Making Apple Cider
In The Old Days

Dateline: 7 November 2005

As I explained in a previous blog entry, our family recently took a short vacation to Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. One part of the village that we especially liked was the cider press. I’m not talking about a little, portable press like I’ve used in the past. I’m talking about a cider mill; a whole building (like a barn) that houses a big apple grinder and a big press from the 1830 to 1840 era of American history.

Back then, cider was big. I mean really big. Most every New England town in those days had at least one such press, and often more. The farmers (and, remember, most everyone was a farmer back then) would haul their apples to the cider mill where they would be processed and the juice put into wooden barrels. The typical family put up 40 gallons of cider per person. So, if you had a wife and husband and 10 kids, that would amount to 480 gallons. Figure 560 gallons if Grandma and Grandpa lived there too. Let me tell you, it takes a whole lot of apples to make that much cider!

At Sturbridge we watched as a horse connected to a long wooden arm, powered a big, all-wood, apple grinder. Men shoveled apples into the mechanism and pomace fell out the bottom into a wooden trough. The pomace was left there to season before being pressed the next day.

To press the pomace, a square, wooden frame about 6” high, and a couple feet long on each side, was set on a heavy platform underneath two large wood screws. Rye straw was laid into the form and pomace was shoveled in to fill it. Once full, overhanging straw was folded over, the form was removed, and boards were laid over the top. Then the form and more straw were used to repeat the process, building more layers. Once there were enough layers in place, the screws were slowly cranked down and the juice flowed.

None of this process was sanitary. The apples were not washed. The grinder and press were not clean. Did people back then really drink juice made this way? No they did not!

According to the men who were making cider at Sturbridge that day, folks back then did not drink fresh-squeezed apple cider because they knew it would make them sick. Instead, all the juice was fermented into alcoholic (hard) cider. The fermentation process purified the beverage. In fact, cider was, by definition, understood to be an alcoholic drink. Only in recent American history has cider meant fresh-squeezed, sweet apple juice. In Europe today, cider is still understood to be alcoholic.

The alcohol content of cider in the 1800’s was around seven percent, and it was consumed daily by the rural population, including children. That’s right, children drank alcoholic cider. But, children’s cider was different. After the first pressing, the pomace stack (technically known as the “cheese.”) was watered down and a second pressing was made. Juice from this 2nd pressing was not as sweet and, therefore, made cider with less alcohol (typically 1 or 2 percent.

So that’s what we learned about cider making at Sturbridge Village. I hope you enjoyed this little history lesson.


My book, Anyone Can Build A Whizbang Apple Grinder And Cider Press is now in print. You can learn more at www.Whizbang


TnFullQuiver said...

I enjoyed this post very much. My wife and I once lived in Upstate NY, in the Saratoga Springs area. We greatly enjoyed visiting the apple farms in the area and watching learning about the historical way of operating their farms.


Scott Holtzman said...

Herrick between this post and Walter's photos of his newly laid plot of trees it's got me thinking of the future and that's right where I need to rest my soul at the moment. Thanks for the thoughts.