If you think about it from a purely economical standpoint, there’s not a lot of incentive to go apple picking. Apples are plentiful and cheap, no matter where you buy them. And though they’re far cheaper when you pick them direct from the farm, there’s still the expense of driving there and back (and for most Portlanders, it’s an hour each way to the orchards of Hood River).
In fact, Wendi and I — and the rest of our neighbors — have even less reason to grab our boots and hit the road, because every year a farming family from Hood River brings their apples and pears right to us, setting up overflowing crates on their friends’ front lawn. All I have to do is walk three blocks to get a wide variety of just-picked fruit for $0.70 per pound.
But the thing about apple picking is, it’s not about picking apples.
It’s about spending the day outside, during one of the most glorious times of year. It’s about starting a tradition, and taking the time to keep it alive. And it’s about supporting family farms with more than a purchase. When we go apple picking, it’s our chance to go to the source and actually meet those farmers face-to-face, see where they live and work, and get a deeper understanding of where our food comes from.
And, let’s be honest, it’s also about warm apple cider doughnuts dusted with cinnamon and sugar, and jugs of cold, fresh-pressed apple cider — both of which, thankfully, are always at the ready when we visit the Draper Girls Country Farm near Parkdale each fall.
Wendi, on the other hand, gets to pack up her family and trek out to her mom’s farm near Yachats. Her orchard boasts a wide variety of sweet apples for eating, but they always pick a bunch to press into apple cider.
The cider pressing is an all-hands-on-deck family affair. Everyone pitches in, washing the apples clean, cutting them into chunks and removing any icky spots. Then the apples go in the hopper to be ground into pulp with a hand-crank.
The pulp is then pressed to release the juice. In fact, they’ll press the pulp two or three times to squeeze out every last delicious drop.
This year, they produced 5 1/2 gallons of juice, from about eight big crates of apples. What they can’t drink over the course of a few days, they preserve or freeze to enjoy later.
Of course, unlike Wendi’s mom, not everyone has room to store their own cider press. Luckily for Portlanders who want to stock their freezers with fresh-pressed cider, F.H. Steinbart’s rents them out. Just set it out on your back deck and get cranking.
Actually that sounds like the perfect excuse to start a new fall tradition — a cider pressing block party, perhaps. Complete with doughnuts, of course (we have a recipe for you right here).
Or at the very least, it’s one more reason to spend a crisp fall afternoon outdoors, which is always a good idea.