Note from Prairie North: This is a guest post by our friend, Nadine Riopel, who is a great community builder and supporter of local food (and of us!). We love that she gets together with her friends and neighbours to press apples every year and we wanted to share her fun event as a model for others. The more community based apple pressings that happen, the better!
Every year at my house, we host what we call Cider Days. It’s a full weekend of turning local apples into delicious cider in our backyard or, on a rainy year, our garage.
We have some beloved die hards who come every year, and there are always newbies, too.
Although mature neighbourhoods like ours have tons of apple trees, cider making is a foreign concept to most Edmontonians. People know about making pies and sauce, but it’s like cider making is something only a select few have heard about, much less know how to do.
Right here, right now, I’m going to share a few of the things that most often blow the minds of the greenhorns who come to Cider Days, and hopefully demystify the process a little for you.
1. Yes, you can use crabapples
In fact, you should use crabapples. For one thing, in my experience, having fruit of various sizes going into the equipment makes it run better.
More importantly, throwing some crabs in the mix gives the finished product the tang and depth of flavour that makes people’s eyebrows go up when they get that first sip of cider straight off the press. Crabapples are one of the reasons fresh pressed cider is in a completely different class from store bought apple juice.
2. Cider doesn’t have to be alcoholic or hot
Most people, when they hear the word cider, think one of two things; 1) Alcoholic cider; 2) Hot cider made from adding powder to boiling water.
First of all, that powdered stuff ruins many people’s idea of what cider is like. But secondly, home pressed cider is just as tasty cold as hot.
Many people do ferment it into hard (aka alcoholic) cider but personally, I prefer it soft. It can be pasteurized and preserved for months by sealing it in canning jars or even freezing it to be enjoyed year round. I served my last two jars cold to the teachers at my son’s school in June, and they loved it.
3. The press is the easy part
Many people ask me where I get my cider press. I either borrow from a friend or rent from one of the brew shops, it’s pretty simple.
However, the process of cider making is to first crush the apples into a pulp, then put that pulp into the press. Getting your hands on a good crusher is far more difficult than finding a press.
The brew shops rent crushers, but I’ve tried them and they are tough to use. They have to be cranked by hand and either clamped down or held down by two strong people. More often than not, you end up putting the pulp through more than once because it doesn’t get properly crushed on the first try.
I know one cider enthusiast who rigged up a garbage disposal and clamped it over a bucket. Another found and fixed up a hundred year old crusher/press combo that he loves, but admits it requires repairs every year. Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton (OFRE) custom built a fantastic pedal powered crusher. I myself paid a woodworker to make me a crusher modeled on a YouTube video, and it’s worked really well for several years, but some of the wooden parts failed this year so we’re going to try to replace them with metal.
All that to say – you wouldn’t think it would be that hard to rig up something that will chop apples up into little pieces, but it is. If you can solve this piece, the rest is pretty smooth sailing.
4. The sheer VOLUME
Even with our crusher problems this year, we went through 670 pounds of fruit in two afternoons. Cider making goes through more fruit than any other application. In two afternoons, you might be able to turn something like 200 pounds of apples into pies or sauce. There’s no comparison.
It’s not only amazing how many apples cider making uses up, but how many apples there are out there. When you put the word out that you have a way to use backyard apples, they start showing up in droves.
I’ve lost count of the times that people have tried to direct me to OFRE when they hear I’m interested in backyard fruit. I do love OFRE. I started my cider journey with them and they do great work. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there’s far too much fruit out there to expect them to handle it all. There are thousands and thousands of pounds, much of it currently ending up in landfill.
We need more people pitching in on this, more people having backyard cider parties, and more companies like Prairie North turning this weirdly exclusive thing into a thriving local industry. This is food, and it’s free. We need to stop wasting it.
5. Fruit isn’t the most important part of backyard cider making
One thing that surprises me every year is how Cider Days brings people out and brings people together.
One neighbour always brings a mesh tent to keep the wasps out. Another brings his stock pot and canning expertise and takes charge of the kitchen. Somebody usually brings samples of alcoholic cider from last year’s batch. Neighbourhood kids stand around the press with their cups stealing sips until their parents worry they’re going to make themselves sick. This year, one fellow shared a delicious cider syrup recipe. A woman from down the street took her cider home and brought it back later mulled with spices and rum for everyone.
People meet and bond as they work together to wash the apples, run the crusher, or warn each other not to crank the press down too hard.
Cider making is about rescuing fruit and producing a delicious beverage, certainly. But backyard cider making is about more than that. It’s about people, about community, about connection. It’s about taking some of the great things that are out there in our community, getting them together, and making some magic with them. And that goes for the people as well as the fruit.
Nadine Riopel is an incurable connector and community builder. Her podcast, Welcome To Town, is one of the ways she helps people get settled, connected, and thriving here in Edmonton. She is also hosting a Welcome to Town event this month at Work Nicer Coworking, along with the Alberta Podcast Network. You can find her at nadineriopel.com