Cider year 10: 232 gallons in a day

Last weekend marked the 10th successive year when Alexis and I have made cider with Holly, Becky, and a steadily growing crew of enthusiastic friends.  I am amazed by how this tradition has taken root, and how ever-increasing quantities of cider are produced and just as rapidly disappear.  Below you will find the annual report; thanks to everyone who sent photos; please send more if you have them, and I’ll link to other peoples’ blog posts if they make them.

Late in the week the weather was cranky, so I borrowed a friend’s box trailer, which was very handy for hauling the large number of cardboard boxes of glass bottles and open tubs of miscellany which always accumulate before cider. Between that and two bins of apples I was heavily laden for the trip to Five Islands.

truck and apples

Dave and I had assembled the cider equipment in the barn on a previous weekend, but I spent a good chunk of Friday sweeping out cabins, setting up the increasingly elaborate web of hoses, making a hardware run, and attending to last-minute details.  Friday evening folks started to arrive, and we gathered at the lower cabin for Mexican grub, a campfire with smores, and a spectacular if short-lived Viking Funeral Ship, which came up hard on the mudflats, and the kids made short work of it at a not-altogether-sporting close range.

Alexis took on the increasingly complex task of matching parties with sleeping quarters, and folks retired to their bunks – it is fortunate for the purposes of this event that my parents and grandparents have such a fondness for outbuildings. Including kids, 50 people signed up to stay Saturday night, and on top of these I estimate that at least 20-30 locals and day trippers stopped in to help for some or all of the day on Saturday.

The morning dawned clear, and the Stroudwater contingent arrived early with Kelsey’s customary breakfast burritos and chocolate croissants to universal acclaim.  The Stroudians also brought a fourth bin of apples from Bracket’s to add to the one from Poverty Lane and two from Autumn Hills.

IMG_6055 (1280x853)

We were grinding apples before 10AM, despite getting off to a slow start – at the last minute Holly and I decided to standardize the size of the press cloths, and he spent the first part of the morning heroically sewing heavy muslin into large rectangular sheets to be doubled into squares.  But the entire process got rolling, and continued throughout the day as more and more people arrived.


press, pump, and tank nicely backlit

The 10th anniversary year was highlighted with event-specific T-shirts generously supplied by Mom and DadJones; unfortunately they could not join us this year because of a previous engagement, but were very much present at the event in spirit and cotton. I would love to include a better photo of the shirts – please send me one if you have it.  Most of the photos I have are blocked by an arm or something. Here’s Holly sporting his shirt along with homemade woolen trousers and hand-sewn braces:


As reported on his blog at, Holly is into his third year of not buying clothes, rather replenishing his wardrobe only with home-made garments.  I have half a mind to get new heavy muslin press cloth for next year, so he can take the current stack of venerable cloth and make himself a few pairs of genuine cider-dyed dungarees.

The shirt graphic (and accompanying cider label) was a very clever design schemed up by Jonah and Holly, bending a five-armed bicycle chainring into the form of an apple.  Holly printed the labels on his antique cast iron treadle letterpress printer, and they looked amazing:

Violet at the printing press

plate and label in press

closeup of printed graphic

label printed

labeling a bottle

We fired up the double-barreled counterpressure bottling line, and Lance and friends did yeoman service much of the day bottling about 30 gallons of 2013 vintage:


My folks brought out the Nebraska Cream Can, which efficiently produced a prodigious quantity of lunch, together with a fine pot-luck spread, and Ned added a new and fragrant twist by making a big batch of cider donuts. Andy and Emily brought vast mountains of greens from the farm where Andy works, and we played some fiddle tunes after lunch to cheer the pedalers back into action:

IMG_6048 (800x533) (800x533)

The equipment ran smoothly all day, and we finished before 6PM, with a total of 232 gallons (plus in-process consumption) and a calculated yield of 69%.  The Gates family headlined dinner, and overcame several obstacles to produce an immense pot of chili, cornnbread from corn flour hand-ground on site, and several large apple crisps. One technique that has become increasingly useful with scale is dumping a large vessel of hot prepared food into a (carefully washed) picnic cooler to keep it hot. Here Becky tends a steaming tank of chili while the crew sets up the church-supper tables for dinner:


Eating dinner:

eating dinner

We rounded out the evening with a campfire before retiring to cabins for the night:


Sunday morning broke reasonably mild, and breakfast was served in waves in the barn as folks awakened: pancakes with blueberries from my grandfather’s bushes and syrup from the surrounding woods – turns out that a turkey baster is a relatively clean way to dispense syrup directly from a quart jar.  Folks also cooked eggs, spuds, etc. on the massive 20″ cast iron skillet.

Then we filled carboys from the bulk tank, broke down the equipment, and swabbed out the barn – the kids especially liked blasting the floor (and everything else) with the pressure washer.  Filling the big jugs:

filling carboys

People pitched in handsomely and most were on their way home by noon, heavily laden with cider – excepting some folks from the old New Hampshire crew who stuck around to enjoy the mild afternoon. Finally, before leaving for home I prepared a couple gallons of starter – a gallon of water, a couple pounds of sugar, a gallon of cider, and a few crumbs of yeast nutrient, boiled then cooled in sanitized gallon glass jugs before pitching a packet each of red star champagne.  My mom subsequently pitched on the carboys, and she reports they are ticking nicely.

All in all it was an amazing year of cider. The event has grown steadily larger and more complex, with new people every year, but there are enough old hands who know the ropes to show the new folks how to run the process, and everyone pitches in handsomely. Thanks so much to everyone for your hard work, good cheer, and creative contributions to making this such an engaging tradition.



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