Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Cider Pressing October 3, 2008

Filed under: edibles,trees — greenwalks @ 8:13 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Fall in Seattle usually brings a last spate of gorgeous, sunny weather before the rains set in for good. This past weekend, we enjoyed a couple of the sunniest, most crystalline days in recent memory, the kind that you wish you could bottle up and pour out later, in the depths of darkest winter. Our relatives visiting from California joked that they had brought the sun with them, but it didn’t depart when they flew out on Monday, and we got another day or so of loveliness to enjoy.

We took advantage of the beautiful day on Sunday to enact a family tradition, the annual cider pressing. My parents have 68 mostly dwarf apple trees on 1 1/2 acres in the Seattle suburbs, and they work practically year-round to keep the trees healthy and pest-free. At least two times a year, there is much pruning to be done, as well as fertilizing, watering, fruit-thinning and anti-pest footie-applying (this year, they used over 6,000 footies!?!), not to mention the harvest at the end of all of that. Needless to say, it’s a labor of love.

To prepare the apples for pressing, my folks spend hours picking, sorting, and cleaning fruit; washing the press, buckets and bottles; setting up tables, getting out knives and cutting boards; and so on. When the guests arrive, we all pitch in with the fun part of the process.

The press has been in the family for at least three generations, not counting mine (so adding mine and my daughter’s, it’s been used by at least five). It’s a Hocking Valley Junior press, which may have come from the Midwest at some point (Hocking Valley is in Ohio). We don’t have a lot of antiques in our family, but this one’s a keeper. My grandfather, who never met anything he couldn’t fix, added the scorching-orange wheels (spares from a rototiller??) in the 70s, to make it easier to move around. Not historically accurate but improves functionality!

Family cider press

Here are its removable parts, waiting to be put together before the first use of the year.

Cider press parts

The process, once the apples are washed and dried and binned (thanks, mom and dad!) goes like this. First, we go around and put a few of each type in a tub (pre-selected for a good mix of sweet and tart, ripe and not so ripe – the list of varieties was long, but included Akane, Gravenstein, Adams Pearmain, King, Liberty, and Alkemene.) Here are the Akane and Liberty bins, almost empty:

Tubs of cider apples

Tubs of apples, all varieties nicely mixed together:

Pre-cider apples

Then, once that’s done, everyone gets to chop. Halves are fine for small apples, the others get quartered. Small brown spots and watercore are acceptable, but apple maggot damage is not, nor is coddling moth fuzz. There were very few toss-outs, since my mom was very meticulous about putting only “firsts” out for the initial (guests present) pressing. Here are the only bad ones I found in a half hour or so of chopping:

Pest-damaged apples

(The top two show how the apple maggot larva randomly roams around, munching happily, and ruins the entire piece of fruit; the bottom left is coddling moth damage to a core, the rest was usable; and the bottom right shows watercore along the left side near the skin.)

Once chopping is under way, there seems to be something about the Y chromosome which inclines those who possess it to gravitate towards the press. Very old-school farm chore division, I guess. One person tosses the chopped apples from bucket to press, and another one turns the crank. (And still another can stand around watching and avoiding chopping.) Cranking is a really short burst of super aerobic exercise and the apple tosser has to be careful not to dump too many pieces in at once the gears get jammed. Here’s an action shot, only two out of three males present, strangely, although the other one can be seen in the background.


When the wood-slat cylindrical tub below the crunching gears is full of apple bits, it’s time to slide it down to the other side of the machine and actually press the cider out. This is accomplished by spinning a handle that presses a metal disk down and persuades the apples to give up their juice. Towards the end, it’s too hard to spin the handle without leverage, so there’s a notched wooden stick that helps get every last drop out. My daughter was really into helping with everything she could (she’s still too little to turn the crank, but maybe next year), and was proud to stand on a chair and do this part.

Turning the press

It usually takes a few minutes for the juice to start coming through, but when it does it’s pretty exciting.

Cider flowing

Then the only things left to do are to strain the cider through a sieve and funnel into gallon jugs,

Straining the cider

dump out the dry juice-less apple bits into a wheelbarrow for their eventual trip to the compost pile,

The left-behind bits

and start again with the next round! It took us over two hours, not counting all the prep, to press 5 1/2 gallons of cider. My folks did another round the following day, and they may do it again later in the season, when the apples are riper and more likely to be juicy. It’s a pretty labor-intensive process but a super fun one too, especially for we guests! And my hands were too sticky to use the camera anymore by the time we got around to sampling the juice, but it was the perfect blend, not too sweet, not too sour. All in all, it was a great way to spend an autumn afternoon.

(PS I realize that this was long and off-topic. It’s vaguely related to gardening, but not to parking strips, or at least not mine!)


17 Responses to “Cider Pressing”

  1. Tyra Says:

    I wish I was there, it looks like great fun!!!

  2. Georgia Says:

    A great tradition – five generations and counting.

    Several years ago I was involved in a maple sugaring project in Boston. Norway maples growing in a school yard were tapped. The Norway maple sap is not as sweet as sugar or red maples but the location was perfect.

  3. Jenny Says:

    This was fantastic to read! I’m sure it isn’t fun all the time, but still, what a great way to spend the day with your family.

  4. Shibaguyz Says:

    What a fantastic post! This is wonderful that you all use your apples and have made a family tradition around them. FYI… you can cook down those left over bits for apple butter. That’s what we used to do with ours when I was a kid. Thank you for sharing your family tradition with us all!

  5. Philip Says:

    What a great post!
    I love that your family has an orchard, and the Hocking cider press is a treasure.
    What a great event. I have never done this, so it was very informative. This mix of apples,ripeness,tartness…all great secrets of the trade!
    I love the image of the gererations straining cider.
    This must have had a wonderful apple aroma,too!

    Best regards,

  6. Racquel Says:

    What a great way to celebrate the fall harvest of apples. I love apple cider. What a wonderful post today!

  7. Katie Says:

    Wow – that is such a cool piece of family history! I am jealous of your cider making.

    Ahem. Any hard cider? :0)

  8. Aerie-el Says:

    Apple cider…maple syrup…makes me homesick.

    The pictures of the apple maggot and coddling moth damage are great too. It’s interesting that you can’t use the apple maggot damaged fruit, but you can use the coddling moth damaged ones.

    How long does the cider usually last before it begins to turn?

  9. greenwalks Says:

    Tyra –

    I wish everyone could do this at least once in their lives. It’s a lot of work but yes, incredibly fun.


    Georgia –

    Something else to put on my life list, making maple syrup. I just read a kids’ book about making it, sounds like even more work than cider but really enjoyable too – glad you got to participate.


    Jenny –

    Thanks, it’s mostly fun, the only hard part for me was keeping my daughter going with enough jobs!


    guyz –

    Thanks for the good tip on the apple butter. My mom’s pretty particular about that kind of thing, she probably has a reason not to, and she does make butter sometimes out of whatever apples don’t get used for cider, pies, crisps, sauce and just eating raw. You’d think we’d be sick of apples by now, but we’re not! Kind of like you and tomatoes. πŸ™‚


    Philip –

    Thank you, it was a fun day and almost as enjoyable to write about. It’s pretty funny that my folks have an orchard, given that they live in the ‘burbs. They’re suburban homesteaders for sure! Yes, that was three generations in the straining pic, counting my hand. πŸ™‚ It does indeed smell great when you’re making cider, that’s one of the most evocative smells of fall for me.


    Racquel –

    Thank you! It is truly a harvest fiesta for us.


    Katie –

    Well, I wish I could invite you next year. πŸ™‚ Good question, it made me laugh. Nope, no hard cider – that’s considered a waste of good apples by my folks. I wonder if they’d feel that way about wine if they grew grapes?!

  10. greenwalks Says:

    Aerie-el –

    Yeah, those pesky apple maggots – I think their eating habits might be what makes the fruit unusable, since they tunnel around all over the place, while the coddling moth seems to just stay in one place. Could be wrong on that, but that’s what I’ve observed while cutting up the fruit every year. The cider doesn’t last longer than about a week, so whatever we can’t drink right away gets frozen for future use, and the taste stays pretty consistent. For safety, my mom thinks we should flash pasteurize everything before drinking, which I forgot to mention in the post. She got her info from Cornell U – 160 degrees for 6 seconds, using a candy thermometer, then cool quickly in an icy sink bath.

  11. Cynthia Says:

    Wow Karen! This was an amazing post! (I wouldn’t call it that off topic either!) I am more than a little jealous. πŸ™‚ Wish I could try a sip! I do not know much about growing apples so I found this to be very interesting- especially the discard pics. I’ve of course heard of apple maggot but have never actually seen the damage they can do. What beautiful apples in the bins! I’m ready to go apple picking now!

  12. Georgia Says:

    Received the EarthWorks Boston e-newsletter today and the group is sponsoring a Harvest Festival/ make your own cider on October 18.

  13. Cal Greco Says:

    Hi Guys; I too have a Hocking Valley Apple press but mine is the Senior. I have been researching the Hocking Valley Manufacturing Co. which was located in Lancaster County, Ohio just above the Hocking Valley County I lose track of the Company around 1920. The historical society has not been much help, but the University of Iowa has documents of this company!? Any information you have would be greatly appreciated. Thanks Cal Greco

    • Bill Says:

      Hi Cal,

      I was interested in your homework on the Hocking Valley Co. I have a Hocking Valley “Bantam” cider press which has been in the family since 1953. It came with the farm my folks bought on Whidbey Island that year. I had to replace the wooden uprights, base, tub and tray due to powder post beetle damage, and to make the unit functional (we use it at the annual family reunion to press 15 – 20 gallons of cider). The replacement parts are not historically accurate so I’d like to get more info on the original. Any additional info you can provide would be greatly appreciated.


  14. Jim Chambers Says:

    I am the proud owner of a Hocking Valley Press, “Sold by Dixon, Griswold & Co., Los Angeles Cal.” stenciled on the side but nothing to indicate what model. How do you tell if it is a Junior or what??? There is no crank handle but a large V-belt pulley for operating with a small engine. I also own a Model number 1root chopper made by Massey Harris. The chopper is designed for chopping potatoes and apples for feeding to pigs or cows. Since I own several old gas engines the press is just the type of implement I am always looking for. Minor repairs to the press will be required before it can be used next fall. I really enjoyed the writeup, and the pictures will be useful when I add the basket and tray. Thanks.

  15. Karen Says:

    We have a Hocking Valley Junior cider press & ours shows that it came from Portland, Oregon. We used to have cider-making parties when I was a kid. It was the only kind of cider I knew. Delicious.

  16. I just acquired a Hocking press bought by my great granddad in the 1880s. Your post will be extremely useful this fall when I put it to use! (Mine has the modern twist of an electric motor)

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