Cider: Squeeze the Best Out of Fall

At Great Swamp, help turn the screws of an old-fashioned cider press, and learn about the upside-down botanical miracle that is our friend the apple.

Feeling pressed this time of year? Apples sure are. And you can help keep the pressure on, joining in the cider-pressings at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Chatham on November 12, 13, 26 and 27.

With Whole Foods Markets, the Morris County Park Commission will bring in a mix of tart and sweet local apples from Best’s Fruit Farm in Hackettstown.

The apples will be juiced with a wooden, hand-cranked cider press. Each day, up to 85 people can participate in the one-hour, hands-on activity, with sessions at 1 and 2:30 pm.

“We wash the apples, we chop them up, we put them through a grinder, then we put them in the press and people help turn the press and see the cider come out,” says Jenny Gaus-Myers, the commission’s assistant director of education. “Then everybody gets to try it and compare it to Whole Foods’ organic apple juice. The difference between them is how much each cider is filtered.”

The actual cider samples will come from a previously made batch, because each day’s extraction needs to be pasteurized by heating to 165°F, then cooled and poured into sealable, sterilized jars to insure that the juice is bacteria-free.

Gaus-Myers says the difference between the wooden press–with its giant screw “that gets harder and harder to turn”–and modern commercial cidering, in which apples are pressed hydraulically, is that in the latter, the juice is often pasteurized with UV light .

At the demonstration, every bit of the apple–skin, fruit and seeds–go into the press in a mesh bag. The mash remaining in the bottom of the barrel is “so acidic you really can’t even compost it,” says Gaus-Myers. “But sometimes we bring it to our historic farm because the pigs will eat it. Pig’s are the only ones that have a strong enough stomach, apparently.”

Gaus-Myers, who has a master’s in science education from Fairleigh Dickinson University, is a fount of apple knowledge.

“People have been looking at an apple upside down their whole life,” she says.

The fruit actually grows from behind the spring blossom that starts out facing skyward. “When the flower dies,” she says, “as it gets so big and so heavy [with fruit], it tips over and hangs.”

So the bottom of the flower becomes the top of the fruit. All that’s left of the beautiful bloom is the little crusty spot where the flower had clung to the tree, leaving the new apple hanging from the stem.

At the Great Swamp, where participants can also enjoy splendid fall foliage and miles of hiking trails, “we are very passionate about nature and conservation and teaching,” she says.

Admission is $3 per person, ages 3 and up. Early arrival is recommended. Admission is first-come, first-served.

APPLE CIDERING AT GREAT SWAMP
973-635-6629

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