Cider Pressin’ 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.

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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

When Me & Ed
Made Apple Cider

Dateline: 26 October 2005
Updated: 18 April 2013

It was an old cider press like this. (photo link)


In my last Blog entry I told you about the year I spent at The Grassroots Project in Vermont back in 1976-77. It was during that time that my buddy Ed and I made apple cider, and I’m going to tell you the whole story....

Edwin Parker Bais sounds like such an erudite name, but Ed was a regular guy from the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. His dormitory room was across the hall from mine and we became good friends. When my school-assigned roommate, Dave, got himself kicked out of school, Ed became my new roomie.

Ed and I became such good friends that when we had some sort of mild disagreement (real or imagined), we would settle it by fighting. It might start, innocently enough, with me pushing him so he tripped and fell down. To which he would respond by getting up, yelling out a battle roar, and body slamming me across the room into the wall. This clash would be the beginning of a real donnybrook. We would tumble, pummel, wrestle and toss each other about the room, out the door, and down the hall.

It was, of course, an exaggerated and somewhat theatrical mock brawl, but we were good at it. So good, in fact, that, the first time it happened, our fellow dormitory dwellers came to see what was happening, and they were not sure if we were serious or not. It was physical enough to hurt and, eventually, exhaust us. When that happened, we would call a truce, pick up the mess we made, nurse our wounds, discuss the fight and, in general, feel pretty good about ourselves.

Several years ago, Ed sent me a photo he had taken of me just prior to one of our “rumbles.” I have just burst through the door (he knew I was coming) and have a heavy length of tree-branch-for-a-club raised in my right hand. A menacing scowl is on my face. I’m about to thrash him. I’m sure Ed was laughing when he took the picture, which, I’m also sure was just before he commenced to boldly meet my challenge.

Friendships like me and Ed had are rare and memorable.

One day Ed found out the school had a cider press that anyone could use and he wanted me to help him make some apple cider. It sounded like something new and fun to do even though I absolutely did not like apple cider. Ed wondered how anyone could not like apple cider.

I explained to him that the first and last time I had a drink of apple cider was when I was 5 years old. I still remember it very well.... I was at someone’s house for a special occasion. The cider was hot and mulled. Everyone around me was raving about how delicious it was. I took one sip and got a headache. It tasted toxic. It was so gross, and I was so traumatized by the experience, that I never again took even a tiny sip of the stuff. So, as far as I was concerned, Ed could have all the cider we made to himself.

There were several apple trees here and there around the school and the town. We collected a bunch of the ripened fruit and hauled it to the press which was in the yard behind  the dormitory called Madison House. The press was a heavy, dark, old thing with a hand-crank, cast-iron apple grinder. The ground apple mash fell into a slatted tub and, when the tub was full, a wooden disc was set on top of the mash. Then a big screw was turned down to squeeze out the juice. I’m sure you have seen a cider press like I’m talking about.

Ed and I worked together to collect and crush the apples and we captured the juice when it started to run out the bottom of the press. Ed drank a bit, raved about how awesome it tasted, and urged me to try some. I reluctantly agreed and took a tentative sip.

A split-second after the amber, apple nectar hit my taste buds, my brain informed me that it was absolutely delectable. Incredulous, I took another sip and focused intently on tasting it. There was no mistake. That cider was not merely awesome... it was the most exquisite, luscious, ambrosial experience of my life. That moment was my apple cider epiphany. I had tasted the juice of apples in its purest, freshest, most unadulterated form, and I was a believer.

Nowadays, when cider season returns each year, I can’t help but remember sitting around in my dorm room with Ed and a few other friends, eating Triscuits with little chunks of Cabot Creamery caraway-seed cheddar cheese on them, and chasing it down with cold apple cider. We sure did enjoy those apple squeezin's. But that is not the end of this story....

Ed got the idea that we should use some of our sweet cider to make hard cider. I have never been an alcohol drinker, but the idea of making hard cider had an old-fashioned appeal, and I was intrigued. How, I wondered, do you make hard cider? Ed said that all we had to do was add some brown sugar and raisins to the cider, cork it shut, and wait.

With that in mind, we collected a couple dozen tall CocaCola bottles (the green, thick-glass, old-style bottles that the soda company used to refill) and bought some corks to fit the tops. Into each bottle we put some raisins and some sugar. Then we filled them most of the way with cider, pushed the corks in tight, and stored them on the top shelf of the closet in our room.

We were feeling pretty resourceful, making our own hard cider like that, and, though we had no idea how long it would take, we relished the thought of how great it would be to drink hard cider that we had squeezed and fermented ourselves.

I don’t recall exactly how long it took but I’m sure it was more than a week, maybe more than two. It was long enough that I had practically forgotten the bottles up in the closet. But all that time, in the darkness of that closet, the fermenting process had been working.....

I remember we were in our room one evening discussing something or other when, all of a sudden, there was a loud POP! sound. I looked at Ed and he looked at me. “What was that?” I asked. “I dunno,“ he replied. Then there was another POP! “The corks are popping off the cider bottles!” he exclaimed.

We opened the closet door and, sure enough, some corks were missing. Another bottle violently blew its top as we were watching. With a big grin and a sparkle in his eye, Ed said, “Let’s try some!” Seeing as Ed had a whole lot more experience with alcoholic beverages than me, I handed him a bottle. He could quaff the first one down.

Ed sniffed at the open end and took a sip. I could tell from the expression on his face that our experiment had been a failure. The cider was somewhat alcoholic but the flavor was not at all what Ed had dreamed of.

We dumped the bottles out and lamented the loss of such good cider. Then I shoved Ed against the wall (it seemed like the right thing to do) and he responded by jumping on my back and putting me in a headlock. A thrilling clash ensued. So, in the end, even though the hard cider did not come out the way we had hoped it would, we had a fun time anyway.

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P.S. Hey Ed Bais! Where are you? If you ever Google your name and read this, drop me an e-mail. It's been a long time...... hckimball@bci.net

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UPDATED INFORMATION....March 2009
That episode of cidermaking so long ago was the genesis of my interest in homemade cider, and it has recently led to the publication of my book, Anyone Can Build A Whizbang Apple Grinder & Cider Press. You can learn more at www.Whizbang Cider.com

The Grassroots Project in Vermont

Dateline: 24 October 2005
Updated: 18 April 2013



Back in the mid 1970s, when I was in high school, I didn’t have a clear plan for what to do after graduation. I had a vague idea that I wanted to be a homesteader or farmer or something like that, but I lacked direction and focus. My high school guidance counselor, Gary LaRoech, tried to help me figure out what to do. He suggested I go to the same state university he attended. I remember him showing me the school’s catalog. He opened it to a picture of his dormitory. “My room was right here,” he said, pointing to the book. I wasn’t persuaded.

Then, in a quirk of Providence, Gary remembered something that he had recently received in the mail. “Maybe you'll be interested in this,” he said to me as I was about to leave his office. He handed me a small booklet titled The Grassroots Project in Vermont.

I took it with me and flipped through the pages. There were pictures of kids driving work horses, working on a farm, and participating in other outdoor activities. This was clearly not a conventional school. The classroom was the outdoors. The school’s motto was Working Hands. Working Minds. The place looked custom made for me.

Tuition for the one-year program was $4,000. That was a whole lot more money back then than it is nowadays (accounting for inflation, it's the equivalent of $16,000 dollars in 2013). My parents certainly could not afford it. But my grandmother could. What a blessing my grandmother was! My English teacher, Carm Pennella, wrote a recommendation for me and I was accepted. It was a good feeling to know I had a plan for after graduation and that I was going to be going to such a nifty school.

In September of 1976 my parents drove me to the quaint town of Craftsbury Common in Vermont’s beautiful Northeast Kingdom. Within an hour after arriving, mom and dad were on their way home and I was, figuratively speaking, in heaven.

The school I found myself at had once been a stodgy, traditional, New England prep school for boys, most of whom were, I imagine, uppercrust scions. Officially known as Sterling School, the institution had become an educational anachronism; prep schools just weren’t cool anymore. In a last-ditch effort to save the institution from closing, several faculty members came up with a new idea called The Grassroots Project. The idea worked. Although "Grassroots" is now history, it served its purpose. Today, Sterling has evolved into an accredited four-year college. And tuition is only $38,000 a year!

My class of 1977 started out with somewhere around 60 kids. We came from almost every state in the Union and from very diverse backgrounds. The small size of the school, its remote location, and the unusual curriculum made for a most unique educational experience.

We camped, we hiked, we worked together in teams to get ourselves through wilderness obstacle courses, we whitewater canoed, we learned to sharpen and use chainsaws and two-man crosscut saws. We cut pulp wood and hauled it out of the forest with horses. The school had a farm where we cared for animals. They even had a team of oxen. There was some classroom instruction, some guest speakers, and lots of field trips. I remember one field trip where we helped a farmer butcher a cow. On another we helped build a barn. I helped for a day in a sugarbush collecting sap and watching it boil down. Stuff like that.

We played volleyball, basketball, softball. We played broomball on the ice under lights on frigid winter nights. There were Ultimate Frisbee games on the common. And yes, of course, there was skiing. Backgammon was a popular board game in “The Barn”, which was actually the lounge (with a big fireplace) where we congregated before and after meals. There was also a good share of typical college partying, along with drunkenness, pot smoking, and other immoral activity. But, contrary to popular belief, “everybody” was not doing those things in the ‘70s.

As good as the curriculum was, the best part of that fleeting year from my past was the friendships I made and the spiritual growth I experienced. Although Sterling is not a Christian school in any way, I went there as a Christian with strong convictions about what was right and wrong, and I had predetermined how I would and would not act based on those beliefs. This became evident to a fellow classmate who, it turned out, was also a Christian. Joe Miller was an avid surfer who came from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. He had a genuine zeal for his faith like I had never seen before. We were brothers in Christ and became great friends, and we shared some wonderful adventures that year.

But Joe was not the only Christian among the student body. There was also Robin, Mike, Randall, and Cindy. We got together for Bible studies and fellowship. As a result, we all grew in our faith that year.

My golden year of schooling in Vermont did not give me any college credits and it did not specifically prepare me for a particular career. It was, in many respects, an expensive year of vacation; a downright good time. But the year was not spent in vain. The experiences I went through gave me a fresh, new outlook; they helped to shape and refine my life in many positive ways. One of those ways is that I left Craftsbury Common with a clear understanding of what I wanted to do next, and I’ll tell you how that came about someday.

Another positive experience was that I made apple cider, which is what I actually intended to write about here today. Now that you have this background information, you’ll be able to better understand the context of my next Blog entry... When Me & Ed Made Apple Cider.

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It has been 30 years since I was a student at the Sterling School in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, but I think of it often. What I think of most is the common. Many an afternoon I would sit on a bench at the southeast corner of the common, by myself, and soak up the beauty of the scene before me.


That's the common at Craftsbury Common, exactly as I remember it. And there on the right is the bench where I would sit and drink in the beauty of the place.

The common is green and surrounded by a white fence. At the north end is an old gazebo. The houses around the common are, like the school’s buildings, traditional in style and sided with white clapboard. A tall-steepled white church is on the northwest corner. In the background are the Lowell mountains (I loved living among the mountains). On a clear day, when the sun sets in the west, the golden rays flood the common. It is a spectacular picture. It is this picture in my mind that I usually focus on when, for whatever reason, I need to reflect on something beautiful, when I want to be somewhere other than where I am. I stop what I’m doing, stare blankly into the distance, and return to Craftsbury Common. It is a sweet memory

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Wendell Berry on Industrial Ag

The following quotations from Wendell Berry compliment what I was saying in my previous blog entry. Reference information is at the end.

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“The effects of this process of industrialization have become so apparent, so numerous, so favorable to agribusiness corporations, and so unfavorable to everything else, that by now the questions troubling me and a few others in the ‘60s and ‘70s are being asked everywhere.”

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“The tractor’s arrival had signaled, among other things, agriculture's shift from an almost exclusive dependence on free solar energy to a total dependence on costly fossil fuel. But in 1950, like most people at that time, I was years away from the first inkling of the limits of the supply of cheap fuel.

We had entered an era of limitlessness, or the illusion thereof, and this in itself is a sort of wonder. My grandfather lived a life of limits, both suffered and strictly observed, in a world of limits. I learned much of that world from him and others, and then I changed; I entered the world of labor-saving machines and of limitless cheap fossil fuel. It would take me years of reading, thought, and experience to learn again that in this world limits are not only inescapable but indispensable.”

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“Once one's farm and one's thoughts have been sufficiently mechanized, industrial agriculture's focus on production, as opposed to maintenance or stewardship, becomes merely logical. And here the trouble completes itself. The almost exclusive emphasis on production permits the way of working to be determined not by the nature and character of the farm in its ecosystem and in its human community, but rather by the national or the global economy and the available or affordable technology. The farm and all concerns not immediately associated with production have in effect disappeared from sight. The farmer too in effect has vanished. He is no longer working as an independent and loyal agent of his place, his family, and his community, but instead as the agent of an economy that is fundamentally adverse to him and to all that he ought to stand for.”

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Our recent focus upon productivity, genetic and technological uniformity, and global trade -- all supported by supposedly limitless supplies of fuel, water, and soil -- has obscured the necessity for local adaptation. But our circumstances are changing rapidly now, and this requirement will be forced upon us again by terrorism and other kinds of political violence, by chemical pollution, by increasing energy costs, by depleted soils, aquifers, and streams, and by the spread of exotic weeds, pests, and diseases. We are going to have to return to the old questions about local nature, local carrying capacities, and local needs. And we are going to have to resume the breeding of plants and animals to fit the region and the farm.”

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The above quotations were taken from an article titled Renewing Husbandry by Wendell Berry in the Sept/Oct issue of Orion magazine. I recommend that you read the article.

My thanks to Rick Saenz at Cumberland Books for posting a link to the article at his web site.