By Ross Ballard

It is late summer, and the cold nights and snowcapped mountains signify a wonderful time of year in the Robson Valley – harvest!

On the last Sunday in August over a dozen Valemount locals gathered at the residence of John Crowley with their bounty of freshly picked apples. Combined we had well over a thousand pounds of fruit; with a variety of apples species including Transparent, Red Crab, High Twelve and a most beautiful cross breed called the Apple-Crab. We had a simple mission; turn each and every apple into delicious juice and cider to be enjoyed for the fall.

Three different fruit presses were brought to the event. Liz McKirdy and Art Carson each brought a traditional hand crank chipper/press, while John Crowley has a motorized chipper and drill operated press that speeds the process up considerably.

A week prior to this event John and I had used his machine to chip and press around eighty pounds of crab apples into just over three gallons of bright red juice. Because of its size and hardness the crab apple has a small fruit to juice ratio compared to its bigger relatives; but when tested has a much higher alcohol content then most other apples. We transferred our fresh juice from a pail to a glass carboy and John used a hydrometer to test the alcohol content of our harvest. He was amazed to find the buoyancy at 10.7, which means our cider will be roughly ten percent alcohol with no additives! Perfect!

Whether a press is motorized or man powered the process is the same. After being washed the apples need to be chipped into pulp before being pressed. The chipper is a wooden box that siphons the apples down to a drum connected to a crank, which is covered in stainless steel roofing nails; the nails stick out of the wood about half an inch, and when the crank is turned they shred fruit into tiny pieces which falls into a wooden barrel. The barrel is lined with a cheese cloth bag, and when filled one simply covers the fruit with the ends of the bag and moves the barrel over to the press.

The press consists of a large screw which has a wooden plate the size of the barrel mouth attached to it. When screwed down the plate presses the juice out of the fruit, which leaks out of the holes in the barrel and is screened and funneled into pails or growlers. Most of the left over pulp was given to Johns pigs (mmm…apple bacon), and the rest was put to compost.

The afternoon was spent taking turns on the hand crank chippers; pressing one type of apple then the next. We sampled the different tasting juices, and were entertained by John’s daughter Violet who almost drank her weight in fresh juice. I personally liked Art’s press with its cast iron components and hard wood frame – it ran as nicely as it looked, and also gave one a good workout. It took us five hours to press our collective harvest into roughly forty to fifty gallons of juice. We will be enjoying our first glass of homemade cider in four to six weeks. Now that’s what I call sweet success!

Thanks to all who participated this season!

This is Ross Ballard reminding you to pick your fruit before it hits the ground and come out to Press Fest 2016 next year!