Apple tastingSept. 26th was Apple Day at the Grange.* This is an annual event that features all things apple. Inside, we had an apple-themed bake sale. Apple-rhubarb pie, a variety of apple cakes, apple baklava, and any number of cakes and cookies with applesauce in them. There was also an apple tasting – 15 or so varieties of apples, both fresh and dried crispy, many of which I’d never heard of before. And finally, some craft activities and displays (including one on food preservation methods that I set up).

*We’re talking the real Grange here, the Pittsfield Union Grange, not the new restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor.

Making apple sauce and butterOutside was where the real action was happening: a demo of making apple sauce and apple butter, and the make-your-own-cider activity. The apple sauce was made in batches throughout the day and doled out in paper cups to anyone who wanted them. We probably sauced 50 pounds of apples for sampling. Follow the cut for a visual tour of how to make your own apple cider! I would guess 50+ people came for the cider-making…and I have to say, it was really, really cool. I hadn’t reckoned just how neat it would be to make my own cider. I brought a tubful of apples from a neighbor’s tree. They were sweet, but lumpy, the way backyard trees often are. Farmer Lutz was there, selling several varieties of apples, so I picked a peck of something green and tart…I don’t remember the variety, but it might have been a Greening. In any case, I figured one part tart and two parts sweet apples would probably make a pretty good cider.

Washing apples at apple day

First, you dump all your apples into a milk crate set on a pallet and hose them off. Then you grind the apples into a pan. There were two grinders set up – one with an old-fashioned flywheel handle, and one on an electric motor. The motorized grinder was quite fun to use. You toss the apples in and zzzzrpt! It’s pulverized in half a second, spraying tiny bits of apple into your hair. It’s far more satisfying than using a document shredder, but a similar sort of glee. (See videos of the electric and manual apple grinders.)

Then take your pan of apple mush to the press. Pour the mush into a strainer bag, place the squeezer board on top, and start closing the press. Cider pours out the spout into a bucket, and when it’s done, you pour the cider through a strainer and a funnel into your jug. Pressing a gallon of cider required about half a bushel of apples and took under ten minutes. As soon as I was done, I wanted to do it again!

The cider pressing tent Setting up the cider press Pressing cider Filtering the cider

How did it taste? Pretty darn good. I could see myself really getting into cider-making, experimenting with different kinds of apples and chasing the elusive “prefect balance.” But really – mixing a few tart apples into your sweets makes a really good cider, no muss, no fuss. I might do 3:1 (sweet:tart) instead of 2:1 next time, but it’s fine.

If you are jonesing to press your own cider this year, check out Parker Mills park on October 17-18. You’ll need to make an appointment (on the half-hour between 9 and 5), but you’ll have the use of old-fashioned grinders and presses for the full half-hour. Bring lots of empty jugs!