Jeff, my parents and I tried to go apple picking last year. Not thinking, we picked an orchard somewhere in the vicinity of Wellesley. We had a hard time parking because the place was full to the brim, and while waiting in line we saw a sign mentioning an entree fee (14$ a person) and cost for u-pick (2.50$ per pound). I laughed, and pointed out the sign to my parents, who also enjoyed a good chuckle. We about-faced, got some cheap apples from the farm store and drove back to Boston. Lesson learned.
This year we decided to go a bit farther out to Bolton, to Nashoba Valley Winery, which is not just a winery, distillery and micro-brewery but also an apple orchard of prodigious proportions. One of the things that excited me about Nashoba is the fact that they have over 90 varieties of apple trees. You are not confined to red delicious, empires and macs.
Jeff and I spent a decent amount of time exploring the orchard and wound up picking a half bushel for cider/sauce purposes. Among the varieties we picked were Roxbury Russets, Winter Bananas (yes, they taste like bananas) and Winesaps. There may have been a few Golden Delicious thrown in there, and certainly other strange varieties whose names have already escaped my memory.
Coming home we opened up the Ball Book to Home Preserving to figure out how to make cider. Half an hour of chopping apples later (and at least one blister from the effort), we had filled a 5-gallon and 2-gallon pot. We added the water, turned on the gas, and waited for the apples to become tender.
Thinking we could save time by draining all the apples at once, we rigged up a set-up consisting of a huge nylon straining bag, giant bucket, broom handle and chairs to prop the broom handle on. Amazingly, it was strong enough to hold 25 pounds of wet apple glop. We let it sit for 2 hours, and quickly learned why the Ball Book recommends you drain the apples in small batches; only about half a gallon of juice had strained out. If you have a lot of time, definitely do it in small batches. It getting to be late at night, we poured a bit of water through to force more juice out, and wound up with just over a gallon of cider, with gallons of pulp left over.
After Jeff and I had set up the cider into a fermenter, we looked at each other in disbelief over how much pulp we had left over, when I realized a food mill would allow us to turn all of the seedy, peel-y mass into apple sauce. Considering we didn't own one yet, we transferred the pulp to containers to stay the night in the fridge.
The next day, Jeff picked up a food mill after work so we could make use of our near-disaster. A food mill is an amazing kitchen gadget. While we were waiting for our dinner to bake in the oven, we had already processed a gallon of the puree. After tasting it, we realized the apples we used were already the perfect combination of sweet, tart and exotic for us not to want to add any spices to the mix. I didn't feel like waiting around to process them in boiling water, so into the freezer they went.
We wound up with 2.5 gallons of the most delicious apple sauce ever. At 1$ per pound for apples, we will wind up with a gallon of hard cider, 10 quarts of sauce and a unique New England apple picking experience. If you are lucky enough to live near an orchard with old heirloom varieties of apples, I wholeheartedly recommend that you give them your support by buying their apples and ciders. You won't be disappointed!