The season for cider and sharing nature's bounty
Fall stirs memories of pressing apples with friends and appreciating harvest-time beauty with a special guest.
The work on our organic fruit farm never ends, and even after we finish harvesting our blueberry crop, my husband, John, and I must tackle numerous jobs during the early days of fall. We plant fields with rye as a cover crop, cut more firewood, and drag the cold frames into the garden to protect plantings of winter greens.
I note the daily changes in the landscape – the fading goldenrod, the mounds of snowy asters, like thousands of stars tumbling along farm roads – and the orange color seeping into the sassafras leaves.
Due to the warmed waters of Lake Michigan, our growing season extends into the early weeks of October. But the first frost breaks the rhythm like white space on a written page.
Suddenly, the glory of autumn surrounds us, and John and I realize that we have not taken the time to press cider. The chipmunks have been raiding the crates of apples waiting in the barn, and with more cold weather predicted, the day of reckoning has arrived. Either we turn the apples into juice or a hard freeze will soon destroy them.
One fall, on a Sunday in mid-October, John and I announced to our small church fellowship that we would be pressing cider that afternoon and would welcome visitors.
Back home, we hauled out our hand-cranked cider press and hosed off dust and cobwebs. I rummaged through our storage boxes and found our nylon mesh bags.
Several carloads of friends soon arrived, and many hands rinsed apples.One couple had brought along a Korean man, Mr. Wang, who was visiting the seminary where the husband taught.
Mr. Wang dropped the Yellow Delicious, Macintosh, and Jonathan apples into the cast iron hopper while Chris cranked. The blades chopped the apples, releasing their fragrance. The juicy mass fell into a mesh bag that lined a wood slatted cylinder, sitting on the pressing platform.
Once the bag was full, John twisted the large screw, and amber cider sluiced across the platform and foamed into a waiting pitcher. Sweet and golden, the fresh cider slid across our tongues, tasting of sunlight and snow asters. We toasted the afternoon and dropped more apples into the hopper.
"The Shakers pressed their best apples," John told Mr. Wang. "I always like a blend with a good amount of Delicious. They sweeten the juice."
More friends arrived, and their hands turned the crank. Yellow jackets hovered over the lugs of pressed apples.
Meanwhile, I noticed Mr. Wang wandering along the garden's board fence, fingering yellow leaves and gazing at the sunset of sassafras trees in front of our house.
Repeatedly, he focused his camera on the sugarbush about a quarter mile west where the maples' scarlet raged beside the tawny red oaks and copper beech leaves.
He strolled to the end of the garden and gazed down at the sea of ruddy blueberry bushes in our bog. I meandered over to where he stood.
"I have never seen this." Mr. Wang swept his arm in an arc. "Amazing."
John and I had assumed that Mr. Wang would enjoy participating in a rural pastime and return to his native country with tales of cidermaking, but we had failed to recognize the greater natural bounty that surrounded the moment.
All fall foliage is lovely in its seasonal splendor, but that afternoon Mr. Wang's face displayed the rapture of his first encounter with fall, from the slanted sunlight on the flaming Virginia creeper spiraling up the white pines by our house to the splashes of gold mingled with the red pines around our barn.
"Thank you." Mr. Wang said as he offered me his hand and dipped his head. "Thank you for this day. I never forget."
"Thank you." I shook his hand. "And neither will I."