Archive for October, 2007

1st batch racked

October 30, 2007

I racked the first batch of cider this evening, the one that Brock and I pressed back in early October. The gravity was about 1.004, down from an initial gravity of 1.044.  This was from a mix of early apples, including:

  • Bulmer’s Norman
  • Somerset Redstreak
  • Ellis Bitter
  • Stoke Red
  • Nehou
  • Calville Blanc d’Hiver
  • Macintosh
  • Macoun

The raw cider is still cloudy from the yeast, but it has a golden straw color and a strong fresh-apple aroma. There’s the barest hint of sweetness left in it, but the primary experience is assertive tannin and a snappy tartness – not bad for right out of the carboy. From a 6 gallon primary fermenter, I ended up with a 5 gallon carboy plumb full of cider, plus a half-gallon of cloudy but recoverable stuff that’s settling in the fridge, and a quart of sludge that will come in handy for pitching if I press or buy another carboy of cider at some point.

We had our first hard freeze the night before last, and the wood fire has felt nice in the evenings.  It will be nice to have this cider to drink by the fire in the evenings as the nights get shorter.


Fencing and fermentation

October 26, 2007

Emily, Dave, and I spent some time in the orchard early this week, after folks had gone home from the cidering.  We focused mainly on locating the fence, which needs to be in place before we transplant the trees in the spring.  First, we dug some sounding holes and found that there is 1.5-2′ of good soil at least on the south and west sides of the orchard, indicating that we have room to grow in those directions.  The plan at this point is to use a combination of electric fence and lightweight deer netting to keep out deer, coons, porcupines, etc.


Pedal Powered Apple Grinder: More Details

October 26, 2007


[A guy from Downeast somewhere near Penobscot Bay wrote and asked for more detail on how to build the grinder. The following is text of my email in response. If I get ambitious I’ll write a real article someday.]

The quickest way to orient yourself to how the grinder is arranged would be to go into a wood shop and look at the spinning part of a jointer – it’s a lot like that. Here’s a description of how we built it. Other ways of accomplishing the same effect would be fine as well. The goal is to have a round drum with four steel cutters embedded in it, protruding slightly such that each blade takes about 1/16″ off of the apples.


Cider weekend a success!

October 25, 2007

A bunch of folks joined us in Maine this last weekend for two days of cidering and fun. Holly, Becky, and Ultraviolet came of course, also Brandon and Sharon, Max, and Eric. Fall being a bit late in coming this year, the leaves were perfect, and the weather was pleasant and warm.



Motherload of apples

October 25, 2007

So, a couple of weeks ago I went to see the good folks at Poverty Lane Orchard in Lebanon, NH (link at right) and brought home our biggest haul yet – about 420 lbs of apples. The selection included:

  • Harry Master’s Jersey
  • Yarlington Mill
  • Foxwhelp
  • Michelin
  • Ashmead’s Kernel
  • Esopus Spitzenberg
  • Redfield
  • Wickson

I also bought several sacks of their utility fruit, an excellent deal at $10 per half-bushel. They were kind enough to throw in an extra bag free, and the woman in charge asked me if I was associated with this blog – she apparently ran into the site while looking for references to their orchard online. It is fortunate beyond any reasonable expectation to have what’s probably the best selection of cider fruit in the country less than five miles from my house, and by Holly’s account not all orchard operations are as friendly.

Pedal Powered Apple Grinder Complete

October 14, 2007

[Note October 2009: the pedal mill has been substantially updated since 2007, including tandem bike power.  See posts from Sept-Oct 2009 for details on the upgrades, eg. ]

pedal mill complete with pulp

The pedal grinder is finally complete, and it works great! This weekend I added a lot more structure to the support frame, and built a plywood hopper to increase the capacity to nearly a bushel. I also hacked together a flimsy skirt out of clear vinyl to contain the pulp as it is flung from the grinder wheel. (more…)

Pedal-Power Apple Grinder

October 12, 2007

[Note October 2009: the pedal mill has been substantially updated since 2007, including tandem bike power.  See posts from Sept-Oct 2009 for details on the upgrades, eg. ]

In the interest of improved aesthetics and increased Hard Times compatibility, Holly, Keith, and I have been working on a pedal-powered grinder for this year’s cidering.  After a big push last weekend, victory appears to be within our grasp.

We take as our benchmarks the antique cast iron press that we used in cider year 1, and the Insinkerator garbage dispose-all that we used last year.  The antique press could scarcely be beat from an aesthetics standpoint, but it’s yield was a meager 50%, and its capacity was relatively low.  The Insinkerator does a masterful job of liquefying apples, but its aesthetics leave much to be desired.  This is primarily because in order to keep the motor from overheating in continuous duty, we have to blast the stator windings with compressed air, and the sound of the compressor dominates the otherwise relaxing mood.  Also, between the compressor and the insinkerator itself the operation consumes close to two horsepower, and this taints the overall aesthetic of hard work and self reliance that makes cidering so pleasant.

Last year Holly and I upgraded our pressing capabilities significantly with the tie-bar press (see the design at in the 2006 cider section), and this year we improved the press further by widening the grates and adding a slick cast aluminum hand-wheel.  We had plans to build a pedal-powered grinder last year, but the press was all we could manage under the circumstances, and we settled on the Insinkerator as a fall-back position.  We did buy some key components, including 3/4″ stainless steel hex stock, 5/8″ flange-mount bearings, and a sweet 2′ diameter cast iron pulley/flywheel.  We cut a couple of shafts from the 3/4″ hex stock and turned the ends down to 5/8″, and I made a hail-Mary attempt involving a cylindrical maple drum with 8 rows of stainless steel wood screws in a helical pattern as cutters, but the screws tended to load up immediately, leading to unacceptable performance.

Undaunted, we took up the challenge once again this year.  We got some 304 stainless steel strap stock 1″ wide and 1/8″ thick, and we cut, ground, filed, and honed it to form four cutters, each about 5.5″ long and sharpened to a 75 degree angle at one edge.  I drilled and countersunk holes for wood screws, and remachined the drum on the tablesaw to accept the cutters.  I also upgraded the plywood housing that the drum runs in, including the addition of an adjustable-clearance anvil plate with a sheet of stainless steel to protect it, and gave the whole thing a couple coats of water-based polyurethane.

Since we were aiming to drive the grinder from a bicycle crank, we figured we needed a substantial gear-up relative to the pedaling rate.  Part of this was accomplished by a 3:1 chain drive stage between the main shaft of the grinder and a jackshaft that we added.  We could have hacked something up with bike chain and sprockets, but Holly scored some nice surplus 40 pitch sprockets and roller chain, so we used those (similar stuff could be bought at McMaster-Carr, which is a magnificent industrial supply company and truly an engineer’s best friend).  At Keith’s recommendation I didn’t buy a chain tool, but rather simply drifted a pin out using a hammer and nail set over a suitable gap in the bench vice, then tapped it back into place to form the desired size of loop.

Adapting from the front chainring of my old Miyata touring bike to the jackshaft was a bit trickier.  Holly and Keith are both fixed-gear zealots and called me a wuss for insisting on a freewheel in the system between the pedaler and the flywheel, but given the speeds attained by the high-speed shaft in operation I’m glad I stuck to my conservative plan.  We bought a machinable 5/8″ shaft collar from McMaster, and  turned it down to match the ID of an externally threaded bottom bracket cup provided by Keith.  With the combined mojo of a Mapp-gas plumber’s torch and Holly’s small oxyacetylene rig, we managed to braze the threaded cup onto the machined shaft collar.  I bought a 7-speed threaded freewheel for $20 at the local bike shop (Omer and Bob’s, Hanover NH, thumbs up) and they were kind enough to let me have three used chains in good condition for free.

Remarkably, the threads on the cup were still viable despite having been heated to orange-hot, and I threaded the freewheel on.  There was some runout due to imperfect alignment in the brazing process, but nothing that affected performance significantly.  I clamped the shaft collar/freewheel assembly onto the jackshaft after the 3:1 heavy chain stage was in place.

It remained to build a framework to hold the grinder and bicycle in position relative to one another so they could be connected by a loop of chain.  I accomplished this with some large scraps of maple plywood, with a chunk of 4×4 fir oriented vertically and drilled for a long 5/16″  machine bolt to secure the front fork of the bike.  I then removed the bike’s regular chain from the smallest front chainring, and spliced the used bike chain to form a new loop of suitable length to connect the largest chainring of the bike to the freewheel.  The chain runs forward and slightly up, and the hopper is within comfortable reach of the cyclist for feeding, in case the need arises for solo operation.  Using the smallest cog on the freewheel, the overall gear ratio is about 11:1, giving approximately 1000 RPM at the grinder for a brisk pedaling rate.

The whole system works surprisingly well.  The rear wheel of the bike is free and rests on the ground, and by swinging the rear end right or left the chain tension can be adjusted to some extent.  The chain loop was perhaps a link too long, so I compensated by shifting up a couple of gears; the grinding drum still spins plenty fast.  The effort to keep the system spinning in the absence of fruit is trivial compared to pedaling with no load at all.  The effort to grind an apple is noticeable but not strenuous.  The primary limitations are:

  • The support structure isn’t that stiff, resulting in some disconcerting deflections and vibrations.  I am going to add some more pieces to strengthen it further.
  • When I threw in a couple apples, they got into the mode of spinning rapidly in the opposite direction as the drum and bouncing rather than cutting.  If I prevented the apple from spinning with a stick, it was quickly ground to pulp, and I expect that this will not be a problem  once we fill the hopper with apples.
  • The apple pulp gets flung all over the place under the grinder.  I am going to make a skirt of sorts to keep it in place, similar to those I have seen on industrial equipment.
  • The pulp may be a bit coarse compared to the garbage disposal output.  It may still press out fine, and if the yield is low we can reduce the bite of the cutters by forming four rectangles of stainless sheet stock to the curvature of the drum between the cutters and screwing them in place.

The neighbors have an unkept apple tree that is drooping with fruit, and they told me they were fine with me harvesting some, so I’m going to make the changes described above and give it a whirl this weekend.

Here are a couple photos of the nearly-finished pedal-powered apple grinder.

End view, showing grinder box, drum, flywheel, sprockets, freewheel, and chain drive from bicycle:


Side view from bicycler’s end, showing attachment of front fork to cider mill assembly:



October 8, 2007

Brock and I pressed out the first batch of cider of the year, from the apples we picked last weekend. I spent most of Saturday and Sunday morning working on the pedal-powered grinder, and made good progress, but it’s not quite ready for showtime. I also refitted the press grates with extra strips of maple flooring to bring the width out to 13.5″ from 10″, and rewaxed the grates. I also had to resize the cheese frame to match the grates. It was 8.5 x 16; it’s now 12×12, so the pressure should be almost as good. Holly has the base grate, so I made a pine-and-plywood top grate/press plate that turned out quite serviceable, so once Holly widens the base grate we will have capacity for 5 cheeses.

Holly finally scored a 3/4″ hex broach on Ebay, so we now have a spiffy handwheel, which greatly eases the pressing. Anyway, we fired up the Insinkerator/compressor combination and let ‘er rip. The apples ground nicely, and we found that we could get almost two buckets (10 gallons) of pulp in one pressing. The wider grates made all the difference in the world in terms of stability – the stack pressed down nicely with scarcely any manual guidance. The vast majority of the cider could be expressed with the handwheel; only the last 20 percent or so required the 18″ breaker and 3/4″ socket. The new 316 stainless steel press pan worked brilliantly as well, with very little drippage.

We ended up with 125 lbs of juice and 50 lbs of pomace, for a 71% yield – very satisfying! We filled my 6 gallon and Brock’s bigger (7 gallon?) carboys, and ended up with 2 gallons of cider for fresh drinking as well. I took half a gallon to the potluck Sunday evening that kicked off this season’s contradance band class by Jeremiah McLane. Gravity was 1.044, or about 5.5-6% potential alcohol. I gave my jug 1/2 tsp of potassium metabisulfite and shook it up; tonight I’ll make up a starter and tomorrow morning I’ll pitch it. Brock ordered a tube of Whitelabs English Cider yeast; I’ll probably go with the Red Star champagne yeast since it has worked well for me in the past. It’s pretty much the same juice, so we’ll get a decent comparison between the strains.

Here’s the upgraded press in action:

upgraded press

Here’s Brock pouring the goodness into the jugs:

brock pours cider

First picking of 07

October 2, 2007

A friend and I went to Poverty Lane on Sunday afternoon and picked some early variety cider apples for the first couple carboys of the season. The varieties were:

Bulmers Norman (bittersweet) – 19 lb

Somerset Redstreak (bittersweet) – 27 lb

Ellis Bitter (bittersweet)- 22 lb

Stoke Red (bittersharp) – 28 lb

Nehou (bittersweet) – 18 lb

Much of the cider fruit isn’t ripe yet, and we needed some more acidity, so we bought a about 25 lb each of Calville Blanc, MacIntosh, and Macoun from the utility bin, bringing us to over 180 lb – should make two carboys plus some fresh. We’ll let them mellow for a week or two, then grind and press. The big pressing will wait till late October, when we’ll make about 60 gallons.