening’s work: for each bushel of apples that are picked, washed, cut up, grinded, squeezed, and strained into jugs, we might get two gallons of cider.
And that, my friends, is why we drink this stuff with such relish, and why we don’t offer it for sale. Ever. It’s just too precious.
But if you come over to my house, I might share a glass or two with you. 🙂