Posted in Creative writing

Apple Pressing and the Ghost Orchard

apple_2Richard Sennett says it well in the Acknowledgements to his book The Craftsman, “Making is Thinking’. This week, we have been busy pressing apples and making it into sweet cider.

We started with thirty five bushel boxes of MacFree apples. It is a three step process: cutting, grinding and pressing. The apples need to be quartered before putting through the grinder. One box of apples fills a twenty litre container of ground apples for press. The pressing is done with a hand ratchet press. The end result is forty five, two litre containers of sweet apple cider. On good day, we were able to complete three pressings.


What did we learn ?

Most of our learning was about the qualities of the different apple varieties. Our orchard has four varieties: NovaMac, Liberty, MacFree and Nova Spy.

NovaMac is an early variety. It is a cross between the Nova and the MacIntosh. Talking to Brian Boates from Woodville, he confirmed that this variety ripens quickly and drops soon thereafter. Liberty, (we only have one tree), produces early, deep red apples. MacFree is a later variety. This was our primary cider apple. It keeps well in storage. It is a cross between a MacIntosh and Freedom. Finally, NovaSpy, another cross between the Nova and the Spy, is a late apple. We can leave these trees until the end of the harvest season. Liberty and Freedom are brother and sister varieties.

We found Tom Burford ‘s book, Apples of North America  an excellent resource, describing one hundred and ninety two varieties.

In September, Helen Humphreys was interviewed on the CBC. She is the author of The Ghost Orchard. (Fortunately, Bill Crossman loaned me a copy of her new book.) It is creative, non-fiction. Starting with the White Winter Pearmain, Humphreys’ researches the history of apples in North America. There are multiple stories: about the white settlers (Ann Jessom) planting orchards in the late eighteenth century; the watercolour artists who drew the illustrations in support of the US Department of Agriculture catalogue of seventeen thousand varieties of apple on the continent. Humphreys also describes the relationship between the poet, Robert Frost and Edward Thomas and their walks through orchards in England, at the time of the first World war. Part of Frost’s legacy was to plant new orchards in the United States, towards the end of his life (late 1950’s).

His poem caught my mood. Here are the first eight lines.

After Apple-Picking

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Towards heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Besides it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.

For the complete poem, go to



Tom Burford. 2013. Apples of North America. Timber Press, London

Julian Gwyn 2014. Comfort Me with Apples. The Nova Scotia Fruit Growers’ Association. 1863-2013. Lupin Press. Berwick, NS. This book gives a local context.

Helen Humphreys. 2017. The Ghost Orchard. The Hidden History of the Apple in North America. Harper Collins.

Robert Frost check

Richard Sennett 2008. The Craftsman. Yale University Press, New Haven.





2 thoughts on “Apple Pressing and the Ghost Orchard

  1. We have not yet learned the varieties of the eight trees on our property but we picked up enough ground fall and hanging fruit to make two dozen jars of apple jelly. If you come for a visit we will give you a jar!! Warm regards to you, Heather and Family


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