Jim Shulman | Baby Boomer Memories: Autumn brings apple cider and night crawlers to mind
Autumn brings back childhood memories of fresh sweet apple cider.
A few times I made cider with a small press and it was quite a chore. It's much easier to get it fresh at a local orchard or farm stand!
My very first recollection of fresh cider in the 1950s was at Howard's Cider Mill, a landmark, at 28 South Mountain Road in Pittsfield. I remember the mill also sold night crawlers for fishing.
Dating back to 1794, the site was the home of several saw, grist and cider mills. In 1829 Oliver Luce purchased the mill and continued sawing lumber and making apple cider there.
Mr. Luce's son-in-law, Jesse Howard, took over the mill in 1860, and it then became known as "Howard's Cider Mill." The operation used a big wheel turned by the waters of the adjacent Wampeenum Brook, and this provided the power to grind the apples. In 1899 steam power replaced the water wheel.
Mr. Howard passed away in 1894 and his son, Jesse Oliver Howard, took over the mill. He replaced the steam power with a gasoline engine and installed a new press.
Jesse made cider much the same way it was originally done during every apple harvest season — from late September until Thanksgiving Day. He bought his apples from many different local orchards.
The fruit was brought to an upstairs room where it was ground into pulp that was then sent by a chute down to the mill's cellar. There it was then bagged in burlap and set it in nine racks, called a "cheese."
The racks were stacked on top of each other, allowed to drain and then placed on a press. A cheese would produce 150 gallons of cider. (I learned from my own experience using a small press that it takes at least a half a bushel of apples to make a single gallon of cider.)
The cider was collected and put through a rotary screen that filtered out all of the remaining pulp or "pumice." Initially the cider was stored in large vats and then transferred to sterilized jugs that were available at the mill for both wholesale and retail sales. The leftover pumice was sold for animal feed.
To supplement the income from the cider mill, Jesse worked at the Lucas Agricultural Store owned by his brother, Frank Howard. The store later became the Frank Howard Store, located in the three-story building at Fenn and First streets.
After Jesse passed away in 1940, his wife leased the mill to her brother-in-law, John W. Waters, who operated it for five more years. In 1947, David Cullen and Daniel N. Groves, bought the historic mill and updated it with electricity and a 22-ton cider press.
The mill continued operation through the 1960s, and visitors rarely left without purchasing a gallon or two of cider, doughnuts, fudge and even night crawlers. In the late 1950s, the Jules Gillette family bought the mill and a few years later sold it to Ralph Crissey. But in 1961 the Pittsfield Health Department shut down the historic mill. Even though Howard's Cider Mill was operated much the same way for 167 years, it no longer met the newer health regulations designed to protect the public. J. Wendell Butler of Richmond bought the old mill in 1963 and sadly chose to burn it down rather than pay taxes on the building.
Over the next few years Stockbridge resident, Todd King, bought the rights to market his own cider in Lee under the name of Howard's Cider Mill. However, the business lasted only a few years.
On the site of the old mill on South Mountain Road, a private home was constructed. Nice home, but I still miss the cider and night crawlers!
Jim Shulman, a Pittsfield native, is the founder of the Berkshire Carousel and author of "Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield." For more information, go to www.berkshirecarousel.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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