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Apples to apples: The ins and outs of cider making

  • Workers cut blemishes off of McIntosh apples before pressing them into cider at New Salem Preserves & Orchards. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • At the cider house at New Salem Preserves & Orchards, apples are culled, washed, shredded and pressed into fresh cider. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Layers of shredded apples in cloth are squeezed in the hydraulic cider press at New Salem Preserves & Orchards. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Owner Carol Hillman, second from right, and other workers cut blemishes off of McIntosh apples before washing and pressing at New Salem Preserves & Orchards. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • New Salem Preserves & Orchards Owner Carol Hillman. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • At Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain, apple cider is pressed from late September through June. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • At Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain, David Shearer dumps apples into the machine, which creates apple pulp for cider. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • At Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain, in the first few phases of making apple cider, the apples are poured into a container, then are pulled into the machine, where any remaining leaves and sticks are removed. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • The cider press machine at Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain removes any remaining leaves or debris from the apples, washes them and creates apple pulp. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • Farmhand Leston Williams fills the rack with apple pulp at Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • Leon Tatum and Leston Williams fold the fabric over the apple pulp onto the rack while making apple cider at Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • At Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain, the rack and cloth press rises to squeeze all of the juice out of the apple pulp, which drains to the bottom, and collects in a tank underneath the press. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain presses and bottles its own apples, which can be found at the farm store in various sizes. According to David Shearer, an owner of the farm, when refrigerated, the cider stays good for three to four weeks. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • Jim Krupa uses a hand grinder attached to a cider press to create a mash, which he later pressed into apple cider at the Conway Festival of the Hills. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • Conway resident and Cold Spring Orchard employee Jim Krupa watches as fresh-pressed cider is strained into a bucket at the Conway Festival of the Hills. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau

  • Jim Krupa and Alexander Pazmandy turn the handle of the press to make fresh apple cider at the Conway Festival of the Hills. Staff Photo/Melina Bourdeau



Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

As fall approaches, some people look forward to pumpkin spice lattes; others enjoy apple cider.

It may be served cold or hot, with a cinnamon stick or a caramel-rimmed glass, and with local apple orchards, it can be found fresh throughout Franklin County from late September through early November.

Although the harvest season is when most people venture out to orchards, the farmers that own them say it is a year-round job, culminating in the fall.

Owner of New Salem Preserves & Orchards, Carol Hillman, said the key to getting good apple cider starts with a tree. The orchard there is 135 years old and has 21 different varieties of apples.

“Everything starts with the trees,” Hillman said. “Learning how to care for apple trees involves planting with young trees, extensive watering and pruning, fertilizing, mowing and keeping the grass down. Then, in the summer, pruning ... Around harvest time, apple picking. It’s really an art.”

From apples, to cider

At Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain, Matt Shearer explained the process of making apple cider.

The process at the farm begins with pouring apples into a machine that washes them, then dumps them into another machine that pulverizes the apples into a pulp — closely resembling mashed potatoes. The pulp is pumped through a tube and fills each tray.

Two people then fold the nylon cloths over the apple pulp and another plastic rack is placed on top, starting the process again.

“We grind apples to a pulp, then fill a claw rack and cloth. It’s like a tower once they’re filled. Then we slide them under the press and that presses the ground-up apples, squeezing the juices out of the pulp,” Shearer said. “The juice goes into a tank where it gets treated with ultraviolet light, which kills bacteria.”

Shearer said there are some differences in cider making, the types of apples used, the press used or the process used to kill bacteria, such as pasteurization.

New Salem Preserves & Orchards’ apple cider process involves picking up “drops” — apples that have fallen from the trees — that can be turned into cider.

“We have our own cider mill press and we started in late September, making cider primarily from the drops,” Hillman said. “Cider is a combination of apples. The depth of taste comes from apples. Each farm has its own formula, which is an important factor.”

Hillman said New Salem Preserves & Orchards’ apple cider is pressed there, using a 30-year-old, 22-inch press.

One frequently asked question for sweet cider makers is: what’s the difference between apple juice and apple cider?

Farm manager at Quonquont Farm in Whately, Leslie Harris, said the difference is that apple cider contains more pieces of apple than juice.

“The difference between apple cider and apple juice is that apple juice is strained of apple pulp,” Harris said. “Apple cider has small pieces of apple in it. It is filtered or pasteurized, or in some cases, treated with ultraviolet light.”

Harris said the farm doesn’t press its own apples, but they are picked and sent to Bashista’s Orchard of Southampton to be pressed.

Quonquont Farm offers 16 varieties of apples available, and Harris recommends checking the farm’s website where the apples that are ripe are listed, so pickers will know what is available on any day.

‘Types’ of cider

Each farmer has the choice whether to use picked apples or drops. The combination of apples determines if the cider is tart or sweet.

“Sweet cider is a blend of different apples,” Shearer said. “In the early season, the cider is more tart; as the season goes on it gets sweeter.”

Shearer said Pine Hill typically uses McIntosh, Cortland, Empire and Honey Crisp apples to make its ciders, depending on which species is ripe.

Farm manager of Apex Orchards in Shelburne Falls, Courtney Basil, said there are 20 varieties of apples at their farm and she knows of people who use their apples to make their own cider.

“Some people use McIntosh or Cortlands, but you can do it with any variety,” Basil said. “This early in the season, the Paula Red apples are sweet, or Honey Crisp because it’s already a sweet, juicy, good type of apple.”

“You want a blend of sweet and tart of different flavors,” Harris said. “For example, you’d want to blend a McIntosh with a John Gold and Molly Delicious.”

Making cider at home

For those seeking to make their own cider, small-scale cider making can be expensive and time consuming, but some people believe it is worth it to have fresh-pressed cider.

Jim Krupa, a Conway resident and employee at Cold Spring Orchard in Belchertown, came to the Conway Festival of the Hills on Sept. 30 to show people how a homesteader apple press works.

The homesteader press he used was a single-barrel apple press, which had an attached apple grinder that yielded about three gallons of apple cider per approximately one bushel of apples, Krupa said.

The tub is placed upon a juice rack, with a bucket underneath to collect the apple cider.

Similarly to larger presses, a nylon bag is placed inside of the press, and Krupa turned a handle as halved apples were dropped into the apple grinder.

“The apple grinder chops the apples up. It’s not as much of an apple sauce, unlike with commercial grinders,” Krupa said. “Which means it doesn’t get as much juice out.”

The chunks of apple are larger than the pulp created with a machine, and fall into the tub below.

After the tub is filled with apple chunks, the bag is folded over onto the chunks and a press-disc is placed on top of the bag.

The press screw is manually turned, pressing on the press-disc.

Krupa also used a hand-held strainer to remove any remaining pieces of apple or seeds that may have snuck through the press.

He said he used a variety of apples, including ones without names.

“We have Gala apples, Blondies and one that doesn’t have a name — just a code,” Krupa said. “But it’s all based on what’s ripe. We always press with a variety, never just one kind of apple.”

The apple cider Krupa made was not pasteurized or treated with ultraviolet light, and there was a warning stating the cider may contain bacteria that could cause potential illness in children, people with compromised immune systems or the elderly.

Krupa said the home press he used can be found at OESCO Inc. located in Conway, which sells a variety of presses.

Both Hillman and Harris said for those interested in making their own small, family batches of apple cider, to be mindful of the work it takes to make it.

Hillman said those seeking to try making cider at home need their own press, “but it can be pretty expensive. For example, a homesteader press like Krupa’s is listed at a price of $867 on the OESCO Inc. website.

“It’s complicated, it’s not just picking apples,” Hillman said. “You have to know the tree you want to plant. It’s about taking care of the trees and respecting them. You don’t go into this if you don’t care. Keep the land and the product with the least amount of pesticides and chemicals as much as possible. That what it’s about.”

Harris recommended saving time and effort by chopping up the apples before pressing.

“To make your own apple cider, pick apples that are a good mix of one-third of each species,” Harris added. “We have tried with an antique press, which practically takes a team to squeeze it enough. It might be helpful to chop the apples ahead of time.”

Residents should also be careful, Harris said, because the home cider presses don’t have the ability to use UV lighting or pasteurize, and she recommended picking apples off the tree, not using drops.

Her best advice: “It’s apple season. You have to come out and pick your own apples, and talk to people that work there about their apples.”

Staff reporter Melina Bourdeau started working at the Greenfield Recorder this year. Her beat includes Montague, Erving and Gill. She can be reached at: mbourdeau@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 263.

Cider Days is just around the corner

The 24th annual Cider Days will be Friday, Nov. 2, through Sunday, Nov. 4, throughout Franklin County, for those looking for more information about cider in its many forms.

Pine Hill Orchards will host a beginner’s hard cider making workshop with Charlie Olchowski and Bob Delisle on Nov. 3 from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. The ticket cost of $85 per person covers instructions and materials for making a first batch of cider.

New Salem Preserves & Orchards will host its Cider and Apple Festival with free child-friendly apple pressing. Farm products, along with exhibits from local artisans, will be displayed within the courtyard of the cider mill. Workshops include:

Noon to 1 p.m., Nov. 3 — “Tending Backyard Apple Trees” with Steve Lanphear and Steve Marglin

1 to 2 p.m., Nov. 3 — “Basic Apple Tree Pruning” with Steve Weisman

2:30 to 3:30 p.m., Nov. 3 — “Apple Alchemy: Secrets of Making Award Winning Hard Ciders” with William Grote

Noon to 1 p.m., Nov. 4 — “Make Your Own Apple Cider Vinegar” with Terry McCue

1 to 2:30 p.m., Nov. 4 — “Home Hard Cider Makers Workshop” with April Woodard

3 to 4 p.m., Nov. 4 — “Trials of an Apple Hunter” with Matt Kaminsky

To view the full Cider Days schedule of events or for more information, visit: ciderdays.org.