Pressing on:Fourth generation cidermaker

By David Fleet
Atlas Twp.— On a cold, rainy mid-October morning Liz Porter watches the drips of apple cider fall from the press. A process repeated every fall at Porter’s Orchard for nearly 90 years.
Liz stepped to the press this fall as the fourth generation cidermaker at her family’s township orchard, a tradition starting with her great grandfather Raymond Walter in the 1930s to grandfather Roger Porter in the 1940s and then father Ray Porter in the 1970s now passing the cider knowledge down.
Ray explained making cider was simple, 50% art and 50% science. But the exact family recipe remains a close guarded secret that’s just the right blend of apples, not too ripe or too tart, harvested at the right time to produce perfect cider.
Liz learns on the job.
“My first few weeks on the press have been good, so far,” said Liz, a Goodrich High School graduate.  “It was on-the -job pressing, dad showed me a couple layers (of apples) then it just went forward. I’ve watched him making cider growing up when I was a little girl. I knew what it was, but never myself.”
Porter’s produces about 10,000 gallons per year, reserving about 4,500 in the store freezer for next year.
Over the 90 years the Porter’s continue to use a Rack and Cloth style press, exchanging the original wooden model for stainless steel.
“The old press was wooden and would creek when they pressed it,” recalled Ray. “That was upgraded in the 1970s.”
“I was 16-years-old when I started pressing cider. My dad (Roger) said, ‘You can do this.’”
Ray recalls his first batch of cider about 50 years ago.
“We had just remodeled and the (cider press) viewing area was open for the first time,” he recalled. “All these people were watching, I was so nervous. It was not fun. Nothing bad happened, but it was very awkward. I had to get good at this and fast.”
Ray did and over the next half century pressed some of the finest cider in the state. In 2008 Porter’s cider impressed the taste buds and was chosen second place from a field of 30 entries from 120 cider mills statewide during Michigan’s 12th Annual Apple Cider Contest at the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market Expo conference.

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