Build an Apple Scratter

Fall in New England conjures up images of brilliant orange and red foliage, arts and crafts fairs, and anticipation of the first frost. While most homebrewers are starting to think about pumpkin ales and holiday cheer recipes, cidermakers are focusing on what apples are coming into harvest. Whether heading out in late August for Paula Reds or Galas, or waiting until a crisp mid-October morning to pick Macoun or Liberty apples, there are dozens of varieties to choose from to make a fresh pressed cider. Personally, I prefer a good mix of apples for my cider. Some tart and some sweet fruit seems to add all the right flavors when drinking fresh juice or fermented cider.

For years I would head to orchards, pick from my backyard trees and even shake apples loose from the wild trees in the woods. I borrowed a friend’s old fashioned, single-tub press with a hand-cranked grinder or “scratter” to pulp the fruit and squeeze out the juice using a long screw pressing down into a bucket. Every year I would notice how the scratter would create large chunks of apple in the tub that would remain moist even after turning the pressing screw and a using “persuader” (often an old wooden baseball bat) for extra leverage. I figured there had to be a better way. This is the point when tradition was aided by modern technology.

I started researching how production cideries grind their apples and found that it usually doesn’t involve some old-timer hand cranking a cylinder with small teeth to break up the apples. In fact, most large-volume cidermakers use an industrially designed, motorized pulverizer. This led me to a small-scale, innovative farmer based in upstate New York who fashioned a 1 horsepower electric farm motor to a disassembled garbage disposal to grind up apples for cider pressing. I first became aware of Herrick Kimball through his home-designed chicken plucker, as I raise broiler chickens every summer. After building a plucker based on his plans, I knew that he was onto something. When I found that he was also a backyard cidermaker, I was pleased to see he had re-thought the old fashioned grinder into a modern version to produce higher yields and with less effort. While Mr. Kimball re-powered his disposal with a separate motor and connected them by a belt, I figured that after spending approximately $100 on a new disposal, why would I remove the built-in motor?

Luckily it has worked for many years and I am able to produce an almost applesauce consistency for pressing in my homemade rack and cloth cider press. In fact, compared to the old days of hand cranking, I’m able to produce almost twice the amount of cider from the same weight of apples.

Materials and Tools:

~ 20 feet (6 m) 2×4 lumber
~ 18-inch by 18-inch (45-cm by 45-cm) piece of countertop (or plywood)
Garbage disposal
Light switch
Weatherproof light switch housing
Potable water plumbing pipe with friction fitting for outlet
6-8 inches of 1×1 wood trim
6 inches of 1⁄4-inch round stock
12 feet (3.7 m) 14-gauge outdoor rated extension cord
Power drill

1. Collect materials and build the frame

I wanted to keep my costs to a minimum, so I searched the rafters of my garage for scrap lumber to build the frame. You could head to your local lumberyard and choose clear oak or other hardwood, but I just grabbed some pine 2x4s to screw and nail together as a frame. I also had a small piece of inexpensive countertop that I cut to house the disposal. Finally, because I would be consuming what came through the disposal, I was more comfortable buying a new stainless steel model.

I built a rudimentary frame from 2×4 lumber to hold my countertop. After measuring the counter, I cut the lumber cross members to allow the counter to fit within the upright legs. The leg height can vary depending on your height, but for mine the legs are about 40-inches (100-cm) long and the crosspieces are approximately 18 inches (46 cm).

I screwed small scraps of 2×4 wood to the legs approximately 4 inches (10 cm) down from the top to act as shelves on each leg to place the counter top.

2. Cut to fit the disposal and install

Follow the instructions that come with the disposal to disassemble the mounting flange. Mark and measure your countertop for the proper hole size. I used a jigsaw to cut the countertop and assembled the motor just like it would be in a sink. In fact, if you have a sink and would prefer it to making a countertop, this would work just as well.

3. Wiring and powering the disposal

To allow the grinder to be mobile, I power it using a 14-gauge extension cord rated for outdoor use. By cutting off the female power head and stripping back the wires, I was able to connect it directly to the disposal. To allow more control of turning the scratter on and off, I installed a simple in-line light switch in a weather proof housing that I mounted to the frame. NOTE: Electricity and liquid do not mix. I highly recommend using a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) cord connector at the male end to plug into the wall. This ensures that if there is any short due to moisture or juice that the power will stop immediately. In the alternative, only plug your grinder into a GFCI outlet, like those found in kitchens and bathrooms.

4. Create an apple “fence” to corral the fruit while preparing

While preparing apples for the scratter, I find that cutting them in half allows them to fit in the opening easier. This also provides a flat surface for the shredder teeth to grab hold of so the apples don’t just spin around in the grinder. Having a “fence” to ensure that apples tossed on the counter don’t fall off saves a lot of time and frustration. I used some scrap 1×4 molding I had and screwed it together at the corners to create the frame. You can screw this to the legs above the countertop or leave it so that it can be removed.

5. Add a spout from food grade plumbing pipe

Cider is acidic and you are planning on ingesting it, so locate pipe that is meant for potable water or marked as “food grade.” You can add any length, a downspout, or any configuration that works for you. My spout is at a height that a 5-gallon (19-L) pail fits easily underneath for collecting the pomace.

6. Using and maintaining

I made a 6-inch (15-cm) persuader out of 1×1 stock with a cross guard made of 1⁄4-inch (~0.5 cm) round stock so that I can’t drop it all the way into the grinder. The 1×1 allows you to push apples into the flange without risking your fingers! Never put your fingers near the garbage disposal!

I recommend rinsing your apples before pressing. I soak them in a half-barrel of sanitizing solution to kill off most wild yeast and wash off any other microbes. Then I cut the apples in half or quarters so that the teeth have a flat surface to “bite” into the fruit.

Be sure to thoroughly wash the grinder before and after each use. Cover the drainpipe and pour a light soap solution into the grinder. Turn it on for 15–30 seconds and then uncover the outlet to let it drain. Provide a good rinse (or even repeat with sanitizer) to wash away any soap.

If you are storing the grinder where mice or other rodents may want to explore, be sure to cover the inlet and drain during storage. My disposal came with a plastic stopper for the inlet and you can cover the drainpipe with a PVC cap or even a few layers of aluminum foil secured with a rubber band.

Issue: January-February 2015