I live in the hills of New England, apple country for sure. Each year we wait, somewhat impatiently I admit, for the apples to come. The early apples are not good for much except quick, fresh eating but the later apples, hard and crisp and full of multi-leveled layers of flavor are sublime. We dry them and can them and bake them into pies and casseroles. We sauce them and spice them and finally, we press them for cider.
For many years, I would travel the back roads looking for cider houses, bringing home gallons of cider to drink fresh or store in the freezer. I pined for my own press but the price was steep. I looked in vain for a used press but it’s the kind of thing that no one tires of. I had never seen one at a tag sale or listed on Freecycle. I thought I was doomed to a life without a cider press but then a wonderful thing happened. Bruce and I were talking with some friends and discovered that we weren’t alone in our desire for a press. There were four families who wanted one and couldn’t justify the expense. There was the answer! We combined our resources and bought a cider press together!
The thing about pressing is that it’s the kind of activity best shared. Several times each year, we bring together our apples, some grown, some gleaned and some, in a bad apple year like this one, purchased. The variety of flavors makes for a richer and more interesting cider. We take turns washing, cutting, grinding, pressing and then filling jars with clear, sweet juice. The apple pulp is brought to the pigs or the chickens or thrown right in the garden. We have music and laughter and somebody always brings soup. There will be bread and donuts and, of course, cider. Lots of cider. The kids all run around like wild creatures and take their turns with the crank too. A cider party is about the most fun in the world. Neighbors stop by, take a sip and ask about joining our pressing co-op. Four families seems about optimal for a co-op like this but I could totally see a family group or a church or a mother’s club or a PTO or a food co-op going in on the purchase and making it work.
We keep the press at our house because we are the most centrally located and we have a building to house the press in when it’s not in use. We also have running water (a real help) and pigs and chickens on site to deal with the pressed apple ‘leftovers’. We had talked about moving the press from place to place but I didn’t think that the constant jiggling would be good for it.
It has taken a while but we finally have enough jars for our non-preserved cider. I got most of mine from a local deli. They needed a good wash but using them for the cider is a good reuse for them. We freeze most of our cider. A good deal of our cider allocation also lands in the root cellar where the cold temperature slows the fermentation way down. Some we harden off and bottle up for a winter’s drink with a little kick. I can some cider each year. The pasteurization makes it more like commercial apple juice which works for the kids although I’m not a big fan. I make one batch of cider jelly and boil a bit down for cider syrup with cinnamon that is fabulous over pumpkin pancakes. Some of the apple pulp is packed with water in gallon jugs and allowed to turn into apple cider vinegar.
Mulled cider is such a treat. I always look forward to our first big snow storm. The kids love a breakfast of those pumpkin pancakes with cider syrup and steaming mugs of cider laced with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.
Right now I have five bushels of cider apples waiting for me. As soon as this rain stops my friends will arrive. All else will be put on hold as we revel in the taste of New England and the warmth of loving family and dear friends.