Tuesday, 12 October 2010
So how do you press apples? With a couple of pieces of machinery, a scratter and a press. The scratter is roughly equivalent to an industrial scale food mincer designed to turn whole apples into crushed pulp, and the press does just what you might imagine, it squeezes the juice out of the pulp. We've been making cider at home for years, so we've got the process pretty well worked out by now. A morning spent picking apples, stripping whichever trees are ready into cardboard boxes, then set up the machinery before lunch before an afternoon scratting and pressing. It's almost a continuous operation and we can make a lot of juice this way in a day.
Making real full-juice cider is easy. Put the juice in a sterilised vessel with an airlock and wait. Some purists don't add anything to it but I add some sulphites to kill bacteria. I like my cider tasting of apples, not vinegar. Next January I'll rack it, removing the spent yeast from the vessel, then next May I'll bottle it. Sometime around Christmas 2011 it'll be ready to drink. Nothing happens quickly for a cider maker.
That's the cider, what about the juice? We pasteurise our juice and freeze it in milk cartons, after adding some vitamin C to stop it going brown. I used to bottle it in beer bottles, but then one got some impurities and fermented. Exploding bottles can embed shards of glass in the woodwork, not pretty. Waiting for a big pan of juice to reach the magic 75 celsius is a bit tricky, get it too hot and it tastes like apple sauce, don't get it hot enough and it goes off.
So there's a typical autumn Sunday for me. I know where my cider and juice comes from, it's my one tenuous connection with my agricultural roots. In another age I might have done this for a living, though while I envy those who do today I know it's not a life for me.
Have I learned anything this Sunday? One thing, more a comment on the fashions of Middle England than anything else. A cider press needs a cloth to be at its most successful. You wrap the apple pulp in it and it stops the stuff squirting out of the sides of the press. Best for the job is net curtain material, it's juice-permeable yet made from nylon so washable. Could I find any on Sunday, trawling round the DIY and home interior superstores of Middle England? When did suburbia stop twitching its net curtains?