For the last decade or more, my neighbor Walter has hosted an Annual Apple Squeeze on the Saturday of October’s long holiday weekend.
Walter invites the entire neighborhood to Commager’s field, where he sets up an antique gas-powered engine that was a common source of automated power on farms at the beginning of the last century. It coughs and putts along quite nicely as it runs a long leather belt that turns a grinder in which whole apples are mashed into pulp. The pulp is then spread onto the frames of an old-fashioned screw press, the size of a refrigerator.
Friends and neighbors who turn out for the day take turns tightening the screw at the top and gathering the cider that flows out the bottom. They bring apples to press and carboys to fill. As well as friends, children, dogs and snacks. It’s an all-day carnival. On good years, Walter gives away upwards of two-hundred gallons of cider – not counting what’s enjoyed on the spot.
The Apple Squeeze is just one local celebration of apples in our neck of the woods. The Newfane Congregational Church featured homemade pie at their 47th Harvest Festival, and Dummerston Congregational Church sold fifteen-hundred church-baked pies, both whole and by the slice, at their 15th Apple Pie Festival.
That same weekend, Zeke Goodband delivered his entertaining lecture about apple history, names, textures, flavors and uses of some of the one hundred and twenty-five different varieties grown at the Scott Farm Orchard.
Many of these local apple events cash in on the tourist trade, but their number and success also speak to the importance of the apple economy in Windham County, where apple growing has a long history. The fourth generation of the Darrow Family grows apples for the wholesale market at Green Mountain Orchards, and the eighth generation of the Miller family produces certified organic apples, cider and vinegar.
Back in the day, Brattleboro’s Book Press would shut down each October so their labor force could help harvest the local apple crop during a two-week paid vacation of sorts.
Nowadays, while my tiny community may still make its own cider, most orchards depend on migrant labor for the harvest – meaning that in reality, we're all more dependent on people from away.