The apple harvest has just ended here in the Wyre Forest. Last week we gathered as many as we could of the remaining fruits still clinging to the leafless branches of trees in local orchards. We were playing our small part in the practice of gleaning which is growing in popularity in these parts and across the UK.
Almost all of the apples we collected recently, including a fair quantity of undamaged windfalls, we have turned into juice. We didn’t bother trying to combine the different varieties with great precision but even so the result was impressive, a subtle bittersweet combination helped no doubt by a quantity of cider apples. There is nothing quite like the taste of fresh apple juice drunk straight from the press. Although it has an affect on taste, for practical purposes we pasteurised most of the juice To do this we poured it into sterilised bottles and immersed them in a water bath kept at around 75 degrees centigrade for 30 minutes. This should ensure it keeps well for at least 12 months. Unpasteurised juice can be stored for a few weeks in the freezer but should be consumed within a couple of days of being opened.
With the help of a heavy duty press and ‘scratter’ – which chops and pulverises the apples into small bite size lumps – we managed to turn two large ‘builders’ bucketfuls into about 20 litres of juice. Some, I must confess, was siphoned off into demijohns with the intention of making cider. Along with an air lock, we are relying on the natural, wild yeasts from the apples to create the right fermentation. This is not a practice recommended by most cider makers, who tend to add champagne yeast, so we eagerly await the results. In any case, I’m told that apple vinegar is increasingly valued for its health giving properties which is good to know as we may have a lot of that to dispose of in the coming months!
It was interesting to discover that John Ruskin has been described as a ‘leading maker of apple juice’ in his time. So far I haven’t managed to find much information about how this came to be, either in his writing or that of his many followers. It is tempting to imagine this juice might have been sold in the tea shop he established in Paddington Street in London in the 1870s. The shop was conceived to provide honest, high quality tea to the local community at a reasonable cost. (Coincidentally Ruskin’s shop was located just a short distance along the same street as the apple boutique set up by the Beatles almost a century later. At the official opening of the boutique, it is reported, apple juice was consumed due to the lack of an alcohol licence!)
The apples we juiced recently were not harvested at Ruskin Land. The orchard here at St George’s Farm has only just been planted so we will have to wait a few years before we can begin to harvest its fruit. We look forward to its future bounty. To help encourage a good crop in coming years we are planning another wassail celebration in mid-January. Mulled cider and apple juice from the recent harvest will no doubt be on the drinks list. We hope the event is as successful as the first such occasion organised earlier this year. Details of the wassail will shortly be on the Wyre CLT website if you fancy coming along.