Al Knable latest (copy)

Al Knable

My wife calls them “loblollies”.

Indiscriminate piles of things I mean to tend to one day — soon.

A stack of papers here. Clothing not quite needing laundering there. Campaign materials in the corner. Books and magazines and recipe clippings underfoot.

She is a patient woman but only to a point. So when “soon” became “later” a few days back I thought it best to figuratively throw her a bone and dismantle, or at least diminish, one such lolly.

I set about one most irksome to her, in permanent residency upon our kitchen counter — things I take to and from work through the week: flotsam, jetsam, lagan and derelict; a tangle of pens, notes, candy, gum and — spare socks.

And here amongst all this, within the plastic grocery bag that serves as my attaché, I found a small apple I’d purchased a week, or so, ago.

A small Golden Delicious picked for its near perfection from a common pile at the market. I had intended to enjoy it for lunch but my new dental crown delayed that promise and here it was beyond its peak with a bit of brown, a slight give to the touch.

I tossed it in the trash. Wasteful but in slothful truth the only thing I removed from the loblolly that day. (Patience Dear Jess. Baby steps.)

Alas, a few days later I felt a small pang of remorse for throwing said apple away. The guilt was triggered by reading about our Harvest Homecoming Festival. Among the lengthy lists of activities and foods to be offered was an item that caught my eye: apple cider.

That little spotted, early-mealy apple, only slightly more spoiled than I, would have been just fine for making cider.

When I was eight or nine years old my dad bartered with someone and procured a cider press. (Of course he did.)

One mid-summer day it just showed up in our garage. Impossible to miss.

Nearly five feet tall, four feet wide it was a fascinating assortment of levers, wheels, cranks, posts and ramps. A Rube Goldberg-esque jungle gym for the body and mind: A large metal flywheel. A good-sized wooden hopper feeding into a rusty, menacing looking grinder. A slatted wooden catch bucket. A handled, smaller second metal wheel attached to a cork-screw device to exert pressure on a wooden block below — quickly dubbed simply ‘the masher”.

I was in absolute awe; wouldn’t feel this way about anything again until I got my first car.

What does this do? Where does this go? Whoa — look at that!

In a rare demonstration of dramatic foreshadowing my father calmly stated, “I’ll show you — this Fall.”

In hindsight my dad’s grand scheme had actually started several months back. Little noticed by the rest of the family he had begun to assemble a rather eclectic collection of containers (Was he going a bit mad?) in a back room of the basement. So varied in material, size and shape were the empty glass and plastic containers they would never betray their common purpose until the time came. He had also obtained several dozen half-bushel and bushel baskets at a flea market, and, of course, he had traded someone somewhere something for the wonderful antique press itself.

Then came the fateful October day when he informed us of the unacknowledged obvious — if we were going to get to see the press in action, we’d have to pick some apples. Many apples, filling those baskets up amounts of apples.

Like, turn the TV off and start picking apples — Now! — volumes of apples.

So the next week was spent on limb and on ladder to harvest the fruit still upon the tree and enduring occasional yellowjacket stings rescuing “Newton’s orphans” (I coined that phrase back in the day!) from the ground.

Perfectly round and yellow, slightly misshapen, tinged with brown, an occasional worm hole here and a bite from a squirrel there — all God’s apples were welcomed in the bins, and by the weekend the cellar was filled with apples enough to rend.

On that great Saturday my father, brothers and I positioned the press into place on the patio deck — its ancient wood creaking like some siege engine of yore being readied for battle. The gaping hopper box yawned in anticipation and the cleaned but still rusty grinder waited for its first feeding in perhaps a generation.

The fruit was brought forth. At my dad’s direction my older brother began turning the large fly wheel and I and my siblings under my mother’s watchful eye began feeding apples, stems and all, to the hopper. Aptly named, the hopper, as for every four or five fed to the beast one or two would pop up in attempted escape. We soon learned that a baseball bat on end was useful in pushing them toward their fate.

Once through the grinder, the mashings collected in the slatted bucket that when filled was in turn slid down a wooden ramp where the masher waited. Then two of us would corkscrew the wooden block down and down upon the apple mush until it yielded its brown-gold unpasteurized nectar, collected at length by one of dad’s hoarded containers at ramp’s end. Nothing went to waste. The exhausted mash was not discarded but was collected to fatten my Uncle Junie’s hogs for a not too distant foggy, cold November morning (another story).

By end of day, if memory serves, we had roughly 10 gallons of cider.

I cannot adequately describe the taste. If I were to attempt to do so as one does a bourbon I might say: “Robust apple tones washed with sediments of iron and earth. Subtle notes of wood and a hint of yellowjacket. Sweet from start to finish. Utterly delicious.”

A lot of work for a few gallons of beverage regardless of how good it was, but then again, I don’t think my father was in it for just some cider. That was one of the few times in memory that my mom, dad and all five siblings came together without even small disagreement. Dad orchestrated that wonderful memory for all of us. Bravo!

And so, after a one-year hiatus, Harvest Homecoming is upon us once again. Welcome old friend!

Go, mix and mingle responsibly to your level of comfort. And if somewhere amongst the fray a vendor offers you a cup of cold cider for $1.50, take them up on it — let them keep the change for their worthy cause.

Imbibe and let the old memories wash over and through you. Then, go make some new ones!

Al Knable is a physician and member of the New Albany City Council.

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