Last year, my friend and I made apple cider from the treasure-trove of forgotten apple orchards in Western North Carolina. On some lonely trails behind a small, humble retreat center there are literally dozens of heirloom apple trees, mingled in with the wild, that drop bushels of apples on the forest floor and no one picks them up. The Scot-Irish homesteaders are long gone, leaving only their stone masonry chimneys standing.
We couldn’t just let those apples go to waste!
After a couple days of picking, we had about 15 bushels of heirloom and rare apples. They were a combination of sweet, sour, crispy and soft — perfect for making cider!
The neighbor across the street had a make-shift grinder (his old brush shredder) and he had rigged himself up his own press… So, lots of manual work for our first year, but well worth the time and energy!
Once you have fresh, unpasteurized apple cider…you never go back… You watch the apple blooms in early Spring and you do everything to protect them through the last frosts of Winter.
If you let unpasteurized apple cider sit long enough (about 1-2 months), you’ve got yourself some fizzy goodness — hard cider! And, if you let that sit longer…you’ve got apple cider vinegar. So, at each step of the process, you can enjoy your the bounty of the apple tree.
Luckily, hard cider is coming back into the local vocabulary (please watch this great clip on PBS about hard cider). As it should. Since the trees started rolling across Eurasia from their hearth in Kazakhstan, the apple has made its way into mythology, stomachs, orchards, and art. It is deeply rooted in Europe’s psyche and, with the lore around Johnny Apple Seed, quickly made its way to the mountains of North America.
Also, it’s a tree crop alcohol — much better land-wise and energy-wise for cultivation…much better than grain-based alcohols like beer (that take up huge tracts of land and deplete the soil with their shallow roots and annual planting). Poverty Lane Orchards is a good example of what is possible with an apple orchard for making cider and hard cider.
With that said, here’s more pics from our experience with cider-making…!
Some beauties from forgotten orchards
Cut the apples to prepare for the grinder
Filling the grinder with cut apples
Making a big mess; this drew an unsavory crowd of bees and wasps
Squeezing out the precious liquid
We paid the neighbor a 1 gallon ‘toll’ for his equipment…
By the way, I’ve got my eyes on a Cider Press that looks pretty indestructible…it’s made by a company called Meadow Creature. This fella is definitely on my dream list for this year’s apple harvest!