The morning is glorious, all aqua skies and green mountains tinged with a hint of faded gold. Driving into the Shaftsbury countryside, we wend our way over back roads we've never seen, marveling at the beauty before us. Around every turn on the tree-lined roads, as yellow leaves tumble around us and kick up behind us, the woods open out into mountain views, each one more beautiful than the last.
On my lap, I'm carrying a warm apple crumble, made fresh this morning. The treat is our potluck gift to a friend of a friend named Dave, who is welcoming us today for a morning of cidering! The event is a tradition among some Orvis folks, and this year, Jenna invited us to tag along. Also new this year is our friend and neighbor, Jeremy!
Arriving, we introduce ourselves to the gang, and add our offering to the food table—it's laden with apple tart on homemade puff pastry, browned kielbasa slices with crackers and horseradish cheese spread, Jenna's hearty venison stew, Dave's prized bottle of 20 year old apple cider, and ample beer in brown glass growlers. Once we're set with food and drink, it's time to meet the press.
The apple press itself is a beautiful specimen of sturdy cast iron craftsmanship, an antique from the mid-1800s. Dave repaired the wooden parts years and years ago, but the rest is all original, and it's still going strong more than one hundred years after its creation.
Since many of the apples are drops (ie: have been scavenged off the ground), the first step in the cidering process is cleaning them with a pressure washer. Jenna's dog Gibson goes absolutely INSANE when we turn it on, chasing and pouncing on the powerful stream like a cat would a laser pointer.
Once clean, the apples are hoisted into the wooden hopper...
...while another person starts turning the crank. It's difficult at first to get the heavy gears rolling, but soon we we pick up steam and the heavy flywheel keeps things rolling. Below, the gnarled shredded apples tumble down into a wooden, cheesecloth-lined barrel.
When the container is full, it is shoved forward until it rests under the press part of the machine, and another cheesecloth-lined barrel is placed under the grinder. While the grinding continues, just in front of it, we press the milled apples by turning a crank, easily at first, then more difficultly as the apples are compressed. Cider pours out the front of the press, contained by a plastic bag as it flows into a bucket. The elixir is delicious and cold, the purest essence of apples and fall.
When the bucket is full and the cider run has dwindled to a trickle, the container of milled apples is emptied into a pile (this will get heaped on Dave's garden), and the cider is then poured through a filter into a large 20-gallon keg. Each batch of cider goes into the keg, so that all apple varieties have a chance to mingle together. Apparently, this makes for a more delicious hard cider.
Finally, the melange of cider is transferred into carboys everyone brought with them.
Over the course of the morning, we press loads and loads and loads of apples. Jenna's truckbed-full, plus our truckbed semi-full, plus everyone else's massive contributions. Apparently last year, this group didn't make cider because it wasn't a good year for apples. This season? Apples galore. Beer is drunk, cider is guzzled, and the apple press churns along to the tune of laughter and stories.
By mid-afternoon, we finally churn through the last of the apples—we pressed 50 gallons!
I can't wait till next year!