Fourth annual cider weekend – fantastic!

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!


One Response to “Fourth annual cider weekend – fantastic!”

  1. Brandon Says:

    An excellent weekend, Ben. I look forward to next year and the construction of more advanced equipment!

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