Frost means it’s time to crank up the cider press

Pressing cider has become an annual event for the Jim Skinner family of Craig. Taking a turn at the crank handle is  Misha Coleman, John Skinner’s longtime girlfriend. She gets advice from John’s dad, Jim.

Fall. It’s my favorite time of year. I especially like the benefits that accompany the arrival of the season’s first frost. The number of bugs is greatly reduced, specifically and most importantly to me, mosquitoes. After a pre-frost frenzy of harvest activity, the garden winds down and I appreciate that. (Now that’s a first world problem.)

It’s the last chance for tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and sweet potatoes, all which get nailed by a frost. However, typically, there are still weeks of harvest for my cole crops of broccoli and Brussels sprouts. This year, my carrot crop was fantastic. After several frosts, I brought in multiple buckets of these orange, conical delights. (Ice cream buckets are our go-to produce carrier.)

After being overwhelmed by my production, I left a partial row in the ground. In the past, folks would cover unharvested root crops with a bale of straw. It’s been years since Jim last raised any small grains and had a second crop of straw bales. Recently, I spotted a pile of plastic wrapped straw bales for sale and decided that at $11.99 per bale, it was not a cost efficient decision! A person could buy a lot of carrots for that.

For cider making, having frost on the pumpkin, or in this case the apple, increases production. The cell walls break when frozen. During the pulping step, more juices are then released. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

At the turn of this century, our son rebuilt a cider press with a patent date of 1876, using skills he learned while in Darwin Ruwe’s 4-H group and in a required high school shop class. Most years since then, we have engaged in family cider pressing which our mid-30s kids still enjoy.

The press is moved off the back porch by two strong people and washed thoroughly. (Read: this writer is not one of the two.)

While the press is drying, fruit is collected from various trees in clean, five gallon buckets. Filled buckets are moved to the pressing area and filled with water to soak off dirt and drown bugs. The fruit is then examined for bad spots to be cut out while being moved into wire baskets to dry. Then, it’s time for the crush.

With one person cranking, one to three pieces of fruit are tossed into the hopper by another. The fruit hops around and gets grabbed by a metal roller which chops it up and drops it into a wooden basket. After lots of tossing and cranking, the very full basket is slid under a screw press. Cranking again resumes, but to another part of the press, which squeezed the basket’s contents. Juice flows into tubs only used for cider pressing. Next step is filtering and filling of the bottles. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

This year, around 12 gallons of fruit nectar was made. In addition to apples, we also pressed a bountiful crop of Asian pears from our two trees. While taste testing the different runs, we all agreed the juice from the younger pear made an inferior product. Picky, aren’t we?

Love livin’, picking and squeezing in Craig.

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