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 Beautiful Belmont, Part 27 -- The Cider Mill.

by John Salisbury Cochran.

See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 26 -- The Fun of Hand-Me-Downs.

There were few places on the farm where more genuine fun and pleasure was to be had than around the old cider mill and press. To my boyish fancy the two upright wooden cylinders with great cogs working into each other, around which the huge hopper was built to receive the apples to be ground, along with the long sweep attached to the top of one of these cylinders, curving down and out, to which the horse was attached for motor power, was a wonderful and stupendous contrivance.

How often as a child, when the mill was grinding, have I climbed to an altitude sufficient to permit me to look over the edge of the hopper, and there view with absorbed wonderment the great commotion going on within. Those cylinders were so close together I wondered how it was possible for the apples to get through, even though crushed to a pulp. Sometimes an apple all covered with juice would jump back from its contact with the cylinders as though a thing alive, afraid to attempt the ominous passage. Those on the bottom, pressed down by the weight and force of the apples above, were quickly ground to pulp, surrendering up their life and liquid sweetness.

Occasionally the rich juice from the grinders would squirt in my face, and as it trickled down on my lips its taste became a kindness. The grating, rasping, horrible sounds from the ungreased cylinders were charming music to my childish ears. When I saw the sweet amber juice of the fruit flowing into the tub or cider barrel beneath, my mouth watered. Sometimes when the hopper was too full, or the apples pressed between the cylinders with too much force, the horse would stall and the old mill would come to a stop with a loud, short, gutural gasp. Then it would require the combined strength of horse and "all hands" to start it again. It was a continuous dead pull on the horse, and I wonder he did not stop more often. I remember the many times when standing inside the circle of the "horse sweep," that it came around and pulled me over on the ground. The first time this happened I cried about it, though more from surprise and fright than from injury. It soon became a common thing, and when the others laughed at my predicament, I soon learned to join in the humor of the moment.

The great piles of apples hauled by the wagon and carts, which were dumped out into the cider mill, were likewise a source of youthful wonderment to me. They looked so fine then, their beauty attracted me. There were the large, the medium, and the small apples. The fiery red, the red and white striped, the beautiful pink, the rich amber, the golden, the violet, the silver, the green, the variegated of all shades, not even excluding the blue colored. To me the beam of the cider press was the largest log in the whole world. It was of oak, forty feet long, about eighteen inches across, and was in reality a very large and heavy beam. One end of it was fastened under a cross beam to prevent it from going upward when the other was let down.

The large crib of the press into which the pulp residue was delivered sat on a watertight platform close to this confined end of the beam. It was a square formed of slats about four feet high with spaces between the slats. Straw thinly spread inside and across these spaces prevented the pulp from squeezing through, and served as a strainer through which the cider percolated in tempting richness. When the farther end of this beam was let down, its weight produced a powerful and continuous pressure, and the amber juice went hurrying down the platform into the cider barrel. The world boasts endlessly about the pleasures of "mint juleps," "sherry cocktails," "champagne," and royal wines, but to the boy on the farm, good, newly made cider sucked through a stray was the nectar of the gods.

Think of how many squabbles and skirmishes for possession of the glorious "bunghole" of a cider barrel history must hold. It is remarkable how many people can suck from one bunghole at the same time. The number frequently depended on the length of the straws, but as long as the straws operated properly it was remarkable what a peaceful brotherhood existed between the numberless suckers. Then even the honey bee and wasp were permitted to join in joyous fellowship around the bunghole, and the swarm of gnats gathered there went unnoticed. The capacity of a boy's stomach for sweet cider is limitless. The stomach has no fears of results, and expands for the occasion. Ten minutes after satisfying one's thirst for cider, the stomach becomes as thirsty and parched as ever. The sight or smell of cider will make any boy thirsty.

A neighboring farm boy, Bill Seals, once traded a barrel of cider for a brass pistol. Bill was very homely and looked like a prizefighter. He was the only person I was really ever afraid of, and I can give no reason why, except that being a much bigger boy with his unique appearance, I conceived he was dangerous. He lived in an adjoining school district, and our neighbor, E.J.A. Drennen, informed me that as the possessor of that brass pistol, Bill became the champion of the neighborhood. He was the admiration, and at the same time the envy, of every other boy in the school district.

In fact, Bill was a hero as long as he owned that pistol, and he fully realized and gloated over his great position. He walked around with a kind of swaggering, domineering attitude, all the other admiring boys at his heels. But his exaltation was of short duration. Under the urging of the other boys he was persuaded to shoot the pistol. He braced himself, raised the hammer, turned his head to one side, pointed the pistol toward the ground; and shutting his eyes, he heroically pulled the trigger. There was an explosion, and the ball passed through the skin of Bill's toe and lodged in the sole of his boot. The hideous yells that Bill sent up from that wound and his bad marksmanship immediately reduced him to the level of everyone else. Bill was again one of us.

See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 28 -- The Horse Race.

For the table of contents and first entry in this series, see: Beautiful Belmont, Part 01 -- Table of Contents and Brief Introduction.

This entry is adapted from Bonnie Belmont: A Historical Romance of the Days of Slavery and the Civil War, by John Salisbury Cochran, which was published originally in 1907. The book has been reedited extensively for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Web site by special permission. This special edition of Beautiful Belmont is licensed for use ONLY on this Web site. It may not be copied or downloaded, but may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Web site. Please note that this Stratton House Inn iteration of the book does NOT include the subject headings assigned each chapter for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.

CO-AUTHOR: Wall, C. Edward. (Editor)
CO-AUTHOR: Schultheiss, Tom. (Asst. Editor)

DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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