March Tribulations: Further Insights Into Homemade Cider

March in upstate New York is not usually thought of as a month for pressing sweet apple cider. Nevertheless, that’s what I did a week ago. My wife, Marlene, got a cider-pressing bag sample from a company in Ohio and we wanted to test it out. Besides that, I had a hankering for fresh-squeezed apple cider.

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. 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.

How To Properly
Whizbang-Pluck A Chicken
(Five Guidelines For Success)

Plucking chickens in a Whizbang tub plucker is just FUN!
It has been many years since I first published the Whizbang Plucker planbook. Since then, thousands of copies have been sold. I think it is safe to say that book is now the number-one-selling chicken plucker plan book in the world.

A whole lot of people (surely in the thousands) have actually made their own Whizbang plucker. This amazing tool is being used on small farms and homesteads all across America and around the world. The Whizbang plucker has become so famous that it is featured in numerous YouTube movies. Just go to YouTube and search “whizbang plucker.” You can see the Whizbang in action. Seeing is believing.

I sure do appreciate folks spreading the good news about the Whizbang plucker on YouTube. But I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about it. I say that because a couple of those home movies do not show how to properly Whizbang-pluck a chicken.

It so happens there is a right way and there is a wrong way to pluck a chicken in a tub plucker. If you don’t do it the right way, you’re apt to end up with damaged birds—that’s what I’ve seen in a couple of those YouTube movies. I cringe when a chicken with a broken and dangling leg is picked out of a fine-looking homemade Whizbang plucker. It doesn’t have to be that way.

That said, I’d like to take this opportunity to provide some Guidelines For Successful Whizbang Chicken Plucking. But first, let me make it clear that some broken wings and legs are to be expected when using a mechanical tub plucker. Such damage should, however, be minimal—not more than 2% to 4%. That is the tradeoff for speed and ease, and those damaged birds are not a total loss by any means. They still cook up and taste great, even with a broken leg.

Whizbang Plucking 
Success Guideline #1:
A Good Scald is 
Absolutely Necessary
A man from Oklahoma once called me to say that his newly-built Whizbang plucker did not work very well. He was mighty discouraged. He told me he was so disappointed that he left a chicken in the plucker to tumble for five minutes. It came out all busted and torn—and still had most all of its feathers. Yep, that’s mighty discouraging, and I’ve heard this failure-to-pluck lament from more than one person over the years.

The good news is that this problem is easily remedied. All you have to do is properly scald the chickens before plucking them. I told that fellow from Oklahoma the secret to perfectly scalding a chicken. He tried it and e-mailed me later to tell me his plucker worked great.

If you want to learn the secret to perfectly scalding a chicken, every single time, you can find it here: My Never-Fail Chicken Scalding Technique

Whizbang Plucking 
Success Guideline #2:
Keep It Short & Sweet
When I watch those YouTube plucker movies (one in particular) where the chicken comes out with a broken leg, I can’t help but notice that the birds are being plucked way too long. If your chicken is properly scalded, it will pluck clean in a few seconds—15 to 20 seconds should do the job. Some people find that hard to believe, but it’s true.

If the chickens are not sufficiently de-feathered within 30 seconds at most, they were not properly scalded. If this is the case, don’t continue to pluck the birds. Stop the plucker, hand-pluck the remaining feathers, and scald your next victims better.

A perfect scald and a short plucking time translates to a successfully-plucked chicken. A less-than-perfect scald and a short plucking time can still result in success, if you finish plucking the birds by hand. The common denominator is a short plucking time. The longer the birds tumble, the more inclined they are to break.

I should point out that, even with the perfect scald, it is not uncommon for a few odd feathers to remain. Not many, but a few. This is okay. Do not continue to beat the bird in order to get two or three stubborn feathers. It’s not worth it. just pluck them by hand.

One more comment along these lines: Do not “polish” the birds by leaving them in the plucker longer than needed (disregard what Tim Shell says about this on page 57 of my plan book). I don’t see where chickens need to be “polished.” They just need to be plucked—keep it short and sweet.

Whizbang Plucking 
Success Guideline #3:
Pluck More Than 
One Bird At A Time
The Whizbang plucking action is necessarily violent. One bird by itself really slaps and rolls and slams about. Plucking two chickens at a time reduces the extreme action and, thus, the possibility of such extreme action doing extreme damage. As a backyard processor, I typically pluck two chickens at a time in my Whizbang. I’ve also plucked three. If you’re plucking three at once, you can safely give them a bit more time in the machine. Here’s a good YouTube movie of three big chickens getting Whizbanged at once. My point is, pluck at least two chickens at a time and you will be more pleased with the results.

Whizbang Plucking 
Success Guideline #4:
Add Water
Another thing I’ve seen on those YouTube movies (the ones that make me cringe when I watch them) show is a lack of water spray when plucking the birds. As soon as the birds are in the tub and tumbling, you should spray water on them. Water from a hose, or even a watering can, will help lubricate and, to a degree, soften the plucking action. The water also serves to flush away the plucked plumage.

The picture at the top of this essay shows my wife, The Lovely Marlene, directing water into the plucker while my son, James, places the birds in the tub. By the way, they're having FUN plucking those chickens. That's the beauty of Whizbang-plucking chickens....It's a real hoot!

Whizbang Plucking 
Success Guideline #4:
Pluck ‘em Warm
Pluck your birds immediately after scalding. Do not let just-scalded birds cool down for long.

Whizbang Plucking 
Success Guideline #5:
Be Gentle
I suspect that more than a few birds are damaged before they even make it into the Whizbang plucker. If you struggle with the birds prior to stuffing them in your killing cones, or they are not properly restrained during this procedure, wings can dislocate and legs can even break. In my internet essay, Backyard Poultry processing With My 11-Year-Old Son, I explain a "chicken whisperer" technique for picking the chicken up and placing it into the killing cone. Then you need to restrain it from flopping out. Believe it or not, all of this can be done with a gentle technique. It is less traumatic for the bird and does not cause carcass damage.

Plucking Turkeys
Turkeys up to 45 pounds have been successfully plucked in the Whizbang Plucker—one at a time. They will require more time to get plucked than a chicken, but they are tougher and can take the abuse. Cut the feet off and they will pluck better. Also, turkeys do not tumble around as well as chickens, You may have to reposition them to get the feathers along the back, or just pluck those feathers by hand.

Christian Agrarian Writings
Howard Douglas King

Dateline: 29 March 2009

Years ago, there was a series of articles that appeared in Patriarch magazine that introduced me and many other Christian men to the idea of Christian agrarianism. The author of those articles was Howard Douglas King.

Those articles resonated with me. The Lord used Mr. King's essays (and the teaching of others) to lead me into deeper relationship with Him and with my family. My focus in life changed from vainly struggling to make lots of money and get ahead, to simplifying and focusing more on faith, family, and home-based agrarian life; my focus changed from pursuing the lies of an apostate industrialized culture to pursuing a way of life that I saw was more in line with what the Bible calls for.

Howard King's writings were, in many respects, the genesis of this blog, "The Deliberate Agrarian."

I recently went looking for Howard King's Christian agrarian essays on the interent. In particular, I wanted to read his essay titled, The Biblical Basis of Christian Agrarianism. I could not find it anywhere.

I did find a few Howard King essays at Terry Carnes' blog titled Patriarch Magazine Archives. Terry was similrly affected by the writings of Mr. King and, seeing that Patriarch magazine was no longer being printed, asked permission of the editor to put some of them on the internet.

Since I could not find The Biblical Basis of Christian Agrarianism on the internet I contacted Howard King and asked if I might host the essay here. He graciously agreed to allow it and sent it to me.

A link to this essay is below, as are the links to Howard King's essays at Terry's site.

The Biblical Basis of Christian Agrarianism


Machines and Families
(Part 1 of a series)

Industrialism: Rooted in Greed
(Part 2 of a series)

The Efficiency Invasion: How Industrialism Destroyed the Traditional Family
(Part 3 of a series)


Tradional vs Technological Society: Stephen B. Clark's Analysis of Technological Society and Its Effects on the Family
(Part 1 of 2 parts)

The Family in Technological Society: Stephen B. Clark's Analysis of Technological Society and its Effects on the Family
(Part 2 of 2 parts)


If you would like to hear an audio presentation of Howard King speaking on "The Biblical Basis of Christian Agrarianism" and "The Village vs The City," you can do so at Scott Terry's North Country Farmer blog..... Click Here to listen.

The Christian & Agrarian Writings of Michael Hennen

Those of you who have an interest in Christianity and agrarianism should should read the essays of Michael Hennen. They are instructive and edifying.

In The Beginning

Christian Agrarianism

Why Define Christian Agrarianism?

The Agrarian Bible

Toward An Agrarian Mainfesto

The Agrarian Renaissance

Agrarian Scriptures

Grandma’s Farm

To Till The Ground (Part 1)

To Till The Ground (Part 2)

Redemption’s Cry

Urban Migration

Be Prepared

Agrarian Pace

Christians And Consumerism

The Pace of Stewardship

Here is a link to Michael Hennen's web site: The Agrarian Bible

Christian Agrarianism:
Some Perspective & Analogy

Dateline: 28 March 2009

From the very beginning of this blog (it’s been years now) I have celebrated and promoted a way of life and a way of thinking that I chose to call Christian agrarianism. For me, this way of life, deliberately pursued, is the outgrowth of my Christian-agrarian worldview. I have always defined Christian agrarianism as Christianity lived within the agrarian paradigm. I have identified this way of thinking and this return to an older way of life as a “movement” within the body of Christ.

I’ve even gone so far as to write and publish a book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian, which is a paean to the Christian-agrarian way of life. As far as I know, my book is the only book that specifically acknowledges this movement and attempts to define it.

To my way of thinking, Christian agrarians are simply followers of Christ (typically referred to as Christians) who see the wisdom of living their lives and raising their families for God’s glory within the framework of a rural (agrarian) culture, as opposed to the dominant, antichrist, industrial culture. 

I believe this way of life is biblically sound. That is to say, I believe this framework for living fits perfectly with God’s intentions for His people. I see biblical support for this belief (as discussed in other essays on this blog). Furthermore, I find absolutely nothing in God’s word to indicate that it is acceptable for Christians to live within the framework of, and completely dependent on, our modern industrial system.

I see this Christian-agrarian worldview validated by the virtuous fruit that is inculcated in the families and individuals that pursue this path—my own life and my own family in particular.

It should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that the cultural inclination of the industrial worldview bears much different fruit: pride, greed, envy, dissatisfaction, discontent, unthankfulness, unforgiveness, rebellion, materialism, and so forth. While such fruit can also be found within the agrarian paradigm, agrarian life does not, by it’s antithetical nature, tend to support and promote such things.

Clearly, there are other kinds of agrarians besides Christian agrarians. I think I have written here before about an e-mail I once got from a man who informed me he was a Jewish-agrarian and, therefore, wasn’t much interested in my blog. Same goes for the pagan-agrarian who wrote me. 

Well, okay. I suspect that most people in this world who live within the agrarian framework are some sort of pagan or heathen or non-Christian. That being the case, adding “Christian” before the word agrarian serves to clarify and explain a way of thinking or, as I’ve noted, to define a worldview. It does not, in my mind, redefine what a Christian is, or what makes a person a Christian.

There are some Christians who look for deeper meanings and understandings about, and justifications for, Christian agrarianism than I do. That is well and good. But I admit to not needing the very deep understandings to see and understand the wisdom of pursuing this way of life.

In recent days, there has been some discussion about the errors of Christian-agrarianism on the internet. Christian agrarianism is being called “extra-biblical” teaching. People are repenting of their involvement with so-called Christian agrarianism. Frankly, this leaves me dumbfounded.

In a recent essay, a sincere and concerned Christian believer wrote about the errors of Christian agrarianism and concluded that “Christian agrarianism is not Christianity and is a philosophy that some may masquerade as theology but we will see that it is simply just a doctrine of men.”

I understand this man is endeavoring to make important distinctions, but I feel compelled to bring my perspective into the discussion....

Of course Christian agrarianism is not Christianity. Christianity is Christianity, and agrarianism is agrarianism. But when you put the two together you have something remarkable and powerful. Christian-agrarianism does not change the meaning of Christianity. But it sheds a new light on how to best live one’s Christianity, and the outworking of that belief does, indeed, change one’s life. In time, that change will lead to much more widespread cultural change. It is inevitable. When you apply Christianity to agrarianism, you get an agrarianism imbued with divine purpose. When Christianity comes into contact with any kind of culture—agri or otherwise— that culture is transformed.

The idea that Christian agrarianism is “extra-biblical” is so contrary to my experience, my understanding, and my intention that it alarms me.

I'll not get into a protracted and divisive discussion about the “theology” behind why it is wise for Christians to eschew the dominant industrial-Babylonian culture and pursue the agrarian antithesis. In my mind it is obviously biblical and, beyond that, it’s just plain common sense.

But I would like to try to put this whole thing into perspective. The Christian-agrarian movement, that is to say, the trend among so many Christians to pursue a more agrarian lifestyle, is very much like the homeschooling movement.

There are people who will get in a huff if you say that homeschooling is a Christian movement, because they are Jewish homeschoolers, or Pagan homeschoolers, or some other brand of non-Christian homeschooler. But the fact is, the homeschooling movement in American was and is, primarily and fundamentally, a Christian movement.

What was the driving force behind the Christian homeschooling movement? It was the biblical-scriptural imperative that Christian parents should be responsible for the education of their children. It was the realization that government schools were doing harm to the souls of our children by teaching them things that were contrary to God’s word; that they were being indoctrinated to believe in and conform to a statist, humanistic worldview.

Was there biblical foundation for Christians to revive and pursue this almost-lost way of life and culture called homeschooling? You betcha! Was there deep theological and doctrinal foundation for homeschooling? I suspect so, but most Christians just saw the obvious rightness of it and acted accordingly. They brought their Christianity into the established culture of education and transformed it. Their Christianity did not change, but the outworking of their Christianity certainly did change, and the impact of this new Christian homeschooling movement has been profound.

By the way, years ago, if homeschooling was actually common in America among nonbelievers (like agrarian life is now common among many unbelievers ) and Christians moved into the realm, I’ll bet they would have called it the Christian homeschooling movement. They certainly would not have called it Christianity, and they wouldn’t have called it just homeschooling.

Now, is homeschooling per se mentioned in the Bible? No. Did Jesus Christ or the apostles speak about or reaffirm homeschooling in the Bible? No. Why would they? Home education was naturally understood as the proper path then, as it is by so many Christians today. It is the natural consequence of a biblical worldview in action.

But, do all Christians choose to homeschool their children? Clearly not. Are their differences of opinion about homeschooling between those Christians who homeschool and those who do not? Absolutely. Are those Christians who choose not to homeschool their children any less Christians than those who do? I, for one, don’t think so. But I’m sure there are some who do think that.

I think Christians who don’t homeschool their children are making a mistake. I think they are missing out on something very special and important—something that will enrich the lives of their children and advance the kingdom of Jesus Christ, here and now, and unto the generations. But there are plenty of other Christians who don’t see it that way. That is between them and God. I’m not going to condemn Christians who don’t homeschool their kids. What purpose would that serve? There are more important things to be concerned with.

I feel the same way about Christian agrarianism.

The Christian agrarian movement now has its proponents and its detractors. It has its casual adherents, its passionate adherents, and it’s dogmatic adherents. It has its wannabes and its compromisers. It’s a grand mix of ideas and opinions. Some define Christian-agrarianism different than others. Some are dubious of movements of any kind. Some are suspicious of that term, Christian agrarian.

But more than a few Christians are drawn to this way of life, because they see it as a proper way, just as many see homeschooling as a proper way of life. It fits perfectly with their biblically-informed worldview.

Many of these people don’t know that the way they have chosen to live and the strong convictions they have about it has this name: Christian-agrariansim, and when they find out there is a name for it, they are surprised and pleased. Giving the movement a name helps to define it as something that’s happening, that it is something important, that is something to learn about and understand and consider more fully.

How was the homeschool movement advanced? It was advanced one family at a time. It was advanced by people who, by the grace of God, saw the value and importance of it, and then acted on their convictions. Then, others, looking on and understanding the reasons for the movement, saw that this thing could be done. They saw that it bore godly fruit in the families who pursued this countercultural calling. Homeschool families were a testimony to the wisdom of homeschooling.

The culture-changing ramifications of this wholesome, affirming, God-honoring way of life (Christian agrarianism) are happening, slowly and surely, according to God’s plans, here and now, and generations to come will be affected.

Christian homeschooling was a simple but profound grassroots movement that happened from the bottom up, not the top down. It was brought about by God working in the lives of common folks who were yielded to His direction. We are seeing this in the Christian-agrarian movement.

Do all Christian families who homeschooll their children derive the blessings and benefit from it that others do? No. There are always exceptions to the rule. But the rule is not defined by exceptions. I know a homeschooling family that lived right next to the government school. They were not the best example of a homeschooling family. People in town, looking on this example, judged homeschooling harshly and offered up this family as an example to support their conclusion that homeschooling was not a good thing. What a shame.

Here, in closing, is a final analogy: I see all that Christian-agrarianism offers as a beautiful bouquet of flowers that is held out. Some people will, upon seeing it, comprehend the beauty, accept it, cherish it, and thank God for the grace and mercy found in such a gift. Some will shy away because they have never seen flowers like that; they are suspicious. Some will take the flowers but, upon closer inspection, may notice one or two flowers that are infected with bugs, and here is where the person who has accepted the bouquet has a choice. They can simply remove and discard the one or two offending flowers, putting them out of their mind, and enjoy the rest of the bouquet, or they can toss the whole bouquet in the trash, resolving to never again have such flowers, and to warn everyone they can that those flowers were all rotten.

Christian-agrarianism is not extra-biblical unless you make it extra-biblical. It is not a false religion unless you make it a false religion. It is not a cult unless you make it a cult. Exercise discernment and wisdom in all things. But do not throw the beautiful bouquet away just because a few of the flowers are bad.

Harvesting Biochar
(From My Woodstove)

Dateline: 27 March 2009
Updated: 27 April 2013

The photo-tutorial that was once on this page has been removed. In the 4 years since I posted it here I have greatly improved my wood-stove biochar making system. You can read all about it in The Planet Whizbang Idea Book For Gardeners.

Making Whizbanged Applesauce
(Part 2 of the Adventure)

[Dateline: 31 October 2009]

In the first installment of this 2-part series I showed pictures and explained how my wife and I used our homemade Whizbang apple grinder (built using a kitchen food waste disposal, which you can see at this web site) to easily grind apples for making applesauce—without any pre-cooking of the sauce. We simply packed raw apple mash (complete with bits of apple skin) in jars and canned them in a pressure canner.

We were very satisfied with the coarser applesauce texture and the flavor, but had mixed feelings about the skin in the mixture. Our greatest disappointment was that the volume of applesauce in the jars shrunk down during the canning process (more about this below). Besides that, we decided that pressure canning took too long. For the next stage of our Whizbanged applesauce experimentation, we did things differently...

Instead of just coring the apples before grinding them, we decided to core and peel them. We did this with the nifty little device below:

You can get those apple peeler/corer machines fairly cheap (Marlene has gotten a couple at yard sales) and they are not only easy to operate, they're fun too. As you can see, I did this apple processing outside on our back patio. I'm convinced that the more food processing you can do outside, the better, because it's far easier to clean up the mess you make outside than in the kitchen. The apple machine is clamped to the arm of an Adirondack chair, and that was an ideal place for it. Here's another picture:

The peeler/corer cuts the apple into spiral slices. This is a good job for the children to do, but mine were not around to help at the time. Here's a picture of what I meant by making a mess:

The skinned and cored fruit went into the Whizbang apple grinder. What an amazing tool this machine is!

The Whizbang apple grinder will transform a whole lot of apples into a whole lot of applesauce at mind boggling speed. The picture at the top of this essay shows a 16-quart stock pot heaping with Whizbanged applesauce that was easily produced in a few short minutes of feeding apples into the grinder. It would take hours of hand cranking one of those applesauce strainers that everyone else uses to make that much applesauce.

The only problem with making applesauce outside in the fall is the bees...

We decided to put the mash/sauce on the kitchen stovetop and heat it up to boiling, stirring as needed to prevent sticking, before packing it into canning jars. This is what the Ball Blue Book recommends. We knew from our previous experimentation that the sauce must be heated prior to canning to remove oxygen; raw-packed applesauce is full of oxygen and shrinks considerably in the jar during the canning/cooking process.

And since we intended to process our jars of sauce with a hot water bath canner (instead of a pressure canner), it was necessary to heat the applesauce in order to kill off any biological activity.

Marlene followed the Ball Blue Book directions and processed the jars of sauce for 20 minutes in a hot water bath, and they came out as shown in this next picture:

This time, the applesauce did not settle in the jars at all, and we were entirely pleased with the results. But we needed to feed this food to someone else—someone who didn't know how it was made—to get their feedback. So we had Marlene's 96-year-old mother and her older sister over for Sunday dinner, and we served our homemade applesauce. They seemed to genuinely like the flavor and texture of the sauce.

Then we told them we made it with a garbage disposal.

My sister-in-law was intrigued, and she suggested that our Whizbang Applesauce might make a fine pie filling. She agreed to carry on this further experimentation and left with a quart of sauce. A couple days later, I had some Whizbang Apple Pie and declared the results of this experiment a total success!

Pre-coring (and pre-peeling if you so desire), then Whizbang-grinding apples to make homemade applesauce, as I have just explained it in this essay is much, much, much (that's three muches!) easier than any other way.

Addendum: Thoughts on Making Applesauce WITHOUT Processing in a Hot Water Bath
Processing jars of applesauce in a hot water bath is very simple to do and relatively fast. However, it is not as fast or simple as simply spooning hot applesauce into jars, putting on the lids, and NOT processing them in a hot water bath.

This is, of course, contrary to home-canning convention and the Ball Blue Book directions. The thought of NOT processing homemade applesauce in a hot water bath brings to mind concerns about botulism.

Nevertheless, I would like to point out that some people DO NOT process their homemade applesauce in a canner of any sort. For example, the famous homesteading couple, Scott and Helen Nearing, did not process the many jars of applesauce that they put up each year. Homemade applesauce was a mainstay of their diet and Scott lived to 100 years of age (and he did not die of botulism). In her cook book, Simple Food For The Good Life, Helen Nearing wrote the following:
Whatever vegetables or fruit I put up is done the open-kettle way—not processed in a hot water bath. The latter is more trouble and takes more time and I have never lost jars through souring or molding unless I had used an old rubber for sealing or an imperfect jar or cover.

To can applesauce I start the operation by filling the inside of a hot oven with clean quart jars from the cellar. They heat and sterilize while I prepare the sauce, cutting the apples into quarters,, leaving on the skins but eliminating cores and any bad spots. Toss into cold water to wash. Put in kettles with minimum water. Cover. Cook till tender. Take a quart bottle out of the oven, set it on wooden board or dry cloth. To prevent jar from cracking when the hot apples are poured in, stand a long silver knife or spoon in the hot jar to act as a conductor of the heat. Spoon the boiling hot apples from the first kettle into the jar, working down the jar with the knife to fill in any air bubbles. Fill right to the top. Cover with a tight seal, and bottle the next kettle full of sauce. When bottles cool, store in cellar. Sweeten to taste when serving.

You can read more about Helen and Scott Nearing in my Four-Part series of essays titled: Scott Nearing's Horse Chow (One of Scott's favorite foods was "horse chow." It's pretty good stuff.)

The Jeffersonian Solution
(My N.Y. Times Op-Ed)

I wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times. I mailed it in. They never printed it.  So I am publishing it here. Who needs the New York Times anyway?

The Jeffersonian Solution


The original strength of our American republic was found in the ability to supply our own needs. That is the very definition of independence. We provided our own form of government, our own energy resources, our own manufacturing, and we grew an overabundance of our own food. We were a self-sufficient nation.

This condition of national independence was the natural outgrowth of America’s many independent farming communities. The vast majority of early Americans lived on small farms and homesteads, providing their own food, shelter, clothing, and most other necessities from their own land. Today, however, less than 2% of our population is involved in the work of agriculture, and that agriculture has greatly changed. Now it’s called agribusiness and it is dependent on enormous, unsustainable imports of foreign oil. Subsistence farms have become rare as hen’s teeth.

Thomas Jefferson, primary author of the Declaration of Independence, believed that a citizenry which worked the land, drawing sustenance directly from the earth, was the surest support of our free and independent nation; that such agrarianism engendered a healthy civic virtue. After all, self-reliant people don’t need or want government handouts, and they are not easily manipulated by scheming politicians.

In his book, Notes on Virginia, Jefferson made a remarkably prescient statement:

“Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.” [Note: "venality" means corruption]

Slowly and surely, over the course of two centuries that which was abundantly clear to Jefferson has become a truth no longer self evident. Once thrifty, resourceful and largely self-reliant on their own land, Americans are now mostly crowded into cities and suburbs, playing their specialized roles in the corporate-industrial drama, dependent on a global network of industrial providers and so many forms of government subsidy. We have become the land of the dependent and the home of the helpless.

It is no coincidence, then, that America as a whole has evolved into a needy nation, a dependent nation, a debtor nation and, as a result, an increasingly weaker nation.

Industrialization has brought us to servitude. First, unwary Americans willingly exchanged their independence bit by bit for tempting morsels of comfort and ease. Further along the path, as the germ of virtue was suffocated and venality dominated, much more freedom was (and is) demanded in the name of supposed benevolence, or to protect us all from a host of spectral boogiemen. We’ve come to the point in America where individual freedom is little more than a lovely but quaint phantasm.

So it is that the forces of industrialism, allied with government and all manner of techno-wizardry, are advancing on numerous fronts, implementing with scientific deviousness the goal of ever more centralized control over We its Subjects. Unprecedented designs of ambition are circling overhead.

This is what happens when a civilization, blinded by generations of industrial and technological hubris, separates from its agrarian roots. In a sad paradoxical twist, Americans have come to love the conditions of their modern subservience. This is not what the Founders had in mind. It is not the way free men live.

Popular opinion dictates that organized political action alone will bring the changes that America needs. But this is a false hope. Fundamental and significant change will never come from government. It will come only when American citizens change themselves. We must break away from the various industrial-world dependencies and reconnect to the agrarian wellspring. Americans must return to the land, re-embrace simplicity, self-sufficiency, independence, and personal responsibility—one person, one family, at a time.

The good news is that this is already happening to a small degree. A new American yeomanry of landed smallholders is rolling up its sleeves and working in earnest to take care of itself, apart from industrial and government dependencies. I am among them.

My family lives on 1.5 rural acres in the Finger Lakes Region of New York state. I built my small but comfortable home with my own hands. We heat with a basic wood stove. We raise chickens for meat and eggs. Our freezers are packed with vegetables from our garden and venison harvested from the woods and fields around us. There are bushels of homegrown potatoes and onions in the basement. Our pantry shelves are lined with jars of home-canned applesauce, tomatoes, pickles, green beans, and so much more. We have little money, but no debt.

If, as Jefferson so rightly warned, dependence begets subservience, then it follows that independence begets freedom. This is true on a national and personal level. The path back to individual liberty begins with awareness, determination, and a small piece of land. The rural sections of America are vast, much of the land is inexpensive, and it is full of productive potential. If husbanded with care, the soil will yield an abundance. The land is calling freedom-loving Americans back to itself and forward to a better reality. Do you hear it?

Whizbanged Applesauce: Part 1 (The Adventure Begins)

[Dateline: 20 September 2009]

My homemade Whizbang apple grinder (the one I tell how to make in This Book) was developed to easily and quickly mash apples for cider pressing. A kitchen food waste disposal is utilized to do the work. Upon seeing such fine apple mash produced by the machine, an inquiring mind asked if the Whizbang grinder might be employed to produce apple sauce—easily and in large quantity for putting up in canning jars? It was a great question and one my wife and I set out to answer a few days ago.

Macintosh apples are in season here in upstate New York during this mid-month of September. Marlene and I picked a bushel right off the tree at a local orchard and, within the hour, we commenced to making our first batch of Whizbanged applesauce.

We embarked on this little culinary adventure with the understanding that it would be an endeavor of discovery, and that I would report our experiences here... for the good of all homemade-applesauce-loving humanity.

If you are unfamiliar with homemade applesauce, that is a pity. Beyond that, it is a shame. Truly. must make your own applesauce. Homemade is far superior to all those anemic-looking jars of applesauce you’ll find in the supermarket. Applesauce that has not oxidized brown is simply not natural.

And it is not necessary to add chemicals to “preserve freshness.” Store-bought applesauce with preservatives is no more fresh (and probably a lot less fresh) than homemade. Equally offensive is the addition of high-fructose corn syrup to the mix. It so happens that applesauce with no added sweetener (beyond the natural sweetness of the fruit itself) has its own fine flavor.

Some apple varieties make a more naturally sweet sauce than others, and I understand that Macintosh apples are not necessarily the best variety for sweet sauce. As this apple season progresses, we will get more-suitable apples for homemade applesauce. For our experimental purposes now, the Macs will suffice. Also, I should point out that a mix of apple varieties tends to make better tasting applesauce than just one variety. That is, of course, exactly the same case when making cider.

If you find you must add some sweetness to your applesauce, you can do this after opening the jar. That’s my opinion. Others may disagree. Whatever the case, even white sugar (the bane of all healthy-minded people) is better than high fructose corn syrup. But I digress...

The time-honored way of making applesauce (the way Marlene has made it for more than 20 years) is to wash and quarter the apples, put them in a big pot on the stovetop burner, add a little water to the bottom of the pot, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are soft. Then the soft mix is run through a strainer of some sort.

You can read a very nice online homemade applesauce tutorial At This Link. But it does not tell you how to make Whizbanged applesauce, as you're about to see.

We have a strainer like this that we’ve used to make applesauce in the past. It works pretty well but straining with such a device can be, well, a strain on one’s body. Cranking and cranking the handle around and around, and around and around, gets old fast. It tends to be messy too. Then there’s all that CLEAN UP afterwards! :-(

Can this tedious old process be simplified with the Whizbang apple grinder? Well, let us see....

With simplicity and easy cleanup in mind, I decided to do all of the actual work of turning whole apples into fine applesauce mash outside my back door on the patio. Cleanup is so much easier with a garden hose in your hand.

I began, as this next picture shows, by rinsing the apples in a bucket of water, then piling them in a colander to drip-dry.

Next. I commenced to quarter each apple and used a paring knife to remove the seeds, as you can see in this next picture.

I determined that we would make this first experimental batch of applesauce with the apple skins in the mix. My reasoning being: a) it’s easier & faster to not peel the fruit, b) apple skin is good for you—or so I’ve heard, c) most people, when they eat a raw apple, eat the skin too.

Beyond those reasons, you will never find applesauce-with-the-skins inside those loathsome jars of factory-made applesauce. That in itself is, to my anti-industrial mindset, enough reason for me to leave the skins on. Which brings to mind an idea:

I knew a guy who once wore a t-shirt with the words Question Authority boldly emblazoned on the front. I guess that was a popular saying at one time. I propose a new slogan for the t-shirts of concerned food-eaters....Question Industrial Food.

Oh, another thing about skins in the applesauce: I’m not out to win prizes at the State Fair with this applesauce. My focus is putting up a lot of wholesome, homemade applesauce, quickly, and without a lot of trouble.

And, finally (on this matter of apple skins), it occurs to me that some people reading this might wonder: “Why not then leave the cores, seeds, and, for that matter, stems (perhaps with an occasional leaf) in the applesauce too?” Well, I thought about that and I decided that I’m only anti-industrial, not a total savage. Besides, apple seeds in quantity are said to be poisonous.

I prepared 1/2 bushel of Macs and got two pans full, as shown in this next picture (cores are in the square pan at left):

The next step was to run those apple chunks through my Whizbang apple grinder. Here is a picture of the beautiful device.

First, I ran a couple of gallons of hot water through the grinder to flush out any accumulated dust. Then I ran the chunks through:

It took all of 2.5 minutes to feed half a bushel of cored apple chunks through the grinder, and here was the result:

With the apples thus sauced, before turning our attention to canning, I took a moment to clean out the grinder. A moment is all that's needed. This is where the garden hose comes in handy...

To clean inside the grinder, I just ran it while spraying water inside. I also sprayed the underside of the rubber splash guard.

Here's a picture of the Whizbanged applesauce. You'll notice the texture is far different than typical homemade sauce. This sauce stands up in the spoon! It is more the consistency of chutney.

It was decided that we would raw pack the sauce into pint size canning jars. This next picture shows me using a funnel to direct the mash into the jars.

After that picture was taken, I opted to just fill the jars using a big spoon and that was actually easier (see the picture at the beginning of this essay). The funnel is probably more suited to filling larger jars. When filling the jars, I made sure to pack the sauce down and eliminate any air pockets.

I filled the jars to about 1/2 inch from the top rim, the rim was wiped clean, a lid was set in place, and the jar ring was tightened down.

Raw applesauce in clean-but-not-sterilized jars will not keep for long. It has to be heated up in order to kill off any biological activity and seal the lids. This work of “canning” is typically done with either a hot-water-bath canner or a pressure canner. We decided to use our pressure canner.

I should make it clear that raw-packing applesauce when canning is pretty much unheard of. There are no instructions for this in the Ball Blue Book (by the way, if you go to that link, make sure you check out Paul Noll’s Korean War Stories). If you can anything, you must have a copy of the Ball Blue Book.

When Marlene and I were married (29 years ago!) one of the first things we bought for our homestead was an All American canner. And we didn’t even have a homestead then. We lived in a small apartment in town. But even in that location we started putting food up. I built some shelves in the kitchen and we filled them with canned food. I seem to remember paying almost $100 for the canner back then. That was a lot of money. Now a new one costs twice that. But it was a good-quality tool. Marlene has canned many hundreds of jars of food in that canner and it works as good as the day we got it (but it doesn’t look brand new any more). Amazingly, she found the same canner at a garage sale a few years back for eight dollars. Now, both canners are often in use at the same time.

I’ll not go into the specifics of using a pressure canner here (you can get that information from the Ball Blue Book). Suffice it to say that we pressure canned the nine pint jars the canner holds at ten pounds of pressure for ten minutes.

When the canning was done, we removed the jars and I was disappointed to see that the amount of applesauce shrunk. Each jar was full to the shoulder (about 1-3/4” down from the rim) with moist applesauce, but from there up, there was a “pillar” of dry applesauce. Here’s a picture:

I banged the bottom of the jars against the palm of my hand to settle the dry sauce down. This rendered a truer reading of how much applesauce was actually in each jar.

My question with these not-completely-full jars was: “Where did that 1-1/4” of applesauce go?” It was a mystery. But a little research revealed a likely answer...

I found out that raw food has more oxygen in it than cooked food. So it would appear that pressure cooking eliminated the oxygen in the raw apple mash, and that is why it settled.

You may be wondering how this Whizbanged raw-pack applesauce tasted. Well, we opened a jar right out of the canner, let it cool down a bit, and gave it the official taste test.

The flavor was fine. It tasted like unsweetened applesauce from a not-too-sweet apple is supposed to taste, and I liked it. The texture of the sauce was much coarser than you would get from a typical food strainer. But that was not bad. Just different.

Having little bits of apple skin in the applesauce was different too. Not bad. Just different. Marlene said she thought it would be better without the skin. Then, later, while doing some further taste testing, she commented that she could get used to the skin in the sauce. But she didn’t think most people would like it that way.

The next day, I opened another jar of our Whizbanged applesauce and the skin bits were less noticeable. Then I added some Homemade Maple Syrup and powdered cinnamon to the jar, mixed it up, and was very pleased with the flavor. Marlene gave her approval to it too.

Our first attempt at making Whizbanged applesauce was a learning experience and, for the most part, a success. It was definitely easier than any other applesauce-making method. The loss of sauce in the jars was, however, a disappointment. But, considering the ease of it all, perhaps it was a good trade off.

For our next experiment in this Whizbanged applesauce series, we will peel the apples, heat the Whizbanged mash to boiling in a pot, spoon the sauce into sterilized jars, and cap them without any pressure or hot-water-bath canning. I’ve heard this can be done. Stop back for details and results.
UPDATE: You can now read the second (and final) installment of this Whizbanged applesauce adventure AT THIS LINK
P.S. If you would like to know more about Whizbang Cider Making, just go to: