Jessie Raymond: Cider setback sparks second round

Heading into the fall, my husband, Mark, and I decided we’d like to make a year’s supply of hard cider. The task required little more than a huge amount of apples, tons of time and the proper equipment. Over the next couple of weeks we picked a lot of apples — I lost count, but let’s say 14,052 — from our four trees and procured a vintage but working meat grinder that served admirably to grind the apples into a fine pomace, which we then made into cider with a press Mark had built several years ago.
Unlike me, Mark has a strong work ethic. I don’t approve of it, but I have to concede it does get things done. Last weekend we ground and pressed apples for hours, with Mark ignoring my frivolous suggestions, like “Hey, maybe we should have lunch at some point,” or “I don’t know about you but I could use a potty break.” Under his dogged direction the cider-making proceeded smoothly — right up until a hiccup at the 15-gallon mark. At that point, the grinder decided that it had had enough and promptly quit.
I seconded the motion, but Mark wouldn’t hear of it. He made a few calls, left for a while and came home with another old grinder, this one a hand-cranked behemoth. He loaded up the ample hopper with apples, took a deep breath and threw his back into turning the giant crank. I cheered him on, mopped the sweat from his brow and played games on my phone when he wasn’t looking. Working together like this we managed to press a further 18 gallons of cider.
Thirty-three gallons of cider sounds like a lot, but it was the exact amount we needed to fill one of the two fancy plastic 33-gallon fermenting barrels we had bought.
The setup took some thought. Assuming a gallon of cider weighed about the same as water, or approximately 8.3 pounds, we were looking at a full barrel weighing at least 274 pounds. Thinking ahead, we set the empty barrel in the basement and filled it gallon by gallon, since we’d never be able to move it once it was full. It needed to sit low enough so we could pour the freshly pressed cider in the top but also high enough so we could fit bottles under the spigot near the bottom. We found the right height by setting the empty tank on a thick plank laid across a couple of plastic milk crates.
It was a well-planned arrangement, except for one thing: We forgot to determine how much weight a couple of milk crates can hold. I don’t know the exact answer to that, but I can now say with certainty that it is less than 274 pounds.
If you don’t believe me you can test it yourself. Just fill a 33-gallon barrel with apple cider that you have spent several days making, set it on a plank on milk crates in your basement and go check on it 24 hours later to see if it is happily fermenting away. What you will find, if you have closely followed our method, is two crumpled milk crates and one overturned barrel, with approximately 29/33 of your cider washed across your basement floor.
I suggest you save yourself the heartache and mess and just take my word for it.
After a brief period of denial, followed closely by anger and grief and forehead smacking, we decided to start over. It’s fine, we said. We have more apples, we said. And, hey, we have one or two weekends coming up that would otherwise be wasted on foliage viewing and football watching. Let’s spend that time doing nothing but picking several thousand more apples and making more cider. Only this time, let’s make 66 gallons. (That last part was Mark’s idea. His work ethic is killing me.)
Making a double batch is going to be exhausting, but the copious notes I took during the first go-around may — or may not — help streamline the process. My tattered spiral notebook contains some useful information, such as “One 5-gal pail apples = 1-1.5 gallons cider,” interspersed with some clearly vital but sadly cryptic annotations, such as “Apples sm b exc spcl — don’t forget.”
And then on the last page it says, “DO NOT USE MILK CRATES.”
In retrospect, I probably didn’t need to write that one down.

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