Last year around this time I borrowed my friend Ken’s cider press and we made apple cider. I posted about the experience in my blog entry titled, Cider Pressin’ 2005.
Ken’s press is a Happy Valley kit that he bought a few years ago and assembled himself. It has an attached hand-crank apple grinder. Last year, in an effort to make the process of grinding apples easier and faster, I bought a garbage disposal.
The garbage-disposal-for-an apple-crusher was an experimental thing and it worked exceptionally well. While hand cranking an apple grinder is laborious and slow, machine grinding is fast and fun. What’s more, the disposal-grinder rendered a much finer apple pulp (it is the consistency of applesauce), than the hand grinder. The finer the grind, the more juice you get from a given amount of apples.
But the disposal grinder had one big drawback. Continuous feeding of apples into the unit put a strain on the motor and caused it to overheat. When that happened, the internal breaker tripped off. We had to wait for the motor to cool down then push the reset button. But after it heated up and tripped off once, and we waited for the motor to cool down, it would trip off again relatively soon. So the grinding action was beautiful but the motor just didn’t have enough uumph to do the job.
As this year’s cider season was approaching, I decided to try modifying the disposal to get better performance. And, instead of mounting the disposal in a scrap of ½” plywood clamped to the work bench in my shop, I built the grinder as a freestanding unit with a tabletop.
Last week, on Thanksgiving Day in the morning, my sons and I made cider. We put the new, improved apple grinder prototype through the paces and, to my great delight, it worked perfectly. Fact is, the machine worked so remarkably well that there is absolutely nothing more that I can think of to make it any better. It is, unquestionably, a Whizbang Apple Crusher!
Whizbang is a dictionary word that means conspicuous for speed, excellence, or startling effect. It is a word I’ve awarded to the Whizbang Chicken Plucker, the Whizbang Chicken Scalder, and the Whizbang Bar Soap Display—three products I’ve developed and then put together how-to plans for.
I do not give the Whizbang title to every idea I get and bring to fruition. I’ve had my share of bad ideas and some partial successes that have not been worthy of being called a Whizbang. For example, I developed what I hoped would be a homemade Whizbang Powerflush Lung Remover to help remove chicken lungs when processing. The idea has merit but it isn’t a Whizbang. Nevertheless, I hope to share the Almost-A-Whizbang idea with you here one day soon.
The point is, when one of my homestead experiments actually works like I dream that it will, that is a very satisfying thing, and very satisfied is how I feel about my new apple grinder. I’ve told you all of this as an introduction to telling you about Thanksgiving morning when we made cider. And I’ve got some pictures to show you……
The picture above is of my friend Ken’s Happy Valley cider press. You can see the hand-crank grinder with a hopper attached to the top of the press frame. I sure do appreciate Ken letting me use his press but I will not be borrowing it again. That’s because I don’t need the grinder and I’m currently working on what I hope will eventually be a Whizbang cider press. It will be much different from the Happy Valley press.
The photo above shows a top-down view into the Happy Valley apple crusher. The mechanism consists of a hardwood cylinder with several rows of stainless steel teeth. Crank the handle. The toothed cylinder turns. Apples are crushed. They fall into the press basket below.
If the handle had a weighted flywheel, it would be easier to crank. Even still, hand cranking is the weakest link in any home cider making system. Now here’s where I’ll introduce you to the Whizbang Apple Grinder…..
The grinder is shown in my kitchen. I put drop cloths on the floor in case the grinding was messy. But there was absolutely no mess at all. Bits of apple did not fly out of the grinder as happens with a typical hand-crank apple grinder. And, as you will see shortly, the ground apple pulp exits the grinder without any mess. The square frame visible on the bench in the background fits on top of the grinder stand and acts as a curb to corral a supply of apples as they are being fed down into the grinder.
The above picture shows several elements of the grinding operation. On the table in the background are washed apples. I washed three bushels at the kitchen sink and piled them on the table before we started grinding.
The apples have to be halved or quartered in order to fit into the mouth of the grinder. A cutting board and a big knife makes short work of the apple-cutting process.
Then the apples are fed into the grinder, which will take the fruit as fast as you can feed it in. Occasionally, the apple chunks will get jammed in the grinding chamber. When that happens, a stick is used to poke the apples down. The poking action will easily dislodge the jam and the grinding action will gobble the apples right down. I believe we could have fed apples into the grinder all day without any problem.
They say the proof is in the pudding. In this case, the proof is in the pulp, as the above photo shows. Quartered apple pieces are easily and quickly macerated to applesauce consistency. It’s a beautiful sight to behold.
With our bucket full of apple pulp, we headed outside to the press. The slatted press basket is lined with a tough nylon filter fabric. The pulp (notice that it has oxidized and darkened from the previous picture) is scooped into the basket and the juice begins to flow immediately, even without pressing.
My son James is holding a glass under the tray. He is getting a first taste of cider, straight from the press. It is a smooth, pure, wholesome, liquid-apple drink. Unlike the store-bought cider, this juice is not pasteurized. No chemicals have been added to “preserve freshness.” And there is no soapy residue flavor like I often taste in store-bought cider. Homemade is always better than store-bought and apple cider is no exception. Our own home-pressed cider was a special treat with our Thanksgiving meal later in the day.
Once the pressing tub is full of pulp, the fabric is folded and the pressing plate is set on top.
When the 1” diameter Acme pressing screw is turned down, the juice really flows. This is when everyone stands around, watching and waiting while the press does its work. As the pressure under the screw eases off, the screw is tightened down more. That tighten, wait, and tighten again procedure is repeated until the juice is squeezed out.
The above photo provides a down-view showing the parts of Ken’s press. Unfortunately, the Happy Valley press is not, in my opinion a Whizbang cider press. It has several flaws but the biggest drawback (aside from the difficult and inefficient hand-crank grinder) is the traditional-style pressing tub.
I love the look of a traditional cider press but I’ve come to the conclusion that a slatted pressing tub is not the most efficient way to squeeze juice out of ground apples. It just doesn’t squeeze the pulp as dry as I’d like to see.
So my efforts are now being directed towards building a small (homestead size) cider press that uses alternating layers of filter-cloth-wrapped pulp (known as “cheeses”) separated by racks. This is the pressing method utilized by many large pressing operations.
I am close to achieving my goal of developing a complete Whizbang cidermaking system. The grinder is done. The press is almost done and needs testing. I may need to do some tweaking to fine-tune everything. When I reach my goal, a Whizbang planbook will follow. Stay tuned….
P.S. I will not, at this time, share specific details about how I built the Whizbang Apple Grinder. It isn’t rocket science, and it isn’t a patentable idea, but it is somewhat proprietary and, considering the time and investment I have in developing the machine, I have decided to guard the details until the planbook comes out.
UPDATED INFORMATION....March 2009
A lot has happened since this essay was first posted. I experimented with a rack & cloth "cheese" instead of the slatted pressing tub and decided that the tub was a better approach, primarily because the stacked cheese can be "tippy" when pressure is put to it. That is not a problem with the slatted pressing tub. But the tub can be more complicated and expensive to make. It can also be argued that the cloth-wrapped cheese layers squeeze out better than a tub with all those slats in the way. In any event, three years after this essay was originally posted, I have published the "Whizbang Cider" plan book. I invite you to go to www.Whizbang Cider.com for details about my book and lots of other useful home cidermaking information.