Autumn has arrived in the Tehachapi Mountains, bringing with it cooler nights, falling leaves, and delicious fresh-pressed apple cider from our mountain orchards. You can buy apple juice year-round at grocery stores, and it's pretty good (Martinelli's is the best), but these products hardly compare to the flavorful, sweet, healthy pleasure of local apple cider.
For one thing, apple cider isn't filtered -- the apple juice you buy from stores tends to be watery and nearly clear, with only the slightly golden hue to indicate that it is actually apple juice and not water. Fresh apple cider is richer and opaque due to the fine apple particles in suspension, and it tastes like you are drinking an apple, which is not the case with store-bought apple juice.
Apple cider was a cherished beverage in North America even before the United States came into existence: the early colonists in New England started pressing cider as soon as their apples trees began to bear fruit. They used primitive tools to grind up the apples and then simple presses to squeeze the juice out. Modern commercial apple presses use more technology, though the process is much the same, while hand crank apple presses that you can still buy today have changed little in the past 175 years.
Traditional apple pressings are a group event, where friends and family members get together to take turns cranking the handle of the apple grinder to fill a mesh bag with finely-chopped apples, and then turn the press handle to squeeze the juice out of the pulp. We took some top quality apples from the Pulford family's AppleTree Orchard to the Rankin Ranch in Walker Basin last weekend, and had fun making some tasty cider. Two of the hardest working apple pressers were Emma Mae and Josephine Wilder, the adorable young daughters of Clint and Sarah Rankin Wilder.
The best apple cider tends to come from a blend of different apple varieties. We used a combination of Jonagold, Melrose and Red Delicious apples because they are earlier varieties that are in season now, but there are an endless number of combinations of apple varieties that can be used to make great tasting cider. Old heirloom varieties of apples are often popular choices to include in traditional cider.
One thing to remember about fresh-pressed cider is that it isn't pasteurized, so you have to drink it or refrigerate it immediately, and even when refrigerated you need to drink it up in a few days because its flavor begins to change. Many people today, including my friends Lonnie and Cindy Latham and also Mike Moessner freeze their fresh-squeezed cider so then it will last for months.
Several different Tehachapi growers now have apples and fresh cider, and it is well worth visiting them to sample this healthy and delectable beverage. Moessner Farms, RB Family Orchard, and Pulford's AppleTree Orchard are among those that offer cider each year and have some now.
Treat yourself and your family to this taste of the season and welcome autumn with a glass of aromatic, fresh-pressed apple cider.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for the Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Jon Hammond