Features & Stories

Story and photos by Trudy Frisk

Teams prepare to work
It might have been a scene from pioneer days: family and friends gathered together to process the apple crop.  The oldest person present, Helen Sidney, was eighty-seven years old, the youngest, Isabel Popowich, was five. Age didn’t matter, enthusiasm was what counted.

Margaret Sidney, host of the apple pressing, doesn’t claim to control the weather.  However, for fifteen years she’s had her apple juice work bee on the last Saturday in September. ”It’s always a nice day!” This year was no exception.  There had been days of heavy rain previously but Saturday, September 25th, 2010, was warm and golden.  A few coloured leaves lay scattered about on the grass, and on the stacks of apple boxes filled with fruit.

Marg had already picked the apples from her trees, and set up tubs for washing then collecting the chopped fruit. She explained the procedure. “Cut the apples in half.  Remove worms, worm holes, and bad spots. Rejected apples go into one bin, juiceable apples into another.” Arrivals nodded agreement and sorted themselves into teams.

Marg’s aunt and uncle, Bertha and Herb Kreger, immediately formed a smooth assembly line.  As eighty-two year old Herb commented, “We’ve been married for decades, we’re used to working like a team.”  When Marg bought her property in 1982, it had four apple trees. Herb grafted on other varieties.  There are McIntosh, Spartan, and an unidentified type. Its name has been forgotten, but it yields tasty apples.

“”When I moved here, I wondered, what am I going to do with all these apples?”” Marg recalls.  “At first I loaded them in the truck and drove them down to Armstrong where I knew a fellow who had a spinner-juicer.  I got talking around and meeting Kamloops people. I met the Rorison family from Westsyde. Mr. Rorison had invented his own version of an apple juicer, so I took my apples to him.”

Sue Northcott, Tony Brumell and Pat Leibel turn apples into juice
 The Rorison apple juicer is unique. Mr. Rorison acquired three apartment size Hoover washer-spin dryers and set about transforming them.  He removed the washer entirely, installed black ABS pipe containing screws with the screw heads sticking up, put a tray to feed apples onto the top of the washer side of the machine, a spot for a bucket, where the washer had been, to collect the mashed apples. Once the apples have gone through   into the bucket, the mash, in a mesh bag, is placed in the spin dryer, which extracts the juice. Juice is strained into carboys, mash placed into big tubs. Simple and effective.  Repeat till apples are gone.

When Mr. Rorison died, Marg inherited one of his juicers.  “I knew I’d have to get my own crew together and make the juice at my house.”  Marg, who grew up on a farm in Armstrong, was raised with old fashioned work bees. “All my extended family would come for a session. People came from everywhere.  It was fun, out in the field, or sitting around the kitchen table telling stories.  It was time to connect; laughing, joking, catching up with important things in your life. Many hands make light work.  Everybody lent a hand and everybody shared in the product.”               

Work bees were totally new to some of Marg’s crew.  Sarma Liepins said, “I was excited about coming to do this.  It’s a different kind of thing to do. There’s a sense of accomplishment; you’re producing something with a group so it doesn’t feel like work.”

Tony Brumell agreed.  “It’s a productive, fun, social event.”  Sue Northcott appreciates traditional hands-on activities. “Old-fashioned is the way to go!”

Any age can help
Marg’s apples are old-fashioned in another way.  They are organic. She uses only dormant oil and lime sulphur.  “I’d rather cut bugs out than use pesticides.  This is totally down-to-earth real food.  There are no preservatives; it’s the genuine stuff.”  She pasteurizes the juice.  “ It kills the harmful bacteria but not the nutrients. After skimming off the foam and letting sediment settle to the bottom, I can it in my mother’s old copper boiler. I can do fifteen gallons at a time. The juice from today will last me all year long.”

The work-bee crew took home juice as well, in containers they brought.  Even the juiced mash went to Sue’s five llamas. “It’s like candy for them.”      

Marg’s belief that, “Each person has their own special talent.” was illustrated when there were problems with the juicer.  Pat Liebel, Marg, and Tony co-operated to tighten the belt and ensure the machine ran smoothly.  When the drain plugged up, no one had to be asked to help unclog it.  As juicing commenced in earnest, Pat, Tony, and Sue ran the juicer, while the washing and cutting teams re-arranged themselves so that the apples kept coming. Marg oversaw the entire process but people automatically moved to where they were most useful. 

Marg realizes that her modern work bee isn’t exactly the way it was on the farm.  “”I’ve created my own tradition.  We’re so separate in our lives.  We need to share labour.  We all work together.  We reap the benefits and enjoy the fruits of our labour all year long.  Other than some time out of your day, it really doesn’t cost anything.  If someone needs help, I would go help them.  It builds community.”

Marg Sidney straining organic apple juice
Marg was really happy to see Isabel and Amanda Popowich with their mother, Tracey.
 “Children being part of the experience is important. Kids have lost the knowledge of where food comes from.  If they see what’s going on, maybe they’ll remember.  Here you can see from start to finish where apple juice comes from. “

The day’s work was broken by a delicious lunch.  “You’ve got to have a meal; it’s very important to feed your crew.” Buckets of apples were cleared off the table, replaced by china plates, spaghetti, garlic bread, and, of course, apple pie.  The crew settled in to enjoy food and companionship in the glowing sunshine, reflecting on the pleasures and rewards of maintaining tradition.

Other articles by Trudy Frisk

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