The first word that comes to mind when unpacking the American Harvester cider press by Happy Valley Ranch is "solid". The hardwood frame, tubs and trays as well as the grinder and other various parts made out of cast iron make this cider mill quite an impressive piece of equipment. It becomes a focal point and a conversation piece for anyone visiting the farm.
Happy Valley Ranch, located in Paola, Kansas, has been producing presses and grinders for over twenty years. Their models, including the “Pioneer Jr., Homesteader, and American Harvester” are considered by many to be the best on the market. Having made cider in the past with only the help of a tabletop juicer machine, I looked forward to see for myself how much easier making cider could be with a quality press.
The American Harvester is shipped in five boxes weighing a total of 170 pounds. Assembly requires no special tools, but is done more efficiently and quickly with an extra pair of hands. I found the instructions to be occasionally confusing, but a quick look at the photos and diagrams cleared up any questions. Assembly took just over 30 minutes.
Happy Valley Ranch strongly recommends protecting the assembled press with “Poxycoat”, a product similar to lacquer or varnish but lasting much longer with continual use (up to ten years). I found that sealing the press, especially the tubs, took longer than assembly and even picking the apples combined. However, not having to repeat the process for at least a decade made the time investment worthwhile. After allowing the Poxycoat to cure (I allowed it to sit for one week) it was time to make some cider.
For any of you who have never made cider before, it can be a wonderful family event. The grinder system on the American Harvester encourages this as youngsters can easily turn the flywheel that activates the grinder. Unlike juicers and other cider presses that require quartering the apples before processing, the whole apple can be placed into the grinder. The pulp created by the grinder is fine, ensuring that no juice will escape the pressing process.
I was also impressed that no large chunks of apple escaped the grinder. Everything that came through the bottom of the grinder was equal in size and ready for the press. While occasionally the apples would jam the grinder, a quick quarter turn with the flywheel in the opposite direction would dislodge the culprit.
I highly recommend the pressing bags that are fitted for the tubs. The mesh bags, which can be tossed in with the laundry for cleaning, keep the finely ground pulp from escaping through the tub’s slats and flowing into the cider. After pressing they also make disposal of the resulting pulp cakes easy. Unless you own some hogs, the pulp cakes are not of much use. Yet we discovered, much to the delight of the children that the pulp placed in a nearby compost bin drew yellow jackets away from our pressing operation.
Yet another advantage of the double tub American Harvester is that one person can be pressing the pulp while another grinds additional apples. The press operates with a four-prong cast iron wheel that turns the acme screw, driving the pressure foot into the tub. As the foot moves down, cider begins to pour out through the slats and the bottom of the tub. I put additional pressure on the pulp by placing a 2 x 4 board between the prongs and spinning the wheel downward even further.
We discovered that the amount of cider created is dependent upon the type of apple used. The five bushels of apples that we collected from our trees yielded 6 and one half gallons of cider, less the considerable number of cups that were drunk while we pressed. We also learned that combining tart with sweet apples made for the best tasting cider.
When finished the press and equipment should be thoroughly washed down. This was again an easy task requiring only a hose to clean out all the parts. The grinder, because of its open design, was also washed clean with only the use of the hose.
Happy Valley Ranch has additional equipment available to make your cider-making easier. A wooden hopper is available that attaches to the grinder. Retractable wheels are also an option making moving and storing the press a simple process. Happy Valley also has a variety of harvesting equipment including fruit picker heads with poles and picking bags.
My overall impression of the American Harvester is that it is a very high quality and easy to use cider press. It will not only be a source of enjoyment and tradition for the whole family, but because of its rugged construction, it will also become a cherished heirloom for future generations.
For more information contact:
Happy Valley Ranch
16577 W. 327th
Paola, KS 66071