Back in early September, Scott declared that this had to be the year he was finally going to work on a fun project for the homestead. He’s technically done a few fun projects, probably the most enjoyable for him being the maple syrup making, but most of the stuff that should have been more fulfilling for him has felt pressured or rushed, and he hasn’t been able to relax and enjoy the process. So what was this fun homesteading project he needed to work on? Refurbishing the cider press that he bought me for Mother’s Day.
(This post contains some affiliate links. Please read the full disclosure in the sidebar or bottom of the page if you are on a mobile device.)
Around the time of the fire (early May), Scott came home with an early Mother’s Day present. An old lard press. I know, a lot of ladies wouldn’t get excited about something like this, but I was definitely excited about this press. Lard presses are often marketed as lard and fruit/cider presses. We have a small orchard, one that we plan to expand, so having a cider press is something that is most definitely worthwhile for us. We had actually talked on and off since moving here about the possibility of buying or building a press. This press is substantially larger than the ones we were looking at either building or buying, and the quality of the thing is impressive. Hardwood legs, cast iron screw, braces, and pan, and a 10-20 gallon drum. From what we know about it, it was salvaged from a factory building that had been purchased, and it was going to be scrapped. And apparently it had been used exclusively for pressing lard.
It didn’t take Scott very long after getting the press unloaded to let me know that this would be his project for the year. I was more than okay with that idea. My only stipulation was that he had to work on it before it was time to actually press apples, or all bets were off.
Summer wasn’t very cooperative, so the only things that were done or worked on were things that absolutely needed to be done, like animal chores. It was hot (though not more than normal), and it was also very humid… much more so than normal. And it felt like we were plagued by bugs all summer long. First it was the flies, then the gnats, then the mosquitoes, then the wasps, then the mosquitoes, then flies again, then mosquitoes and wasps alternating depending on the weather. If we went outside to work during non-peak hours, the bugs were awful, if we went out during the peak sunlight, we felt sick from the heat. And if it wasn’t hot or buggy, it was raining.
As August drew to a close, we knew we needed to make time for Scott to work on the press, but we had a few problems. For one, some pieces needed replacing, another needed to be repaired, others needed to be sandblasted. And Scott was beginning to feel like working on the press was pointless. Most of our apple trees were damaged during the fire, and even though they looked like they still might produce well after the fire, they ended up dropping all of their apples. If we didn’t have apples to press, then why would he make the time to fix up the press when there were other jobs that could or should be worked on? Besides, before he could even feel remotely comfortable getting started on the press, tasks x, y, and z needed to be completed first.
Since I knew how much this project meant to Scott, I did everything I could to facilitate making it happen. He has a co-worker and friend who was sweet enough to mill some new pieces for us. As for the part that needed to be repaired, another friend offered to bring it to his uncle’s shop to help us out, and when he brought the part back, he told me to tell Scott to consider it an early birthday present. I worked with my older boys to complete tasks x, y, and z so that there was no good reason Scott couldn’t work in the garage on this project, and eventually I ended up calling the sandblaster and bringing the parts to him for Scott since he was never home when the business was open. I also reached out to family and friends and let people know that we were looking for apples. If anybody didn’t feel like picking theirs this year, we’d be happy to help. We had a few people tell us we could have their apples once they were ripe.
With the obstacles removed, he was finally able to set to work. He began by priming the parts that would be getting painted, and seasoning the cast iron parts that wouldn’t be painted.
On the legs, he set to work stripping and sanding the legs, and the plan was to oil them when all was finished.
The weather had been nice for a bit, but then we got hit with an even worse plague of mosquitoes, and we had another heat-wave, plus we started to have a few extra activities on our schedule because of the time of year it is. The apples were ripening, and we were starting to be notified that we could come pick apples if we wanted. The first batch of apples we picked ended up being used for applesauce, apple butter, and apple cider syrup…. I wanted to make those things anyway, and the press wasn’t quite finished, so I figured this would buy us some extra time.
But then we got our next call, and the press still wasn’t finished. Our choices were to either reassemble the press, unfinished, so that we could press apples this year, or to finish the press completely and skip the pressing this year. We decided to go ahead and reassemble the press for now, because it would save us a whole lot of work in the long run.
We ended up dedicating our anniversary to apples this year. On our anniversary, Scott and the boys worked on reassembling the press, picking up any supplies we’d still need for this project (namely some wooden disks for pressing, and some new pillow cases to hold the apple mash), and going to pick apples from our friend’s house.
While Scott and the boys were gone, I worked on cleaning out 5 gallon pails, cleaning up the press, washing off the apple grinder (we’re borrowing it from the friend who milled the replacement parts for us), and doing anything else necessary in order to get everything ready for the actual pressing.
When they got back from picking apples, they went straight into grinding the apples. We estimated that roughly 10 gallons of whole apples turned into 5 gallons of crushed apples.
From there, we put a pillow case over the top of the 5 gallon pail, and then flipped that over into another empty 5 gallon pail so that the case would stay clean, and so that we wouldn’t loose any cider in the process. (Now that I’m thinking about this, it would save us a step to line a 5 gallon pail with a pillowcase before crushing the apples, but hind-sight is 20/20, right?)
For the first round of pressing, we put the pillowcase filled with mash onto the pan of the press, without the ring to hold it in place, mostly just to experiment and get used to the process, to figure out what was necessary and what was not. It worked fine, but we were too close to risking having cider leak over the lip of the pan, and we were having a hard time getting enough pressure on the mash.
For the second round, we ended up putting the outer metal ring on, and thank goodness our wooden disks fit perfectly into the opening. The slightly smaller area of the ring kept the case slightly more contained, which allowed us to more easily put extra pressure on the apples. And the high sides kept juice from leaking anywhere but out of the opening.
While Scott worked on grinding apples, I worked on straining the cider and putting it into jars. We decided to freeze our jars, so I had to make sure to leave enough head-space to allow for expansion without the jars breaking. I only strained the cider because we knew there were a few pieces of apple mash that had gotten into the cider, and because there were wasps trying to get in on the action, and a couple of them ended up getting into our buckets.
5 gallons of crushed apples made just under 2.5 gallons of cider. Our first ever pressing made right around 7 gallons of cider. After we strained and bottled the juice and cleaned up from the pressing, Scott and the boys went out to deliver cider to a few of the people who helped to make the whole thing possible, from parts to apples.
About a week or so after our first pressing, we had a couple of people drop off some more apples for us, and this past Saturday, Scott and the boys pressed another round of apples. This time we were pressing two varieties, so the flavor was less “apple-y” and more complex. Very delicious! I was gone while they did the pressing, but I ended up getting back just in time to do the straining and bottling while they worked on clean-up. We ended up with close to another 7 gallons of cider! Again, we ended up giving cider away to a few people who gave us apples.
At the end of it all, we have used nearly a gallon of cider, we set aside a gallon so Scott can make some hard cider (his second fun homesteading project for the year), and we have 6(?) more gallons left in the freezer.
Last year, Scott expressed interest in learning how to make his own wine and beer and other fermented beverages. For Christmas, I had bought him a book that was recommended for learning how to ferment beverages, a carboy, and a couple of other parts that would be needed for the fermentation process. (Affiliate links) All we needed was to wait for some fresh fruit from our homestead to get started. But we didn’t have any grapes this year, and our apples didn’t produce. When we pressed the cider, we decided to set aside a gallon for making hard cider, but when we looked up the recipe, we realized we were woefully short on supplies to be able to do this properly.
Thankfully, I discovered that I had a bit of money squirreled away that I had forgotten about, and it was almost enough to pay for all of the remaining supplies needed to get Scott going. All of the supplies finally arrived over the weekend, and this, he began the first steps of the fermentation process!
It was relieving for both Scott and I to be able to have him work on something fun that achieved something towards our long-term homesteading goals. Now I just have to try and keep the kids in check so that we aren’t drowning in their messes and chaos! ( I seem to be always loosing that battle…)
How many of you make your own cider?
P.S. I get asked from time to time about what kinds of things Scott works on around our homestead. I write about what I do and the kids do, but I don’t say a lot about Scott. That’s for a few reasons. For one, he doesn’t particularly want me to write about him most of the time. Two, most of the work he does around here is maintenance… cleaning up after me, cleaning up after the kids, cleaning up after himself, changing oil in vehicles, fixing a tire, replacing the dryer… I think you get the point. I mention some of it in passing, but most of it isn’t worth writing about in any detail, just like I don’t spend a lot of time on the mundane I do around the house. The third reason is that he’s a very busy guy between his full-time job, raising 5 kids and homeschooling them, and being that person who’s always there for everybody when they need help… Both of the last two reasons are why working on this project was so important to him!