This past weekend, my parents, my brother and sister, along with their significant others, my Uncle Tom and Aunt Jan, myself and girlfriend and our dog gathered at home for what has a yearly tradition: cidering. It's become a time when we all gather (if able - this was the first time that I've been able to make it in a couple of years) and spend the day working to press a large amount of homemade apple cider for the next year.
When my family moved to Moretown in the early 1990s, we build a house on the remains of an old farmstead; the ancient foundation has largely crumbled away to a hole in the ground, but other parts remain: the barbed wire embedded in the trees in the woods, the remains of the fields that makes up our front yard, and a half dozen apple trees that line the road.
For the first decade of our living there, we didn't really pay attention to the trees: they were a curiosity, things that attracted the deer, and provided ammunition for my brother and I. (Armed with a long stick, you can hurl a fist sized apple several hundred feet in any direction) As my parents became satisfied with home improvements, and found that they had more time on their hands for new projects, my father stumbled on the idea of harvesting the apples for cider. Armed with some directions, we gathered that year's crops and armed with a couple of knives and a tiny food processer, we spent a ridiculous amount of time grinding the apples, eventually destroying the mixer. My dad, ever the inventor, put together a frame, a slab of polished granite and a car jack, and created a rudimentary press.
Several years on, the process has become a bit more refined, and takes just an afternoon. This past weekend, people began to arrive early in the morning, where we harvested several bushels of apples in crates and buckets. By the time Megan and I arrived, the next step was largely underway. My sister in law, sister's boyfriend and mother had set around a table with sharp knives and cut the apples into small pieces, loading them into buckets for the processing team.
Without trying to over think the entire weekend, I've come to appreciate the times that we come together for this, even if it's just the immediate family and a couple of others. In the past, family units in the United States were busy groups of people, working on a number of projects collaboratively in order to gain a collective result. Reading over old accounts and stories, it seems that this was a given fact of life, but that seems to be a value that's been lost in modern day society. To get a gallon of cider, all that we have to do here is drive to the grocery store and buy one. I'm not wholly convinced that the effort, time and money put into a gallon on demand is really worth the entire experience of seeing the family coming together and working for something that we'll reap the benefits of over the entire year.
Since destroying a mixer, Dad has sought out ways to better mash up apples, and build a top for the cart: a board with a garbage disposal in it. My uncle took on the apples, dumping them onto the flat surface, and pushing them towards my dad, who forced a steady stream of apples and water through the hole and disposal unit. A bucket, lined with a cloth sack, captured the mash the came out the other end. When the bag was full, we stopped the processor and removed the surface.
My task became the compressor: this method hasn't changed. The sack was then tied off, placed in a plastic bin to capture the juice, and covered with a polished granite slab, which was then pressed down by a car jack underneath a two by four. The pressure forced out the juice, and the tilt of the cart let it flow to the other end. After three rounds of compression, the jack and granite slab was removed, and we collected the newly-pressed apple cider into a large jug, where it's then allowed to settle, and individual containers were filled by my brother and my aunt.
The entire process runs until we're out of apples, and at the end of this weekend, we walked away with something like fifty or so gallons of the stuff, which has since been sealed and frozen. Afterwards, we collect back in the house, where we’ll talk over food and drinks, and generally relax after the day’s efforts.
Over the next year, we'll endure my father asking if we want another couple of gallons, because he'll want to turn off the freezer to conserve electricity over the winter. We'll roll our eyes and take a couple of gallons home at a time, where we'll share it with friends and enjoy it over the next year, until next autumn. In the time between that, we'll pick away at the trees, pruning away branches periodically, while the red frame rests until it's called back into service next year, when the family will gather once again and repeat the whole process. I for one, can’t wait for next year.