This month, we were lucky enough to try our hands at a favorite New England tradition, apple cider pressing.
The idea first came about when our good friends in Shelburne Falls obtained a cider press which was built years ago but apparently had been "forgotten" about. We were shocked to discover this, but later learned the press was shared with a family friend who also took part in the building process and had been hiding it in their garage.
If you've never had the opportunity to visit Shelburne Falls, we highly recommend you do. Its small town New England at its best with everything you could ask for- glacial potholes, candle making, kayaking, foliage, sugar shacks, the bridge of flowers, an obscenely old bowling alley, the elderly and everyone's favorite shop Mo's Fudge Factor.
In order to make a significant amount of cider, we realized early on it would be quite expensive so we used our Shelburne connections to work a deal with the owner of a local apple orchard. Instead of picking perfect apples from the trees with everyone else, we followed a man in a golf cart to the back of the orchard who directed us to our ground apples. Sure the apples were full of bruises, bumps and other imperfections, but faired wonderfully for the cider (especially since they had higher sugar content from all that sitting around.) We heard tree apples are for snobs anyway. No time was wasted and quickly grabbed every apple we could cram into a Chevy Malibu. Don’t worry though; no members of The Salted Cod actually drive a Chevy Malibu.
I was given a lot of flack from the rest of our crew (particularly from a fellow Cod) for wanting to wash the apples before grinding them into a delicious juicy pulp. Apparently dirt on the apples provides character to your cider. Bull.
In the end, we compromised by hosing the apples down on the grass. After our short set back, we finally began grinding the apples. Although fun at first, grinding was far more labor intensive than we expected. It turns out that food bloggers are weaker than most folks, including large five year-olds. Luckily, one female member of our crew had a blue ribbon arm for grinding apples. When she became tired from cranking she’d simply switch off with the five year-old. It seemed like a good system.
In case you were wondering, the ground apples were being caught and filtered by some old cheesecloth found in a junk drawer. I was skeptical of this at first but must admit, it really did the trick. So basically, once you’ve ground as many apples as you can fit in the barrel lined with cheesecloth, the press is then lowered and the cider begins to flow. If the press is lowered too quickly the cider flow will change from a fountain trickle to a small waterfall so we had to keep testing its limits until the right pressure was found.
We also discovered during this step (to no one's surprise) that bees love cider. We tried our hardest to shoo any cider-loving bees away from the press but one or two may have reached their fate and passed through. Of course, most of our crew didn't mind dirt in their cider so obviously a few bees didn’t phase them.
The cider was then filtered through cheesecloth one more time and poured into clean gallon jugs our Shelburne friends apparently bartered for from a local farmer.
We repeated these steps of washing, grinding, pressing and bottling the apples for the next three or four hours with relaxing kayaking breaks throughout the day.
In the end, we used every ground apple which produced around twelve gallons of cider. Because our cider was unpasteurized (with a fridge life of around one week), most of the cider was frozen for later enjoyment. I’m looking forward to sipping hot mulled cider this winter. We also provided the compost with large amounts of apple pulp.
A helpful hint when picking ground apples; wear clothing with long sleeves…especially if there is a nasty patch poison ivy surrounding your apples. It will really help prevent two long weeks of having to explain to your friends why you only have poison ivy on your forearms.
We have some cider surprises in store for the very near future, so stay tuned. Seriously.
Click here to view the complete photo set from our day on our flickr site