Every Labour Day weekend, our backyard becomes a cider factory. My husband and I set up two borrowed barrel presses and a motorized apple crusher I had built (after years of struggling with rented ones) and spread the word that everyone is welcome, especially those with more backyard apples than they can use.
People come from around the neighbourhood and around the city, bringing bags and boxes of apples to turn into delicious cider. Any size and type of apple is welcome. We find a cider with a mix of apple types has the richest flavour, and crabapples add a welcome tartness.
Every year, we are stunned by the quality of apples growing in Edmonton, and every year we end up setting a few aside for fresh eating because they’re too nice to crush.
There are always some people who have never tried fresh pressed cider before, and they are amazed by the unique and delicious flavour. I get a kick out of watching them taste it for the first time.
This year, some of the neighbourhood children parked themselves by one of the presses with their dixie cups and consumed a steady stream of the liquid flowing out until we were afraid they’d overdo it and give themselves stomach aches.
We have some regulars; neighbours and friends who come back year after year. As time goes on, it gets easier to run the event because these steady folks just get to work without needing any explanation. One neighbour lends us a mesh tent to keep the wasps at bay. Another brings his stock pot and sets up in the kitchen to pasteurize and can jars of cider to last through the winter. The woodworker who built the crusher drops by every year to see how his machine is running and make some tweaks. A farmer I know takes the dry pulp from the presses to feed to her animals.
My family prefers the non-alcoholic cider, but some of our guests take their share of cider away unpasteurized to turn into hard cider, or even apple wine. In the weeks and months to come, they will bring us samples of it. This year, one neighbour brought a couple of bottles of last year’s vintage to Cider Days to share with everyone.
Crushing and pressing rescued apples is the only way I know of to get a supply of this delicious drink, and that alone makes it worth doing. But Cider Days is more than a beverage-making enterprise. It brings people together on common ground: whether they share a neighbourhood, and interest in urban agriculture, a love of the cider itself, or something else, conversations start over the whirring of the crusher or the cranking of the presses.
During the event, I lost count of the number of people who told me they were leaving, only to become embroiled in yet another fascinating conversation about gardening or canning or whatnot and were still there a half an hour later. That’s the sort of thing that makes my heart sing.
As time goes by, more and more people hear about our little backyard cider-making operation, so we are able to rescue more fruit and make more friends. It’s one of my favourite weekends of the year, and we plan to keep doing it for many years to come.
Featured Image: Cider Days is an opportunity for people around Edmonton to press their apples into cider. | Samuel Murgatroyd