UNITY — Every October in rural New England, many apple trees fill with fruit that ultimately goes unpicked. There may be several reasons for their neglect. Sometimes the owners are unable to pick them. In other cases, the owners may not know what to do with the apples, either because there are so many or the apples are not ideal for baking.
The Sullivan County Conservation District has a solution: bring the apples to the County Complex and press them into cider.
Last week, Sullivan County officially opened a new public cidery to provide a way for people to turn their apple surpluses into delicious, highly nutritious cider.
Lionel Chute, director of the county conservation district, said he got the idea from years of seeing so many apple trees with their fruit going to spoil.
“These apples would be a headache to process for something like applesauce, with all the peeling and marks needing removal,” Chute said. “But they are perfect for pressing into juice.”
Cider is full of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, calcium and magnesium, as well as antioxidants. Chute said apple trees that haven’t been treated with pesticides create special antioxidants to ward off insects.
Another advantage of cider is it can accommodate all varieties of apples, especially sharp or bitter tasting apples from older trees gone wild.
“Old varieties add a lot of flavor and nutritional value,” Chute said. “In cider making, you usually want to press several varieties of apples with different flavors to get the most flavorful cider.”
How the cidery works
This cidery officially opened Monday, Sept. 30, and will close this season on Friday, Oct. 25. Next year will be the cidery’s first full season of operation, when it will be open through most of September and October.
“We wanted to ease into it this season and do it right,” Chute said.
The cidery is open by appointment only on most weekdays from 8:15 a.m. until 7 p.m. There must be at least two people in the group (three or four are preferred) and each group is allowed two pressings per season.
Each pressing requires 4.5 bushels of apples, which is equivalent to 6.5 milk crates. This amount will produce between 11 to 13.5 gallons of cider. The apples must be either picked from the tree or fall onto a tarp or cloth. Apples from the ground cannot be pressed as they might be contaminated by wildlife or carry dangerous pathogens.
Each pressing costs $12.50. The cidery provides the jugs, caps and labels, and cardboard boxes to carry the cider if the customer doesn’t bring any. The process takes about 1.5 hours, which includes washing, grinding, pressing, jugging and helping to clean up the equipment. Pressings are staffed by one county employee and two volunteers. Chute said that 10 volunteers have trained so far to assist in pressings.
“Part of the experience is that we’re training people how to do the pressing themselves,” Chute said. “When they come back they will know how to do it.”
The cidery uses a Lancman bladder press that runs on water pressure, so customers are spared the physical task of turning the press. Chute said this press is also more efficient and said to generate about three times more juice than a manual press.
Storing the cider
Cider is unpasteurized and has a limited shelf life. Chute said that cider can be frozen for later use, or kept refrigerated for up to five days. After five days, refrigerated cider should be boiled before consumption to kill any possible bacteria.
Most concerns about risks from unpasteurized products are overstated, Chute said. Populations most at risk from bacteria like E.coli are the elderly, young children, pregnant women, or people with weaker immune systems. Even if the product contained bacteria, there is little risk to most people.
Additionally, the cidery maintains a very clean operation, Chute says. Everyone is required to wear gloves and hats and all equipment is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized between pressings.