_Fall is a season for apples, and equally important, a season for apple cider. Over the past few years,
we’ve enjoyed hauling out the old Jaffrey press (see below), in the spirit of our late grandfather,
and pressing a few gallons in the crisp autumn air. However, as the orchard at Lockehaven has
grown, and our dreams and plans have grown even more quickly, we’ve been looking into ways to
increase potential cider production. Largely due to the inspiration of another part-time orchardist and
pomologist in Maine, (Five Islands Orchard) we’ve embarked on a mission to build
a hydraulic “rack & cheese” style press. We assumed that it would be built of the noblest and (what we
thought was) the strongest North American hardwood, the mighty ‘acer saccharum’, but after some
research, we decided on a laminated hickory wood construction, due to hickory’s immense strength.
It has come together, slowly but surely, over the past 6 months, and was put to the test for the first
time this past weekend. “The Old Hickory”, as it has been coined, is powered by Luke’s new Kubota
BX2360, which drives a 3” bore, 24” stroke hydraulic ram, fastened vertically at the top of the press. At
its maximum rated pressure, it should be capable of approximately 22,000 pounds of pressing force--
the weight of about 7 of your average family sedans. Walhowden Orchards, and Poverty Lane Orchards were able to provide us with two 15-bushel bins, one of Cortlands and the other of Macs (roughly 1200lbs). With our average efficiency of ~3 gallons of cider per bushel, that should give us approximately 90 gallons of cider this year. There were high hopes for the acquisition of a bin of traditional cider apples this year, but due to a short crop, they were unavailable to us from any of the local orchards.

Initial tests proved, with some assuredness, that The Old Hickory is a powerful machine—likely much
more powerful than we will ever require.Our friends at Townline Equipment wondered if the hydraulic
flow from the Kubota may be slower that we’d like, but we were perfectly satisfied. It’s not a high-speed
operation, after all, and with the incredible power potential, “slow and steady” really is the name of the
game.

Although there are plans in the works for an equally high-powered apple grinder to complement the
press, it’s not in its production stages yet, and we’re still forced to rely on the hand-cranked Jaffrey
grinder. Although non-optimal, it has served us well so far this year. We’ve experimented with the
adaptation of a 1HP garbage disposal unit, and although the results are astonishing (apple sauce), it’s
too slow and labor-intensive to keep up with the production. We think that the coarser Jaffrey grind will
be sufficient with our massive pressing power. Stay tuned for updates on the apple grinder front.

The virgin pressing was encouraging, but not completely satisfying. Due to the late-summer flooding in
our area, our local fabric store is still out of commission, so we had to resort to a very much less than
optimal canvas material for our inaugural pressing. After several (sometimes exciting) blow-outs, and
realizing the slow flow rate, we realized that a proper cheesecloth material was going to be absolutely
necessary to successful pressing. I’ll be looking for another source for fabric, and will hopefully have
some better material for next weekend. I’ve also ordered several sheets of ¼” high density polyethylene
(HDPE) that we will use to replace the absolutely handsome, if not perfectly effective maple racks that
Jer put together. I’ll take the blame for their ineffectiveness, however, as I suggested the design—once
again based off of Ben’s design up at Five Islands.

We’ll bring the Jaffrey down with a pile of apples for Piper family Thanksgiving in Rochester, MA, and we’ll
hope to get back up to Lockehaven for some cider press refinements next weekend. Pictures and video
of the Thanksgiving pressing to follow shortly!

-Nate Piper
 
Last year marked the first year in which we made our own cider. We had inherited an old Jaffrey cider press from our grandfather. My brother tore the press down to its bits and refurbished it, complete with a new paint job. We bought about a dozen bushels of Macs and Cortland apples, plastic jugs, and caps from the Patch's at Walhowdon Farm (Lebanon, NH). After that, it was pretty easy.

The press has a hand cranked grinder which grinds the whole apples into a wet sawdust like consistency. This is called the pommace. The pommace falls into a cheese cloth suspended in a slatted bucket sitting below the grinder. Once we had ground up all the apples (or enough to fill our cloth), we slid the slatted bucket under the press. 

The press is operated by another hand crank. This crank drives a screw press that slowly drives a thick hardwood piece of wood onto the pommace. The pommace was already "leaky" even before we had pressed it, but once we started to compress the pommace, there was a river of cider. 

The cider is filtered through the cheesecloth and from there is collected in the large tray that holds the slatted bucket. The tray is slightly slanted and the freshly squeezed cider flows out hole in the tray. We had made a neat little faucet / filter device, but found that the 1 1/4" tubing and filter simply clogged up with apple bits. The amount of these bits you want in your cider is up to you; if you wanted a clearer cider, you could add something as simple as a kitchen colander underneath your hole that would work sufficiently. Either way, just hold a collection jug underneath the cider flow until its full. Cap and repeat. 

We found that we got about 3 gallons of cider per bushel (about 45-48lbs). That would be a little bit more than 50% (if cider weighs about the same as milk). Industrial size cider presses do better. They average about 4.5 gallons per bushel, or about 75%. 

After the pommace has been pressed, we were left with a slightly damp sawdust like mash. Professional presses will leave a dry, crumbly, cake like substance that breaks apart in your hand. We're not there yet. We fed the leftover to our pigs who were glad for the consideration. 

For the second batch, Nate brought and installed a food disposal unit (what you would find under your kitchen sink). We found this makes a much finer pommace, but can get bogged down if you feed it apples too eagerly. We have plans in the works to upgrade our processing capabilities. I'm sure we'll have more to add in a separate post. 

We drank most of that batch as sweet cider throughout the fall, and made some more sweet cider for Thanksgiving with the whole family. Led by Nate, we also tried our hand at making some hard cider. Typically, hard cider is not made from the same apples used to make sweet cider. Sweet cider comes from table apples, whereas table cider comes from specific cider apples found to have the correct qualities when fermented and blended. For our hard cider, we pretty much ignored any of the recipes and just went with what we had. We made about 5 gallons of hard cider which is sitting in Nate's basement. The fermentation process has since stopped and the cider is resting but should be ready shortly. We'll keep you posted with our results.

    Author(s)

    The authors of this blog are Luke Shipman, Jer Shipman, Nate Piper, and occasionally Phil and Emilie Shipman (though less frequently). We represent the man behind the curtain. 

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    Being Thayer - A blournal written by my our, Ben.

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    Thoughts on trees, boats, wood dirt, and a few other things. 

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    Some interesting orchard information from Five Islands, ME.