For many years we had a really lovely set-up for crushing apples into pomace and pressing it for cider, but it was just such a pain to clean up, so noisy to operate, and it left the cider tasting a bit “rusty” from all of the exposed steel parts. The combination of a 1/2 horsepower electric, 12-inch hammer-mill and a hand-operated 6-ton hydraulic cider press was very fast and delivered plenty of juice, but that combination worked best for really large batches of apples. Any small batches were hard to justify because of the problems mentioned above. And getting a large batch of apples together, all ripe at the same moment, with a small orchard full of variably ripening varieties was always a challenge. Couple this with planning for advancing age, which makes moving large quantities of anything a bit harder, and you can see why we were thinking ahead for a solution. We sold the hammer-mill and press to a young farmer who had more trees.
A few years ago we purchased a small, 3.2-gallon capacity, swing-away top, screw-type apple press with a stainless steel base from Pleasant Hill Grain as our new small-batch option. They now offer 4- and 5-gallon models.
To go along with this, for the last few years we have tried using a Kitchen-Aid mixer and a fine shredding cone to grind apples into pomace.
But the shredding action just isn’t the same as the crushing and smashing the apples encounter in a hammer-mill. The resulting juice had better flavor, free from a rusty after-taste, but the juice output from a given quantity of apples was lower. You could tell the difference in the juiciness of the remaining apple pulp (the “press cake”). So we searched online for something better and found three basic sorts of apple mills. One is the “scratter”, represented by this unit which is available from many sources.
It uses a single rotating drum, usually made from wood or aluminum, with metal parts sticking out that slowly chew away the apple.
We had used this type before and found it slow and far less than durable. Often many of the metal teeth would be bent from encountering really hard apples. A second type is the “smasher”, which beats the apples into a literal pulp. It uses either a fixed or swinging hammer, or a series of them. An ordinary kitchen garbage disposal is one option. This photo shows one of its two swinging stainless steel hammers mounted on a horizontal plate above the motor.
We have friends who use this method successfully, although it required removing the motor casing and adding cooling fins to the motor to allow for continuous use. The feed rate is a bit slow since these units normally require water flushed down the sink to move things along. And the resulting pomace is extremely fine, requiring a “press bag” and a rather slow pressing rate. A hammer-mill looks like this internally.
The swinging steel hammers all line up on a horizontal shaft and the pomace falls through a semi-circular steel screen that determines the final particle size. They normally use steel parts instead of stainless steel and there are lots of places for apple juice to react with iron, leading to taste issues. There are also loads of nooks and crannies to clean. But the pomace size can be large enough to give a fast press rate without requiring a bag.
A third type is the “roller”, which uses counter-rotating metal drums to crush the apples.
This all stainless steel model from the U.K. looks like it would work well for our use, but its long stainless “teeth” that pull in the apples are relatively fragile and the price for a $227 imported mill has a steep $105 shipping premium. We’ve seen videos of it being used with an electric drill, and it’s clear that it will chew up apples, but its relatively light weight and high price spurred us to search for an older technology.
Many years ago a neighbor had an antique cast-iron crusher that mangled apples between close-fitting, interlocking, counter-rotating drums. It worked very well, and we figured that if we could “season” the cast iron, to avoid the metallic flavor component, it might work well for our needs. Durability would probably not be a problem. But it turns out that few of these turn up for sale. Three years of admittedly intermittent searches resulted in finding this.
It looks like it came straight out of an old barn, but it appeared to be mostly intact. The cast-iron drum at the top has two ribs that pull in and crush apples against the ribbed, cast-iron side of the unit.
From below you can see the differential-speed, counter-rotating drums that pull the apple fragments down for further shredding. Buying stuff online is always somewhat of a risk if you’re depending on photos to tell you the full story, but after paying $127 in an E-Bay auction and spending a little over $50 to ship 120 pounds of cast-iron a couple of hundred miles, we ended up with a two week, spare time restoration project.
It appeared that a metal plate at the top which was supposed to keep pomace from flying back out of the hopper had fallen onto the crushing drum, suddenly halting the unit. The flywheel’s momentum caused three teeth to shear from the smallest gear. And a rotting wooden base allowed enough play in the grinder’s base to break a thin cast-iron plate where a screw was supposed to secure it.
After complete disassembly, wire-brushing with a drill, repairing a few metal parts using an oxyacetylene torch and nickel-bronze rod, rebuilding and regrinding some worn shaft key-ways, seasoning the cast parts with camelina oil (baked at 360* F in our solar oven), building a wooden chute, adding a new handle, and reassembling with new bolts on a 2-by-4 wooden base, we ended up with this.
A little bit of online research revealed that the grinder was made in St. Louis, Missouri by the Whitman Agricultural Manufacturing Company. The original design patent was from 1872, with a switch to differential drum speeds, which cause more shearing action, in 1876. Our unit has the toothed drums instead of the original multiple-bar drums, which means they were made in 1878. So 137 years sets a pretty high bar for durability!
Trying it on our first really big harvest of apples is soon to come, but our first experimental batch showed great promise. After adjusting all of the clearances, lubricating the shafts and gears, and finding a place to put it, we tried it on some early, fairly dry apples, which yielded a surprising quantity of juice. The oil finish appears quite durable, the grind isn’t super-fine (meaning that we don’t have to use a mesh “press-bag” in our cider press), and with a 24-pounf flywheel and synthetic gear lube it was very fast and easy to crank. I think that we may cut larger apples in half to speed the feed rate, but that’s common with roller-type crushers. Every design has its pros and cons. We saw one of the Whitman grinders restored, repainted, and including the screw press for over $1900 on E-Bay, but keep your eyes open for a deal and you may be as surprised as we now are.