Sunday, 21 October 2012

October: pressing

    So it's the big month in a cider maker's year. October, when we press apples to yield juice for fermentation. Fermentation that'll happen slowly over the winter in time for racking and eventual bottling in the spring. Cider making's a waiting game.
    My pressing started in September, though I wasn't pressing then for cider. The first pressing I do is usually for apple juice which I'll pastuerise and decant into plastic milk cartons to be frozen for winter drinking. I usually use cooking apples for that because I like my drinking juice tart; dessert apple juice is too sweet to be refreshing in my view. Besides, the dessert apples can be used for cider and the cookers can't.
    I'll normally spend three of four weekends pressing, but in 2012 due to the poor yields I only managed two.One in September for juice, and one a week ago in mid October for cider. It's a simple enough process, the apples are chopped up in a machine called a scratter before being pressed to release the juice. Our scratter is home made, with a big electric motor driving a spinning stainless steel blade. It produces pomace formed from small chips of apple and sometimes very thin apple slices. Whether it would be better if it crushed the apples as well isn't proven, but it at least allows the juice to come out readily enough.
    Our press is a fairly unexciting Vigo basket press. Not the largest scale set-up, but about right for the size of our harvest and the throughput of our scratter. The juice is collected in a stainless steel bowl before being transferred to the plastic jerry cans I use as fermenters. Our orchard is old so I'll add a bit of yeast nutrient to it as well as some sulphite to kill bacteria. The spent pomace meanwhile goes to the compost heap in a wheelbarrow. One day I'll try steeping it for a second pressing, but I usually just don't have the time.
    Yeast is another matter. Natural yeast or cultured yeast? To be honest I've used both, often side by side on the same pressing of juice. Both seem to produce good cider, but I've had film yeast infestations with the natural yeasts. Your yeast experience may vary.
     So there it is. Cider, busily fermenting. The press carefully cleaned, its wooden bits drying out to stop them going mouldy. And I'm thinking ahead to my next task in a couple of months: pruning the orchard in the January frosts.

Poor yield in 2012

    2012 will not be a bumper year for cider makers. All that cold and rain early in the season following on from a winter drought has given us an awful yield. So in our mixed orchard, which trees were the winners and which the losers?
Coxes shaken down from on high
    In the non-cider space, my mother is vexed by the failure of her cooking apples. Not a single Bramley this year from five trees, that's something of a disaster for me as well as for her because I normally use Bramleys as the bulk of my drinking juice production.
    But as always with a mixed orchard there is another tree that takes the strain. 2012 was a good year for Grenadiers, the early cooker, so our freezer is full of both sliced apple and plastic cartons of pasteurised September juice.
    My cider comes mostly from dessert apples. There are one or two trees that normally produce unspectacular apples in huge quantities, Wagoner, Sturmer Pippin and Rosemary Russet, that give me a decent base of juice that I can blend with sweeter apples and my relatively few Dabinetts. This year though only the Wagoner made the grade, and an ancient Cox sport planted as a pip in the 1940s that is two stories high. I had no chance this year of the trees from which I normally get the small and misshapen fruit, the Ingrid Maries and the Crispins.
    Oddly my Dabinett has done very well this year, but it's still too young to contribute a significant amount.
    So in the end I have about half the cider from 2012 that I'd expect. I have plenty from previous years and 2012 will still provide me with enough for my needs, but I can't rate this year as a good one.
    There is a silver lining though. The trees are healthy, and after a few bumper years the rest will do them no harm. With luck 2013 will be a better year still for that.