After nine years, thanks to the accumulated contributions of ideas, time, and equipment-building effort, and especially to the wonderfully useful and flexible barn that my folks built, the cider operation is getting to where it runs in a well-worn groove. And it’s a good thing, since the great majority of my attention has been devoted to Pika Energy, and building affordable, high-quality home wind turbines.
Two weeks ago I visited Autumn Hills Orchard in Groton, MA, and picked up two 600lb bins of mixed cider apples – Kendall, Spencer, and Cox Orange among them. The owner, Ann Harris, also kindly let me do some sanitation and gather a few hundred pounds of RI Greening drops, so the truck was quite heavily loaded down with apples for the ride home. The going rate for cider apples this year is apparently $50/bin – illustrating the importance of top-quality fruit and value-added products to the economics of small orchard operations. That same weekend I also needed to build and test a new wind turbine tower, as well as moving some cidering equipment up to Five Islands, so by the time I was fully loaded with dogs and bikes etc., the rig looked like some kind of Tom Joad/Johnny Appleseed chimera:
The tower test was successful, and my folks and I unloaded the bins using a four-fall block-and-tackle that my dad inherited from a local gentleman, Don Spurr. Don lives on in our memories every time one of his carefully-maintained tools proves to be just the ticket for solving some mechanical challenge:
The following Wednesday afternoon, Dave, Alexis, and I made the annual pilgrimage to Poverty Lane Orchard/Farnum Hill for cider apples. I called ahead a couple of weeks, but for the first time in several years, we were disappointed that they couldn’t sell us a bin of bittersweets – they were too booked up with demand for cider fruit from as far away as Michigan and Oregon. Brenda made it up to us by giving us a nice discount on the ~700lb or so of mixed cider fruit we collected. We hauled the load with Alexis’ little Suzuki wagon, and it really drank the gas on the way home, but still burned far less than it would have taken to drive the big red monster all the way to the other side of NH. When we got home, Fern got right into the action:
I managed to get up to Five Islands by mid-day on Friday, and on the way up I picked up the only big innovation in on the equipment front this year. I bought a 100 gallon HDPE bulk tank from US Plastics, together with a hand-operated diaphragm pump rated for 15gpm. Together, these made a huge difference in the management of finished cider during the big event. Dave whipped up a wooden stand for the metal stand that I bought to go with the tank, so we could gravity feed into bottles and carboys. Working the pump was a big hit with the kids:
Compared to commercial operations, we keep a very high standard for fruit quality going into the grinder; since we have plenty of labor and it’s a sociable activity, each apple is washed and inspected by hand, and any brown spots or other flaws are cut out. But washing has always been an afterthought from a process standpoint, and in past years (especially when it’s cold) the washing itself hasn’t always been super-pleasant. This year I grabbed some plastic bristle brushes at the Despot, and Holly and Ben whipped up a much more ergonomic washing station using an old washtub my dad found at the Georgetown Mall:
We started the festivities Friday evening with pot-luck Mexican at the shore cabin, followed by a black-powder demonstration (no bullets) by Jake, and revival of an old tradition, Viking Funeral Ships – in which small barges made of wood planks piled high with birch bark, pinecones, and kindling are set afloat after dark, and rocks are thrown from on shore at a sporting distance to smash them – if anybody has a photo of this, I’d love to post it.
Breakfast Saturday was amazing as usual, with with Kelsey and Beth’s breakfast burritos and assorted pastry. Cidering got fired up between 9 and 10AM, and continued on with a brief intermission for lunch, which was headlined by my folks with ‘Nebraska Cream Can Dinner’, a tradition they picked up out west. As usual, we also fired up the bottling operation, kegging, carbonating, and bottling about 5 kegs worth of cider (minus ‘operational losses’ in the bottling step). Here Tony and Rita prepare Cornelius kegs for transfer:
Holly, Becky, and Heli took the lead on dinner, producing soups and amazing fresh baguettes. Here’s Holly working the dough:
Dinner for 30-40 people was served in the barn this year, followed by Holly’s usual transcendent apple pies. MomJones couldn’t make it to cider this year, but she sent us four large folding tables that made for a very convivial setup. All told we produced approximately 207 gallons of cider, per the tally sheet, with an estimated yield of 69-70%:
Thanks again to everyone who participated this year. Next year is the 10th anniversary – I don’t know what we’re going to do, but it’s going to be big!