Last week, I visited the folks who make our cider presses deep in America’s Heartland. 82-year-old company owner Ray Stagg still works every day. Every press has his fingerprints on it, since he uses his expert carpentry skills to cut out the wooden components.
Ray is quick to point out that he only does this “between golf games”. This gives him a chance to mention that he can still golf his age. (And mourn the fact that, like his age, his score gets a little higher every year.)
Ray looks like and gets around like a man 20 years younger. The secret, he says, is keeping active, having a passion for life and, I suppose, drinking lots of unpasteurized apple cider.
He built his sprawling timber frame ranch house with his own hands some 30 years ago. Located in the hills of eastern Kansas down miles of dirt road, there’s little to distract him from building what is unquestionably the best cider press on the market.
Ray said that even getting groceries means five miles of mud or five miles of dust, depending on the season. There were two pick-up trucks at his ranch the day I visited. Between them, they were running on three spares. These roads are hard on cars. “But, I like the quiet,” Ray says, in a tone of voice that tells you it is unquestionably worth the effort to live out here.
He invented the “Apple Eater” apple grinder, that effortlessly turns apples into mush. Mashing the apples increases juice extraction by 60%. But, Ray’s design doesn’t grind or cut the seeds and stems, which would make the cider bitter.
Unable to find anyone who could make a laminate strong enough for the press frame, he designed a clamp to set the glue for the main beams under 20,000 pounds of pressure.
You can’t buy unpasteurized cider any more. To me, store bought cider just isn’t real. Fresh pressed cider has a full body and the kind of flavor that makes your mouth wake up. It’s “thicker” and “browner” than the pasteurized gruel and satisfies you in a way that store-bought cider can’t.
I make cider almost every year from my own apples. I’m convinced that when the apples and press are thoroughly washed beforehand, “raw” cider is safe. And, the flavor makes it all worthwhile!
Galen Lehman, President, Lehman’s