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Story ID:9241
Written by:Frederick William Wickert (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Gilboa New York USA
Person:Apple cider
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By Fred Wickert

Since writing APPLE PICKING TIME BEGINS and reading the comments to it, I realized there was a little more that I left out from the story. I am taking this opportunity to tell the rest of the story.

We used to have two small cider presses of our own and we had a small hand cranked machine for chopping or grinding up the apples. You could put about a third of a peck of them at a time in the machine and turn the big crank. A system of gears and knife blades turned the apples into a pulp like consistency. Then they were placed in a cylinder of wooden slats lined with burlap. When it was full a wooden lid was placed on top of it. The lid had a metal cup type thing attached to the top of it. The end of the big screw went into that cup and turned freely. The wheel was turned on the big screw which began forcing the lid down inside the slatted cylinder.

As the lid was tightened the cider ran out on all sides into a groove in the floor of the machine. The groove went all the way around but at one point was a place like a small chute for the cider to run out. A bucket was placed under that to catch the cider. There was a large funnel with layers of screen and cheese cloth in it and the cider was poured through that into the gallon jugs. It was fine to get enough cider for home use, but much to slow an operation to make cider for sale.

Some people stored cider in wood kegs that held from 15 to 25 gallons. They allowed the cider to ferment and get hard. Then when winter came the cider in those kegs was allowed to freeze hard. There was a core in the center that did not freeze because it was mostly alcohol. This was poured off and the ice or frozen part was discarded. The part in the center that was poured off was put in bottles and saved for consumption on special occasions. The product was called Apple Jack and was similar to whiskey when consumed.

When apple cider was placed in gallon jugs, it could not be saved for very long. It was important that it be consumed in a few days or it fermented and became what was called hard cider. If left to ferment long enough it became vinegar. ` If one set a gallon of fresh apple cider on the back porch where the sun could hit it and forgot it for a few days, the fermentation built up pressure and blew the top off the jug and made a sticky mess.

I once decided I had a lot of space out in the barn in an upright freezer. I went to the cider mill and bought ten gallons of apple cider in plastic jugs. I was going to put them in the freezer and use them later during the winter. When Thanksgiving came I decided it could be a pleasure to have fresh apple cider to drink with the meal. I went out and opened the freezer door. Much to my surprise there was an awful sticky mess everywhere. It had caused the interior of the freezer to start to rust. I put the jugs in the freezer completely full. I forgot they were bound to expand when they froze. I should have poured off at least a cup full from each jug before putting them in there and I failed to do so. Consequently they blew the caps off and oozed out into the freezer. The remaining cider in the jugs after thawing was still quite tasty and we did enjoy it.

I never once heard of anyone getting sick from drinking apple cider as it came off the press. Cider sold in the stores had the preservative Benzoate added and it altered the taste. I did not like it. Others had their product pasteurized. It too, altered the taste a little. It was still good, but not as good as when fresh.

A few years ago New York State passed a law saying it could not be sold without first pasteurizing it. Most of the small mills could not afford the expense of putting in pasteurizing equipment and were forced to go out of business. Only the biggest producers could afford to do it. The result for the consumer was that he had to buy a less tasty product and pay approximately 40% more per gallon for it. In my opinion it was an unnecessary and unjust law. People, myself included, enjoyed going to the cider mill and watching them press the cider. There were almost always paper cups for free samples. That cold fresh cider tasted so good. It is now a thing of the past, unless of course one buys an old press, cuts up some apples and squeezes their own.

Oh how I long for the good old days in so many ways.

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