Anyone who has grown up in apple-orchard country knows one of the delights of the harvest season: freshly squeezed raw apple cider. Years ago, every little fruit stand sold the sweet, amber nectar in the fall. Unfortunately, thanks to new government regulations to protect the public from acid-tolerant strains of E. coli bacteria (that may have evolved because of the unnatural high-grain diets fed to cattle to fatten them quickly in feedlots), we can no longer purchase fresh, raw apple cider. If someone wishes to sell “cider,” the raw juice must be put through a pasteurization process that damages the distinct, tangy cider flavor.
We grew up in Pennsylvania where my sister and I eagerly awaited the ripening of apples that heralded the apple cider season. We dreamed wistfully of the cider we drank as children. Two years ago, my sister ordered a handsome, well-made press from a carpenter in Oregon. In October 2002, we put the press to the test and found it met our every hope and expectation.
Cider tastes only as good as the apples used in the process. A mix of sweet and tangy apple varieties will produce a tasty cider, provided the apples have ripened and have a good flavor of their own.
Using the cider press involves two steps: The apples are ground into a lumpy, juicy mush, then the mush is squeezed to separate the juice from the pulp. The press comes with two wooden pails made from 1-inch-wide slats set ½ inch apart. An old pillowcase fits nicely into the slatted pail, preventing the pulp from sliding out through the slats, but allowing the juice to escape through the cloth.
To make homemade cider, my sister and I feed apples into the grinder. When we have a pailful of apple pulp, my brother-in-law moves the pail over to the squeezing device, puts a round, wooden lid on top of the pulp and then turns the screw that forces the lid down through the pail, squeezing the apples in the process. Fresh apple cider spurts out through the slats in the pail and onto the press floor, which is slightly tilted to allow the liquid to flow out of a small opening and into the containers below. We pour the pressed cider through a sieve and into clean, plastic gallon milk jugs. In a little more than an hour, we squeeze more than 5 gallons of pure heaven from a 50-pound tub of apples.
We hose down the press, put the pulp out for the deer to eat and share our bounty with our neighbors. We no longer have to just dream about our favorite fall treat.