Apple season brings an autumn ritual and a toast to dear friends. I feel like I’m just going around in circles,” I complain to Dave, but there’s a twinkle in my eye. Every fall I bucket up some apples, and haul them over to my neighbors, Dave Brown and Ann Ingerson, to make cider on a […]
By Julia Shipley
Oct 12 2015
Apple season brings an autumn ritual and a toast to dear friends.
I feel like I’m just going around in circles,” I complain to Dave, but there’s a twinkle in my eye.Every fall I bucket up some apples, and haul them over to my neighbors, Dave Brown and Ann Ingerson, to make cider on a hand-cranked press in their garage. Whether they like it or not, I’ve appointed this unassuming couple—careful homesteaders who’ve tended their forest and fields in northern Vermont for nearly 40 years—my gurus in sustainability and simple living, and I am perpetually turning up on their doorstep with questions about how they make their sauerkraut, or when they transplant their tomatoes outside or how frequently they mulch their fruit trees. They are the humblest people and brush off my studious worship as if I were a fly pesking a loaf of their wood-fired oven-baked bread. And to be fair, yes, I am pesky. Suburban-born, I made a bee-line for the backcountry after college and for the last decade I’ve been cultivating my own tiny light-living experiment a mile down the road from them in northern Vermont; instead of keeping up with the Jones, I am trying to stay down with the Browns. And always falling short: They are off the grid. And I am not, yet. They raise so much of what they eat. I do, too. But they built a hillside root cellar and erected a bread oven from scratch, while I buy store bread and plunge much of my harvest into a chest freezer. Together, Dave and Ann designed their house and built much of their furniture. My home is an 1850s farmhouse with mucho second hand stuff. They make their own music: Dave plays banjo and Ann plays fiddle. I picked up the banjo and then I put it back down. They brew their own beer. And I? Well, I make cider. With their help. Every autumn. So here I am winding the handle that drives the crusher wheel round and round, but every so often I get hung up on a tough apple and the handle jams and I’ve got to really use some oomph to get it going again. I keep making bad puns to keep my spirits up. What goes around comes around, right Dave? Hey Dave, am I getting anywhere? Dave, are we there yet? I grin at my unwitting mentor, standing in neatly mended pants, one of several pairs he’s worn for the past 30 years. He simply folds his arms across his chest with one hand stroking his grey beard and says, Keep up the good work. You’re almost there. Ann built this press years ago from a kit; together, they’ve already pressed their twenty gallons of cider from the orchard they planted years ago, trees they painstakingly fenced off from their sheep, and keep mulched with shavings and chips, a byproduct of Dave’s wooden bowl making business. My apples come from two trees a former occupant planted, an orchard of two, kept productive with the help of Stuart La Point, whom I hire to prune them, as opposed to Dave and Ann, who sharpen their own clippers in early spring and lean their own ladder against each trunk in the bunch. Finally the press’s hopper is full of macerated apples, and it’s time to top it with the wooden lid and twist the bolt down to the point where it rests snuggly, securing the top. Dave places a spaghetti pot under the spout and catches what he calls the evanescence—the cider weeping out of freshly crushed apples before any pressure is applied. A wasp sways into the garage and alights on the pot’s rim. Beyond the garage we can see the sheep graze. The lush garden sprawls. Fuschia and purple asters light up the flower beds. Beyond all this, nailed to fence posts and poles are the sturdy kestrel and bluebird boxes Dave built. All around us, it seems, the land generously yields to whatever Dave and Ann ask of it; there is order, but seemingly no pressure. I’ve never encountered them flustered or flummoxed by the work at hand, the way I sometimes am, making sauerkraut doomed to turn grey as I over-boil the beans I’m blanching and then have to drop the laundry I’m hanging to shoo my escaped sheep from the neighbor’s hayfield. Now Dave helps me fit the horizontal bars into the top of the press, which I begin turning, this time with a more fluid action, which drives the lid down on the hopper full of apple mash, which forces its juice forth. The cider, at first only trickling out the spout, begins to rush and then the pot brims and now we have to swap in a new pot to catch the steady flow, until we’ve gotten all that can be wrung from this batch of apples. Next we’ll reverse direction, unscrewing the press, withdrawing the lid, lifting up the sack of tawny mush called pomace, which I’ll carry over and dump in the sheep paddock, before we reset the press and begin the whole process again. But first, before we do, we each fill a cup and drink a toast: to good friends, to the revolving seasons, to that pesky neighbor and her undeterred curiosity, her determined apprenticeship. Hovering like a nosy yellow jacket, I keep alighting, gratefully, at the rim of my neighbors’ sweetness.