When Eben Franks was a kid, his grandparents had this cider press. It was an antique, from the early 1900s, built someplace in Indiana, and they never, ever hauled it out. He was fascinated by it—the way the gears interlocked, the strength of the wooden barrel, even the carefully engineered oak spout.
Unfortunately, there was only one rule about the cider press, and that was that he should never touch it. Ever. Needless to say, when his grandmother and grandfather passed away twenty-five years ago and Eben and his siblings went to Plymouth to go through the barn, he called dibs. He's been making cider, lots of it, every fall since.
It helps that he has a son, because as it turns out, making cider by hand is very hard work, and it's good to have a lot of boy-power lurking about. When I went over to Eben's house in Bourne to learn how to make a batch, I brought six pounds of apples—roughly three of those orchard bags—and it took the two of us a solid fifteen minutes of cranking and sweating and cursing to get the whole lot crushed. I can only imagine what it must have been like to look at an entire tree's or orchard's worth of apples and think, Oh goodie! Cider pressing time again.
I might be making this fact up, but I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that the early settlers of Truro thought the water tasted bad, so they drank almost entirely cider instead. Either they were terrible exaggerators, or they spent part of every day churning out the day's liquid. It must have been awfully hard to stay hydrated either way.
Anyway, Eben's childhood observations were right: this machine is a work of art. What you see right up there is a side view. Sticking down is the hand crank, which turns those two gears. They, in turn, push around a wheel on the other side, which spins the cutting blades inside that metal box. Above that, just out of view, is the hopper, the wooden shoot one picture up that you drop the apples through. Finally, in the bottom right of the picture you can see a wooden barrel, and just to the left of it, a little pile of apples shavings. When we were actively cranking the apples through, the barrel (lined with a burlap sack) was where the little pile of apple bits is, directly below the hopper. It catches the crushed apples while you crank, and then when you're done, you move it closer to the spout, so that you can crank down this enormous jacking screw and press the cider out.
The best cider, Eben thinks, comes from a blend of apples. He likes to get some tart, some sweet, some in between, and mix them all up for a perfect juice. When the cider first comes out, it's almost unrecognizable, because it hasn't been oxidized yet. Instead of the deep, rich brown we're used to, it's a light, golden color more like apple juice, and it tastes a little bit like it, too. Once I let mine sit around in the fridge for a day or so, it developed both the color and the taste, but it didn't last long.
Eben says his favorite way to drink cider is as a hot, mulled drink—the kind boiled with cinnamon sticks and nutmeg and allspice and poured steaming into a mug. Sometimes, he spikes it with rum, but only if the kids aren't around. Recently, I've been thinking that these two methods are a pretty good way to bookend the day. Hot mulled cider for breakfast, hot spiked cider as an after-dinner drink, and I'm pretty much content. I hope you will be as well.
Oh! and a quick P.S. Eben will be doing a cider making demonstration at the second annual Farm Day this Sunday, at Long Pasture (the Audubon Sanctuary in Cummaquid) from 1 to 4. He has over 500 apples to crank through, so he will most definitely be happy if you show up to help. There will also be a farmers' market in the morning, and all sorts of other agricultural fun.
HOT MULLED CIDER
Most hot mulled cider recipes are pretty much the same—cider, spices, sometimes rum—but I like this one because it uses ginger, which I think gives it an extra kick. Whatever combination you choose, it's pretty hard to go wrong.
1 gallon cider
1 (2-inch) knob fresh ginger
1 lemon, cut into quarters
2 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
a pinch of nutmeg
a pinch of allspice
Combine everything in a large pot and bring it to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer it for ten minutes. Strain the cider through a large colander into a large bowl to remove the spices and fruit, and pour it back into the pot. If you're planning to serve the cider intermittently (if, say, you're hosting a party), keep it on the back burner, covered, over the lowest possible heat. And don't spike it until it's either going into individual cups or is not going to be heated up again—otherwise, eventually, you'll cook off the alcohol, and that would be sort of a waste.