Every year, our family makes apple cider, and the way we do it is using a cider press.
Here is what one looks like, but it is missing some parts in this photo (see below).
The big wheel has a handle and cranking the handle leads to the chopping-up of the apples thrown into the feed.
You start with apples of course. Do not pick them up from the ground in a pasture or anywhere they would have been next to manure.
Give them a rinse in water.
Have someone throw washed apples into the grinder as you crank the handle, but for God’s sake, tell kids to keep their hands out of there. The press can also be operated by one person where you crank with one hand and throw the apples in with the other. It’s a slower process but it works – one year I pressed our entire apple cider crop while 6 months pregnant. I haven’t found the motivation to do that again since the kids actually came.
The apples are then chopped up in the grinder into chunks like this and fall into a basket-type part placed underneath (the missing part from the top photo). You want to grind that basket full.
Once your basket is full, you put on a lid which comes with the press, and that’s where the pressing part comes in. The juice is pressed out of the apple chunks by turning the big center screw and lowering the lid farther and farther onto the apples. Stop when you start hearing lots of cracking noise coming from wood. You might want to use a 2 by 4 or a hockey stick to help turn the top wheel that controls the pressing (see photo at top).
Be sure to set a pot underneath the press to capture the juice. Once the press is going, the cider will pour in a steady stream and not just drizzle like in this picture.
Finally, you want to strain your cider into a separate container. You can use several layers of cheesecloth or nylons to capture unwanted solids, but I am not big on straining because I love extra texture, and plus I don’t own any nylons and never plan to.
If it was just me, I’d only use a strainer, like the folks in this picture.
And there you are, raw apple cider! It can be canned but I prefer to freeze it in freezer ziplock bags instead (freeze them flat on a cookie sheet at first so they take up less space). Plus, canned cider has the texture and the flavor of the apple juice you buy in a store, and I definitely prefer the raw version which is preserved by freezing.
You don’t necessarily have to purchase a press of your own to enjoy raw apple cider – you can borrow or rent it from someone who owns one, or your can bring your apples over to their place and press there and let them keep some of yield. You can also buy one jointly with another family and share it.
So if you have a lot of apples, cider pressing is a wonderful family activity for fall (and if you don’t have any apple trees of your own, you can always find someone who could let you pick, especially in exchange for some of the final product). Just keep in mind that cider made with apples picked in October (if we are talking Wisconsin-like climate) will taste considerably sweeter than cider made in September, as the sugar content of apples goes up dramatically later in the season. Note that apples can take a light frost, so you don’t need to scurry taking them down at the first frost warning.