For about three weeks in late fall, the air around Willis and Tina Wood’s farm in Springfield, Vermont, is heavy with the scent of apples. Bushel after bushel of locally grown McIntosh apples get ground, crushed, and evaporated to make delicious boiled cider and pure cider jelly.
The grinding and pressing takes place on the farm’s original wooden screw press, which has been in use since 1882. (The farm has been in the Wood family since 1798.) Modern machines use centrifugal force to separate juice from apples in a fraction of the time it takes the Woods to press their cider, but Willis swears his old-fashioned method gives his product more body and better flavor. “Maybe because it takes us more time, we like to think it’s better.” It is.
“We couldn’t make jelly in mid-September,” says Willis, moving a bushel of bruised, overripe apples. “You wouldn’t want to bite into these apples, but they gel well.”
Family friend Ahmet Baycu rakes flat one of the 13 layers of ground apples. The grinder is suspended above the press in the barn’s loft.
A waterfall of cider. Giant handcranked screws attached to large pieces of timber squeeze the juice from thousands of apples. A tank below the press collects the juice.
Nine gallons of cider boil down to make one gallon of jelly. A wood-fueled evaporator cooks the bulk of the cider. Here, Willis checks on the concentration of the cider to see if it’s ready to gel.