There was unseasonable warmth in February and March and the tree started to bud, tricked into thinking that spring had arrived. And then, cruelly, the end of March brought seasonable cold–temperatures that dipped below freezing at night–and the tree lost its chance to produce fruit for the season. Some plants will get a second chance to bud in this type of situation; fruit-bearing trees can’t pull it off, however, and will only produce a small amount of fruit, if any, when hit with an early bud-killing frost.
So, this being our second full growing season, we didn’t know what to expect from our most mature apple tree.
As mentioned in my apple sauce post, we are seeing a bounty of apples that makes us feel like the tree is making up for last year’s loss. It is difficult to think that the sheer volume of apples being dropped from this tree is the work of just one tree. We’ve got a sneaking suspicion that there is some kind of Apple Tree Coalition working surreptitiously throughout the night, every night. There is just an impossible number of new apples on the ground each morning.
Because I can’t abide waste, I find ways to use all these apples, wherever they may have come from.
Our current project is pressing apple cider.
Dave has been wanting to buy a press for ages. The problem is that it’s an enormous purchase, both in size and in price tag. To get a really great press (read: at least 50 years old with a 200 apple capacity) one would have to spend close to $1,000. So, we did the second-best thing. We borrowed one from a friend.
The other morning, Dave drove the hour-and-a-half round-trip down to a friend’s place to borrow the brand new, quarter-size press they bought last year. It’s a lovely little piece and works really nicely, but the capacity is small and we can hear the tree laughing at us behind our backs as we try to make a dent in the apples it continues to produce. Seriously. Into hour six of grinding and pressing apples, there was an almost rhythmic thumping behind us as apple after apple was released from the tree. I could swear I heard giggling.
Once we’d emptied those, we filled them right back up again.
And we haven’t even started on the OTHER apple tree.
First, all the apples are washed and run through the grinder. This turns them into a sort of chunky mash which is then put into the barrel of the press itself.
It is important to fill the press barrel as fully as possible for a couple of reasons. One is that you want to have as much material as you can to increase the weight which assists in the pressing. The other is that the work is so repetitive and exhausting, you will get through it slightly more quickly if you do large amounts at a time.
When we tasted the apples from the other tree–the one we haven’t even started collecting apples from yet–we found those to be exceedingly sweet. We intend to press them separately, and then combine the juices to make a pleasantly sweet cider that isn’t cloying.
By the time we were done with the first day’s pressing, we had bottled and bagged about 15 gallons of cider. We have at least that much to do again.
Now, here’s the really gratifying part.
Not only is there no waste after apple pressing, there is really no end to the possibilities of what can be done with the leftover mash.
We basically started a mini rotation.
Every time we finished pressing a barrel, we’d empty the used mash into a bucket. The first bucket went to the pigs.
They happily devoured this bucketful and eagerly awaited seconds.
The next barrel went to the chickens, and the next went into the compost bin.
We repeated this circuit over and over throughout the day and, when we were done, there was nothing to do but wash the equipment and package the juice.
Everyone at the farm is looking forward to the next pressing of cider, especially the animals.