Historic Apple Press Restored,
Ready to Make Debut

(Monday, September 25, 2006 6:28 AM EDT)
It's hard for newcomers to believe that dairy farms and orchards used to dominate the scenery in Fairfax County. Few newbies would know that agriculture was a thriving business in the county, and that in 1925 there were nearly six times more apple trees than people.

To avoid loss of this important part of the county's history, Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon this month opens a new exhibit on the history of cider production. The exhibition, housed in a new barn, includes a restored cider press, donated by Vera Jones from the Jones Farm.

Although Fairfax County was known more for dairy products than apples, apple farming was a very successful industry from 1920s through the 1940s, as farmers had a made-to-order market right down the road in the District of Columbia.

There were always unsold apples, so farmers turned to making cider. It was a particularly good way for them to keep revenue flowing in the lean winter months.

“Remember, farming is a business, not a hobby,” said Yvonne Johnson, a historian with the Fairfax County Park Authority, which operates Frying Pan Park. “Farmers had to buy shoes for their kids and feed their families.”

And Fairfax farmers appear to have been very successful at making their businesses lucrative ones. From 1920-30, 30 percent of farmers' children in Fairfax attended college, a figure much larger than that for the population at large.

“They had a great business model, and their lifestyle is a great one to learn,” Johnson said.

Farmer Clinton Porter Jones, the original owner of the press now at Frying Pan Farm Park, started advertising cider-press services in 1928. At its peak, the press made 3,000 gallons of cider a week.

Apple cider also can be fermented into hard cider, but there is no documentation suggesting the Jones Farm pressed apples with that end in mind. The press started production during Prohibition, and from what historians can tell, the Joneses were law-abiding citizens. Even if they did have what looked like hard cider on their farm, they could have argued that they were making anti-freeze for their tractors - an old farmer's trick.

The Jones press seemed indestructible. In an oral history, Arthur Magner, one of the three men who ran the machine on the Jones Farm, said it almost never broke.

The cider-making process began with grating the apples into pomace (pulp), which was then wrapped in cloth and placed between slotted wooden stacks, or “what we like to call a giant pulp sandwich,” Johnson said.

The stacks were pressed, and the juice was collected in a large bin underneath. The pressure of the press was strong enough to break the apple seeds . . . not to mention fingers that slipped into harm's way.

As successful as cider production was, time marched on, and the Jones Farm stopped making cider in 1954. The press fell into disrepair over the next half-century, but gained new life as a museum piece with its recent restoration.

It took more than 60 hours to put the press back in working condition. Also restored were a small red tractor, John Deere tractor and orchard sprayer. All the machines are housed in a newly completed barn, designed to showcase all the different machines.

Information panels in the barn explain the history of the machines, apple pressing, Fairfax farming and other factual tidbits.

The press and barn officially open to the public on Saturday, Sept. 30. The press will be in action; Park Authority officials caution that it will be very loud.

The cider produced from the press cannot be consumed, because the wooden machinery doesn't meet modern health codes (it will be offered to animals on the farm). Apple-ly treats from nearby apple producers will be served.

The Fairfax County Park Authority is seeking to use the new exhibit to spur interest in the county's agricultural past.

“It's important to keep all history alive,” Johnson said. “You need to know where you came from to know where you're going.”

Frying Pan Park is located at 2709 West Ox Road in Herndon. For information, call (703) 437-9101.

Tidbits About Fairfax Apples

* It takes about 12 pounds of apples to make one gallon of cider.

* There are about 35 pounds of apples in a bushel.

* The sweetness of cider is determined by the acidity of the apples, not the amount of sugars.

* Apple cider is pasteurized once; apple juice is pasteurized twice.

* Farmers blend many apples into their cider. Rarely do they use only one kind.

* Leftover apple pulp is fed to cows, refluffed and pressed for a second time, or turned into pectin.

* Fairfax apple orchards grew between 20 and 30 varieties of apples.

* It can take up to five years for a an apple tree to yield just one fruit.

* The age of a tree determines the number of apples it produces.

* In addition to apples, Fairfax farmers grew hay, oats, wheat, corn and nuts.

At its peak, this cider press could squeeze out 3,000 gallons of cider per week.
(Photo by Betty Morales)


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