Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Pressing business

    What a sane t-girl should do after driving home from her support group meeting and restaurant outing at 2 am is go straight to bed and sleep soundly into the following afternoon. What I did was get up at eight o'clock and drive to my parents' place to spend the day pressing apples for both next year's cider and this winter's apple juice. Smart-casual girl to farm labourer in eight hours.
    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?


  1. Mmmmmm, apple juice. Apple pie. Apple anything (not one for cider though, so all the more for you). Thanks for sharing the process of how to make - really enjoyed reading that.

    As for net curtains, I've never seen them in DIY / home interior shops - I'm not sure if you're including Debenhams in the latter category, though. There are nets in John Lewis too, and now I'm showing my Middle England background. Failing that, haberdashery shops are a good bet - however, they're less likely to be open on a Sunday.

  2. Sounds like the right thing to do on a Sunday or any other time to me...LOL. I like cider but I prefer it tasting less of apples than some ciders do. I like it a bit sharp to the palette rather than sweet, still rather than sparkling........you know....paint stipper! I hope you didn't get drunk on last years brew!!!!

    Shirley Anne xxx

  3. Just setting my ical diary for a visit next December!

    Caroline xxx

  4. Sounds like a more pleasent way to spend a Sunday than I had this week...

    Enjoy the cider, if it's anything like the ones I had in June then it's going to be great.


  5. *envy* I really must get round to cider-making one of these years. I'll settle for trying to get some rowan jelly sorted, this year...

  6. Morning averyone, and thanks for your comments.

    We have something of a surfeit of apples at this time of year so at times it is apple everything!

    This is a very dry and slightly sharp cider because it's made from "normal" apples not the west country style cider apples. Acidic, not tannic. And it's still because it's fermented to dryness before bottling.

    I've not tried last year's yet, it's still maturing. But yes, I have a times indulged myself with the '08.

    The '09 will be ready in December, thinking about it :)

    I've never made rowan jelly, the blackbirds always get to the berries first!