It was something over a year ago, in July I think, and Lisa and I were wandering through an antiques shop in Flatwoods. I was poking about at old woodworking tools in a back aisle and Lisa had moved on to look at other things. After a bit she came back to me and said, “Do we want a cider press?” I think she wasn’t expecting me to say, “Sure”.
We went around to where the press was sitting on a shelf and looked at it. We talked about the fresh apple cider we once had at an orchard in Michigan, a fondly remembered highlight of an excursion from Chicago the autumn after we were married. We talked about the apples we could see at the top of our old apple tree, the possibility that we might get at least some of them, and how pleasant it would be to make our own cider from our own apples. It was a lovely machine — about 2 feet (61 cm) tall, solid cast iron, “Enterprise Mfg Co, Phila USA” in raised letters on the top, clean with much of its painted designs intact, and apparently all its parts were present — it could have been a sculpture (well, maybe a Marcel Duchamp “readymade” at least). We hadn’t been looking for a cider press, but it didn’t seem expensive. And we decided that even if we never used it to press apples it would nicely decorate the kitchen counter. We bought it.
As it happened, all of the apples on our tree vanished before we could get them. I don’t know if birds and squirrels ate them from the tree or if the deer ate them from the ground, but I don’t remember seeing even a scrap or core that fall. We considered getting “deer apples” from the local produce market, but somehow never got around to it. And so we delayed testing the press.
Eventually Christmas came, and with it Hilde and Arend. We decided that we would like to have spiced cider one evening. Besides being a pleasant treat it would give us an excuse to try out the press. We bought a bag of apples at the grocery store. December, of course, is not a time of fresh, juicy local apples, but it seemed like a good idea anyway.
I set the press on the kitchen counter, not screwed down, and we proceeded. I turned the crank and opened the top, then dropped some number of cut-up apples into the basket. Hilde seized the crank, Arend clasped the sides of the machine with both hands to keep it stable, and I optimistically held a pitcher under the spout. Hilde cranked. The lid lowered onto the apples, but nothing else happened. Hilde cranked some more, the lid lowered some more, and the crank became increasingly resistant. We assumed that the apples were being crushed, but they didn’t seem to be releasing any juice. Arend tried the crank. I tried the crank. Still nothing came out the spout.
In the midst of this cranking Arend vanished, then reappeared to explain that his Internet search had revealed that we had started out wrong — we should have chopped or ground the apples, not just cut them up, and perhaps wrapped them in a muslin sack. A food processor or blender was suggested. Hmmph. I opened the press to look.
Well, since we didn’t have an apple grinder, and we had already started pressing, and I didn’t want to transfer the apple mess to the blender, I decided to persevere. We cranked, and cranked, and eventually a thick mass of crushed apple, with nearly no liquid, began to emerge very slowly from the spout. The apple mush really looked more like sausage stuffing than anything else (apple sausage? — but I don’t know what kind of casing to use for that). Finally, with much effort, I forced some of the mush out into the pitcher.
By this point Arend and Hilde, realizing that I was mired in a futile effort, had wandered off, and Lisa had taken a bottle of grocery store cider out of the refrigerator. I set the press aside to be cleaned later, and we all retired to another room for cider and popcorn. Cleaned, the press has been sitting undisturbed on the counter since January.
A few weeks ago, an antiques dealer we know was at the house. Seeing our cider press on the kitchen counter she commented on our “sausage stuffer”.
That spout did look rather odd.
But the antiques dealer we bought it from had claimed it was a cider press.
Spurred by these conflicting revelations, I did a little research on the history of this machine. Apparently the company marketed fruit presses and sausage stuffers. There are different baskets, and different spouts/stuffer tubes, for each, but the press itself is essentially identical as far as I can tell, and perhaps was sometimes sold with both sets of parts. So, until I can figure out what casing to use for apple sausages I’ll continue to think of it as a cider press. Now we just need to find some juicy apples.