Last weekend was dedicated to the annual apple pressing. Every year we harvest a hotchpotch of eating and cooking apples from the orchard to transform into a year’s supply of apple juice. By late October, most of our trees (with the exception of the two Spartans and a little tree of unknown variety by the fruit cage) have littered the orchard floor with windfalls and there are only a few apples left on the branches. This year was no exception, particularly given the arrival of some very blowy weather courtesy of Storm Brian.
We start by gathering as many apples as we can in an old wheelbarrow, beginning on one side of the orchard and working our way across to the other. We only collect the apples that are in good condition. Those with large bruises, goose bites or hen pecks are left where they fell. Each time the wheelbarrow fills up, we transport the cargo up to the front garden and empty it onto the grass, where the apples are piled up in their different varieties for processing. The geese usually waddle happily after us, motivated both by their love of apples and compulsion for wheelbarrow chasing. It usually takes about eight trips to gather all the fruit up.
The apples are then washed in an enormous tub; fed through a garden shredder (which we use solely for apple scrattering); wrapped up in muslin; and juiced using a wooden press. We made the apple press ourselves from a few pieces of untreated pine, bolted together into a frame. To hold the shredded apple, we use a plastic honey tank (basically a large bucket), which has had its bottom and sides peppered with drill holes, so the apple juice can flow out quickly and easily. We’ve also braced the tank with some cable ties to ensure that the whole thing doesn’t split apart under the pressure of the press. A large plastic potting tray with a hole the bottom, catches the juice as it spills out and directs it into bucket below. The press itself is powered by a hand-cranked hydraulic car jack, which sits on top of several wooden blocks. It’s certainly not the prettiest apple press we’ve ever seen, but it works a treat and allows us to process the apples in big batches, which is a real time saver.
As each bucket full of juice is collected (we usually get around 8 litres of juice per pressing), it is filtered through some more muslin suspended over a brewing bucket with a tap attachment. We then switch on the tap to fill up the 1L glass milk bottles we bought from a wholesaler and reuse every year. The bottles are then put in an electric jam maker (which we use as a pasturiser) for around twenty-five minutes at 75°C, which should ensure the juice will keep for at least a year.
This year the apple pressing weekend juice total was 93 litres. Most of the apple juice is now sitting in neat bottled rows in a rather crowded kitchen cupboard, but we’ve also left 23 litres of juice in the brewing bucket with a sprinkling of yeast, so that it can ferment into cider. We’re also planning on leaving some of the cider exposed to the air so that it turns into raw apple cider vinegar. A tiring weekend, but a very satisfying task in the seasonal year to complete.