Dark was falling over the foggy landscape when we pulled up to Windfall Orchards in Cornwall last Friday night. In the dusky light we could see the curves of the Green Mountains in the distance, and closer to us, apples trees stretched back hundreds of feet. The apples were bright points of color against green leaves.
The apple shed’s doors stood wide open, spilling bright light across the yard towards Route 30. Against the back wall stood a walk-in refrigerator for apple storage and crates upon crates of apples piled atop one another. In the foreground were a strange hydraulic machine, several large pots and a sink.
The cider press
I was at Windfall Orchards with three Middlebury College students, tagging along on a cidering expedition planned by the college’s Organic Garden. Our host for the evening of apple cidering was Brad Koehler, who is a manager at Middlebury College’s Ross Dining Hall. After he welcomed us, he pointed out the stack of crates on the back wall and told us that we would be processing all of those apples.
“All of those?” someone asked in shock.
“Yep,” said Brad.
All of a sudden, the evening looked like it would be much harder.
The process was simple enough: Cover the apples in water in the sink, cut off any rotten pieces and throw them — core and all — into a loud machine that tore each one up and dropped it into the trough below. Scoop the apple bits into a waiting cheesecloth in a frame on top of the platform of a hydraulic machine.
Once we’d filled nine or ten cheesecloth layers, all folded and stacked on the platform, it was time to pump the platform towards the board on top, squeezing the juice out of the layers to drain into a large pot.
And that was it. There was our cider, ready to be strained (to remove any large bits of pulp that had slipped through) and bottled. And boy, did it smell good — a fresh, almost vanilla scent.
The finished product
Windfall Orchards puts out unpasteurized cider, which means that they are limited to selling from their farmstand and at their booth at the Middlebury Farmers’ Market. But it’s not a huge, commercial operation — we made 40 gallons that night, a significant portion of the approximately 500 gallons the orchard produces yearly.
What this cidering operation has instead, and what would be hard to duplicate in a larger setting, is a very cozy feeling. Brad’s wife, Amy Trubek (UVM professor and author of The Taste of Place) came in and out with one of their young daughters to help with the bottling. The family bought the orchard eight years ago, and though both Brad and Amy have other jobs, they still keep up the hundreds of apple trees. Some of the trees are almost 100 years old, and the gnarled branches sprout over 50 varieties of apples — some on different branches of the same tree.
Cidering in the brightly lit room, with the darkness pressing in from outside, I could feel a sort of connection with all of the people around me (even though we could barely hear each other over the roar of the apple grinder). And as we watched the apples go from whole, shiny orbs to piles of browning pulp to thick, foamy cider, it felt good to know that all of us were the ones making the process happen.
And it felt even better to enjoy a cold, sweet cup of the cider that we’d made.
Andrea does reporting and online media for the Addison Independent. You can find her on Twitter here, or see other Table Talk entries here. Feel free to weigh in on this post or suggest future topics, either in the comments section below or at andreas [at] addisonindependent.com.