Memories of the Old Cider Mill
By John C. Porter
Years ago it was common for a town to have its own cider mill.
This was part of the Yankee self-sufficiency of having a blacksmith shop,
wheelwright, grist mill and saw mill. Cider was important as a fresh juice, a base
for vinegar, as well as the occasional hard ciders and homebrews. It was a way to
preserve apples, which would spoil part way through the winter in the storage
barrels in the root cellar.
My memory goes back to Pete White’s cider mill in Lebanon, N.H. Pete’s old
gambrel tie-stall barn is now the Elk’s Club just off Route 120, and the cider mill
was up on the side of the hill behind the farmstead.
The hillside location had a benefit, because the apples could be unloaded on the
upper side and the cider flowed out the lower level. It all began back in the
orchard where we would load up bushel baskets and then dump them into grain
sacks and tie them off.
We would go around the orchard and gather a combination of the old varieties
like Northern Spy, Transparent, Cortland, Astrican and Baldwin. Then we loaded
them into the pickup truck and headed for the cider mill.
The mill had a large grinder and a hydraulic press on the upper level. We
unloaded our apples in common with everyone else’s into the hopper, and they
were ground and pressed together.
On the lower level was a large, round wooden-tub full of freshly-pressed cider.
The aroma of apple juice filled the air. We would back up the truck with empty
barrels to be filled from a spigot at the bottom of the tub. The cider would rise
with a frothy foam to the top, and then a bung was hammered into bunghole on
the top side of the barrel to seal it off.
I think we either paid a fee for the pressing or left off more apples than we took in
cider. Then off we’d go with a couple of barrels of cider wedged into the back of
Getting the barrels down the bulkhead into the cellar was the tricky part. We
usually put long planks over the stairs and slid the barrels down end-to-end to try
to keep control. There is many a story about the cider barrels that got away as they
were rolled down the cellar stairs. Once in the cellar, the barrels were laid up onto
blocks so a spigot could be driven into the end for drawing out fresh cider to
My mother usually kept some residual from the previous year’s vinegar barrel so
the “mother,” a slimy membrane of yeast, could be introduced into the new barrel
to produce the vinegar. That was the special ingredient of mom’s pickles.
Today many orchards have efficient cider press operations on their farms. The
apples are pre-washed and care is given to make a safe, wholesome product, often
using some of the smaller apples not used for eating.
We are well into apple season, so visit a local orchard and pick up some fresh
apples and cider and enjoy a taste of New Hampshire.
About the author: John C. Porter is a UNH Extension Specialist, Emeritus