Lancaster Elementary first-graders celebrate Johnny Appleseed legacy

Teacher Jeanne Paff (left) and Lancaster Elementary School first-graders (front, from left) Brinlee Ludemann, Addison Kirby, Jamie Cooper and Zane Bickel watch as George Richison (right) chops up apples that will then be squeezed into cider. Richison brought his cider press to school on Tuesday, Sept. 26, as the students celebrated Johnny Appleseed’s birthday. Photo by Cindy Klepper.
Teacher Jeanne Paff (left) and Lancaster Elementary School first-graders (front, from left) Brinlee Ludemann, Addison Kirby, Jamie Cooper and Zane Bickel watch as George Richison (right) chops up apples that will then be squeezed into cider. Richison brought his cider press to school on Tuesday, Sept. 26, as the students celebrated Johnny Appleseed’s birthday. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published Oct. 2, 2017.

John Chapman would have been 243 years old on Sept. 26.

That was occasion enough for the first-graders at Lancaster Elementary School to have a party, celebrating the legacy of the man better known as Johnny Appleseed.

Chapman planted apple trees around the Midwest in the early 1800s, and Lancaster’s students did all kinds of things with apples — including tasting them and painting with them.

Eventually, they went outside to see what George Richison could do with apples.

Richison, who regularly volunteers at Lancaster, had brought a small cider press used to squeeze the apples into cider.

“They’re talking about different things the pioneers made with apples, including cider,” Richison explains.

While his cider press isn’t old enough to have been used during Chapman’s era — he says it’s at least 20 years old — it uses the same method to squeeze the juice out of the apple.

“The principle is the same, but theirs would have been significantly larger,” Richison told the first-graders. “What we have here is just a small version of a press … I’ve seen one that is 20 or 30 feet wide.”

Whole apples are tossed into a chopper, which cuts them into chunks when Richison turns the wheel. The chunks fall into a cloth bag, and turning another handle squeezes the juice out by force.

The pioneers, with their larger cider presses, would have used mules or horses that walked in circles to turn the handles that powered the press, Richison says.

Pioneers would have canned the apple cider, he says.

“It was a good way to preserve it for the winter,” he says, along with drying and pickling the apples or making them into applesauce.
Richison used to press apples frequently, but he’s slowed down in recent years.

“My apple trees are pretty much gone,” he says.

Each Lancaster first-grader got to toss an apple into the chopper, then watched as Richison chopped and pressed the fruit.

He says he doesn’t know how many apples it takes to make a quart of cider.

“When it’s full, it’s full,” he says. “I don’t ever count them.”

It made enough for each of the students to have a small taste of the juice, which accomplished the goal.