Crab Apples Help Make The Sweetest Cider
A neighbor acquired a hand-crank cider press some years back and has brought it forth on Thanksgiving days so that the dinner guests can squeeze their own holiday juice. This makes a jolly experience and a different exercise, but although invited to attend and crank, I have conveyed regrets and passed by on the other side. My neighbor understands my absence and is not offended. I am a graduate of the motorized cider mill, and there would be no great enthusiasm to spur me if I got the hand crank by dismal mistake.
We figured on 18 bushels of apples to fill one 60-gallon barrel with negotiable cider. Saturday suited, and we went to John Mosho's mill on the No Name Pond road with the truck down on its springs under a four-barrel load, plus ours and the neighborhood's youngsters and dogs.
In those days, No Name Pond was without a name. I believe later there came uninspired folks to dwell by this small and unique body of water, and a notion was generated that it should have a name. I think I never heard what name was selected, but I readily think of dozens of names to call people who want to name No Name Pond.
Mr. Mosho was a hearty man whose cider-time function was to feed apples into the conveyor that took them to the grinder. His assistant was Mrs. Mosho, who stood up under the grinder so she could spread the press cloths and level the "pummy" with a paddle. Hers was a juicy job, and while she wore a rain-rig, it was little defense against the storm coming down, and Mrs. Mosho dripped accordingly.
This was a first-come-first-served mill, and we always found folks ahead of us. Waiting our turn, we naturally went at once to the tank of excess cider, thus gaining our first taste of the new season, and with 10 or a dozen youngsters boiling from my truck, the level of excess was significantly lowered. Into this tank the cider flowed from the grinder and the press, to be drawn off by a hose into the barrels and jugs of the customers.
After a customer had his casks, jugs, and bottles filled, any excess became the property of Mr. and Mrs. Mosho, and, except for what was drunk on the spot to assuage a yearlong thirst, it was bottled for roadside sales. At that time there was no thought of pasteurizing sweet cider, so the excess tank had to be drained daily and the new cider moved quickly.
People like to ask which apples make the best sweet cider, and it's difficult to answer that in these days when most people don't know one apple from another. To my mind, the poorest sweet cider is pressed from the darling McIntosh Red, and the red and yellow Delicious are not designed for juice. Beyond that, if you find somebody who can name two more besides Granny Smith, you'll be talking to a farm-grown octogenarian who will have tears running down his cheeks.
Baldwins, King Tomkins, Greenings, Pippins, any sweet apple, Russets, Spies, the other Greenings, Nodheads, Bellflowers - any of these, but not all of one kind. Mix them. And always three or four bushels of Transcendent or Hyslop crab apples to the barrel. The mixing of apple juices was done at the conveyor by Mr. Mosho, but I would dump the baskets in my sequence and about every forth bushel I'd give him crab apples. Mrs. Mosho always told me it was sad how many customers left out crab apples. We'd have four barrels of sweet cider to get down cellar, and a surplus of a dozen or so gallon jugs that would soon begin to "work" and cause the children to back off.
The change from fresh cider to a vinegar of extreme extremities is a process of nature that carries over into the next spring, or even summer. The temperature of the cellar is important. We had a separate vinegar room that accommo- dates four or five 60-gallon barrels. Bungs up, they "worked off" impurities and developed acetic acid. If we had a crowd with strong backs, we could roll the barrels down the outside cellar steps without great loss of life, but otherwise I used a length of garden hose and had an extra empty barrel.
I'd start a "syphoon," and each empty barrel in the trunk was moved into the cellar in turn. When we'd been to the cider mill on the appointed fall Saturday, the youngsters would eat their baked beans sparingly, the edge of their appetites cuffed off by Mr. Mosho's fountain, and go off to bed, leaving me to go up and down the cellar steps alone as I attended my pipeline.
My neighbor, who invites his friends to his Thanksgiving exercises, never gets apples and muscles enough together to do a whole barrel of juice. So there is no need for sody straws. A package of straws, available then at any soda fountain, was essential at our farm cider festivals. The package was put over a beam in the cider room, and each child, and most adults, who approached selected his or her own and remembered which was which. Then, by turns, each student at this pierian spring would drink deep at the bunghole of his choice, having maybe three, and at most four, days before his learned straw told him sweet cider time was kaput for now.
The straws were laid up on the cellar beam, as if to be used again that afternoon, or the next morning. If you can get into an ancient farm cellar, look up over the cider-room beam and count the testamentary straws.
Mrs. Mosho would collect our pressing fee and say, "You got a good juice; them crab apples don't hurt it none!" She had reason to know.