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Sullivan County opens a public cider press

  • Lionel Chute, Sullivan County's Director of Natural Resources, left, dumps ground apples into a cider press with help from Aaron McKeon, of Croydon, as McKeon's daughter Dagny, 4, middle, son Audie, 2, lower right, sister-in-law Chelsea Lallier, top-right, and niece Addisyn, 1, look on at the Sullivan County Public Cidery in Unity, N.H., Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. It was the first week of operation for the cidery, which Chute hopes will teach the process of cider making and help people use the fruit that grows in their own yards. "It's an untapped resource that most of us have," he said. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Volunteer Billie Lambdin, of Unity, washes apples brought to the Sullivan County Public Cidery by Aaron McKeon, left, as he and Lionel Chute, right, cut away any bruising or rot before grinding them in Unity, N.H., Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. McKeon hoped to go home with about 25 gallons of cider pressed from the roughly nine bushels of apples picked from his land in Croydon. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The only charge for use of the Sullivan County Public Cidery is $12.50 per pressing to pay for bottling the unpasteurized cider in sterilized plastic jugs. Those using the facility need only bring 4.5 bushels, or about 6.5 milk-crates-worth of apples to fill the press to make between 11 and 13 gallons of cider. Unity, N.H., Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dagny McKeon, 4, watches as cidery volunteer Linda Wisner, of Charlestown, top, gathers handfuls of apples to grind at the Sullivan County Public Cidery in Unity, N.H., Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. The cidery is currently housed in and around a disused pump house on the grounds of the Sullivan County complex. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Aaron McKeon tastes the first of two pressings of cider made from his apples in a water powered press at the Sullivan County Cidery in Unity, N.H., Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. He plans to ferment the cider with honey to make cyser, mead with an apple cider base. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 10/15/2019 10:00:16 PM
Modified: 10/18/2019 7:53:44 PM

In June, when only orchardists are thinking about apples, Aaron and Kristi McKeon moved to a 40-acre property in Croydon. With the advent of autumn, their trees had been overrun with fruit.

So, armed with a plan to make cider and family members to help, they set about harvesting their bounty. They ended up at the new public cidery at the Sullivan County Complex in Unity last week.

“We were looking for a press to press our apples and I was going to buy one, but they were not available,” Aaron McKeon said. “So we put something out on the town Facebook and someone suggested we reach out to the people here.

“I think this is a great resource,” he said, while keeping an eye on the pressure gauge of the cylindrical stainless steel press with fresh cider flowing down the side.

The McKeons; their three young children; Kristi’s sister, Chelsea Lallier and her daughter, 1-year old Addisyn, of Maine, spent last Wednesday afternoon producing cider. The press, which opened to the public for the first time last week, is designed to bring cider-making to the masses. Last Wednesday, everyone, except for eight-day old Maia, snug in her mother’s baby carrier, pitched in to feed apples into a grinder and to fill half-gallon jugs with about 22 gallons of cider. Also assisting in the process were county volunteers Linda Wisner, of Charlestown, and Billie Lambdin, of Unity.

And overseeing it all was Lionel Chute, Sullivan County’s director of natural resource, who said he was happy to finally have a press operating after thinking about the idea for several years as a way to promote local agriculture and help people understand the resources growing in surrounding forests and backyards.

“I lived for 35 years in Washington (N.H.) so I know well there are a lot of old apple trees all along the road and at people’s houses that just get wasted,” said Chute, who now lives in Putney, Vt., while selecting an apple from a big tub where they first undergo a washing. “I do outreach to the public and among other things I want to increase local agriculture by supporting it and promoting it.”

Chute bought the press about two years ago after borrowing one from an orchard in Alstead, N.H. “It is very efficient. It streamlines the process,” he said.

The McKeons brought three 44-gallon barrels full of apples. While neither McKeon nor Chute knew the particular varieties of apples the McKeons had brought, they agreed the apples were ideal for cider.

“Usually they are too scabbed up for fresh eating,” Chute said of apples grown in the wild. “If you were going to make apple sauce out of this,” he said, holding up a small apple with several bruises, “it would be a lot of work, but for cider, it is perfect.”

Some of these old varieties,” Chute continued, “were planted 100 years ago and apple trees last a long, long time.”

The process starts with the apples in a large tub of water outside the former pump house that now holds the press. McKeon and Chute gave the small, green apples a “good tumble” by repeatedly pushing them down in the water.

“These are quite good, these apples,” Chute said. “They are a little bruised but not much rot or other defects.”

He and McKeon selected the best looking ones from the tub, removed the stems, then used a paring knife to cut out any bruised spots before tossing them in a crate. A few feet away, Wisner grabbed a few apples at a time and dropped them down a small chute — with a little help from the McKeons’ daughter, Dagny, 4. A hard plastic grinder spinning at high speed, turned the apples to pulp, which then fell into a five-gallon bucket.

Chute brought a bucket of pulp into the pump house and held it over the top of the open press while Lambdin used a large spatula to shovel the pulp into a green mesh bag. A few more buckets and the press was full. Chute dropped the top of the press over a threaded bolt and secured it with a large wing nut.

Inside the press, a cylinder-shaped bladder made of thick rubber about four inches in diameter filled with water. Expanded to a maximum pressure of 40 pounds per square inch, the bladder squeezed the pulp and the cider began flowing from slits in the press wall. The cider ran down the side of the press and collected in a trough then drained into a bucket.

“This is sort of a perfect press where you have so much coming out all at once,” Chute said.

Once the cider had been strained, Kristi McKeon and her sister, Chelsea, took turns filling half-gallon jugs, slapped with stickers noting the contents are not pasteurized. Each pressing yielded about 22 half-gallon jugs, which were placed in a tub full of ice.

“If it is kept cold, the cider will last about a week,” Chute said, adding that after a week it is a good idea to freeze it.

The entire operation takes about an hour and 20 minutes including draining the bladder, removing the mesh bag and dumping the pumice and peels from the press into a large plastic garbage bag. Lambdin planned to take it home to feed to her pigs.

“OK. Ready for the next batch,” Chute said and soon another five gallons of pulp was dumped in.

The only cost for each pressing is $12.50 for the half gallon jugs and caps.

“We want to make this as available to as many people as possible,” Chute said.

The press will shut down on Oct. 25, but next year Chute said they want to operate for two full months, September and October, when apples are in season.

“The whole idea is to teach people to do the whole operation themselves,” he said. “We are here to help, but my hope is over time this will become increasingly self-sufficient. And folks will know how to do it themselves and we will have volunteers helping. We have 10 trained volunteers who work with folks to make it go well.”

Ideally, Chute said it is best if the people who want to press their apples bring two or three people and the county will have a staff member and a couple of volunteers.

Aaron McKeon said he plans to use his cider to make cyser, a variation on mead, an alcoholic beverage that dates to the time of the Vikings. Where mead is usually made with water and fermented honey, cyser substitutes cider for water.

“It should be a much fuller taste,” McKeon said, adding that mead tastes more like wine than like beer or cider.

Chute said one pressing requires four bushels of apples, so would-be cider makers may need to supplement what they pick from their own trees with orchard apples.

“The price on commercial apples at pick-your-own still make it economical (to make cider),” Chute said.

Chute wants to avoid “drops,” or apples that have been lying on the ground that may contain food borne pathogens.

Chute is excited about a full season at the cidery next year and the prospect of more residents realizing the bounty growing all around them.

“The impetus behind this cidery is the underused resource we have; this legacy of apple trees given to us hundreds of years ago,” Chute said. “It is a tremendous resource and cider is full of vitamins and minerals. It was not easy for people to press the apples into cider until now.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com

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