To be honest, making apple cider the old-fashioned way isn’t quick or easy. In my case, the old-fashioned way means by using a hand-cranked cider mill. The mill includes a grinder for reducing the apples to a coarse pulp and a press for squeezing out the juice. It’s a bit messy, too, with pieces of apple flying out helter-skelter. After the squeezing, there’s the filtering, pouring and storing. And before, of course, there’s the gathering and cleaning of the apples and the disposing of the pulp afterwards. Even the getting ready is work.
The small mill that I “inherited” was made in Lancaster, Ohio, about a hundred years ago. With the heavy cast iron press beam and flywheel, along with the other parts, the complete assembly weighs in the neighborhood of two hundred pounds. By taking down some of the removable parts, I can load it into the back of a truck by myself. Awkward but doable.
And so it was that with some awkward doing, I loaded up everything Tuesday morning in preparation for an annual student activity over at the HCC Klinefelter College Farm. And, on a blustery, chilly evening, unloaded it at the renovated barn with the help of two student farm workers, Ben and Hannah. While their supervisor, Wendell, continued cooking white bean chili for the expected group of sixty or so, Ben and Hannah helped me set up for the cider making.
After we laid a small tarp on the floor to help reduce the likelihood of staining, Ben and I sat the mill in place. I sent him and Hannah back to help Wendell and I arranged the boxes of apples, the collecting pan for the juice, jugs, strainers and all. By the time the first group of students left on their hayrack ride, I was set to start making cider.
Along with the students, there were several children, mostly belonging to the teachers and other staff workers. A few of the kids, including the ones so small they had to be lifted up, wanted to help, too. Even with the spatter of little apple pieces flying around, they grinned and laughed as they dropped apples into the hopper for the grinding. They kneeled and looked up underneath so they could see the apple pulp dropping from the hopper into the slatted press baskets. They marveled at how much juice started running out into the collecting pan. One of the little girls helped turn the handle for the pressing.
Even though they weren’t quite as excited at the prospect of helping, the college students were no less enthusiastic about sampling the cider. For most, especially those from urban areas hundreds of miles away from Highland, it was their first encounter with pure, fresh apple juice. Their responses were not at all disappointing. The expressions on their face as skepticism gave way to astonishment conveyed even more than their words, “Wow! This is really good.”
While I was cleaning up, I kept watching for the six-year-old who had helped me turn the press earlier. When she and her dad came back from the coat rack, I slipped over and handed her a quart of juice to take home with her. It would be hard to say which one of them seemed the most grateful. His eyes shone with appreciation as he looked at me. She clutched the little jug as if someone had just handed her a puppy.
It’s not the amount of work that goes into a thing that determines how we feel about its doing. It’s not the effort or the sweat or the pain or the labor; it’s how we reckon the reward. And in this world, it’s hard to find a reward that goes much beyond the genuine joy of a grateful child.