At this time of the year one’s appetite yearns for a variety of apples, fresh cider and delicious pumpkin pie, and maybe even chestnuts. Although the American chestnut is rare, if not extinct, the native pumpkin is to be found in abundance everywhere. It is this abundance, rather the rule than the exception in America, which has created a basic difference between the American culture and its antecedent European beginning. For instance, the abundance of apples harvested in America has developed an apple culture here which is far beyond that ever dreamed of on the frugal European continent.
“Johnny Appleseed” is perhaps more a symbol of the nation’s fertility as a whole than in just this one industry. Then, too, if it were not for the famine-haunted past of the early European immigrants, they might not have taken up the challenge of the new wor1d’s fertility so vigorously. As one looks back over the prominence of the apple in the early American culture, one cannot help but to be amazed at the ingenuity with which the pioneer sought various ways of using and storing this universal staple.
As a young historian, I remember the delightful experiences of entering a huge underground “root cellar” where apples would be stored in yesteryear. The large, whitewashed vaulted ceiling of the cellar presented a pleasant backdrop for the colorful variety of apples stored there, and the aroma is something I never forget for those elderly housewives who still partook in natural refrigeration. The use of an underground cellar built independent of any other building has been a popular method for storage of apples and root crops since colonial days.
On certain colonial homesteads in southeastern Pennsylvania the large manor house basement is subdivided to accommodate a vaulted root cellar. Ultimately, some storage and usage ideas were combined in the apple culture, as it was more efficient to make the year’s supply of apple sauce and apple butter at harvest time than to store the apples for a later date. Likewise, one could also store apples by drying them, “Schnitz,” which opened up another avenue of uses: Schnitz pie, Schnitz un Knepp, etc. Apples which could not be stored in their normal state for long winter months had to be processed.
On large farms in the eastern United States great cider presses were erected during Colonial days in either special buildings, or as appendages to barns. These huge presses were capable of rendering hundreds of barrels of cider. Now, it was possible to store apples in another form, which, if it did not eventually turn into vinegar, might very well be distilled into yet another form. There were two basic types of cider presses in this industry. The first is the two-screw press, which is built much like an old fashioned book press. In this method a wooden beam (about 12 feet long) which is threaded at both ends is lowered vertically by two eight-foot-high wooden screws. As the beam descends, a stationary platform upon which the apples are matted has pressure forced upon it by means of blocking stacked directly under said beam.
A press of this size is usually about twelve feet long, and often has a roof of thatch protecting it from the elements. The second type of press, and most common, is the one-screw lever type. Here, the principle of the lever allows the operator to exert a tremendous amount of pressure by raising and lowering a twenty-eight foot wooden beam, with the aid of a wooden screw at the opposite end from pressing. As the beam was often fourteen inches square, and has a good length, the mere weight of it without the lever principle would seem sufficient.
A preliminary step in making all cider is that of crushing the apples before they are placed in the press. Such an apparatus is called a pomace mill. This type of mill consists of two large wooden gears erected vertically in a barnyard, where they are operated by horse power. A large curved boom, which is balanced on the shaft of the “drive” gear, is turned by a horse, and a sit turns its counter gear, apples are feed between the two sets of teeth. After a good amount to pomace is made, it is shoveled up and packed between rye straw mats under the cider press lever.
Three of the finest one-screw cider presses in Pennsylvania are now in the possession of historical groups. The fine 18th Century cider press from the Hottenstein farm at Kutztown was taken to the Quiet Valley Farm Museum at Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. More recently, a lever press from the Strausstown area of Pennsylvania was removed to historic Schaefferstown in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. A third one-screw ciderpress, which is in equally fine shape, exists in the newly revamped Jordan Museum of the Twenty at Ontario, Canada, which is settled by migrating Pennsylvania farmers about 1800.