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.


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...... herrick@planetwhizbang.com


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

1 comment:

TNfarmgirl said...

This is definitely a guy thing.....being a female and lviing in a house full of males, I see this played out on a daily basis - especialy between my oldest boys. It is, apparently, some sort of affectionate male ritual....

I also have vague memories of Dad putting apple cider, with raisons and sugar in it, out in the basement well during the winter time.....

Thanks for another great story!