Apple cider

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(Host) In Vermont apples are as much a part of autumn as foliage and commentator Will Curtis invites us to toast the season with a glass of fresh cider.

(Curtis) Fall is cider time. Roadside stands are buttressed with corn stalks surrounded by mounds of pumpkins, and filled with crates of shiny apples and jugs of fresh, sweet cider.

But it’s one thing to drink cider, and it’s another to make it. I feel sorry for those folks that never have had a chance at working an apple cider press. I’m not talking about the big commercial ones; I mean the small hand-cranked press like the one that Jane and I inherited.

Of course it’s work. First you have to gather bushels of apples. Lots of bushels. We lived in the middle of an old apple orchard, so that wasn’t too hard. As I remember, the aged, gnarled trees bore mostly Baldwin apples, known for their winter keeping abilities. Baldwins are long gone now, except in old overgrown farm sites. The ubiquitous MacIntosh apple has taken its place.

Once we had collected enough apples for a day’s pressing, they were poured into a wide funnel, while one of us turned the crank that ground up the apples, which in turn fell into a slatted container. Then the press was lowered – a round board the size of the container – squeezed the chopped-up fruit, and out ran the juice into clean buckets.

It was wonderful on an Indian summer day to swallow that first sweet drink. We always said to our selves, as we fended off drunken hornets, that the addition of a good number of wormy apples only added to the taste. That night we’d look forward to hot gingerbread and apple sauce.

Sweet cider will eventually turn into hard cider. I remember the neighbor who sometimes gave us a hand at winter work, who always came with his jug of hard cider hooked over his forefinger.

Cider will turn into vinegar, and the following summer housewives made a delicious drink called switchel. But cider can go still further, transforming itself into expensive cognac, or, in good old American terms, Apple Jack.

With all those bountiful attributes, one can understand why the early settlers were so anxious to plant their orchards.

Will Curtis of Woodstock, Vermont.

Will Curtis is an author and naturalist. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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