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Homemade apple cider isn’t easy, but it’s good

We have a bumper crop of apples this year — we’ve harvested many bushels worth and some are still on our trees, ready for picking.

I had visions of swimming in apple cider. Well, maybe not swimming. But visions of pressing plenty.

On the day I got started I only had a little time, but was so excited I just had to try a small batch to see what ratio of apples to cider I’d get.

I filled a two gallon bucket with ground apples. With much anticipation, I turned and turned the crank on the press.

To rewind a little: this press was homemade, by someone. It has a frame, bucket and tray clearly made of scrap pieces of wood (some tongue and groove), and a large threaded rod to push down on a weight made of nailed together wooden pieces. I bought it second hand a few years ago.

Handmade and not bought new appealed to me. I borrowed a grinder from a friend.

To return to the instant scene: washed, quartered and ground apples in the press, me joyously cranking the handle round and round.

It took awhile, but eventually a few ounces dripped out. My joy starting to fade, I tasted the cider — it was incredible. Sweet and tart, so fresh. Worth it. Maybe I’d done something wrong and would get more next time.

Next day I tried again, with a bigger batch and larger apple pieces so they would crush more in the grinder. A few ounces, a slightly higher ratio than the day before, dripped out, some into my jar and some watered the ground through cracks in the patchwork tray. I was getting frustrated.

I noticed that some apple chunks made it through the grinder whole — I was using quite small apples. I knew these would be impossible to press. So I tried pulverizing the batch with a mixing attachment on a drill, then pressed again.

I pressed and pressed. I extended the handle for more leverage, and pressed so hard that a thick metal plate along the top of the frame bent out of shape, and the threaded rod drilled into the wooden weight.

About another quart came out. Better, but I would wreck the press and pull a muscle if I kept this up. So, I borrowed a press from the same generous friends who lent the grinder.

I used different apples — larger but less juicy, and tried again. This time I got two and a half quarts from five gallons of apples in minutes with much less effort.

This commercial apple press has a stationary rod, with metal pieces turning down the rod, and wooden pieces underneath. It also has a nice metal base, instead of a leaky wooden tray.

I pressed another few batches. Extra juicy apples from a tree planted long ago mixed with those from a tree my family planted more recently produced a higher yield (an extra quart) and a darker cider.

My favorite cider was of the first batch, of small apples from an old tree. I plan to press those again with the borrowed press. Next I liked the mixed apple variety cider.

The cider from the less juicy variety wasn’t as tart, without that sour zing on the finish. But this cider had an almost buttery quality, which was interesting and enjoyable.

We’ve been drinking fresh cider and canned two gallons. Although my original giddy enthusiasm has somewhat calmed down, I still plan to keep pressing until I make a respectable amount of cider.

ALDONA BIRD is a journalist, previously writing for The Dominion Post. She uses experience gained working on organic farms in Europe to help her explore possibilities of local productivity and sustainable living in Preston County. Email