Archive for October, 2008

Fourth annual cider weekend – fantastic!

October 27, 2008

Cider year four: we went to Five Islands this weekend with trailer in tow, carrying the pedal grinder, screw press, and several hundred pounds of cider apples from Poverty Lane.  Around 15 friends joined us to help pedal, press, eat, and drink cider, and it was definitely the best cidering we’ve had so far.

(more pics to come – grabbed the wrong CD from my mom)

We arrived mid-afternoon on Friday; Joshua and Kelsey had arrived a day or two before.  Other folks turned up over the course of the evening, and we caught up around the fire at the old homestead, played some old-time tunes, and of course drank cider.  Saturday morning dawned mostly clear and pretty warm; there was some thought of getting an early start, but we had been up pretty late the night before, and it was nearly ten by the time we got going.  Folks set to work washing apples in the great flexible multicolored tubs that my mom got me for Christmas, then feeding them into the pedal mill. We started off with a couple hundred pounds of fruit from the two trees in our NH yard, to make sweet cider.   Alea’s friend Amit turned out to be a champion pedaler, but most folks got a chance to pedal and force the apples into the grinder’s maw.  The modified press with serrated cutters and polyethylene post-crushers performed as before, producing a fine pulp with almost no crunchy bits.  Soon we switched over to the (hard) cider fruit, and were perhaps half way through the apples by lunch, which featured a very fine vegetable soup prepared by Sharon and Brandon, sandwiches, and of course cider.  Grinding and pressing resumed, and it soon became clear that we would finish comfortably on Saturday afternoon.  Kelsey, Joshua, and Andy did yeoman service on the pressing side, and Shefali was mix mistress, distributing each type of cider among nine carboys.   Ultraviolet toddled around and played with the dogs, while Jeff and Ellen (very old family friends) dropped by to check out the scene, and Jason and Nancy stopped by with their new baby.

We finished sometime after four, having produced about 87.5 gallons of cider.  A rough calculation of yield put the numbers in the low 60s, a bit of a disappointment after the 70+ performance at Pete’s a few weeks back, but we were working faster and the fruit was not so ripe.  There’s definitely more work to be done in the pressing department though – I’m still interested in the continuous press concept, but I’m beginning to think that maybe the key is just overwhelming pressure – and that a pedal-powered hydraulic press might be in order.

After cleaning up the press and loading it back on the trailer, we retired to my folks’ house for dinner (fajitas and cider), merriment, and more old-time music.  Saturday night featured a wild wind and rain storm which cleared my mid-morning, by which point we had eaten our fill of blueberry pancakes.  Finding ourselves with no more apples to press, we took a leisurely walk around the North End, and returned for a nice lunch provided by Team Elgart, whereupon the majority of the revelers dispersed.  Alea and Amit stayed to enjoy what turned out to be a glorious warm, sunny afternoon, then they too departed.

Regarding cider equipment performance, things went so well on the grinding side, so much so that it’s not obvious that much needs changing.  A couple of minor failure modes were observed.  The set screws holding the drive sprocket on the primary post-crusher drum loosened up a couple times, causing them to stop spinning.  A key or more robust set screw arrangement is in order for next year.  Second, with some types of apples (primarily Baldwin, which were the hardest and least ripe), the pulp seemed hesitant to feed through the post crushers, and it pooled somewhat in the grinder portion.  The Baldwins could be fed through in combination with other apples, and it wasn’t too big a deal, but worth tinkering with to get better performance.  I have a suspicion that if the crushers were positioned to receive the material that’s flung off of the cutters directly in the nip (rather than at a ~45 degree angle as at present, for convenience given the pre-existing hardware), it would feed much better.  For an experiment, we removed one of the post crusher drums at the end, which resulted in a much freer feed of Baldwin pulp, and a somewhat coarser pulp, as would be expected, though fine enough to be respectable.  The added sprockets and additional timing chain added significantly to the noise, and it seems reasonable to propose that the primary drive chain (the one that transmits power from the jackshaft to the cutter drum and the primary post-crusher drum) be replaced by a stout timing belt.  The design may be sufficiently refined at this point to warrant rebuilding for next year in plastic and corrosion-resistant metals, with a construction that’s better suited to washdown and provides a stiffer interface to the bicycle.

On the pressing side, the rate was much improved by the dual-stack design, as evidenced by the fact that we produced as much cider this year in one day than we made last year in two, but the yield was still not up where we’d like it to be.  As mentioned above, a hydraulic solution may be called for, but this will have to be the subject of another post.

Many thanks to all who pitched in – cider should be ready in time for Christmas!


Photo from Pete and Ben’s

October 5, 2008

Showing the double-stack modification to the tie-bar cider press.  Breaker bar with 3/4″ socket is used for extra leverage…


October 4, 2008

Cidering at the Colliers’ was a great success.  We took the rig over there on the flat-bed trailer at about noon, after spending nearly an hour in Jo-Ann fabrics trying to buy five yards of cotton drill to cut more pieces of press cloth out of.  Fall weather must trigger something in the septuagenarian brain; the little old ladies were out in droves buying cozy fleece and flannel.  Anyway, we set up the pedal grinder on their back deck and got to work.  The new blades and post-crusher worked just as well as last night’s quick experiment indicated they would, and the bed extension and new set of press grates made the pressing operation run much smoother.  In a bit over four hours we processed 352 pounds of apples and produced 252 pounds of juice, for a remarkable 71.6% yield, not counting the stuff that we drank while we were pressing.  We have thus met our goal of matching the performance of the garbage disposal grinder with pedal-powered equipment.

All in all the whole operation ran very smoothly; we produced around 31 gallons in less than four hours, and surely could have made more if we had paid more attention to efficient choreography.  The fruit was a combination of MacIntosh, Summer Treat, and Empire I think, and it pressed out to a powerful 1.056 specific gravity.  The taste was sweet, rich, and full; it would almost have to be cut with water to be truly refreshing.  Emily Blood joined us from the start, and Rob and Janet came by later on, followed by Elfie and Ruth at the end.  After we cleaned up we had a nice dinner with salad, bread, and a curry soup that Emily made, followed by a formidable chocolate peanut butter pie that Ben (Pete’s wife) made.  We then retired to the living room and played tunes; Ruth brought her cello, which added substantially to our usual ensemble.

With the recent upgrades to press and pedal grinder, the equipment has in my mind attained a level of performance that is fully satisfactory for our present needs.  Further improvements (such as the belt press) can proceed at a relaxed pace.  Also of note, I made and tested a mockup to determine whether the interleaved disk concept would work with the press cloth that we use.  I used a jigsaw to cut about 35 arc-shaped chunks, with a 6″ diameter and maybe 2″ tall, out of scrap pine and plywood.  I attached these to a piece of plywood using hot glue in a pattern corresponding to the intended layout of the interleaved discs, and used the resulting assembly as the top plate of the screw press.  The result was that the cloth didn’t pouch down into the gaps between the rollers much at all, and the top layer seemed to press out fine.  Based on that, I think the interleaved-disk continuous press is a viable concept, though I think it may be difficult to truly finish the job with the interleaved disk press, since we won’t be able to leave the pomace in there long enough for the last few percent of the cider to come out.

sneak peak at 08 pedal mill upgrades

October 3, 2008
It’s late and I’ve got to get up early tomorrow, but I can’t resist posting a couple pics of the upgraded pedal mill. It works like a bloody charm. I was afraid I was going to have to fiddle with the post-crushers and the cutter clearance, but in practice it milled beautifully right off the bat. We ground up half a pail full of drops from the old tree in the yard just to give it some exercise. In contrast to last year’s implementation, the resulting mush has no bits of skin even as big as a quarter left intact, and no chunks of any appreciable size – it’s all finely ground, pretty much like we got from the garbage disposal two years ago. I love it!!!
Tomorrow we’re going to do our first pressing of the season at Pete and Ben Collier’s over in Vermont. He says they have about 10 bushels, so it should be a good time. Then we eat and play fiddle tunes – hard to beat!
bargaloot power!

bargaloot power!

closeup of serrated cutter blades

closeup of serrated cutter blades

closeup of pedal cider mill drive and post-crushers

closeup of pedal cider mill drive and post-crushers

crummy video of grinder in action (sorry no audio on old digital cam…)