We had no apples of our own, so Marlene bought a couple bushels at a nearby Mennonite market. The apples were a mixture of several different varieties and were sold as “seconds,” which meant they were less than perfect in appearance. That’s no problem when it comes to making cider. She paid seven dollars a bushel.
We washed the apples in the kitchen sink, as usual, and cut out the bad spots as we quartered them on a cutting board at the kitchen table. Then Marlene ran the apples through our Whizbang Apple Grinder which I set up on the back patio.
When I set the grinder in place and plugged the power cord in, I didn’t realize the switch was on. The grinder started up and made a terrible clatter. I quickly unplugged it and discovered a small bolt had fallen into the grinding chamber while the machine was stored in my workshop. I retrieved the bolt and found it well battered but the grinder appeared okay. I started it up again and it purred. That was a relief.
As already noted, Marlene ran the apples through the grinder and it did its usual job of quickly and effortlessly mashing the fruit to a fine pulp.
Instead of using my Whizbang cider press with its automotive scissors jack (or a hydraulic bottle jack), I opted to press the mash using my Acme screw cider press. It had been a long time since I used a screw press to make cider. This is the same press I show how to build as an extra bonus plan in the back of my book, Anyone Can Build A Whizbang Apple Grinder & Cider Press.
I lined the pressing tub with the sample pressing bag and poured the mash in.
Usually, the cider flows freely out of the mash into the bottom pan and out the drain hole before even pressing it, but this did not happen to the degree it has in the past. I gathered the filter bag fabric together over the top of the mash and tried to tie it off but there was not enough stretch and material to do so. That was one shortcoming of this sample bag.
With the pressure plate in place on the mash, I turned the screw down.
Turning the screw was far more time consuming and difficult to do than simply pulling the dowels out of the Whizbang presses’s pressure shaft so it drops down into place, and using a fast-acting automotive scissors jack. And as the end of the Acme screw made contact with the pressure plate, I couldn’t help but notice that a 1” shaft does not press anywhere near as solidly and surely against the pressure plate as does the end of the 2x6 shaft on the Whizbang. This difference in performance and ease of use is profoundly obvious.
Nevertheless, awkward as it is, the screw press will still put pressure to a tub of mash and press cider out. But, for some reason, the cider did not flow like usual. The filter fabric clogged up with apple pulp. I put more pressure than I should have to the mash. The ground up apples were reluctant to let go of their juice. Super-fine gobs of mash would blast out of the fabric pores here and there before clogging again, and some juice flowed but not like I was accustomed to seeing in previous cider pressings.
Eventually the bag, which I had been unable to tie together at the top, blew out from under the edge of the pressing disc.
I was disappointed with how things were going and blamed it on the pressing bag. So I fetched my Whizbang press, set it up, and transferred the apple mash to one of the pressing bags, from Lehmans, which I know from past experience is a fine pressing bag. It was a welcome relief to drop the pressing shaft down and easily pressurize the tub of ground apples, this time using a six-ton hydraulic jack. Now I would see some juice. Here are pictures of the Whizbang press taken last fall
I figured the different filter bag and press would take care of my pressing problems but they did not. The juice came out but it did not flow freely. The Lehman’s filter bag clogged just like the other one. I decided to put a LOT more pressure to the mash—more pressure than I had ever used before to press cider. That’s easy to do with a six-ton hydraulic jack.
The bag held. Highly pressurized bits of apple pulp oozed and popped out of the pores. But, the juice still did not run and, to my amazement, the bottom of my wood-stave pressing tub spread out. It wasn’t much but it was visibly wider at the bottom than at the top. A closer inspection revealed that the HDPE hoop on the bottom had actually stretched out about 3/8”. The screws that hold the hoops in place were all solid, but there was no mistaking that the tub hoop had spread out under the extreme pressure. This was disappointment on top of disappointment.
I fussed with the pressing for way too long. I took pressure off a couple of times and repositioned the mash and the pressing discs and pressed again. A couple of hours later, I had made 3-3/4 gallons of cider. It was full of pulp and needed to be filtered through a fine cloth. It is not typical to have to filter a lot of fine pulp out of fresh-squeezed cider.
The cider I got was very sweet and downright good but I should have gotten more juice, and I have never had such a disappointing time making apple cider. The grinder worked great. the Whizbang press proved itself far superior to an Acme screw press. But those apples just did not want to cooperate.
Does something happen to apples that are in storage for several months? Perhaps. But Marlene may have found the answer to the conundrum. She found this excerpt in the book, “Cider: Hard & Sweet” by Ben Watson:
Some North American dessert apples, such as Golden Delicious, yield a slimy, applesaucy pomace, which can clog up the press cloth and reduce the amount of juice you can extract from the fruit.Hmmm...now that is something I never knew. The author of the book also says that “pea size” apple bits are best for pressing cider and that apples can be ground too fine. That is the first I have heard of apples being ground too fine for pressing cider. I don’t agree with that. I’ve pressed fine, disposal-ground apple mash in the past and it has pressed out very nicely. Others on the internet report the same experience. I have never seen a “store-bought” or homemade apple grinder that put out pea-size apple bits. The bits are typically larger and often much larger. I’m sure I’d rather have a finer mash than a coarser mash.
Whatever the case, the matter of the 1/8” by 1” HDPE hoops is of more concern to me than the consistency of apple mash. HDPE is amazingly tough stuff. But it stretched when I really put the pressure to that bag of mash. I never would have imagined that would happen.
I recommended HDPE as a hoop material in my Whizbang Cider planbook. I have hundreds of HDPE hoops cut to size and precisely pre-drilled for screws with the intention of selling them to people who want to make their own pressing tub (as explained in my book). I am now reconsidering. Perhaps more expensive stainless steel hoops would be better. Perhaps some simple steel banding, like lumberyards use to bundle loads of lumber, is sufficient. You could get a couple lengths of such banding for next to nothing (if not absolutely free) at any lumberyard. The banding would rust in time, but it wouldn’t stretch.
I am now in the process of rethinking the whole HDPE hoop idea.
One thing is for sure, I’ll remove the two-page bonus plan for the Acme screw press from the back of my plan book on the next printing. Such presses are really way too inefficient compared to my Whizbang Plan.
The only way that screw press plan would be of use is if you didn’t use the screw and, instead, used a hydraulic jack under the top beam to press a rack & cloth “cheese.” There is nothing wrong with the rack & cloth approach except that the “cheese’ is much trickier to make and press than a basket of pulp. It tends to tip and collapse if not stacked very well.
But I have another idea, and I am posting it here for the benefit of those who have purchased my plan book (others may not fully understand what I'm talking about): What if the regular Whizbang press with its wood-slat pressing tub were used, but instead of integrating pressing discs within a single filter bag of mash, individual, smaller bags were layered between the pressing discs inside the tub? This would amount to a traditional rack & cloth cheese, but it would be captured and stabilized from tipping by the pressing tub. And all the downward pressure of the jack would be directed onto the plates (racks) and individual cloth-wrapped bags, not out against the sides of the tub. Some outward pressure would be on the tub, but most of the pressure could be contained in each cloth pressing bag
This is what I will try next when I make cider, and I may not wait until next fall to do it. I'll be reporting on my results here.