The Smith family and friends press priceless gallons of treasured Fuji apple juice
By Dianna Troyer
Instead of storing his “gold” in a vault, Cleve Smith puts it in glass jars and plastic bottles in his freezer for safekeeping.
“To me and my wife, Karol, our homemade Fuji apple juice is as good as gold because it’s a treasure to us,” the 82-year-old Sublett farmer says.
“Every autumn, we make priceless memories with our family and friends when we press and bottle it,” Cleve says. “For a few days, we have quite an assembly line going in my shop.”
Their daughter, Jill Hardy, says many hands make light work.
“We’re all laughing and telling stories and catching up on our lives as we work,” Jill says. “The time flies. We don’t even mind our sticky fingers. It’s become a fantastic tradition for our family and friends.”
Depending on ability and age, Jill’s children take their places on the assembly line. Some slice the apples while others run the presses or fill plastic containers.
Many of the Smiths’ nine children and numerous grandchildren come.
“We all look forward to it,” says Jill, who lives in Oakley. “Some of us live nearby and can come almost every year.”
A massage therapist in Burley, Jill uses vacation days for the late October festivity.
Neighbors Cactus and Tressa Ward have been coming for several years.
“It’s a good deal for all of us,” Cactus says. “We find out what their kids are up to. We appreciate a couple of gallons of apple juice, too, but what’s more important to us is just enjoying our time together and visiting.”
The Smith family tradition started in 2015 when Cleve’s son, Wade, suggested his dad buy Fuji apples.
“My brother-in-law owned an orchard in Washington, so I knew how delicious that variety is,” says Wade, an orchard owner.
“Fuji apples are known for their sweet flavor, being easy to squeeze and yielding a lot of juice. The apples mature late in the season and store well. Dad liked the flavor and found an orchard in Idaho to buy from.”
Cleve says the flavor makes the Fuji variety “the epitome of apples for juicing. Once you taste it, you won’t want juice from any other apples.”
Sharing his enthusiasm for the juice, Cleve began inviting neighbors and other families to his shop, so they could make some for themselves.
“Along with our kids, we usually have four to six other families who come,” Cleve says.
Someone in the group volunteers to drive to a Fuji orchard in Fruitland, Idaho, bringing back several bins of apples. A cubed 4-by-4-foot bin holds 24 boxes of apples and weighs about 800 pounds. Each bin yields 45 to 50 gallons of juice.
“Depending on how many families participate, we buy two to six bins,” he says.
“To store the juice, I try to use similarly shaped containers, so they stack easier, and I can fit more in my freezer,” Cleve says. “Last year, I had 132 containers.”
Because the juice is unpasteurized, it must be frozen to remain fresh. He bought an upright freezer just to store the juice.
After cleaning the shop from the sticky chore, Cleve always delivers jugs to longtime friends at one of his favorite places: the Raft River Rural Electric Co-op office in Malta.
Cleve served on the co-op’s board of directors from 1987 to 1994 and 1997 to 2003.
When he’s not juicing apples, Cleve puts the squeeze on carrots and grapes, turning them into nutritious beverages.
“I guess I’m old-fashioned that way, wanting to make our own juice so we know it’s fresh,” he says.
Wade says the task of making apple juice, although time-consuming, is rewarding.
“When you taste the fruit of your labor, it makes all the hours of work worthwhile,” Wade says. “It’s more delicious than what you’d buy in a store.”