A Visit to
Lain's Cider Mill
Lain Road, Canisteo, New York
Martha called Lain's Cider Mill Monday morning, September 27, to find out if they were pressing apples for the public. A pleasant-voiced woman said yes they were. Martha asked when would be a good time that day to get there with apples; the voice replied that begining at 1:00, they custom press every afternoon. Patrons are taken care of on a first come, first served policy. If we were there by eleven we might be the first in line.
We got to the mill at 2:00 and parked behind two pickups already waiting. Beyond was a weather-stained building with indications in the boarding that sections had been added to the original structure. A long board above one of the doorways read "E. H. Lain's Cider Mill." Higher on the wall another sign had, in addition to the name, the dates 1964 and 1994 in the upper corners, and painted across its lower half in large letters, "30 years."
While we waited and watched, we visited with others who had come with apples. Two had their homeschooling children along to see the cider-making process; another young man had a load from a communal group.
Both Mr. Lain and his wife were around helping and greeting customers. Mrs. Lain told us that they bought their first mill, in 1964, from the widow of a man who had run it on the other side of the hill. The Lains still live in the house at the mill, where he was born in 1916. They have turned the business over to their son Harry and his wife Lyne, but they like to be around and help out.
When the mill is running people unload their apples, hauled loose the back of pickup trucks or from bags or crates and cartons brought in vans and station wagons, into a large hopper in a shed close to the wide, low building that houses the grinder and the press. The hopper will hold all the apples from a commercial apple crate. The Lains buy apples by the trailer-truck load. The yard was covered by rows of crates filled with apples.
To help a young woman with loose apples in a pickup, Harry Lain placed an empty crate behind the tailgate of her truck and helped her shovel the apples into the box. Then he lifted it with a fork lift onto a platform above the hopper, tilted the crate to dump the apples into the receiving hopper, and carried the overturned crate away on the tines of the loader, the same as he does with the boxes of apples he presses each morning for cider to sell.
Those like us, who have several bags or a number of small crates, set their cartons on the platform above the hopper and when it is empty, dump their apples into it. Each person's apples are pressed separately. Many of us bring wild apples and windfalls from unsprayed orchard trees and want the juice from our own apples.
On the floor of the hopper a conveyor moves the apples onto a sorting table where the customer can pick out leaves and bad apples. Mr. Lain stood on one side and I on the other removing trash and herding apples to the elevator that conveys them to revolving brushes that scrub the apples beneath a strong spray of water. From here they go up a steep elevator to the crusher in the loft above the press. The apples are macerated and the pulp falls through a hole in the loft floor into a drum in the center of a cloth-covered rack on the movable press bed.
When the open-ended cylinder is filled, the grinder is stopped, the barrel removed, and the chopped apples are spread and carefully leveled over the cloth lying inside and across the four-foot-square edge form resting on a slatted rack. The wide edges of the cloths are then overlapped across the layer of pulp, and another rack is placed on top, the form replaced, and a cloth spread over it. The cylinder is again positioned under the outlet from the grinder and is refilled. This routine is repeated until one customer's supply of apples runs out, or the stack of racks and cloth packs of apple pulp is level with the upper platen of the press.
Now the whole stack is pushed by hand into the press chamber. When the pile is positioned satisfactorily, a valve is opened and oil is pumped into a large cylinder buried in the floor underneath. This causes a piston to rise and push the bottom of the stack of layered apple pulp upward. As it forces the pile against the top of the press, the pulp is compressed. The upper plate of the press is supported by large steel shafts at each corner. During the pressing operation these rods resist tons of pressure to hold the press together and so squeeze the juice from the pulped apples. Some juice ran from the lower layers just from the weight of pulp above before the stack was rolled into the space between the upper and lower surfaces. At the beginning of compression juice squirts from the pores in the cloths and gushes along the slots between the sticks of the racks to the outside edges and cascades down. Later it seeps from the packs and trickles into a stainless steel pan at the bottom and from it into a sump. A pump moves the juice up a translucent plastic tube to a tank in the loft above. From there it flows through a strainer and filler tubes into jugs or cans on the filling rack.
The Lains put the juice they sell into gallon plastic jugs. Customers can buy containers for 35¢ from them or bring their own jugs to be filled at pressing time. The pressing charge is 50¢ a gallon; the minimum price is $10. We had only enough apples for 14 gallons-not even the minimum pressing. The person before us got 81 gallons of juice. One bushel of apples will yield about three gallons of cider. People do stop at the mill to get apples and cider. While we were there, two men stopped to get a couple of gallons.
When we get home with our cider we put the amount we expect to drink in a week or so in refrigerators, the rest we freeze or process in a pressure canner to drink later. The Lains freeze cider for family use, too. Harry prefers two-quart plastic jugs, but also uses gallon jugs not filled to the top. He says remove one cupful from a gallon, and half that from a half-gallon to allow space for expansion. If the container is too full the freezing juice will swell, push off the cap, then flow-the last to freeze is syrupy thick-down the jug and onto things below making a sticky mess and wasting the best part of the cider.
Apple pressing season lasts about two months. The Lains opened on September 25 this year and will run until the day before Thanksgiving. They run the mill daily from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. and often continue later, some days getting only about 4 hours of sleep. Lyne often takes care of the deliveries to retail outlets in Canisteo, Hornell, Arkport, and Bath. But they trade off, and some days Lyne runs the mill and Harry goes on the route.
Lain's Cider Mill is very much a family operation. Harry and Lyne have two daughters, Elizabeth and Rebecca, daughter-in-law Kristen and sons, William and Jamie. The girls help with sales, prepare meals with their grandmother in her house, and clean equipment at whatever hour the day's pressing ends. The boys help out with the press whenever necessary and haul the pomace off to feed beef cattle raised on the farm. They also help run the Lain's sawmill.
The farm has been in the family since it was first owned by Edwin Hall Lain's great grandfather Isaac Hall. Grandfather Edwin L. Lain was a cooper and built the vats for the Canisteo tannery. He married Isaac's daughter. Their son, William Alger Lain was the father of E. H. Lain. Family and neighbors celebrated Edwin and Bertha's 61st wedding anniversary with a big party in July.
Mr. Lain told me how he still enjoys going to dances at Howard but is giving up target shooting. He reloaded his own cartridges and when he was a boy made his own black powder using charcoal that his mother had to feed her chickens. He even refilled the spent primers. His wife told us that he repaired broken gears in their original four-screw press with auto-body resin. The old press has been standing by since 1985, alongside the hydraulic press, ready if necessary to press apples again.
© 1999, Bill Treichler