Yesterday I spent the afternoon (and well into the evening) with my neighbor CL making apple cider. We visited another neighbor that had two apple trees teaming with tiny little apples. The trees had been planted sometime between 1900-1953 when her family settled in this little part of the range. The trees are gnarled and beautiful with scars of old fires and lightening strikes and no formalized pruning regiment, just the yearly winds knocking down broken and dead limbs.
We gathered as many minimally bruised tiny apples from the ground below the trees and then filled the rest of our bags with the green and yellow ones from the branches above, sending down rains of apples every time we picked a tree-apple. How many did we gather? Something like this: a cooler full + three 3-gallon buckets worth (and a bag of more rotten ones for CL’s goats). One bucket went to the lady of the house who tells us a bucket full makes exactly 17 pints of apple butter.
But apple butter wasn’t what we wanted. Former northern east-coast transplants CL and I share a not so secret longing, especially during harvest season. Fall is apple picking and cider making season in New England and Upstate New York. Glorious memories of afternoons spent picking bushels macouns and macintoshes (among many other varieties) with the reward of a glass of unpasteurized apple cider and a cider donut. My family never made their own, but there were plenty places around to get a gallon, starting in September through Thanksgiving. Cider meant fall and apples and abundance. It meant leaves turning red and orange and yellow; and the seasons changing and getting out those wool sweaters. It meant sharing and spending time with family and friends.
So we went to work de-stemming and pulverizing tiny little apples in the vitamix and blender to a sauce-like consistency. Failing to locate a cider or wine press, we struggled with how to press out the juice. After a couple failed attempts of trying to push the entire pulverized contents of a 5 gallon bucket through an old pillow case, we ended up settling in to wring it by hand through some cheesecloth. So a couple cups at a time we wrung and squeezed until the juice was extracted and we were left with dry, tasteless solids and the cloudy dark liquid cider.
It was 8:30 before we siphoned off the 4 ½ gallons into containers.
We took a few moments to savor the sweet-tart spicy taste of joy. We quietly reminisced and spoke of the hard work to obtain this precious liquid. When I took my leave, both of us agreed that this would be a tradition worth building and sharing in our adopted community. Perhaps between the end of haying and the beginning of shipping season, a cider pressing potluck could be a way to celebrate the harvest and reflect on the coming season.