Volume III, No. 3, Spring 1976
Story and photographs by Emery Savage
"Well, just jump right in," a cheery voice invited me when Bittersweet visited the Stanley Beard farm to witness the making of apple cider. I had been standing around not knowing what to do in all the bustle of activity, feeling somewhat out of place among all the strange faces. Charlotte Davis reinforced her friendly invitation by handing me a bucket of apples and pointing me to the apple press. Esther Jones paused in his work of poking the apples in the press to grin at me.
"Dump them in," he said pleasantly. "Ever see an operation like this before?"
"Never did," I admitted.
It was last October and after one of those weeks that most people choose to forget, I was looking forward to a weekend of taking it easy. I had just got my gun, my boots and most comfortable old clothes and all the other essentials for enjoying myself in the woods on this beautiful day, and started out the door when I was interrupted by a phone call. I answered it reluctantly.
I was surprised to hear a familiar voice informing me that some Bittersweet staff members had been invited to witness the making of apple cider, and asking if I would like to participate. Hesitating to say no, I put up all my good old stuff, and again I started out the door.
On my way I couldn't help but envision the up-coming event as being just slightly less exciting than a chess tournament on a Sunday afternoon. Oh, well, I was new on the staff and needed the experience. And besides, it was a nice day and since the farm was about fifteen miles out of town, the drive down would be nice.
As the crooked highway wound its way through the steep little hills, I noticed what a beautiful day it really was. The sun was bright and the sky was deep blue. The Virginia creeper, which spread through the tree tops like the Spanish moss of the South, and the sumac had both turned a brilliant scarlet red. The sassafras trees were turning bright orange and butterflies danced over the golden rod that was as bright as the sun. The oak covered hillsides were just beginning to be painted with the bright fall colors. There was a slight fall chill in the air but at the same time the sun had a comfortable warmth to it.
After the pleasant drive, we arrived at the farm. There was a house, several small farm buildings and a large metal barn where all the activities were taking place. The air was filled with the scent of sweet apples as we were greeted with warm smiles and friendly talk by Myrtle and Elvie Hough. They were both huddled over buckets of red apples, cutting out the bad spots.
Myrtle put a large bucket of apples in each of my hands and told me to take them in the barn. Inside the barn there was even more activity. I set the buckets beside some others, amazed and bewildered by what I saw. Girls were laughing as they poured cider into jugs, a little boy ran past me, and men were working and joking together. I stood there an outsider and though everyone smiled my way, I still felt out of place before Charlotte invited me to join in the work.
"This here is a cider press," Esther and Stanley explained to me as we fed it apples and tasted the cider flowing out the bottom. The men were poking apples with a big stick into the mouth of a contraption like I had never seen. The wooden machine was very old but still sturdy. It stood on four wooden legs and at the top had a square funnel-shaped box into which the men were constantly pouring and poking apples. At the spout of the "funnel" was a large rotating cylinder with sharp prongs on it that grabbed the apples, tore them up and spit them into a container that looked to me like a small bottomless barrel with spaces between the staves. After the chewed up apples filled this, the men then slid it under a round piece of wood the same size as the mouth of the barrel. Attached to the round piece of board was a long, threaded shaft which when turned caused the round piece to come down and smash the apples. When this happened, juice from the apples would pour out between the slats of the small barrel into a chute. This chute had a small hole in the end of it where the cider ran out into a large bucket.
Whenever they would run off a batch everyone would grab a cup and catch some as it poured from the press, They would taste it to give their opinions as to whether it was too sweet or too sour, a good or bad batch.
In the corner of the barn, behind the press was a table where a group of women and girls were straining the large buckets of cider through cheesecloth into smaller one gallon jugs. They labeled them with the name of the owner of the apples before taking them to a large table in the middle of the barn where they had over a hundred galloons of cider already stored.
All the while I was working I got to sample each batch of cider. Some of the cider was smooth and sweet and some of it was so strong it would make your eyes cross, but it was all good. It wasn't a beverage that you would just drink down. You would take the time to savor it, letting it linger in your mouth to appreciate the natural smooth flavor of the sweet apples.
The antique press was a remarkable machine and the cider was really great, but what was truly remarkable were the people. They were old and young, big and small, all friends and neighbors gathered together, working along side one another to harvest their crops of apples, enjoying Stanley and Helen Beard's neighborly sharing of their press with others. It was an atmosphere of friendship and sharing few people ever experience in this busy modern world where people seldom take the time to enjoy the simple pleasures that working with others can bring. It was a place of friendship and warmth, kindness and smiles, laughter and a rare feeling of togetherness. I found myself dreading the time that I would have to leave.
But of course, we had to leave and say goodbye. Although I carried home a gift of a gallon jug of cider under each arm, I left with much more than that. I left with a feeling that I had never felt before--a feeling of knowing what people are really all about. And although only a few hours earlier I had thought of the event as going to be "slightly more exciting than a chess tournament," it changed my outlook on people and turned out to be a day that I will not soon forget.
Also see "Cider Cool off the Press," Vol. I, No. 4, pp. 27-29.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.