Barreca Vineyards

Barreca Vineyards

From Vine to Wine since 1986

Sipin Cider

Sippin’ Cider

After a brief dip down to overnight lows in the teens and twenties, the weather has been mild for a couple of weeks.  (Of course, that is changing rapidly as I start to write about it.)  The beauty of having high temperatures near 40º is that the whole outdoors is the same temperature as the inside of a refrigerator and the roads are still clear of snow.  Another bonus: no insects. I have been able to visit our local organic orchard and trade for apples and pears for juicing.  You might be able to do something similar since some varieties of apples such as Honey Crisp and pears like Bartletts don’t store well and orchard owners might be eager to pass them on.

Outside in the morning, the summer traffic has died down, but the neighborhood still echoes with chainsaws, tractors, and the occasional gun shot.  The birds are closer in, so louder.  The Chickadees and Nuthatches are literally “all-a-twitter” about having some sunflower seeds and suet in the feeder.  The surprising noise is from Eagles.  An eagle’s cry is a bit like tight barbed wire being scratched with something metallic.  Added to the soundscape lately is my cider press.

My cider press is more of an apple shredder than a press now.  Sometime in the late 70’s there was a group known as the American Village Institute that inhabited an empty high school building in Marcus.  They made cider presses using apprentice labor. I was an apprentice who worked there all of one week casting molds out of wet sand and clay and laying them out in a field.  On the last day we fired up a tower of 55-gallon barrels made into a furnace filled with coal and scrap metal.  We tapped molten metal into a ladle that two people carried to each mold and poured metal in to make cast iron parts.  One part on my press has my initials cast into it from that pour.

Bladder Press and Pear Cider

The original press was not exactly approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.  A neighbor girl got a tiny finger caught in the gears once.  Her finger is alright now, but I covered the gears with a sheet metal case.  Now even the gears are gone, and the shredder mechanism is driven by a repurposed washing machine motor and several v belt pullies. Still not OSHA approved but quiet and easy for an old guy to run by himself.  The press part was a large screw-threaded shaft that pushed down on mashed apples in wooden baskets.  You needed a strong bar like an axe handle to tighten it.  It was fun at apple pressing parties with several young people cranking the shredder and the screw press. It’s not fun anymore.

Here’s the critical new method.  I hate the name, but it is called a “bladder press”.  A better name would be a “hydraulic press”, but that name invokes images of heavy equipment which this is not.  The hydraulic part is a garden hose.  It fills a column in the center of the press, which looks like part of a tire innertube, with water.  The shredded fruit goes in between that tube and a stainless-steel screen.  Turning it on and off is just a matter turning a couple of valves to let water in and then to release it. 

The process is not only easy, but also efficient.  The mash being squeezed is only a couple of inches thick.  Less pressure is needed to get out more juice.  I make sure the press is full. Expanding the bladder too far can break it.  You can back-fill with already squeezed mash to prevent that.

The best apple cider mixes sweet apples such as Honey Crisp and Golden Delicious with tart varieties like McIntosh and Winesap.  Juice pears as soon as they are a bit soft.  They can go bad quickly.  If you have ever picked pears, you know that a picking bag full of pears is much heavier than a bag full of apples.  A press full of pear pulp gives you much more juice than apples would.

Once you have more juice than you can drink in a week, you need to store it.  Freezing is fast and easy but takes up a lot of room in the freezer and takes time to thaw before drinking.  Canning is a great option if you have the time and equipment.  Or you can make hard cider with raw apple juice or apple wine with sweetened juice.  Cider is nice but the low sugar content can lead to vinegar, which is useful in small quantities only. To make apple wine you need cider that is twice as sweet as raw juice.  I used to add sugar, but refined sugar is not healthy.  I prefer freeze-sweetening. (See the North Columbia Monthly January 2023 or  It concentrates both sweetness and flavor.  You could push it to the point of being apple syrup.  Yumm! You can even freeze-sweeten the wine and end up with brandy.

The benefits of pressing cider are not just in the juice.  I mix the left-over pulp with leaves, manure, and green material in compost bins.  When they are big enough not to freeze over the winter, worms survive at the bottom of the bin and turn the pulp into worm castings in the Spring. If you can’t wait for compost, consider deer.  They love the left-over pulp.  They are also aware that it is hunting season.  I seldom see them during the day, but sometimes at night a headlamp will illuminate several sets of blue eyes looking back at me from near a bin of apple pulp.  In the morning the pulp is gone.

One last “benefit” was in a song from summer camp years ago.  It started “The prettiest girl I ever saw, was sippin’ cider through a straw.” The song worked its way down to “And now I’ve got a mother-in-law, from sippin’ cider through a straw.”

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