Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Another Pressing Season

Cider pressing, that is.

The season starts as the summer descends in to its 2nd half. The days are still hot, and tart juice explodes from the transparents on the early tree. Pressings must start late, else the wasps may make things impossible. In the heat, the juice cannot be allowed to sit too long. The kids help, sometimes friends or cousins or neighbors (that's Cousin Elise with Aaron and Elianna in the picture, from a pressing in early October).

At the 2nd half of summer extends, the evening pressing is punctuated by the song of thousands of crickets. The first of the crickets make their presence known at the beginning of August, and by September the evenings are full force concerts. That ends, finally, with the first frosts in October. The juice is light, sweet and crisp. It is safe now to let the juice drip for several hours, to maximize the yield.

Then, autumn. The leaves fall, and even when crushing apples a jacket is necessary. I start taking inventory of how many apples are stored, how many on the trees, and how many pressings we may yet have left.

Finally, winter. The fruit has been off the trees for a month or more, and no longer bears as much liquid, having been hurt by extended storage, or refrigeration, or frost exposure. The juice includes red delicious now (to be used in moderation, lest the juice have too much sediment and turn bitter), and is much thicker.

Finally, the last pressing. Most recent years, we were done in November, though a couple times we extended later -- one year going past Aaron's birthday (February 26). This year, the last pressing ended yesterday - at 39 degrees, I let it drip nearly a full day. It was just warm enough to do it in the garage, with a space heater. Only the 2nd time we've done it in the garage; while doing it there makes pressing possible on below freezing days, it makes clean-up much more of a challenge.

This was our 13th year making cider. We started with a typical small press that might be considered a toy press of sorts, out by the back door. That first pressing, we cut apples in quarters, filled a nylon bag, and considered it a minor miracle when juice started dripping. The yield from that first pressing was a quart. By our third year we graduated to a full-size press, and also got attachments such as wheels, an apple-eater (to end our dependence on the Cuisinart) and eventually a hopper. Over the years we have had to replace a couple parts from the press, but for the most part it just works. A typical pressing today yields around 3 gallons; more early in the season, less later on. We serve, we bring, we drink, we freeze.

I don't press as much as I once did; partly I just don't have as much time for it, but also the trees just don't yield what they once did. I think it's in large part due to the neighbor's maple trees causing too much shade now. The last two seasons, we supplemented with a healthy amount from our neighbors across the street; they don't spray but for the most part that's ok when it comes to cider-making. The two things we haven't done, are to try different fruits, and to make hard cider. Guess I'm just not that interested.

I measure out our yields, do it by the ounce (assuming our containers have accurate markings. This is our yield, year-by-year. The years of the late frosts are pretty obvious in there.
Year
Pressings
Ounces
Average
Gallons
2009
10
3799
380
29.7
2008
16
5581
349
43.6
2007
8
3080
385
24.1
2006
17
6251
368
48.8
2005
8
2604
326
20.3
2004
14
6038
431
47.2
2003
18
7515
418
58.7
2002
5
954
191
7.5
2001
26
7039
271
55.0
2000
22
5801
264
45.3
1999
18
4134
230
32.3
1998
23
3416
149
26.7
1997
13
1137
87
8.8
Total
198
57349
290
448.0