Dateline: 30 October 2005
In my last Blog entry I told you the story about When Me & Ed Made Apple Cider. After that experience I decided that I must have my own cider press. The Garden Way company was selling cider press kits back then and I really wanted one. But it was three years before I could afford to buy it. By then, Marlene and I were newly married and had regular jobs. There were no children yet, and we were enthusiastic about acquiring homestead tools and self-sufficiency skills.
The Garden Way kit had all the hardware needed to make a press and detailed plans for cutting out and assembling the wood parts. Parts and plans for a hand-crank apple grinder were also included. I used plywood and pine boards to make the press and put several coats of polyurethane on to seal the wood. It was a dandy press that Marlene and I used to make a lot of great cider. We also loaned it out to some of our friends so they could make their own cider.
There was, however, one problem with the grinder. It did a decent job of pulverizing the apples, but the hand-cranking was a lot of work. So I put ball-bearing pillowblocks on each end of the grinder shaft and employed an electric motor to drive it. This improvement made the tedious task of apple grinding downright fun! The grinder was spinning so fast that it violently gulped the apples down and shredded them as quickly as we could toss them in.
The years passed. I became more and more consumed with my work as a carpenter and remodeler. Homesteading was not the focus like it had once been. As a result, the cider press languished in Marlene’s parent’s basement. Then came a time of purging, which is to say, we had a garage sale. The press and grinder sold fast.
I’ve always regretted selling that cider press, especially now that the kids are old enough to participate in and appreciate the process of making fresh apple cider. For the past five years or so, I’ve been intending to make another press. I could buy another kit but Garden Way is out of business and the kits I’ve seen don’t impress me. They are also more expensive than I think they should be. An already-made press is definitely more money than I want to spend. So I’ve been giving a lot of thought to making a press of my own design. I’m still in the thinking and research stage of this project. It will come to fruition one day. In the meantime, this year I borrowed a cider press from my friend Ken.
Ken and his wife, Mary, have been good friends of Marlene and I since high school. We have a lot in common. For the past few years Ken has borrowed my Whizbang Chicken Plucker to process his chickens, and he told me I could use his cider press any time. So, last weekend, I took Ken up on the offer.
Marlene and the kids picked seven bushels of apples one weekday while I was at work. They were from a variety of big, old trees that are not sprayed with any chemicals. That meant the apples were not picture-perfect, but they were just great for cider.
Ken’s press is made from a Happy Valley kit (specifically, it’s the “Pioneer Jr.”). I can tell you that the quality of the Happy Valley kit is nowhere near as good as the Garden Way kit I once had. The fit of the pre-cut parts and the quality of the metal parts is not commendable. That isn't to say the Happy Valley press and grinder do not work, because they certainly do. I just think that the press could be made a little better.
As with my Garden Way machine, the weakest link with the Pioneer Jr. unit is the grinder. Ken’s unit has no hefty circular handle that acts as a flywheel, helping to make crushing a bit easier. I see from their web site that the Pioneer Jr. now comes with a better handle but grinding apples with Ken’s grinder is so laborious that it does not leave one feeling very happy at all.
Pillowblocks and an electric motor would make a huge difference. But my internet research into apple grinders led me to the unique concept of using a garbage disposal to crush apples. I was intrigued enough with the idea that I dipped into the Whizbang Books R&D budget to buy a 3/4 HP In-Sink-Erator garbage disposal. I jerry-rigged the disposal into a scrap of 1/2” plywood and wired it up.
We scrubbed the apples clean by hand in our outdoor sink using lots of cold water (but no soap because I didn’t want any soapy flavor) and piled them by the disposal. I put a big bowl under the disposal outlet and started feeding apples into the machine. The disposal will accept a fairly good size apple but we found it works better if the apples are quartered first. With a big knife and a cutting board, you can quarter apples fast.
The garbage disposal does a truly awesome job of crushing apples. It macerates them almost to the consistency of applesauce, which is far better than any hand-crank apple crusher I’ve ever used. Finely ground apple pomace is more desirable than coarse-ground because it renders more juice.
The only problem with the garbage-disposal-grinder is that it overheats fairly quickly and the built-in circuit breaker will trip off. Then you have to wait several minutes for the motor to cool down. This is a significant drawback. I do not see this kind of grinder as a tool that will reliably grind a lot of apples for years to come.
Be that as it may, using the garbage disposal, we managed to convert all those bushels of apples into many gallons (I did not keep track of how many) of sweet cider. My boys learned what a delight it is to make their own cider and that home-squeezed beats pasteurized, store-bought cider any day of the week.
We gave a couple gallons away, drank a few, and froze lots of it in one-gallon ziplock freezer bags. All in all, cider pressing this year was a grand success.
If you happen to have any experiences or insights into this subject of cider presses, grinding apples, or making cider, I welcome your input. And I will continue to ponder how to best make my own equipment for, hopefully, next year’s cider pressin’ adventure.
UPDATED INFORMATION....March 2009
My book, Anyone Can Build A Whizbang Apple Grinder And Cider Press is now in print. you can learn about the book and homemade cider production in general by going to www.Whizbang Cider.com