Hills Creek Lake

Hills Creek Lake

It’s that time of year. The leaves are changing color, the days are getting crisper, and the frost is on the pumpkin. This is my favorite time of year. From the late days of September to late November, no other season beats it here in Pennsylvania.

This year has been outstanding for apples. Trees that had never even bore fruit in a generations memory, were loaded with apples, or pears. We have a few trees on the hill beside our house that I knew were some sort of fruit tree but being that I am not an avid botanist, I was not sure what kind they were. They had never bore fruit to my memory. This year they were loaded with pears! I was so excited that I grabbed one and took a big bite……BLECH! They were very wild pears, bitter, and leaving a “dry mouth” feeling. But in any case, my neighbors apple trees which we usually pick from were loaded down with delicious apples.

Family picking apples

Family picking apples

We usually make applesauce with our neighbors apples. They make the BEST applesauce. Dont ask me what kind they are because I don’t know. They are yellowish green, with a tinge of pink in the skin. This year I was interested in making apple cider as well as applesauce since there was such an abundance. I began looking into what was involved in the whole process. I figured that it couldn’t be any more difficult than the Maple Syrup we make. So I began researching. I found many examples of cider presses,  both homemade and some professionally made. It was clear that I didn’t have the time to make one, nor the money to buy one ($500+ for a good one).

Interestingly enough, that same day I came across a facebook post of one of my friends using a cider press with a youth group. I sent him a message asking where he got the cider press and he told me that a mutual friend of ours had built one and that he lent it to the youth group to use as an activity. So I contacted our friend DJ and scheduled a time that we could bring our apples over one evening.

DJ making the mash

DJ making the mash

He has children of similar ages to ours so it was a great time together. When we arrived we unloaded the apples and he showed us how the whole process works. We had a table where we had the apples sitting in a cold water bath, just as a rinsing method. Then we chopped the apples in half and took them by 5 gallon bucket full to a sink he had attached to some pallets and attached a garbage disposal to the sink. The apples get shoved through the disposal which turns them into a mash. The mash is then poured into a cloth net material that is draped over a

Homemade cider press with empty frame

Homemade cider press with empty frame

hollow frame on the press table. The extra netting is folded over the mash that is in the frame, the frame is removed and a wood lattice, made of slats of oak screwed together with 1/4′ spaces between slats, is placed on top of the netted mash. The frame is then placed on top of the slats for another layer of netted mash. This is done until about 3-4 layers are stacked. Then a car jack is mounted to the top of the press and you start expanding the jack as it presses down on a few blocks of wood that are placed on the top layer of the stack.

Pressing stack

Pressing stack

The press table has a 2-3″ high rim around the perimeter with a notch cut out in the front to allow the juice to pour out, where we placed a 5 gallon bucket underneath to catch the juice. On top of the bucket there is a pillow-case-type cloth rubberbanded over the top to filter out any finer unwanted dirt or pulp. The filter also helps if you’re doing this during the day and yellow jackets start wanting some too. My youngest hung outside with me and my friend DJ in the cold. He was a trooper. He also got to enjoy a drink of cider as it flowed out from the pulp, you should have seen his smile!

Out of about 5 bushels of apples we got about 11.5 gallons of cider….16 oz of which I am drinking as I write this post =). YUM!

close up of stack

close up of stack

Fresh juice!

Fresh juice!

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Yogurt with breakfast

I  was looking through Debbie Pearls Blog and came across a recipe, or more of a “How To”  article on making your own yogurt. I really like yogurt and last year I was offered a bowl of homemade yogurt at my friend Dave’s house. I had always just assumed it was a complicated process and so I never ventured to try it…till I read Debbi’s blog. Keep reading


The Sugar Shack

The Sugar Shack

I have been delightfully pleased by the output of the 15 taps I have. Two or three of my 5 gallon buckets have been overflowing by mid day! I just wonder how much I have lost because it filled over. I also had one hose back out of the bucket, and again the same tree, this morning the bucket had blown away. Fortunately, that tree isnt a huge producer, but every little bit adds up! I just went to my friends house and dumped 25 gallons into his bulk tank.

As I stated before, I am just tapping and collecting. He has the time, equipment and experience to boil it down. So I get half the maple syrup that my sap produces as a trade off for not having to boil it. So anyway, I went to his sugar shack and no one was around. I was hoping he would be home, so I could have gotten his picture in here. Maybe when he starts boiling I will run over and get some pics of the process.

I posted a picture of a sugar shack that looked like his a few posts back. Today while dumping my buckets, I decided to snap a few pics of his shack for you to see. He has a stainless bulk tank that is really just an old  milk tank from a dairy farm. He has hoses from tapped trees all leading to this tank through one final hose. Then out the back he has another hose attached at the bottom with a shut off valve. This hose goes straight out the back as the hill slopes down the hose stay straight and meets the shacks roof where it enters the shack. Quite ingenuous if you ask me!

Bulk tank for sap storage

Bulk tank for sap storage

Hose entering shack through eves

Hose entering shack through eves

Then in the shack he has an evaporator. I believe his set up has evolved over the years getting more and more efficient with better equipment. As you can see there isn’t much room inside, and my flash doesn’t work, so its a bit dark.

Evaporator

Evaporator

The shack is built into the hill so that the back side provides a wood storage place to keep the wood under roof. If you are outside, you can see at around head level, there is a trap door to feed the wood insede the shack. This is a very efficient way to feed the stove under the evaporator! inside the shack. As you can see, it takes a lot of wood to make the amount of sap that they make. The more efficient your evaporation the less wood you need. My friends set up is quite efficient…he just makes a lot of syrup!

Wood

Wood

Dry wood and trapdoor

Dry wood and trapdoor