When I was seven, I thought every child must have a yard of apple trees because that was my reality. In the fall the trees were heavy with the weight of thousands of ripe apples; it was time to make and sell apple cider. Many of my childhood memories run together to create chunks of reality. Thus it is with the years of making cider.
Mother shook me awake early Saturday morning before the sun woke up; the air was crisp and cold. "Hurry, April", she said, "We are going to the cider mill today and you must help your father and I pick apples."
Of course, I did not want to work picking apples. But mother never gave up easily, whether she was disciplining her children or arguing with their father. Mother called to me every five minutes or less. How can you sleep when your alarm is constantly calling for your attention and there is no snooze button? And so, the day began.
After I had eaten the obligatory breakfast of oatmeal and brown sugar, I ran outside to the tire swing to play. Mother tapped sharply on the window pane and pointed towards the orchard. I knew what that meant; absolutely no time to play. The old pickup truck was already parked and waiting under one of the trees.
Soon we were all working steadily outside. My sisters picked apples from the trees with a long-handled tool that looked like an elongated basket with bent forks at the end. (See the article Harvesting Apples by Lois Tilton for a picture of this equipment.) Mom picked as many apples as she could hold in her hand-decorated apron as her long, flyaway brown hair blew in the wind. Bobby pins were in her hair, as usual, but they did not do much good. (For some reason, I hated bobby pins and will continue to do so.)
Dad was always adventurous. This morning he swung up into the tree. "Girls!" ordered mother, "Get out from under the tree, now!" It was too late; dad, like a gigantic gorilla, shook the tree. The apples were no match for his strength; father was as strong as an ox. The apples bounced off the truck, bounced off our arms with which we covered our heads; they bounced off the ground, hitting everything below. The apple avalanche stopped for just a moment as we tossed the bad or rotten apples out of the truck. We picked from different trees in our orchard to mix varieties for good cider flavor. We also gathered the apples on the ground. We would help mother make applesauce, apple pies, mint apple jelly and baked cinnamon apples with the these apples.
Most of our trees were giants that towered 40, 50 or more feet. We will never know what varieties they were, but they seemed to be the most like 'Granny Smith', 'Rome', 'Winesap', 'McIntosh' and 'Cortland'.
One tree, however, was small; it produced mini "two bite" yellow apples. I called them two bites, because in two bites the whole apple was eaten. These apples were so sweet that I decided bees must have injected honey into them. My parents did not think these apples were worth the time spent to gather them for cider. I, however, added a few.
Once the truck was full, we feasted on apples and whole-wheat peanut butter and jam sandwiches. Of course, I had a double helping of mom's wonderful homemade red currant jam. It was then time to drive to the apple mill. I do not remember much about the mill visit. Perhaps I fell asleep, played games or read a book; the wait was lengthy. When our apples were finally processed, the whole family lined up for a "first taste" from our cider. Our work had been a success; the cider was full of flavor and delicious.
We then delivered any pre-ordered cider. We had many repeat customers; some bought extra gallons and froze it to have cider slushes all year. I remember a few hushed comments about someone buying extra to make "hard" cider. We sold our cider for only $1 a gallon, which was a bargain even in 1970.
Sadly, those days are over. Those apple trees will never produce another gallon of cider. After our home burned, the next owners did the horrible thing. They chopped down my beloved apple trees. They destroyed my lilac bushes that not only served as a barrier to the cold winter winds but also provided us with gorgeous displays of huge bunches of fragrant flowers. (I have seen pictures of lilacs grown in Canada, near Niagara Falls that look similar; it would be delightful to own some of these lovely plants again someday. Here is a PlantFiles link to a picture of similar lilacs.) The new owners also built a nice garage directly over our heirloom flower bed.
I have felt the need to plant fruit trees at every home I have owned; perhaps it has something to do with the destruction of my beloved trees. I relish the excitement of picking the fruit. I delight in the mess of the fallen fruit and the bees and butterflies that feast on their share. The 'Gala' apples in the picture are destined for my commercial grade blender. Yes, I still make my own apple cider.
Looking for more information on apples? The DG writers have created a week's worth of apple articles so you will find lots of information all week long:
Growing Apples in Florida: It can be done by Jacqueline Cross
Tools for Making Applesauce by Lois Tilton
Johnny Appleseed and the Rambo Apple discovery by Larry Rettig
Apple Butter, Stack Cakes, and Weddings by Sharon Brown
Picking the Best Apples for Your Pie by Marna Towne
Additional Interesting Facts and Information
Cider should be pasteurized to protect your health. You never know who is doing what to the apples.
Cider mills are still abundant in apple country. Click for a web site that lists cider sellers. If you want to process your own apples, please call first. I'm not sure if any of these mills are available for public use.
There is a city in New York named Appleton. How wonderful is that?
We love apple cider vinegar (ACV). However, the ACV in the basic grocery store is NOT real so we purchase it from the health food store. Real ACV has a cloudy look and "strands" of enzymes ; this is called the "mother". If you search the Internet for apple cider vinegar, you may be shocked at the Old Wives Tales (and not so Old Wives Tales) remedies. We buy Bragg ACV.According to research, apples may prevent breast cancer. Click here for more information. Johnny Appleseed (aka John Chapman) planted thousands of apple seeds in the 1800s. I dressed up as Johnny Appleseed one year at the school costume party. My mother thought it was fitting, since I was so crazy about apples. I wore a tin pan for a hat, a mop dyed red, a feed sack for clothes and carried a bag full of seeds in one hand and a Bible in the other. I won the prize, a nice large Hershey's candy bar. Hopefully, I shared the winnings with my mother. If you have only tried Red or Yellow Delicious apples; you have missed living! There are dozens of apple varieties. I hate Red Delicious but love McIntosh, Cortlands, Granny Smith, Rome and Winesaps. Here is a link to a number of apples varieties.
Enjoy the following apple cider ideas.
Place 3 cups of apple cider in a covered bowl in the freezer. Allow the cider to just barely freeze. Stir and repeat. Stir again and pour into glasses. Serve immediately. This is so refreshingly delicious.
Mix 3/4 glass of cider with 1/4 glass of soda pop (Sprite and 7-Up are great). Enjoy.
Mix cinnamon and ginger in with hot cider. Enjoy the traditional hot spiced cider.
All pictures in this article were taken by me, April Campbell, and are copyrighted 2008.
A note to my sister Nancy: Happy Birthday on the 25th! You are loved! I would have published this on the 25th but an apple article is already assigned that date. Remember the apple nickname you gave me since I ate so many apples?