Tuesday, November 1, 2016


A while back, when Mrs V and I were training to walk the West Highland Way, at least one day a weekend you would find us out in the mountains with our good friends Dave and Ali traipsing along trails. One of those weekends, and actually an Ali-less hike, we started out from Milam Gap in the Shenandoah National Park headed for the Lewis Falls. Perhaps the most unexpected thing we came across during the hike were feral apple trees.

Before this area was a national park, the Milam apple was a local staple cash crop, and there are some fascinating pictures of apple, and 'sider', sellers at the trail head. As we hiked back to the car we agreed to return in the autumn and glean as many apples as possible with a view to making our own cider. Thus a few weeks ago we returned with a couple of bags to fill with feral apples, mostly fairly small and tart, but a few bigger, blander ones as well - I also picked some thistle heads for making cheese with at some point.

There was however a problem, we didn't have a press with which to get at whatever juice was in the apples. Eventually though Dave decided to invest in a hydraulic press and we got together to see what we could get. First things first though, I must admit that this was a small scale project, just a half bushel or so of apples, and they really didn't look promising, as you can see.

Given the small scale of the project we decided not to worry too much about how we were going to grind the fruit, preferring to pound the apples to a pulp using a 2x4 and an aluminium brew pot.

The important part of this run was to test the press, and as you can see from the following pictures, it was a resounding success.

Once we were done, we had about a gallon and a half of fresh pressed apple juice ready to just sit around and let whatever wild yeast was on the apples do it's thing, and with it plans to increase production on the next run!

Said next run came a week later. Dave had been out walking his dogs around the Crozet area and noticed orchards with lots of dropped apples on the floor. Having inquired as to the ownership of said orchard he learnt that it was possible to glean fallen apples for a pittance, and thus we set a date and time to meet up and gather what we could between the three of us. Again Ali wasn't able to join us, but studying for her PhD defense was an acceptable reason.

Over the course of a couple of hours the three of us managed to glean about 4 bushels of fallen apples, gathered into burlap coffee sacks that weighed down Dave's car to a rather worrying extent.

We headed back to Dave's place to test out his even newer bit of kit, for he had built a grinder!

Having a grinder made short work of turning the shit ton of apples we had gathered into a respectable pulp for putting into cheeses in the press, and after a few hours of grinding, pressing, drinking Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest and my home brew best bitter, we ended up with 17 gallons of juice, all of which is fermenting away to make that most wonderful of glorious booze products, cider. Even though I am first and foremost a beer drinker, I do have a soft spot for cider, especially in summer, with a Ploughman's lunch....ahhhhh the idyll.

We paid $20 for the apples, which works out to $1.18 per gallon of juice, given 8 US pints in a US gallon, we will be drinking cider sometime next year for just $0.15 per pint. Not a bad return on investment for a couple of hours labour in an orchard, and then several hours drinking and pressing juice. Almost makes you wonder what the mark up is on commercial cider?

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