The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Cider for a century: Mill marks 100th year of pressing apple juice

 

October 16, 2013

JOE BROCARD looks over the gasoline engine that powers his cider mill, which has been in operation for 100 years.

In 1913, Joseph Brocard of Piscataway, N.J., took a leap of faith and paid $170 for a large hydraulic apple cider mill, which he purchased from the Hydraulic Press Manufacturing Company in Mount Gilead, Ohio.

One hundred years later it still squeezes apples into cider – hundreds of gallons of it.

Joe Brocard of Brocard’s Antique Apple Orchard at 28095 Santiam Highway, west of Sweet Home, says the giant press his grandfather purchased has held up well over its century of life, which was celebrated Saturday, Oct. 19, at Brocard’s farm. The public got a chance to sample some of the nearly 180 varieties of apples Brocard grows, and to watch the mill in action – as it has been every year of its life, though it only operates one day a year now.

Apples have been a key ingredient in Brocard’s family for generations. His grandparents grew them in New Jersey, as did many other residents of the area, he said.

In Switzerland, his grandmother’s country of origin, “hard cider was the national drink,” Brocard said. “They didn’t want to spend money for beer. It cost 25 cents a case.”

His grandfather decided to purchase a mill to process those apples.

“My grandfather made $20 a month,” said Brocard, 84, last week, eyeing the freshly painted press, which he has refurbished with new wood components he produced in his woodshop. “He took a hell of chance to send that kind of money to Mount Gilead, Ohio, but it was a money maker over the years.”

The press was in high demand in the area, he said.

“We did all the apples for all the farms around there,” Brocard said. “The lane from the main road to our farm was about a quarter of a mile long and it was lined with trucks, tractors, cars and wagons. I remember one guy with a Hudson who had 45-gallon oak barrels tied onto the sides of the car on luggage carriers, and with bags of apples piled in the back seat.”

All the apples that didn’t qualify for sale at market would get pressed in the mill, either for hard cider, sweet cider, or for vinegar. Back in New Jersey, the mill operated weekly from September through November and, on its biggest day, pressed a record 900 bushels of apples into 3,000 gallons of cider. Today it generally presses between 200 and 600 gallons of cider in a day, Brocard said.

The press averages three gallons of cider per bushel of apples, he said. The apples are ground, then layered in racks, seven high, which contain 50-by-50-inch Dacron press cloths. Each stack of racks is called a cheese, which holds approximately 15 bushels of apples. The cheese is rolled under the hydraulic press and pressed dry under 35 tons of pressure.

Brocard said the mill’s original 6 horsepower engine gave out after a couple of years and in 1915 his grandfather found a Montgomery Ward sale on 7-1/2 horsepower Bulls Eye gasoline engines and purchased one. The motor, which weighs 2,200 pounds, has powered the mill ever since.

The engine was rebuilt in the 1940s and Brocard’s son, also named Joseph, a machinist, put new bearings and grinder shafts in the mill in 1984 and 2000. Those are the only repairs it has ever needed.

Brocard and his wife Catherine moved to Sweet Home in 1969 after taking a cross-country trip and discovering Oregon.

“We sold our place in New Jersey and came here,” he said. The mill had been moved to Church Creek, Md., in 1957 by Brocard’s father, also named Joseph, and had continued operating there until 1971.

That was when the Brocards bought seven acres of overgrown cornfields and started planting apples.

Joe Brocard had worked for a gyppo logger, Mike Frasier, in the Calapooia area for a year after arriving in Oregon, then landed a job with the Oregon Department of Forestry, where he served as an operating engineer for 20 years, from 1974 to 1994. In his free time, he developed the apple orchard, clearing brush and planting trees – dozens of them.

“I bought a D-4 Cat and worked every night and weekend. I was busy.”

That’s when his wife announced they were going to re-experience something they had enjoyed back in New Jersey – dancing. The Brocards joined the Elks Club “to get access to their ballroom” and became active in a variety of local dance groups, he said.

About 15 years ago they began holding their annual open house on the third Saturday of October. Brocard also sells apples at the Corvallis farmer’s market on Saturdays and for years had a stall at the Portland market, but gave that one up when Catherine died in 2008.

His large selection of apple varieties includes some that have interesting stories or backgrounds associated with them, he said.

His Flower of Kent tree, for instance, Brocard said, is a direct graft from the tree that Isaac Newton was said to be sitting beneath in Kent, England, when he formulated the theory of gravity. He has other very old varieties – Snow, Baldwin, Calville Blanc, Dutchess of Oldenburg, Tomkins County, Pecks Pleasant, Early Geneva, Egremont Russet and others dating back a century or more.

Brocard said he and helpers spend about a month picking apples for the event, which features sample tastings and sales of apples and cider, and chances to see the mill in operation. He stores them in a cooler at 28 degrees fahrenheit, which keeps them fresh but not frozen because of the sugar in them, he said.

Nearly his entire family is involved in the annual cider mill open house and visitors come from all over the area.

In addition to the open house, Brocard sells apples at the farm Sundays through Fridays and at the Corvallis Farmers Markets on Saturday mornings. Apple variety tastings and orchard tours are available on request. Brocard may be contacted at (541) 367-4840.

To get to the farm, take Highway 20 to milepost 25, where the farm’s driveway at 28095 Santiam Highway is on the north side.

JOE BROCARD inspects the discharge mechanism on the mill, which he has refurbished with many new wooden components, visible behind the ladder.

Brocard said people have strong attachments to apples said when he talks with customers, he gets questions and requests for apple varieties for which people have family ties, or sentimental memories.

“They may have had relatives come west in Conestoga wagons with Gravenstein apples. Some remember the Snow variety.

One woman, from Bend, called to ask if he’d heard of Wealthy apples. Brocard told her he had one, but he didn’t really want to mail the apples because it would cost more than the apples were worth. But she insisted, so he sent her several of them.

“She sent me a letter and told me she hadn’t had those apples in 45 years,” he said. “They were just like she remembered.”

 
 

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