A Day at Flag Hill
We left the farm on a rainy Friday morning with 20 bushels of apples in the market van, rain boots, and a general sense of direction. We were on an assignment from Alison: press these apples into cider with the help of Sebastian Lousada, owner of Flag Hill Farm in Vershire, Vermont.
Sebastian’s son, Raphael, is an integral part of our talented, kitchen staff. He grew up living on the land his father cultivated: 250 acres of dense, lush greenery on a hilltop with breath taking views of the Green Mountains. Complete serenity. Because of our connection with Raphael, Sebastian and his wife, Sabra, generously gave of their time to help us our farm’s abundant apple crop into a product.
Chandrima, an intern in the kitchen, Kyle, and I met Raphael on Route 113 after winding through beautiful Vermont countryside. He led us up steep, dirt roads, some only passable by one vehicle at a time, until we reached the farm at the top of the hilltop. Sebastian was finishing spraying off his cider press, preparing for a morning’s worth of pressing and pouring, when we arrived. We unloaded our boxes of fruit, took a brief walk around the property to take in the views, and went straight to work.
Sebastian’s cider press is quite the machine. The apples are taken 3 or 4 at a time up a conveyor belt, where they take the plunge into a large funnel that crushes them. Traveling through a large intestine-like hose, the crushed apple is spread on a pallet lined with cider cloth, which is then stacked upon other filled pallets, allowing the juice to soak out of the solids and run into large stainless steal tubs. While it might sound like a quick process, it is more of a stop-and-go operation. Only so many pallets and cloths are in supply, which means that Sebastian has to wait for varying lengths of time before a new batch of apples can push through the machine again to start the process anew.
You might wonder what happens to the leftover apple solid after the juice has been extracted. The fruit leather, as Raphael called it, goes to the cows. He loaded it onto the fork lift of the John Deere and dumped it in the field. No amount of apple goes wasted, and it all (eventually) returns to the earth.
The 20 bushels of apples we pressed produced 90 gallons or so of juice (much more than we anticipated with our ten 5-gallon buckets, but thankfully Sebastian had more containers in the barn). A tedious endeavor, Sebastian held a hose perfectly still over the small openings of his 1-gallon containers, waiting patiently to fill the next and for the juice in the large vat to eventually dissipate. After this was finished, we loaded our loot into the car and headed up the road to the Lousadas’ house for lunch.
Sebastian and Sabra have made their home off the grid, sustainable by only renewable resources. They welcomed us openly into their kitchen to a meal of local cheeses, breads, spicy apple chutney, and fresh tomatoes. After a long morning of pressing, nothing sounded so pleasing as salt, yeast, and sugar. Our conversation was rich in subject and passion - GMO labeling, sustainable farming and living, Bernie Sanders, to name a few - and filled with laughter, new ideas, opinions, and respect for one another’s thoughts.
I suppose that’s the nature of food. It unites us around the table with strangers, save for all stomachs hungry and bodies tired, only to fill us up again. The act of eating together renews both body and soul, molding us together seamlessly around that intangible thing for which we are all passionate and searching - life.
And so it ended, our great apple pressing adventure, with stomachs full, walking down a beautiful dirt road taking in the sunlight flooding over the tops of the mountains, grateful for this earth in which we live and the gift of land, juicy apples, knowledge, and friendship.