Notes from Windward: #70


Another Try at Making Cider

October 19:


     There is something about fall‒the crisp cool air that carries in its breezes the smell of rain and wood stove smoke, the orange-topped oaks standing against the blue sky, the wind dancing playfully with the fallen leafs‒that pulls me inward, and makes me think of time passing, cycles completing, growth and progress.

     Time can play funny tricks on us and growth can come in fits and starts. With our lives so intertwined with the rhythms of this plateau, the patience to work on another's schedule, the foresight to be prepared, and the flexibility to act quickly when needed all become manifestly necessary; without these, I think we would quickly go crazy, or lose hope, in what would be continually less than successful efforts working against that which is far larger and more complex than we can understand.

     Three years ago we started working on improving our capacity to make cider. In this notes article from 2007, I describe some of these initial efforts and provide a few reflections on cider making. What became evident through that work was the need to seriously increase the efficiency and efficacy of pulping the apples before pressing them. This past summer, we finally had the time, or rather made the time, to take this process through the necessary next steps.

our salvaged cider press

     The spring and fall bring a flurry of activity from planting to birthing, harvesting to butchering. However during the mid summer months, its more a matter of ensuring the routine maintenance is attended to and then finding a spot in the shade to wait out the heat of the day. One of the more shady and cool places at Windward is the workshop. So, Andrew and I frequently found our way down to the workshop after lunch to give us something to do while the sun beat down unrelentingly.

     One of the projects we wanted to complete before the fall harvest was a Windward version of the Whiz-bang Apple Grinder. The basic idea is borrowed from Herick Kimball, blogger on the Deliberate Agrarian and designer of other clever and useful devices such as the Whiz-bang Chicken Plucker.

     Kimball's concept was to utilize a garbage disposal unit, such as an InSinkErator, mounted beneath a sink and supported by a free standing frame. The apples are run through the insinkerator and the pulp exits through PVC piping into a five gallon bucket. This pulp is then poured into the press and in a matter of minutes you have fresh sweet apple cider.

     Since that fall of 2007, Walt had gradually picked up the primary components second hand, including a sink and an insinkerator. So for several afternoons this summer, when it was too hot to do much else, Andrew and I built the frame for the sink, wired the electrical circuits necessary to power it and mounted the Insinkerator onto its new home. Most of the materials, save an extension cord and some of the pieces for the electrical outlet, were either second-hand or scrap pieces from other projects.

the Insinkerator unit

     This was my first foray into the world of electrical circuits and wiring. While sometimes tedious, it is extremely satisfying to design and wire a circuit and then be able to flip a switch and have this previously lifeless contraption come to life.

     These afternoons in the workshop were also an exercise in remembering the diversity of skill sets often necessary to accomplish any given goal. It is not enough to just be able to know how to grow and tend to apple trees in all their subtleties and details, but the capacity to shape and join wood into stable dimensions and enable electrons to flow safely through metal also prove integral to fully capturing the value of the apple.

the finished apple grinder

     Each of these is a science and art in its own right and can take years to master. Yet it is such combinations of skill sets that better enable us to see the world in its true complexity and beauty, and encourage us to observe the parallels, analogous metaphors and, if we are lucky, the underlying, first-order, principles that govern the world we live in and how we live in the world.

     After finishing the apple grinder, there were a few more steps before being ready to press cider again. In the fall of 2007, it became apparent that the metal plate which is attached to the bottom of a large metal screw and compresses the apple pulp to make juice was designed so that the screw would rotate inside the metal plate lowering the plate, and compressing the apple pulp.
the formerly frozen bottom plate

     However, when we turned the screw to compress the apples, the metal plate turned as well, which created large amounts of friction and made pressing the pulp a multiple person event. So this summer, Walt worked on freeing the metal plate from the screw so that the screw could once again rotate freely inside the plate without also causing the plate to rotate. Using an oxyacetylene torch to heat the metal and a hammer to loosen the bonds, he was able to free the plate. Some sand paper, some grease and a couple of stainless-steel screws later, the press was ready to go.

     To celebrate the meeting of the night and day (aka the fall equinox) I decided to test out our new cidering capacities and bring some freshly made sweet cider to our gathering. I sliced up the apples into halves or quarters depending on their size and fed them into the insinkerator.

sliced apples ready for grinding

     The pulp that came out was finely ground and already quite juicy. The next step was to pour the goup into the mesh bag, which I placed inside the press. Immediately juice began flowing out, so I was glad I had already placed a pan under the press to catch the delicious liquid. The final step was to lower the screw and attached plate and squeeze out the remaining juices. It worked remarkably well and within a half an hour a five gallon bucket of apples was converted into a one and half gallons of fresh cider.

     We have since pressed and enjoyed many more gallons of cider. The apple trees growing along the river are weighted down with fruit and so we have gathered a couple hundred gallons of apples over the past few weeks and have been steadily pressing them into cider. The insinkerator really does make cidering worthwhile, turning something that was once so tedious and inefficient into a process that still requires its due effort but with rewards that are immediate and satisfying.

even the sheep and goats get to
benefit from the cider making

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 70