As Berkshire apples turned to juicy goodness this fall, Howard’s Cider Mill, South Mountain Road, swung into its 117th year of cidermaking to become one of the oldest if not the oldest cider mill in operation in New England.
Although the original building is no longer standing and methods have improved, the location and theory are the same as they were in 1827 when Oliver Luce, grandfather of the late Jesse O. Howard, third and last generation of the Howard family to run the mill, started grinding apples by water power from Wampenum Brook.
During the reign of the second generation, a steam engine was installed, and the huge waterwheel hung forgotten. Forty years ago Jesse Howard introduced a “fine new” gasoline engine which still chugs merrily away in the basement of the old mill furnishing power for the grinder and the huge press.
Seventy-one-year-old John W. Waters of 566 South Street, the old Howard home, is now in charge. Mr. Waters worked for five years under Jesse Howard and when the latter died five years ago at the age of 82, Mr. Waters took over.
“Cider-making has changed a lot since the old days,” says Mr. Waters. “It used to be a barrel business, it’s all jugs now. There aren’t any more big cellars to store big barrels in, except on farms. Some farmers take their cider in barrels. And then transportation isn’t a problem the way is used to be. People just come, buy one gallon and come back again in their automobile the next day for more.”
Mr. Waters, a retired YMCA physical education instructor, says he likes cider-making. “It’s nice for a retired man — good business for a few weeks every fall, then you have the rest of the year off.”
Three hundred gallons trickle daily from the press into a 250-gallon vat and go to stores as quickly. Ninety bushels of apples (hand-picked and “we’re particular about our apples,” Mr. Walters said) are ground each day. The apple pulp is poured, five bushels to the layer, into nine layers, known to cider-makers as a cheese, placed under the 15-ton press. Each cheese produces 150 gallons of cider. The process from the bushel basket to gallon-jug takes one hour and three quarters and is performed twice a day. Mr. Waters says his cider-making motto is “Grind ’em fine and press ’em slow.”