RG 2006 August
| This page is part of The Cidermaking Year by Rose Grant
The St Em Project
For those of you following my devotions to Ste Emidecau, an update is rather overdue. I have not made as much progress as intended. The thought of doing heavy building work in the very hot weather this month had no appeal at all! The apple washing pit and the elevator have not even been started. I also have to admit that my ever lurking companion Arthur Ritis has been giving me a hard time and has become a real pain in the neck lately. I think he took exception to a mad spell of gardening in June followed by the daily carrying of many watering can loads of water to all my potted plants during the heat wave.
I did however get the elevator motor and gearbox down to a local engineering shop to be united on an angle iron sub frame. This 'power unit' has a 12 inch V pulley as its final drive which runs at 120 rpm. The idea is that it will sit below the 2 ft drive wheel at the top of the elevator which it will turn at 60 rpm. I've calculated that this will run the elevator at about the same speed as in its original grain drier application. A friend has promised me 6ft of 12 inch diameter plastic pipe to funnel the apples from the top of the elevator into the barn roof. I am still hopeful of getting the elevator fixed up in time for this year's pressing. At least we now have some proper English summer weather so I feel that there is more chance of it happening. I'm also pleased to say that Arthur has gone on holiday so I should be able to get on OK.
cheese tray transport
Actually there was a higher priority than the elevator that I have managed to sort out in the last few weeks, mainly because it involved work that I was able to do in the relative cool of the barn. This was to make the cheese tray transport system. I've seen quite a few of the larger presses that have a sort of railway system that is used to move the completed cheese into the 'jaws' of the press. This allows the cheese to be built away from the press giving good all round access for loading the pomace, folding the cloths and fitting the racks. Nigel Stewart at Bridge Farm has a good example of this. His railway even has a siding where a second cheese can be built whilst the first is being pressed. I did not want anything as elaborate as this. One cheese at a time will be enough for me to cope with. However I do need to be able to build the cheese away from the press since I am intending to have the pomace fed from a through ceiling hopper.
When I bought St Em I also gained a few other useful items. One was a section of industrial roller table, the sort of thing that factory assembly lines are made of. I've taken this to pieces, cleaned it up, cut it to size and then rebuilt to make a table with 12, 2 inch diam rollers, covering a top area of 30 x 35 inches. Oh yes, it is now painted Navy Blue to match St. Em though this still left a problem with the rollers. The newness had long since worn off of their original galvanised coating and they were all rather rusty. It then was especially pleasing to discover that 2 inch black plastic hose fitted perfectly over the rollers. I've been able to give them smart waterproof covers.
The table will be situated at the front of the press and the juice tray will sit on the roller bed during the building of the cheese. The idea is that the completed cheese on its tray can then be pushed on to the press. This is where the 'railway' bit comes in. Something is needed to keep the cheese mobile as it leaves the roller table, bearing in mind that it will weigh about 8 cwt. I made two rails from 5 x 3 inch angle iron which I bolted to the inner sides of each of the jambs of the press, just below the press table. This was a bigger job than it sounds. Large bolts were called for, which meant that the drilling of St Em's 1/2 inch thick steel was quite an experience with my hobby electric drill! I ruined quite a few drill bits of various sizes. It was also important to ensure that the two rails were perfectly level fore and aft and with each other, a worrying degree of precision for my bodgery.
I fitted 4 heavy duty castors (non swiveling type) to each of the left and right underside edges of the tray. These hang clear when the tray is on the roller table but when the tray is pushed towards the press they begin to engage with the rails at each side of the press. The tray is then carried by the castors on each of the rails until it is sitting squarely and about 1/2 inch above the oak press plate of St. Em. Once the press hydraulics are turned on, the press plate rises, lifts the tray and its cheese clear of the rails and the pressing cycle begins. The unloading of the press is simply the process in reverse.
I am glad to have done this since it will make life a lot easier, even if, heaven forbid, I don't manage to get the elevator sorted in time. Whatever happens it is going to be fun. I've been up the orchard today and there is a super crop of everything. How nice to see that its an excellent year for Kingstons! The Victoria plums have set like grapes and I've had to claw through the branches using my fingers like a comb to pull more than half of them off. In 1992 I planted Myrobalans in my hedge for a windbreak. This year for the first time they are covered in masses of little red and yellow plums. What an incredible summer!
A further progress report:
The stainless steel hopper is now installed in the ceiling of the press room so that its nozzle and gate valve is aligned with the middle of the roller table. The mill is upstairs with its outlet protruding over the top of the hopper. 18 inches of the height of the hopper stands above the floor level upstairs, so that the rim of the hopper sits just below the outlet of the mill.
It was quite a job making the square hole of the right size in the ceiling. One of the joists had to have a section removed and then the sides of the hole between the remaining joists had to be strengthened with timber. This was to tie in the cut ends of the intermediate joist and to provide extra load bearing capacity for the hopper, especially when full of pomace.
I thought of Stephen when I was cutting out the hole because I found that the Silky Fox pruning saw, that he so highly recommended, was ideal for cutting through the floor and ceiling boards! I just had to have one of these saws for my birthday, but have not as yet found time to test it on an apple tree. I am sure it will not disappoint when the time comes. The gash in my thumb is a testimony to the surgical sharpness of those wicked little teeth!
Having relocated the mill upstairs made me aware of a problem. I have the Vigo 1500 mill which in common with most mills of this type has a tall 'chimney' between the input funnel and the rotating cutter.
This is obviously intended to make it impossible for anyone to put their hand far enough in to amputate their fingers. Even a gorilla would find it difficult! Now the problem for me was that the funnel of the mill was nearly touching the rafters of the roof, leaving very little space for the apple receiving deck that I want to build level with its rim.
(Alex Hill told me he reads these postings, so Alex look away now, or you will shudder when you hear what I've done to your mill).
I took it to my favourite welding shop and had 8 inches of the chimney removed. The funnel was reattached and now sits at a more ergonomic height. It is now potentially dangerous and I am not recommending this modification to anybody. However, I have no fears of ever putting my hand in it. The first thing I did when I bought this mill was to make a wooden plunger that was used whenever a blockage occurred last year. I shall continue to do the same, though I must now make this tool 8 inches shorter. I should add that the plunger has a cross bar, to prevent it being pushed so far in, that it hits the blades. I have too much respect for 2 kw of rotating knife to get my hands anywhere near to the action!
There is a rather annoying thing about these mills, that I also got fixed by Mark the welder. There are two small bolts that need to be undone with a spanner whenever one needs to wash and clean the mill. It gets to be a pain doing this at the tired and aching end of each day, in the pressing season. I asked Mark to convert these to 'wing' bolts. He made a splendid job of this by welding pieces of 5 mm stainless rod to them.The rods were bent to a U shape to form the 'wings' . Such a simple thing, but a great improvement, that I do recommend to anybody who has one of these mills. ( Come to think of it, Alex, why not get your boys to do this to the bolts, before any more mills go out of the door).
Now at last to the elevator and only a few weeks left to do it. I'm beginning to wish we hadn't booked a week away in Tewkesbury for the plum festivities at the end of August. I'm getting rather panicky now, because I've just hit a problem. The motor gearbox sub unit has been finished and they made a very fine job of it. Alas when I switched it on, for the first time as a complete unit, the noise was deafening. The gearbox came from the grain elevator and it now looks as though Farmer Murray ran the thing for years with next to no oil inside it. Only the barest trickle came out when I removed the drain plug. I've filled it with oil but the damage has already been done, so it continues to screech and rumble enough to awaken the dead. I don't think I dare use it, or I will be public enemy No 1 in this village, throughout the autumn!
Amongst the rest of the junk from the grain drier there are some interesting pulley sheaves of various sizes. I've worked out how to make a reduction drive using these on several short lengths of shaft that could be attached to the motor sub frame, providing that I pay another visit to my favourite welding shop. ( Many thanks, John Cutler for recommending TG Welding of Wimborne. I don't know what I would do without them). Pulleys may be old fashioned, but belt drives are very much quieter than a grinding old worn-out gearbox. I am faintly hopeful, though hardly confident of success, but there is no going back now.
Tomorrow I will continue with this act of faith by starting the big job of modifying the elevator drive belt. I need to remove all the metal grain scoops and replace them with the wooden slats that will catch and carry the apples. I need to do a 60 ft length of this, which should keep me quiet for a while!
Westons Special Keg
You may remember that I mentioned a new cider made by Westons that nobody had heard of and is not advertised on their website. I was given a taste of it at The Red Lion in Swanage earlier in the year and was shocked to see that Westons, for whom I have the greatest respect, are looking to address the fad for white strong and sweet cider with this product........ Ugh!
Yesterday I made my last delivery to Swanage , ( Cider by Rosie has all but run out for this year) and I asked Tim the landlord about the Special Keg. He said that it had sold fairly well and explained that his pub was one of only three in the whole of UK to be trialling it. I was not surprised that he had been specially selected for this by Westons, since he stocks just about every cider that they make. I think I counted 12 different ones of theirs as well as 3 of Mrs Perry's and my own Cider by Rosie.
I am pleased to tell you that as I predicted, he no longer stocks Strongbow. Personally I hope the Special Keg goes the same way!
Applying labels by hand is a tricky business. It is all too easy to get them skewed. I hate to see a bottle label that is not straight and worse still, is the sight of a number of bottles on sale with their labels at varying heights. It just looks so unprofessional!
Of course for most of us a labelling machine is out of the question so some sort of template is the solution. I looked around at home and after much testing and trying I found that one of those green Tchae Tea tins is the perfect size to fit a standard 75 cl bottle. If the bottle is stood in the tin, then the nicely curled edge that forms the rim of the tin becomes a perfect guide as to where to locate the bottom edge of the bottle label so that it is parallel with the base of the bottle. The only shortcoming is that the tea tin is too tall but I overcame this by putting a small tin of baked beans inside it. The beans are now well past their 'best before date' but my labels all sit true at exactly 70 mm from the base of their bottles.
Hope this helps ( Assuming that you can find the Tchae Tea! The tin I have is the 50 g, 25 tea bag size, made by Lipton.)
My Discoverys are a-turning red, in cloudless sunshine overhead.......
But the blasted wasps have eaten into nearly every apple already, even though they are not fully ripe! Some are now reduced to half apples by their voracious munching. Very dispiriting!
Silly me, planting early eating apples, I should have had a few more Dabinetts. Wasps don't like cider apples. I always wonder where they go after they've finished making a mess of the Victoria plums at the end of August.
The other day a landlord told me that quite a few customers now ask for a pint of cider and also some ice in a separate glass. Presumably they've realised that having the ice put into the cider means that they are not getting a full pint of the precious liquid!
Recently I mentioned the terrible destruction of my ripening Discovery apples due to wasps. Then a week later, to my surprise it was as though the wasps had got fed up with them. I've been delighted to see that a good number of these most beautiful of apples have been allowed to ripen to their full mouth watering rosiness. We will now be able to enjoy some that have not been eaten before they are picked.
I happened to mention this to Charlie who owns the paddock next to my orchard. "Ah! he said I know why that is. I saw the badgers rooting out a big wasps nest in our hedge. They appear to have eaten everything that was there" We had not known exactly where the wasps were coming from, but the badgers certainly did!
We have long been aware of the large Badger set in the wide hedge that borders my land and have watched it grow to mammoth proportions over the years, but watch, is of course all that you are allowed to do, as they are a protected species in this country. I've always had mixed feelings about them. Whilst they are fascinating animals, these particular ones were instrumental in the loss of my last two jersey cows toTB. At the time, I really hated badgers due to my sad loss. However, the experience made me decide to go over entirely to orcharding and plant lots more cider apple trees. Now with the addition of this latest and unexpected attribute of badgers, I'm almost beginning to regard them as friends.
Tom Putt, the apple variety
Tom Putt is an excellent all rounder apple. It cooks well and is very good in cider as it lends generous acidity to a blend. I have also found it to be a vigorous grower in my poor soil and an excellent cropper every year. I started with just one Tom Putt mainly out of curiosity and also because as far as I know it is the only cider apple that was actually discovered in Dorset ( Tom Putt was once a vicar of Trent, near Sherborne ). Having since discovered its attributes, I've planted another 8 of them. Their only disadvantage is that they fall early and I have to press them about mid September. I have an excellent crop of them this year so I could be frantic in a few weeks time if the elevator isn't finished
On that note, I have some good news. After realising that I just could not use the noisy old gearbox from the grain elevator, I went on to Ebay to look for another. There to my delight, amongst the hundreds of gearboxes for every make of car imaginable, was the perfect thing! It was a 35 : 1 worm type reduction box with a 45 mm output shaft, very hefty and weighing in at 53 kg. I had to have it and I did, for just £100. Even better, because it had come from a lift in Bournemouth and was now located even closer to me at Wimborne, I was able to collect it and and save the £50 carriage charge. Sometimes things do seem to click and work out just right. This was one of those lucky occasions.
I just don't know what I would do without Ebay.( I had previously obtained the 3 hp motor for the elevator from their site at only £17 !)
The Powerstock Cider Festival is held in April. I didn't go this year as I was away, but went the year before. It gets very crowded and is a huge success, due I expect to the River Cottage TV coverage of the event. If you would like to know about next year's event ring Nick on 01308 485235.