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!
Here are its removable parts, waiting to be put together before the first use of the year.
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 apples, all varieties nicely mixed together:
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:
(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.
It usually takes a few minutes for the juice to start coming through, but when it does it’s pretty exciting.
Then the only things left to do are to strain the cider through a sieve and funnel into gallon jugs,
dump out the dry juice-less apple bits into a wheelbarrow for their eventual trip to the compost pile,
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!)