To say there are lots of fruit trees around here is kind of an understatement. I haven’t bothered to check on the statistics for exact numbers, but this part of Washington is a major fruit producing region. And Fixer Guy loooooves apples. He also likes fermenting things. And drying things. And fiddling.
Here’s the story. This summer while I was on maternity leave from my day job, I decided that I was going to master my fear of home canning. More on that later. I’m on the phone one afternoon with my Granny, who’s kind of a compulsive experimenter herself. I mention my plan to can apple pie filling. More on that later, too. She says that she’s got a bumper crop of apples on the trees on her property and we should make cider. Sounds good, right?
Granny lives four hours away, her trees are upwards of 60 years old and are pretty much untended outside of cleaning up after wind storms. That means lots of little apples. Granny is in her eighties and in pretty good shape, but she lives alone and doesn’t need to be climbing ladders to collect these apples, so she’s fighting the deer for the apples that drop on their own.
So I say, OK. Let’s make cider.
I’ve never done it. She’s never done it. We don’t have a cider press. It’ll be an adventure. Right? Riiiiight….
Me: Gramma, do you know anyone with a cider press?
Gramma: I don’t know. I’ll ask at the senior center.
Me: OK. Let me know. I’ll see if I can find plans on the internet and maybe Fixer Guy will build one. I’ll call you in a couple of days.
A few days go by. Me: Any luck on the cider press? They’re kind of spendy to buy or build for a one time project.
Gramma: I’ve asked a fella at the senior center if we can borrow his. He says we need to come get. I’ll ask your aunt to pick it up.
Me: Sounds good. See you in a couple of weeks.
Meantime, Granny is collecting apples…lots…of…apples. My aunt calls, reports that the potential cider press will require a trailer hitch to borrow and is 3 feet tall and 5 feet long. Am I sure I want it? Hmmm, sounds like a really big press. Will she go assess the volume of apples we’re talking about? From there we slide into non-numerical assessments of volume. “A few boxes”, “Not that many”, etc. By this time my mom is in on the game with similarly inconclusive estimate. Finally, I just give up and tell my aunt to forget it.
While all of this wrangling over how many apples is going on, I’ve been reading up on the internet how to make cider.
I wish I had pictures. By the time the whole project is over, Granny, Fixer Guy and I have sliced (by hand, with the dullest knives on the whole planet), cored, shoved thru the grinder attachment on a 40-year-old KitchenAid stand mixer, and squeezed (by hand thru a jelly bag) 50 pounds of apples. Do you know that if you squeeze cider by hand thru a jelly bag, your palms look like they’ve been spray tanned? Yeah, me either.
It made 6 quarts.
It took 8 hours.
Then I had to can it. On a propane burner. In the rain. In the dark.
And it was good. And it was worth it.
It turned out to be a really great way to spend the day with my Granny. I can’t think when I’ve had that much time to just visit quietly with her without all the chaos of family gatherings. So I think I’ve discovered one of the real joys of trying to do things the old fashioned way, although I’m fairly certain that the old timers would have done a better job of using the right tool for the right job.
I can’t say for sure if we’re going to do it again next fall, but I’m pretty sure that if we do, there will be a proper cider mill involved.
Fixer guy wants to make hard cider out of the fruits of our labor. Sounds like a good idea to me. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
Did I mention we took a further 50 pounds of apples home with us? I’ll tell you more about what we did with those, too.