The Sartorial Garden

Antique Cider Mills and the Art of Cider Making

Cider making has a long and wonderful history in England. It’s a bubbly fermented version of the cider typically served in the US and has an alcohol level of 3% - 5% similar to beer. 

The tradition of cider making produced vast amounts of cider in the autumn from fruit that was grown on the farm. It was never produced as a major cash crop – it was mostly a private industry and self-contained. Cider was often given to the farm hands on a daily basis as part of their wages. During the harvest season, when work was most strenuous, the farm hands could easily go through 1 to 2 gallons of cider in a day!

Because cider apples tend to be hard, there are two steps to extract the juice. First the apples need to be crushed and then the pulp needs to be squeezed to collect the juice. In the earliest days the fruit was hand crushed with mortar and pestles. Later a more mechanical process was discovered using a circular horse powered mill. This used an upright millstone (usually carved from the local stone) and was pulled by a horse to crush the apples laying in the circular trough. As the horse went round, the cider maker would add water and scrape the pump off the sides. Once the wake of crushed apples was high enough in front of the millstone, then it was time to press the pulp.

After milling the apples, farmers would press the pulp immediately afterwards. Presses had various designs primary determined by region. But all presses had a large bottom stone which was flat in the center and had a groove cut all along the edge of the stone to capture the flowing juice. These bottom stones were usually square or circular with a collection point at the front.

After milling, the apple pulp was too wet and mushy to stay in place under the press. So the cider maker would use a binder such as straw to keep the pulp in place while being pressed. A layer of pulp would be spread on the bottom stone and then a layer of straw would be spread on top; then a layer of pulp followed by another layer of straw and so on. This stack would then be pressed. These layers of straw and pulp were called the “cheese.” Building a tall cheese that allowed all of the juice to be extracted was deceptively difficult!

Once the pulp was dry, it would usually be fed to the farm stock taking care to move quickly in order to prevent any fermentation. It’s one thing to see a staggering drunken chicken – it’s another thing to dodge a drunken pig!

Finally the juice would be put in large wooden casks to allow for fermentation

Today, these beautiful stone cider presses are used in a number of ways to create a striking garden element. We used our two presses in a water feature that took advantage of the natural flow of water to the outer edges and then to the collection point.

Some pictures from Museum of Cider

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