have a favorite day. That statement has deeper roots to explain later. For now…
I have a favorite day. It’s never on the same date, it cannot be calendared for the 2nd Saturday of the month. When the dog days of summer have fallen from memory, and mud, from rainy fall days, begins showing up as boot tracks on the kitchen floor, start gathering empty gallon jugs. If you’re lucky enough to live where apple trees explode, a traditional “Cider Daze” is coming.
The daze has a central character who, like a hen spreading her wings to gather and warm hers, seems to draw friends and family together to warm hearts. If she could smile, it would be ever so subtle and gracious…nurturing. She would tell us to pay attention for days like this are good for the soul.
She’s an heirloom, a 4th generation apple cider press, originally belonging to our host’s Great Grandmother. The trademarks are long worn, so her birthplace is a matter of debate. She could hail from Ohio and The American Seeding-Machine Co, with the given name of Improve’d Buckeye Cider Mill. Or she may have started out at the Red Cross Manufacturing Co. of Bluffton, Indiana. But if this version be true then she would be a Junior, Medium or Senior model, and we would never ask such a question of a refined lady.
Though details of her history are vague, impelling romantic minds to wonder, the charm of her presence is tangible. She emerges once a year and holds court from an elevated wooden throne. But there are no airs, pomp or circumstance here. Her perch is more front porch rocking chair than throne room majesty. Beyond congenial, she offers her hand to make everyone feel at home. Ask anyone in attendance, all have paused and paid their respect, all reaching out to touch her.
The motor occasionally needs a soft touch, an encouraging hand crank of the fly wheel, but once she gets started she runs just fine. She shares her wisdom on the value of work. The machinists in attendance, the country engineers, they compulsively redesign her…multiple times…but eventually confess, “Yeah, but we couldn’t build one this well today”. For eight hours she runs, outpacing seasoned farmers and loggers.
There’s a break in the work, with her blessing of course. After all, there’s bread to be broken and friends to make and relations to visit with. Then there’s the small matter of “Best” to be considered and settled.
Fall sets a menu of hand warming entrees and late harvest inspired desserts. Best chili, that went to Charlotte for her Elk Chili. If you’re competitive, and Charlotte is (Want proof? Challenge her and her husband to a board game, or Tiddilywinks, marbles, predicting the weather…), so you can bet she’s in it to win it, at least Place or Show. Between us? Here’s her ringer tip: when a recipe calls for ground beef, substitute with ground elk. Sure winner. Best pumpkin dessert? This went to Starr for her Pumpkin Bar with Cream Cheese icing. Not sure, but second helpings must be for additional research, at least that’s what my wife seemed to indicate. After all, assuring accurate judging, demonstrating a commitment to the process, is the least voters can do. Don’t bother trying to guess the Best by which serving dishes are empty…they all were!
Eventually, conversations move back outdoors and pressing resumes, empty gallon jugs remain. There’s a special recipe for this cider, passed down through four generations of the host family, ready for it? Got your pencil and 3 x 5 lined note card? Apple Cider ingredients list: Apples…Period. This is pure stuff. Too simple for you? Mix equal parts, or completely random quantities of: Macintosh, Early Ida, Jonagold and Bert’s Special, Golden Delicious and Redmax Macintosh – feel free to substitute any quantities and varieties. Only requirement is that you participate in picking the apples from the branches, or at least help shake the tree (make sure the kids are out of the tree first. Whaaaat?).
A quotable fellow from the Show Me State, known to his wife as Samuel, said memories are “…little threads that hold life’s patches of meaning together”. This day is favored for what it connects, what it knits together.
There’s the cider. Apples picked from trees planted by people with first names, pressed through an heirloom, as pure in ingredients as it is in process. This year we brought home 10 gallons. Much we will freeze, stretching Fall into Winter, connecting all the way through to Summer. Warm it up on cold days, serve chilled on hot ones (Editor’s note: treat it as concentrate and add water to every cup). We’re also making first attempts at homemade Apple Cider Vinegar and hard cider this year. We’ll let you know how it goes.
There is Ohana. If this term is new to you then allow me; It’s not defined with pen, paper and a diagram (though this would be fun to try…gonna need a BIG piece of paper for all the branches). More than passed down, Ohana is shared. Years together are not required, a single day can do. A day together, picking apples, our kids running and laughing with yours, learning where you’re from, closing out with an inning of Smush Ball (sooo relieved I didn’t swing and miss); this day‘ll do just fine. Ohana is Hawaiian for extended family, no blood lines required. Looking for the meaning of Ohana? Find Full Days like this one and just sit and watch….it’ll be clear as day without a single word needed.
There is legacy. Watching my children smile for the better part of all day. Knowing that months from now, on a random Tuesday, one of them will ask “when is apple season?”. The question they’re asking, and the answer to their question, is a specific day, not a season. It’s also a question flowing with memories and full of anticipation.
Why is this day a favorite of mine? Simple really, it patches together everything that has meaning to me.
Days like this are not random, Full Days are not surprises. They are planned months in advance, they are planted by previous generations and tended by the present one. Thank you to Lee and Missy for sharing this day with our family.
I need to plant apple trees…I need to plant the seeds for favorite days…of all varieties.