One of our favorite autumn jobs on the farm is bringing out the cider press. We set it up a few weeks ahead of pressing time, so that our CSA members can get a jump on remembering to bring their own cider jugs on vegetable pick-up days.
People get excited when they see the press. “Oh, is it time for cider? Boy, I missed it last year. I love your cider!”
We missed it last year, too, because on all sixteen of our big old apple trees there was only one apple. And it wasn’t even one of the yummy Northern Spy or Golden Delicious apples, or even the pretty good Cortland or McIntosh. It was a Red Delicious, that tough-skinned old not much of an apple variety. But we kept our eye on it, because we were determined to eat the one apple we had that year.
Well, it was just ready to pick, and we went out to pick it . . . you know that story . . . someone else had picked it first. Some lucky duck, or lucky deer or squirrel, more likely.
But this year the orchard is bursting with apples, and it is cider time. We make about thirty gallons a week for six weeks, and it all begins with gathering buckets and buckets of apples and hauling them to the press.
We always make our cider on CSA pick-up days, so that people can see and join in the process. It’s a nice community builder, especially on a beautiful autumn day. Folks exchange apple recipes and cider press stories, while mothers nurse their babies on the nearby bench. The older crowd (four or five or six years old, or ten years old or 70 years old) crank and press.
“Now how does this work?” a new member might ask. “I’ve never seen this done before.”
“You put the apples in the hopper to grind them up, by turning the crank here. Then you put this wooden lid on, and turn the handle on top, which squeezes the apple mash and presses out the cider,” we explain.
“Like this!” says one of our helpers, today a six-year old boy with boundless pressing enthusiasm. He cranks like the devil, as I throw one apple in the hopper at a time, so as not to discourage his enthusiasm or his muscle.
Then my fellow farmer steps up to the crank. He cranks like the devil too, and my six-year old pal and I are hard-pressed, so to speak, to keep up. We both throw apples in the press six or seven at a time, but the crank is whirling so fast that the juice flies up in our faces.
“Faster, faster!” my pal and I encourage each other, laughing.
But now my fellow is laughing too, and he can’t laugh and crank at the same time -- he is out of breath. We all stop and grin at each other.
Then we give another person a chance to try the crank, and we haul out some good old cranking jokes. “Step right up if you’re feeling cranky,” and “You too can be as cranky as the farmers are!”
It’s a good feeling, all of us gathered around the press. It’s good to use this old, relatively simple tool (an old design, anyway -- we bought the press new only six years ago-- they’re still making ‘em!). It’s good to use our muscles to bring forth all of this sweetness, sweetness of cider, of harvest, of autumn, of knowing each other, and knowing this farm where our food is grown. This is the Community in Community Supported Agriculture.
And by the way, it’s not just a human community gathered around: the yellow jacket, hornet, and wasp communities are in full force, loving the sweetness too. Mostly they’re pretty intent on the “nectar from heaven”, as one of our CSA members called the cider, but if a farmer accidentally puts a hand right on a wasp as the apple leavings are dumped out of the press, that farmer might just get stung.
Which is certainly good for another cranky joke, and a sympathetic community chuckle.
Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News, Oct 2 – Oct 8, 2013