FREDERICK -- The long gray dump truck backs up slowly to the open pit of water. Gradually, the truck bed is raised until it stands as tall as a two-story building. The tailgate is opened, a few inches at first, then all the way. Within seconds 43,000 pounds of apples are unloaded with a large rolling thud. It happens so quickly, that it seems like a single flash of lightning -- red and green lightning, that is -- has struck in the middle of a sunny fall day.

With that single burst of color, the process of making apple cider at McCutcheon's Apple Products Inc. begins. These 43,000 pounds of apples will be rinsed three times, machine scrubbed, hand inspected and sorted, ground up, mashed and finally pressed into cider -- all within 2 1/2 hours.

It is a process that takes place continuously, from early morning to dusk during the apple harvesting season. On most autumn days, at least two large dump trucks and several smaller ones will unload nature's most infamous fruit into the 25-foot-square, 4-foot-deep pit.

Although the equipment has grown a little more sophisticated and the amount processed considerably larger over the years, it is virtually the same routine that has been taking place in the same spot -- just a half block from downtown Frederick -- by the same family (albeit different generations) for more than five decades.

The business began in 1938 when William O. McCutcheon and his son, Robert, purchased a used apple press for $25 and began processing the apples of local residents for a 2-cents-a-gallon fee during the harvest season. Once freezing weather set in, the press was shut down.

Today, McCutcheon's is a year-round operation, with two automated German presses churning out as much as 16,000 gallons of cider a day in the peak autumn season, 10,000 gallons daily in less hectic months. Preserves and fruit butters are also part of the McCutcheon line, with more than a million pint jars of preserves, jellies and fruit butters produced a year.

The cider is still made from other people's apples, but now is widely available to East Coast consumers. Both fresh and pasteurized, cloudy and clear, it is a staple at many roadside stands and specialty shops from Florida to New York, including McCutcheon's own store in the front of the Frederick apple-pressing plant. And with an ever-growing demand for cider, McCutcheon's apple juice also is beginning to appear on the shelves of Safeway and Shoppers Food Warehouse as well.

Similarly, the preserves, from the best selling strawberry and black raspberry to the new apple syrup, have become must-have items in many families -- to the point that McCutcheon's was pressed into opening a mail-order business a few years ago to meet demand.

"We had people calling up from other parts of the country, asking for our preserves. They had been traveling through the area, bought our preserves and now wanted more. Then friends of theirs called, and then friends of friends ... ," says Bob McCutcheon III, who last January, at the age of 34, became president, taking over the helm from his father Bob McCutcheon Jr., 69, (henceforth to be called Bob II) and his uncle, Bill McCutcheon Jr., 59.

Having gradually turned over the company stock to the younger generation during the past few years, the elder McCutcheons now are just "directors" -- at least in title. They still come in daily and put in equally long hours overseeing the business they literally built, from the concrete block building to most of the equipment. They are joined by their sister, Rebecca Griffin, who serves as the company's secretary/treasurer. Doris McCutcheon, Bob II's wife, also helps out during the peak season.

Increasingly, however, the decision making is being left to the younger generation, which includes Bob III, his two sisters, and four cousins (Bill's sons). Ranging between the ages of 20 and 34, this new generation is now responsible for the production line, the plant, equipment and the marketing.

Its 52 continuous years in Frederick have made McCutcheon's such a town institution that the family was recently cited in an advertisement by a local bank that was promoting its longtime ties to the town and its residents.

Still, a visitor to Frederick would be hard pressed to sense McCutcheon's significance -- at least by appearances. In fact, McCutcheon's can be easily missed. An unassuming concrete block building -- that contains the store, apple press and bottling equipment -- fronts on a side street. The preserve plant is hidden in a back alley half a block away in what used to be an old hosiery mill. Stacks of wooden pallets line the private path between the two buildings and a McCutcheon can be frequently found using a bicycle to travel quickly between the two plants -- "our form of interplanetary travel," jokes Bob III.

A large red apple sign, painted by Bob III and his sister Vanessa, is affixed to the top of the concrete block building to alert visitors to the sweet goings-on below. But an even bigger tip-off is the fruity scent of apples that can be picked up a half block away as well.

Inside McCutcheon's, the employees are equally unassuming, wearing shorts, jeans and T-shirts (or even no shirts in the steamy preserve plant). All go about their work quietly, rarely stopping to chat with visitors -- and clearly feeling uncomfortable when they do. The elder Bill McCutcheon, for instance, prefers to point to the intricacies of the apple-pressing processing line he designed and built than talk about the early days of McCutcheon's, which was started by his grandfather (also a William) and his father, Robert J. McCutcheon (or Bob I for those keeping track).

It was a venture that Bob I squeezed in between his many other jobs, including tuning and rebuilding pipe organs and working as supervisor of the night shift at Fairchild Aircraft nearby. William, who was 80 years old when the apple business was launched, had just retired as manager of a canning plant just down the street.

Together with Bob I's wife, Helen, the three pressed apples and cooked up apple butter for area farmers. In fact, the company's current apple butter formula came from those early days. "The farmers would give us the apples, peeled and chopped, and tell us how much sugar, cinnamon and allspice to put in. We would cook it in great big steam kettles, which took half the time as it would if the farmers did it at home," Bob II says. When the company decided to sell apple butter commercially, "we just picked the recipe we liked best and that's the one we still use today."

The apple-pressing operation continued as a part-time business until 1947 when Robert died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 53. His children were still in school -- Bob II in college, Bill in high school. But with their mother, the boys bought their grandfather's share of the business for $3,000 and the three became the sole operators of the firm. They all worked, with the boys fitting in school when they could. "It was awful," Bob II recalls.

When they finished school, Bill and Bob II worked full time -- and even more during harvest months, their children recall. "Dad used to leave in the morning with a brown paper bag for his lunch. After Mom had fed us, she'd pack up a big basket full of dinner and we'd all drive dinner down. He'd come home long after we were in bed," remembers Vanessa McCutcheon Smith, Bob II's 30-year-old daughter.

"We put up four new buildings {which eventually were melded into the one concrete block building} to replace the original ones," Bob II says. "We actually constructed three of the buildings ourselves. We borrowed a surveyor's transit and with the exception of the concrete block walls, did everything ourselves -- reinforcing, footings, erecting steel, installing electrical wiring, plumbing, concrete floors ... "

Eventually, the third generation added preserves to the production line. Initially they used fresh fruit grown nearby. But, "we couldn't do it fast enough" and the berries would begin to rot before the preserves could be made," Bob II recalls. Today, the company uses frozen fruit for its preserves. "That gives us better quality year round," Bob III explains.

But the company still buys the bulk of its apples for cider and apple butter from farmers living in a 100-mile radius. The family does not manage its own orchard. "I've got exactly one apple on my golden delicious tree" at home, jokes Bob II.

Throughout the years, however, each and every family member -- no matter what age -- has been called in to help during the busy autumn months.

"We used to come with Dad to work and bring our tricycles along," recalls Smith. "My cousin and I were the jar 'putter on-ers.' We'd put the empty jars on the preserve assembly line. We'd also stamp the name of the preserves on the boxes." The kids remember grumbling about having to work, but now admit it always turned into a fun time. When not busy, they would ride their tricycles around the boxes of preserves, climb up the stacks of sugar to hide and turn the empty apple storage bins into slides.

In the process, "we never made any effort whatsoever to recruit" the younger generation to join the business, says Bob II. "It was all completely voluntary."

But, his son adds, it was a decision that just seemed a natural after he graduated college. "We just grew up with it."

With seven members of the fourth generation joining the four from the third, the McCutcheon family comprises half of company's full-time work force of 20 employees. Does all that familiarity pose problems? "Well," says Smith, "We get along better now than than we did when we were kids."

"I think everyone realizes that what's good for the company is good for everybody," adds her brother, Bob III, who says he was named president "because I don't think anybody else wanted it."

The younger generation has wasted no time in expanding the business even further, adding a host of new products, including the fruit syrup, no-sugar-added preserves, barbecue sauce and cocktail sauce.

Some of the new products, such as the no-sugar-added preserves, grew out of customer requests. Still others, such as the barbecue sauce and cocktail sauce, came from Smith. "These were things I like to eat but I like my recipe better than what you would find in a grocery store. Now, I'm working on a salsa."

In the process of adding new products, the role of apples has greatly diminished. Cider and apple butter once accounted for virtually all of the business; today, these make up only half of the sales.

The family's role, however, remains a constant. In fact, the fifth generation of McCutcheons is already in training. On a recent Saturday, for instance, Bob III took his 4-year-old daughter, Sarah, with him to work. While he helped load a customer, she rode her tricycle around. At McCutcheon's, some things never change.

HOT MULLED CIDER (Makes 8 cups)

This is a recipe McCutcheon's likes to share with its customers, when asked for special ways to use the company's cider.

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 gallon sweet cider

1 teaspoon whole allspice

1 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves

2 cinnamon sticks

2 oranges, seeded and sliced

Put all ingredients in a stock pot (if desired, tie spices in cheesecloth or place in tea strainer). Simmer over low heat for 2 to 8 hours. If spices are added loose, strain before serving.

Per 1/2-cup serving: 92 calories, .2 gm protein, 23 gm carbohydrates, .2 gm fat, 0 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 6 mg sodium.

DOTTIE'S DUMPLINGS (Makes 4 dumplings)

This is a McCutcheon family favorite, made by Doris McCutcheon, the wife of Bob McCutcheon Jr. (Bob II).

1 cup sugar

1 cup clear cider

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

4 tablespoons butter

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup shortening

1/2 cup milk

2 apples, sliced

Heat first three ingredients to boiling, add 2 tablespoons butter, and then set aside. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together, cut in shortening. Add milk all at once and stir until flour is moistened. Divide dough into four parts and roll each to 1/4 inch thickness. Fill with sliced apples and season with additional sugar, cinnamon and dot with remaining butter. Fold up to center and pinch edges together. Place in baking dish. Pour syrup over dumplings and bake about 35 minutes at 375 degrees.

Per dumpling: 224 calories, 2 gm protein, 29 gm carbohydrates, 12 gm fat, 4 gm saturated fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 209 mg sodium.

APPLESAUCE BAKED BEANS (10 servings)

Pan spray

1 onion, sliced

4 cups cooked beans (best if cooked from dry beans)

1 cup bean liquid

1/4 cup vinegar

1 cup applesauce, unsweetened

6 ounces tomato paste

2 teaspoons dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon cloves

3 ounces Canadian bacon, cooked

Salt and pepper, to taste

Optional: 3/4 cup molassas

Spray a 9-inch-square deep baking pan or bean pot with pan spray. Arrange sliced onions on bottom of pan. Add beans. Combine remaining ingredients and stir into beans. Bake, covered, in a preheated 325-degree oven for 2 1/2 hours. Remove lid and cook uncovered for 30 minutes or until browned on top.

Per serving: 132 calories, 9 gm protein, 22 gm carbohydrates, 1 gm fat, .3 gm saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 162 mg sodium.

From the International Apple Institute CHICKEN VERMONT (4 servings)

A taste of fall inspired by apples and cider picked up on an October leaf-peeping tour of Vermont many years ago.

4 chicken breasts, or whatever pieces you prefer

FOR THE MARINADE:

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/3 cup cider vinegar

1/2 cup apple cider

Juice of 2 oranges

2 medium onions, chopped

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

1/2 tablespoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon fresh tarragon, or 1/2 teaspoon of dried

TO FINISH:

1/4 to 1/2 cup flour, for dredging

1 tablespoon canola, corn or olive oil

3 to 4 apples, peeled and quartered

Rinse chicken and place pieces in a shallow baking pan. Combine the ingredients for the marinade and pour over the chicken, turning to coat completely. Refrigerate a couple hours or overnight.

To finish: drain the chicken, reserving the marinade, then dredge pieces in flour in a brown paper bag or spread on a dinner plate. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet and brown the chicken pieces quickly, turning to get all sides, then drain on paper towels. Drain the fat and return the chicken to the baking pan.

While the chicken is browning, bring the reserved marinade to a boil in the skillet and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Scatter the apple quarters around the chicken, then pour in enough of the simmering marinade to submerge the chicken halfway. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour.

Remove chicken and apples to a warm platter. Then skim the fat from the marinade remaining in the baking pan. Serve the chicken and apples with rice topped with some of the marinade.

Per serving: 499 calories, 56 gm protein, 41 gm carbohydrates, 10 gm fat, 2 gm saturated fat, 146 mg cholesterol, 417 mg sodium.

CHICKEN LIVERS WITH BACON AND APPLES (6 servings)

1/2 pound bacon, chopped

6 tablespoons butter or margarine, divided

2 medium tart green apples

1 pound whole chicken livers

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons dry Marsala or Madeira wine

3 green onions with tops, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large skillet, fry bacon until crisp; remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Discard all but 1 tablespoon drippings. Add 2 tablespoons butter or margarine to the pan.

Peel, halve, core and thinly slice the apples. Saute', stirring often, until slices are tender but still crisp; remove to a plate. Wash and dry livers; discard connective tissue and any greenish parts. If livers are large, cut them in half. Dip them in flour, coating lightly. Melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter or margarine in same skillet. Saute' livers over moderately high heat until browned on each side, about 5 minutes.

Stir in wine, apples, bacon and green onions. Cook, stirring gently, until heated through and livers are pink when cut into. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Per serving: 488 calories, 31 gm protein, 12 gm carbohydrates, 34 gm fat, 15 gm saturated fat, 540 mg cholesterol, 766 mg sodium.

From "Easy Entertaining With Marlene Sorosky" (Harper & Row, 1988) PORK AND APPLE STIR FRY (4 servings)

1 1/2 pounds tender boneless pork such as boned loin chops or tenderloin, thinly sliced across the grain

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced

2 tart apples, such as Granny Smith, cored and thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons sherry

4 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon vinegar (any variety)

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander seed

3 tablespoons flour

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

Assemble the sliced pork, onion, red pepper, apple and minced garlic before beginning to cook. Combine the sherry, soy sauce, vinegar and coriander.

Combine the flour and black pepper in a paper or plastic bag. If the meat is damp, dry it on paper towels. Place it in the bag and shake to coat completely. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large pan or wok. When the oil is hot, shake excess flour off pork strips and add to the pan. Cook over high heat, stirring constantly, until the pork is crisp and browned, about 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of the oil to the pan. Add the onion and stir-fry over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Add the peppers, apple and garlic and stir-fry for 2 minutes more. Return the pork to the pan, add the sherry mixture, and stir until well mixed and heated through.

Per serving: 492 calories, 51 gm protein, 20 gm carbohydrates, 22 gm fat, 5 gm saturated fat, 158 mg cholesterol, 464 mg sodium.

From "Let's Eat In" by Brooke Dojny and Melanie Barnard (Prentice Hall Press, 1990, $19.95)