Cider Hill Ben Thresher's Mill, Barnet Vermont
Since about 1915, the west addition to the main mill has been known as the Cider Mill. Fenton Judkins installed a hydraulic cider press in the cellar and a weighing scale on the first floor. From the existing Boomer S Boschert cider press and the other cider making machinery it is possible to explain the flow of apples from weighing scale to cider barrel.
The custom grinding of hard winter apples into cider began each year around the first of October. After a good frost, the apples were ready for crushing into apple juice or cider. Freshly squeezed apple juice is called "sweet cider". If it is permitted to ferment and produce alcohol, it is called "hard cider". It was claimed that orchard apples combined with wild uncultivated apples made a good cider mixture. It was also common to mix two or more varieties of apples, such as sweet and sour or hard and soft, to create the best flavor. Apples contain as much as eighty percent juice. A bushel of apples could be reduced to about three and a half or four gallons of cider, depending on the juice content of the variety. It took from twelve to fifteen bushels to make enough cider to fill a fifty gallon barrel.
For storing cider throughout the winter, the most desirable barrels were once used oak-charred fifty gallon whiskey barrels. Molasses barrels were also good for cider, but vinegar barrels had to be steam cleaned so as not to affect the taste of cider. The best containers were "wet kegs" for liquids, not "dry kegs" for flour. The dry kegs were too thin and would not hold water.
Apples usually arrived at the mill in burlap bags. The customer's apples were deposited into the large wooden hopper on top of the Fairbanks Morse scale on the first floor. After weighing, the apples were dropped through the bottom of the scale into the apple grinder. The grinder is located near the ceiling in the cellar.
A hand lever allowed the cider press operator to feed the power grinder with fresh apples. In the cellar, a separate jack shaft held two belt-pulleys which turned the drum or cylinder of the apple grinder on either side. Inside the grinder is a rotating drum with toothed knives that chop the apples into a fine pulp or "pomace". Pomace consists of freshly ground apples, skins, seeds and juice.
On the grinder, a weighted top board held the apples firm against the rotating drum. There was a safety device to protect the knives on the drum. If a small stone or piece of metal was in the new batch of apples entering the grinder, a blade would feel the stone and raise the levers. This allowed a few apples, with the stone, to fall directly into the pomace without being ground. This prevented the knives on the drum from being destroyed.
The freshly ground pomace was collected on the bed of the press in open-meshed burlap cloths called 'cheeses'. Just enough pomace was allowed to fill the burlap cloth and it was folded over in a removable wooden frame to form a bag. The wooden frame was removed and a wood rack placed on top of each cheese to hold the bag together. The racks provided room for the juice to flow out of the pile while being pressed. When the pomace and racks had reached a height of about two feet, the whole pile on the bed was swung around on rollers to the other side of the press directly under the pressing head. The cider press has two oak beds or platforms on either side, which allow the operator to stack cheeses on one side while pressing fresh cider on the other.
The head of the cider press is operated hydraulically. A reservoir tank fed water under pressure through pipes across the ceiling to the top of the press head. Water pressure forced the heavy iron press head down toward the bed. There is also a safety valve in the reservoir tank which released water from the pipes when the pressure was too great. The device released water pressure and stopped the press head from pushing down too hard on the iron rails. The press head was manually activated by a belt tensioner on the main pulley to the standing press. When the press head was activated, it pushed down on the racks and cheeses and squeezed out the juice. The two beds traveled on rollers. The rollers were designed to retrace on springs under the weight of the press. This action allowed the press head to squeeze the cheeses on the bed down to heavy iron rails (and not on the rollers) for a firm press.
The juice ran into a large copper tank under the beds. The tank holds about half a barrel or twenty-five gallons. Since one pressing could yield as much as fifty gallons, the cider had to be immediately pumped to a storage tank. A homemade tire pump was adapted for this purpose and the cider transported from the copper tank in the cider room through a pipe to the storage tank upstairs. The copper-lined storage tank, which hangs from the ceiling on the first floor, holds about one hundred gallons. There is a strainer in the tank and the fresh sweet cider was drained into customer's barrels.
On a good day the cider mill could turn out four barrels of apple cider per hour. After each day of pressing, the burlap cloths and racks were cleaned of excess pomace with a water hose connected to the side of the wooden penstock. The pomace was thrown in the river and was a favorite treat of local muskrats. The tanks and pipelines were flushed with clean water.
The Wagon Shop kept spare cider barrels around in case someone wanted to buy one. Since they were in the business of making water tubs, they were often asked to repair barrels and replace missing staves and bung pegs.
The Cider Mill had a local reputation for its fine "boiled cider" and "cider jelly". The process of boiling cider is similar to making maple syrup. When fresh sweet cider is boiled it reduces to boiled cider and is used as a flavoring in the cooking of pies and meats. If boiled cider is further reduced by more boiling, it achieves the right consistency and is called cider jelly. A wooden evaporator box hangs from the ceiling in the cider room. In the evaporator are steam pipes fed from the steam boiler located just a few feet away in the cellar of the main mill. About seven gallons of sweet cider were reduced by evaporation to just one gallon of cider jelly. The cider jelly was packaged in glass jars and was especially popular with the local cooks.
At one time, Fenton Judkins had planned to install a second water turbine just to drive the cider press. Judkins never installed a second turbine, but the hole is still in the concrete foundation.
The cider press and apparatus for operating the Cider Mill are still in place. The press, grinder, scale, tanks and cider evaporator are as they were when operations ceased in the mid-1960s.