News & Views

Country School Has a New Cider House (and It Rules!)

Eighth Grade woodshop students took a break Sept. 29 from their suspension bridge projects to try a different type of hands-on experience; making apple cider.

“I’ve imagined having a “pop-up” cider house on campus,” said Visual Arts Teacher Chris Lawler, who in addition to teaching woodworking skills to students in Grades 1 through 9, has long overseen the school’s popular maple syruping program. 

Mr. Lawler began to realize his cider house dream as a series of seemingly unrelated events began to unfold.

“We have this terrific portable wooden kiosk, a “discovery shack” that was built in 2019 by Upper School Architecture students,” explained Lawler, that was easily relocated and reimagined as a cider house. Lawler wasted no time collecting all of the cidering ephemera he would need to instruct students in the craft: an apple press, large glass jugs ‒ the authentic kind with the little round handle only large enough to fit one finger ‒ plastic funnels and a masher. He found much of the other things he needed in his shop or in the nearby maple syrup “sugar shack.” The apples were sourced in Lawler’s backyard orchard, and supplemented by more from the prodigious apple trees of the Fonners, an NCCS family. A bushel later, and Country School was in the cider making business.

Eighth graders Ben Ryan of Pound Ridge, Hudson Feinberg of Greenwich, and Ellis Frey and Liam Carroll, both of New Canaan, were among those on the apple prep team. Using paring knives, they sliced the apples into easy-to-manage pieces which were then handed over to Andres Catano of Shelton and Dean Calio of Darien who took turns grinding them through the masher. Once pulverized, the apple pomace was placed carefully into the apple press by Drew Burr of New Canaan and students including Freya Collins of Darien, Charlotte Cooper of New Canaan and Ryan Pauta of Stamford took turns rotating the press’s large wooden handle clockwise until the juice began flowing. First a trickle - a tantalizing hint of what was to come, and then finally, a steady stream. A few bits of seed could be detected floating in the as-yet-unfiltered brownish liquid. The one-gallon jug quickly began to fill and children squealed with delight, breaking their rhythm long enough to watch it fill and share high fives in celebration of success.

“Did you know that apple cider was America’s first drink?” Lawler asked the students. Early colonists planted apple trees as early as 1620 in the Virginia, Mid-Atlantic and New England colonies. Pressing cider was the easiest way to preserve the apple crop and was the most common beverage, as most of the water of the time was unsafe to drink.

“Back to work!” shouted Mr. Lawler, happily with a grin. “Make sure everyone gets a turn at any of the jobs they want to try. There’s plenty to do for all.” 
New Canaan Country School admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin and are afforded all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, age, sex, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry, or disability in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, financial aid policies or any other school-administered programs.