As apple cider starts making its way to the shelves of grocery stores and orchard shops, those of us growing fruit on our own farms start dreaming about all the juices we can make for ourselves. Just about any juicy fruit can be dumped directly into a fruit press. (You’ll want to remove the pits of stone fruits first to avoiding damaging the grinding mechanism.) Whether you choose a simple hand-operated press or a larger power press to squeeze the delicious liquid from your produce, the results will be awesome: gallons of tasty juice from fruits like apples, crabapples, pears, grapes and berries, which can be preserved by canning or freezing, or even by making wines, meads and syrups.
That’s the good news.
The reality is that fruit presses and their grinder attachments are major purchases, ranging from about $150 to well over $1,000, so it’s important to protect your equipment with proper maintenance and storage in the off season. A well-maintained fruit press can last for generations. Some antique cider presses are still in working order and pushing 100 years old, so a sturdy, beautifully crafted new press and grinder, like those from Kansas-based Happy Valley Cider Presses, may be around until the 22nd century.
How Fruit Presses Work
The explanation for this is easy: They press fruit … really hard. However, let’s take a closer look at a mid-range hand-operated cider press, which can hold about 5 gallons of raw fruit.
Typically, a fruit press has a base made of enameled metal, with a trio of legs to keep it steady and high enough off the ground to place a catch basin for the juice; a lip directs the flow of juice into a bowl or pitcher. Next comes a cylindrical “basket” made of wooden slats with spaces in between so the juice can flow through—for best results the basket should be nearly full of chopped or ground fruit when you start pressing. A stout upright screw passes through the basket of fruit and serves as the anchor for the pressing mechanism. That mechanism includes a handle that acts as a level to turn a pair of wooden plates. Those plates fit over the basket full of fruit and exert pressure evenly.
Once you begin turning the lever the juice starts to flow. Collect the juice in bowls until the fruit has been pressed dry.
Notice how the word “grinder” keeps appearing. That’s because larger fruits, like apples and pears, have to be chopped into bits before pressing or else they won’t give up their juice. Berries, grapes and other soft fruits don’t need grinding. Depending on the model of fruit press, the grinder may be part of the unit or a separate attachment. In either case, it’s made up of rows of sharp teeth.
Before grinding and pressing fruit, you’ll want to rinse the fruit to remove dust, sticks, leaves and insects. And you may also need to filter fresh juice through a fine sieve before processing to remove any undesired pulp or debris.
Caring For Your Equipment
A fruit press sits idle for most of the year, so your goal should be to keep insects, mold, mildew and dust away from it. If you hope to make wine, it’s also important to shield the press from wild yeasts in the air. Finally, the metal parts of the mechanism should be dried and lightly coated with a food-grade lubricant before storage to keep them rust free.
Follow these additional tips for proper year-round care:
- Remove the press from storage. Wipe down all parts with a rag, then pour scalding hot water over every part separately to sterilize it. Pay special attention to the grinder, making sure all teeth get rinsed.
- Hose down the press after using. Bits of fruit collect everywhere, and insects are attracted to the sugars that are released, so hose off all parts before taking them indoors to wash.
- Wash and re-sterilize the parts. It’s fine to use a mild dish soap solution to remove all leftover fruit juices. Pour scalding water over everything again, as you did when taking the press out of storage. Be sure all grinder teeth are cleaned.
- Let everything dry completely. All the wooden parts should be dry before storage. Re-oil the gear mechanism lightly.
- Cover and store. Once everything is dry, stack the parts and cover with a large plastic trash bag. Store inside a shed, closet or other closed space.
Those commonsense precautions will help you get the most and longest use of your beautiful fruit press.