Well, it was a big weekend. We got our apples pressed, and the laying hens passed on to my real farmer friend, who will keep them for us until spring. She and her family showed up briefly during our apple pressing to pitch in for a bit and press a small batch of their pears into pear cider. We put off the pressing from Saturday to Sunday to avoid the heavy rain on Saturday. Instead we were graced by the first snow flurries of the year as we turned our apples into delicious cider.
Here's a picture of our apples, about 6-7 bushels' worth, loaded into our pickup truck in the morning. (In the back are our four hens, loaded into two cat carriers.)
The apple press we use is around 100 years old and is located in a huge barn, which provides some protection from the wind. My relatives bought the apple press for a song at an auction many years ago.
When we first arrived, I uncovered the apple press and found a mouse nest in the juice box, made up of chunks of fiberglass insulation. Needless to say, the press needed several good scrubbings and a little bleach before it was ready for use. Fortunately, I didn't find any critters in the nest.
After cutting out the worst blemishes, giving the apples a triple rinse, and grinding them by hand with an old-fashioned apple grinder, the fruit was loaded into net bags. The net bags are placed in the hopper of the press, and then we crank down the screw. It takes some effort to turn the screw once it's fairly tight. We use the mechanical advantage of this pole. After ten minutes under heavy pressure, enough juice has left the apples that the screw can be tightened further for a little more extraction.
The juices begin to flow. There's nothing in this world that tastes like fresh apple cider you've just pressed entirely by hand. Freezing preserves the cider, but the taste of this brown nectar is unmatchable.
And here's a picture of our cider yield. Pretty dramatic reduction, huh?
Well, we did get a little more cider than is shown here. We gave some to our friends who helped us with the pressing, and they gave us a little bit of their pear cider. And of course, we had to sample the cider as we were making it, for quality control purposes. We also gave half a gallon to my relatives who let us use their massive old apple press. They told us repeatedly that it was the best apple cider they'd ever had, which is saying a lot, since they had freshly pressed apple cider from their own press last year, and apple cider is fairly common where we live. Really good apple cider is usually made with a combination of different apple types too. We had only the apples from our own tree.
Speaking of our mystery apples from our old, old tree... During our lunch break we took a look at an apple variety book that my relatives had. We now think it's a decent bet that we have either a Winesap or a Stayman-Winesap tree. I lean more towards the Stayman-Winesap on the basis of the color of the flesh, which is greenish-yellow, and on the extremely late harvest of the fruit. Winesaps apparently have more yellowish flesh and a wider range of harvest dates. Both varieties have a squat shape, crisp texture, and dull red skin with tiny white flecks.
Our farming friends hauled away all the bad spots trimmed from the apples for their chickens, and all the pomace (solids left after pressing) for their goats. It's cold enough now that the pomace probably won't ferment on its own, so she can feed it to them over the next few days. I speculated that the goats probably wouldn't object if the pomace did ferment.
Speaking of fermentation, I heard something, possibly a rumor, that I'm going to try out this year. Apparently, one can take the apple pomace and put it in a crock with water just to cover. Cheese cloth should be laid over the rim and tied off and the crock left in a dark area. Supposedly, it'll eventually turn into apple cider vinegar. That wide mouth jar next to the bushel basket in the last picture contains the beginnings of the experiment. I don't know if this will work, but since the ingredients are free I have nothing to lose by trying it. Any wagers? Any actual knowledge? I'm looking forward to seeing how this goes.
Hope you all had a fun weekend.
Note: Results of the apple cider experiment are now posted.