An Unconventional Cider Press
By Luke Potrzeba
This fall was marked by a bumper crop of apples in my parents’ old apple orchard. When I went to visit them one weekend, we gathered many bags of apples. Some were for eating, making applesauce, others for pigs, and lastly we had about eight bushels of apples for cider. We recalled that as a kid, we had a press and enjoyed the process and result. Now that I had a family of my own, we wanted to press cider from the apples, but did not have a press or grinder. A quick look on Craigslist showed used presses in the area available for around $300 to $500. But they were several hours away and may not be worth the cost. We also entertained the idea of purchasing a new press, but could not justify the cost, and the shipping time was a concern with apple quality being at its peak. So, I ended up saying, “I’ll take the apples home and make a press.”
I knew that I could figure out how to make a press using materials at hand, oak for a frame, a 20-ton jack for pressing, and some other oak boards for the platform and basket. But building a press would take time and just take up lots of space when it was not in use. After more thinking, and looking around the shop, I had an idea! What about that trash compactor that I pulled out of the kitchen and stuck in the corner of the garage? That might just work! Okay, now to make this idea work and ensure that it would be clean and food safe. Now, where was that stainless steel sheet that I salvaged from a kitchen?
After finding and bending the stainless steel to fit the cabinet of the trash compactor, I needed to purchase food safe silicone and hardware to fasten the pieces together. All parts for the catch pan were assembled after work on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday evening was the trial run.
I decided to go low tech for creating apple mash, so I used an eight-pound sledgehammer in a food-safe five-gallon bucket. My daughters used a one-pound hammer to help make the mash. The head of the sledgehammer was covered with plastic to prevent rust in the mash and keep things clean.
I decided to use cheesecloth to create bags of mash that would be placed between boards in the press. The first bag was placed directly on the stainless steel, which was followed by another bag of mash and so on. The compactor accommodated four layers of mash in bags. After the compactor press was loaded, then it was time to make the first press. I turned the switch and 20 seconds later the compactor plate had reached its max pressure and cider was pouring into the catch bucket. I was amazed how quickly the cider gushed from the press. When the compactor started to slow and before it would switch directions, I quickly turned the switch to off to maintain the pressure on the stack. Once the cider was done flowing, I turned the compactor off and the plate returned to the starting position. At that point, I unloaded the cheese-cloth bags from the press and dumped out the bags. The mash came out as a big dry apple pancake and went onto the compost pile.
That first night I ended up making 2 1/2 gallons from approximately one bushel of apples! The next day I pressed more after work, another 21 quarts for the freezer. And finally, my parents came by to visit, and guess what, they brought enough apples to press another 7 1/2 gallons! Now we have lots of yummy cider that only cost our time and a few dollars to purchase the stainless hardware and caulk. My family is now looking forward to the next stellar apple harvest and the next cider press marathon. Maybe by next time I’ll have a real grinder ready to create the apple mash.
Items needed for creating your own low-cost cider:
• Good source of organic apples and help to harvest
• Food-safe bucket for creating mash
• Ability to smash apples with a sledge hammer
• Old, working trash compactor
• Stainless steel for a liner for the compactor
• Clean bed sheets cut in squares for creating apple mash “cheeses”
• Hardwood (oak or maple) for the pressing boards
• Pot for catching the cider