It takes a village to make cider
One of the great pleasures of rural life is coming together, at the times ordained by mother nature, to do what needs to be done.
Bringing in the harvest, clearing a neighbor’s snow, making firewood, and canning tomatoes are necessary and good work projects.
But when the community pitches in together, it becomes a party. The work goes quickly, stories and jokes fly, and friendships are cemented.
Cider season starts as a solo activity for me, as I gather bins and creates, pull out my three-legged tall ladder, and latch my fruit picking bag around my waist. Up I climb, and commence the meditative process of lifting apples one by one to detach them, and gently placing each in the bag. I repeat endlessly as I make my way around, climbing higher and higher to collect the best and biggest fruit at the top of each tree. Others are doing the same at their gardens, as we time the harvest to be completed just before cider pressing day.
The evening before, my husband borrows a friend’s farm truck, and together we heave some 30 bins of apple bounty up onto the truck’s bed. Huge bags of scavenged juice, milk and vinegar bottles are secured with a net on top. We rest.
Cider day arrives and friends, with friends of friends, all make their way with their apples, to an Amish family’s cider press business. The father and his polite children scurry around the barn, cleaning and readying everything. Cleverly constructed from old machinery and a bygone milk tank, the system includes an apple grinder powered by a roaring engine, the press itself and a cider tank.
Participants choose their roles. Some do a final sort to get rid of any rotten apples; others continuously drop apples into the grinder at the perfect speed. One person rakes out the resulting mash into wooden frames and perfectly folds the flaps of burlap, while our leader pumps the hydraulic press. Cider pours out in a continuous golden stream. Someone with a strong back lifts the five-gallon buckets of cider to pour into the large tank.
I reach in with my tasting cup to catch a sample, and pass the nectar all around. At first it tastes sprightly, then with different apples it becomes darker and sweeter. Apples of several kinds, from different orchards, become mingled in the tank for a cider more complex and tasty than any single variety.
More people arrive, including children who either cower in fear at the noise and chaos, or want to jump right in and do each job. Cupcakes appear for all.
Finally, the last apple is dropped in the grinder, and the roaring engine chugs to a stop. Silence is golden, as we turn our thoughts to the next step. Everybody brings out their containers and buckets, and we take turns tapping the precious cider.
A flurry of discussion ensues when we discover we have filled every single jug, and still a foot or two of cider remains in the tank. Our host offers us a half dozen empty vinegar jugs, which we gratefully accept, and we offer him the remaining cider, which he gratefully accepts. Not a drop will be wasted.
After helping each other load up, we head our separate ways. Hearts are warmed by the human satisfaction of working hard in collaboration with people we love, while bringing home precious pure apple cider to enjoy with others.
Chicken in Cider
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
In a medium pot on the stove, fry a chopped onion, a chopped carrot and a chopped stalk of celery in 2 tablespoons of butter. Add minced garlic for a minute. Stir in 1 tablespoon of flour.
Add 2 cups cider and stir until mixed. Remove from stove.
Add a pound of chicken, either pieces or just breasts. Add salt, pepper, and your choice of thyme, parsley, rosemary, sage or paprika.
Cover pot and bake an hour and a half. Remove meat. Strain sauce, then return to pot to reduce until a bit thick. Serve chicken with sauce. Great with boiled potatoes or roasted squash.
Note: This can be cooked on low in a crockpot for six hours.