Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Family Tradition Presses On

Are you buying cider or juice when you purchase a gallon container at the grocery store?
I asked that question to an expert, Harry Lain, proprietor of L.H. Lain Cider Mill, Canisteo, New York, the only functioning press in Steuben County and in southern Livingston County.
“It’s a question of a pasteurized product, which makes juice out of cooked apples, and unpasteurized cider with no preservatives,” states Lain.
Presently he is in the process of getting New York State to recognize the difference and label products accordingly. This will help consumers make a wise choice.
Lain is the second generation in the family working at this seasonal business, which was established by his parents, Edwin and Bertha Lain, in 1964. He also has an auto repair garage, a sawmill and farms 600 acres raising beef and dairy cows. In the summertime the Southern Tier Bluegrass Festival is held on Lain farm property.
There is a unique small town friendliness to the place, and Lain says with a twinkle in his eye that, “everyone is family here who shares in the work,” even though his son, and hopefully his grandson, will carry on the tradition.
Lain mentioned that last evening some neighbors gathered to help get some gallon containers ready for purchase and partake in a little local conversation.
“I grew up with it and enjoy it. It’s hard work, but I get to play here at my job. How many people can say that? That’s what makes it worth it, even though food processing is not that lucrative.”
Lain buys his apples from Sodus and this year has twenty-one varieties. Customers can also prearrange to bring their own apples to be pressed. Most cider is a combination of one or more varieties of apples giving each batch its own distinctive flavor.
While you are at the cider mill you might get to see a batch of apples go through the entire process and purchase the results to take home along with fresh homemade cider fried donuts, a house specialty, and apple pie.
That’s what two visiting groups were doing that morning. One was from the ARC in Bath and the other one was from Growing Places Nursery School in Dansville.
The littlest of children enjoyed helping push the apples down the shoot into the barn, and were fascinated with all the levers and wheels turning making their own special grinding sounds. The others stayed inside watching as the mashed apples flowed from the collection bucket and were spread flat on racks to be pressed by Lain and his son.
Harry Lain was having the time of his life sharing his love for the cider mill while explaining the process step by step to parents and kids alike. The more challenging the question, the more animated Lain got walking back and forth giving very concise, practical answers like someone who knows his business inside and out.
The hydraulic press was bought from a local winery and adapted.
“It’s a never ending job keeping equipment running and staying current on farm management,” says Lain while adjusting a nozzle on the tubing as the cider flowed.
On display in the barn is an antique 1902 press that he is working to get operating again. Everywhere you look there are signs of equipment specifically put together to serve a need in making cider.
According to Lain several years ago one farmer with careless crop management techniques caused problems for all the others, like himself, who were careful in their quality control. This particular farmer used apples that had dropped to the tainted ground where animal feces had fallen. Those apples were used in making cider, and the media picked up on the problem of bacteria in the liquid resulting in the whole cider process being investigated.
“It got way out of proportion because of one faulty incident,” states Lain.
As a result federal regulations came in to protect the consumer. Up until then Lain had pressed his cider without pasteurization.
Now he uses an ultra-violet technique, and the product is acceptable in supermarkets based on strict testing which meets federal requirements.
Lain reassuringly said, “ pure cider is safe any way, but with pasteurization or ultra-violet techniques it meets federal regulations.”
Just last year he did a test with 200 random batches of handpicked apples, and there was no evidence of bacteria or e-coli in the resulting cider. His apple supply is handpicked, too, all the time.
The distinct aroma of apples permeates the cool, crisp air and a touch of snow is coming down, but Lain philosophically says that is all part of the atmosphere in late October at the cider mill. Anyone who needs to see Harry Lain in the fall knows where to find him- in Canisteo, up on Hall Hill Road.