RG 2006 September

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8289401_8cd6453906_s.jpg This page is part of The Cidermaking Year by Rose Grant

September, 2006



It has started already

little homemade press

I've been using my little homemade press to clear up the windfalls of Tom Putts, Kingstons, and Redstreaks from my own orchard and made about 20 gallons. I can't bear to see good apples going to waste. I'm also of the opinion that its a good idea to get a small starter quantity fermenting in readiness for kick starting the main pressing. There were not enough apples available to even think about using St. Em and I really did not mind because I was still beavering away with the elevator, in a frantic effort to get it up and running.

early sharps

Suddenly this week every thing changed. I was offered a load of early sharps. Remembering how I was chasing after Bramleys last year to increase the acid level of my bittersweet blend, this was an offer I could not refuse. I collected 2 tons of them yesterday and judging from their weird shape, they were mostly Cider Lady's Finger. Like it or not, St. Em's day had come! It was impossible not to be excited by the prospect, even though, without the elevator I would have to mill downstairs and lift all the pomace up to the cheese with my little red Vigo scoop.

The big moment

The apples were in sacks, of the size that need 25 to make a ton. By a strange coincidence I found that the quantity of apples in each sack when milled, made enough pomace to fill an Ikea plastic box and that this same quantity was just what was needed to make one layer of the cheese. It took me all day to do it, but I built an 11 layer cheese on St. Em. There was room for at least one more layer but by 7pm I'd had enough and could hardly wait any longer to give it a go! I'd consoled myself that having taken all day to build the cheese, the lower layers would be quite well macerated, though I was nevertheless surprised to see that 20 gallons of juice had accumulated in the receiving tank, even before the press was turned on. Fortunately I decided to pump this off to a vat before letting action commence. When the big moment came I was amazed how the juice poured off the press and had to switch the power off several times to prevent the juice tray from overflowing. The receiving tank was very quickly refilled and had to be pumped out again. The whole thing happened much more quickly than I'd imagined and was quite astounding. I am so used to slow acting, hand pumped, hydraulic presses that the sheer power and speed of St. Em really took me by surprise. In was not long at all before the cheese was fully compressed, hydraulic pressure was showing 4500 psi and the pump that had begun with a gentle' chug chug' started thumping from the sheer effort of it all. I peeped into the vat and was delighted to see that it was 3/4 full.

On doing the sums, I found that I'd made 60 gallons from 0.44 ton of fruit, a yield of 136 galls/ton. I'm very happy with that. The only trouble is there's 39 bags still to do and no elevator!

elevator gantry

Actually things were beginning to come together quite well before all this pressing madness began. At present I'm waiting for some timber to be delivered. This is needed for reinforcing the elevator gantry that I've made at the rear of the barn. I took a long hard look at the heavy cast iron pulleys and the flywheel of the elevator and another at the gantry that was intended to support it all and said, "Don't be silly, Rose!".

The old orchard

In one of my July postings, I mentioned seeing a photo in our local paper of a beautiful 14 acre cider orchard for sale, near Bridport. I desperately hoped that whoever bought it would keep it as it is. It was crammed full of standards at least 100 years old, leaning this way and that and wild flowers galore. I hoped that a philanthropist would buy it to preserve this gem of a wildlife habitat and cider apple heaven.

I am very happy to say that is exactly what happened! Even more to my surprise, I met the new owner this morning. I'd noticed that a new family had joined the congregation at our church in Blandford in the last 6 months or so. We were having coffee after the mass and a friend, knowing that I make cider, introduced me to the newcomers, who he informed me, had just bought a cider orchard! Oliver and his family have come to live here from South Africa. He is already a well known sculptor in this area and from what I could gather, bought the orchard just for the love of it. He knows nothing much about cider but he intends to look after the trees and keep everything as it is. He has already negotiated a 6 year contract with a cider maker to take the apples.

I was really thrilled to hear such good news. Needless to say, I hope to be invited to go and have a wander around this little paradise in due course!




I've discovered St. Em's secret vice. She is a hard task mistress who demands a full load of pomace at every pressing. If given short measure she responds by hissing and spurting high pressure water from around the top of her ram cylinder!


What on earth is Rose going on about? I hear you ask. I can explain, because I now realise what is happening. The ram is about 2 ft long and it compresses the cheese within the 3 ft press aperture. If only a small cheese is made, there is a danger that the ram could pop out of its cylinder at full compression. To prevent such a hideous thing happening those clever old French engineers put a taper on the last few inches of the ram. I noted this when I had the press in pieces on the floor of the garage, but thought no more about it at the time. I can see now that any tendency for the ram to be pushed out of its cylinder is prevented by the loss of pressure between the seal and the tapered portion.

It was disconcerting when this happened at the end of my first pressing. I thought the whole thing was about to blow up and hastily switched off the power. When the ram had settled back a bit I switched on again and all was well until the critical point was reached. Once more came the fearful hissing and spurting as St Em showed her displeasure.

Fully loaded

It would seem that the thing to do for small loads would be to add some bulks of timber between the cheese and the top plate. However I was keen to see what St Em could achieve when fully loaded. I worked solidly all of yesterday building a cheese of 12 x 3 inch layers.

I've had to revert to the apple washing method I used last year, the half an IBC tank and the plastic grass rake. Actually this proved to be a good thing. Whereas last year in our wet autumn, it enabled me to get rid of the mud on the apples, this year it made it easy to spot the sheep turds. Mark commented on the drought in Oz. One effect of the drought here has meant that the turds have not dissolved, even though the sheep were removed from the orchard well before harvesting. If like me, you are using apples that have been mechanically collected, do pay especial attention at the washing stage. Fortunately the turds are now too dry to dissolve quickly and can be easily spotted floating amongst the apples. I threw them to the rose bushes.

I then had to barrow the washed apples into the cider house having put them into B & Q stack-a- boxes for ease of handling. I then tipped the apples from these boxes into the hopper of the Vigo mill. I love this bit of the job. It's so fast and efficient and makes such a satisfying noise. These apples are small and rattle around in the machine making an exciting sound like that made by a tube train, when it can be heard approaching the station. The machine spat the pomace into my large IKEA boxes ready for loading on to St Em. It was very tiring work as the pomace had to be lifted from the box on the floor up onto the cheese with a scoop. Those of you who have done this will know that it is no trouble at all for the first few layers that are at table height, but that it gets progressively harder as the cheese gets higher. The real labour comes, perversely, just when you reach the tiredness peak! The, as yet unused, pomace hopper protruding from the ceiling above the loading position did not help matters either. I knocked the scoop against it several times and shot pomace all over the place. I was getting a bit fed up by this stage and said rude words.

Persistence won eventually and I pushed the completed 3ft cheese across the loading table into the press and switched on. This time I avoided the amazing flooding and potential overflowing of the tray by running the hydraulic pump in short bursts. I felt more in control of things and was able to pump out the receiving tank without worrying about the wild build up of juice in the cheese tray. I had tamed St Em, but would she still hiss at me?

70 Gallons


I'm glad to say that she was better behaved and generously gave me 70 gallons of juice. There was something like half a ton of apples in the cheese so it was a very good yield. It was 10 pm by the time I packed up. I felt very tired but satisfied with my 13 hour day. I fell into bed and sleep came as though by anaesthetic.

Today I'm aching all over and of course I can't keep going like this. I can only just about live with a day off between these half ton pressings in order to recover. I should have been getting more done to the elevator today but I didn't feel like it. I've decided to have a break from the pressing when this 2 ton batch of earlies is finished. It will be greatly to my advantage to get the elevator finished before the big rush with the mid season bittersweets gets underway.


PS. For Mark in Oz :

St Em's ram is 5.5 inches diam. 24 inches stroke. 60 tonnes pressure. The press tray is 36 x 36 x 4 ins The cheese itself is 31 x 31 inches, made of 12 x 3 inch layers interspersed with wooden racks. 1.5 hp electrically pumped, water hydraulic, pressure peaks at 4500 psi.

Tom Putts and Cider Lady's Finger

A pleasant start to the cider making yesterday, because on Sunday I harvested my Tom Putts. They were the best they've ever been this year. Some had become deep crimson all over, their characteristic stripes having been overpowered by the deep blush. There were also a good many that were unusually large, as much as 4 inches in diameter. It seemed quite sad to have to destroy their beauty by putting them in the mill, but the wonderful appley aroma that came from their pomace was a joyful compensation. I hope their beauty reemerges in the cider!

I happily filled the first two layers of the cheese with this pleasant contribution from my own orchard, then it was then back to doing the great load of little green ones from Somerset. It was not as pleasurable. Cider Lady's Finger is quite an ugly little apple and yet as far as cider is concerned it is just as useful as Tom Putt, having similar acidity and tannin. I hope that all my cider making etc wont make this cider lady's fingers end up looking like the apples so named. My hands are not a pretty sight as it is, especially at this time of the year.


The Elevator

I've had a break from the cider making and a busy weekend working on the elevator. The supporting gantry at the back of the barn has now been strengthened and the load bearing upright and top beam are now 6 x 4 inch timber. I looks like a substantial gallows and I expect that the neighbours are wondering if I'm about to put an end to it all. Imagine their surprise when they see the shiny refurbished elevator, resplendent in St Em dark blue hoisted up to the beam and firmly secured! It will not be too long now. The elevator parts are all refurbished, modified and painted. The garage is chock-a- block with it, where it all awaits the big day of roll out and assembly beneath the 'gallows'. There it will be 'hung' by the useful chain hoist that came in so handy for getting St. Em on to her feet.

The motor and gearbox assembly is completed and tested. This is upstairs above the press room. My intention is for the final drive shaft to protrude from the eaves of the barn immediately below the 2 ft pulley wheel on the top box of the elevator. The motor-gearbox drive will be fitted with a 1 ft pulley and this will be coupled to the elevator pulley by a drive belt.. Apples dropping from the top box of the elevator will fall into a chute, entering the barn roof through a small Velux roof light. Well that is the idea anyway! This is still a daunting project and I'm not at all sure if it is going to work. It involves 3 dimensional geometry because the elevator is not parallel to the barn but approaches it at an angle of 15 deg. I hope my calculations are correct and that the top box ends up in just the right place, above the drive pulley and 3ft higher than the ridge of the roof. Then there is the angle of elevator itself to consider. I've opted for 40 deg, which I hope will allow a good pick up of apples by the belt mounted paddles.

The sheep turd saga has caused me to rethink the wash tank at the foot of the elevator. I think a pre- wash / inspection tank is a necessity so that all debris can be seen and removed before the apples are sent aloft. I'm going to sit the bottom of the elevator in half of an IBC that is coupled to another half IBC tank at the front. I've connected the two tanks by cutting a large U in their sides and then bolting the 2 Us together with umpteen little nuts and bolts. Gutter sealant mastic was applied to each U before they were bolted together.

Now the project is on hold again, because today I collected another 2 tons of apples! I washed a 1/4 ton this evening (by the tank and grass rake method) and was disappointed to find that although they came from a different orchard, the turd problem was just as bad. This is the disadvantage of a long dry summer but what a bumper crop of apples this year! The crop on nearly every tree in this orchard was astounding. Quite a few had hefty branches broken by the weight of the crop. I've earmarked a huge old Kingston Black for next month, that is absolutely plastered with thousands of the little darlings, turning their characteristic dark crimson with black flecks. What they lack in size is certainly more than made up for in quantity.

Things are going quite well in spite of having to bring washed apples into the ciderhouse by wheelbarrow then mill and load St Em from ground level. The first 1000 litres of juice is bubbling merrily in an IBC and the glorious cider making smell is all about once more. I managed to persuade a farmer near here to take the spent pomace for his cattle. He is well pleased and so am I. I did not want to bury the stuff in the garden again this year, so I'd been taking it up to the orchard and just flinging it in the hedge. This had already become a chore that it is good to be rid of.

Tomorrow is the first of another series of half ton loads on St . Em. I aim to do one every other day, so perhaps the elevator can be elevated next week.

Layer Thickness

I think Ray is about right with 2 inches for the height of the cheese former. This worked well for me with my 16 inch press and I opted for 2 inches because I had seen so many other presses with similar sized layers. The press had 7 layers and two inches per layer seemed to be ergonomically just right for it.

St. Em came with a 2 inch former. It was old and tatty so I replaced it with a 3 inch one which I've found works very well. I went to 3 inches to cut down the number of layers and I am glad that I did. 12 layers tests my patience far enough. 18 would be beyond endurance!

Technically I suppose the thinner the layer, the more efficient the juice extraction becomes. However one has to consider if a marginal increase in efficiency is justified by all the extra fiddling about plus the extra cost of racks and cloths. I can't believe that layer thickness is terribly critical anyway. I've seen some well known producers using great bags of pomace about 6 inches thick with no more than a few slats of wood wedged between them!

New Routine

I've started a new routine with St Em. My first attempts at doing a half ton pressing in a day were utterly exhausting. I was also full of aches on the next day, so I just had to change things a bit in order to spread the load. The most tiring part of the job is washing the apples, barrowing them through the garden into the ciderhouse and then lifting them box by box into the hopper of the mill. I have now found that the best plan is to do half of this work the day before I press. I wash and mill enough apples to fill 6 Ikea polypropylene boxes with pomace. These boxes are ideal. They are the right height to fit snugly below the spout of the Vigo mill and each holds enough pomace for one layer of the cheese. They also have lids so, I put the lids on and leave them overnight. In the morning I can soon build the first 6 layers on St. Em and then still have enough go in me to wash and mill the apples for the other 6 layers. This means that St. Em's big moment comes at around 4 pm instead of 7 pm and that I'm not still cleaning up the equipment at bed time!


I now feel that I'm making good progress. St. Em is working really well and gives over 300 litres at each pressing. I put the output of each pressing into a 400 litre stainless vat and sulphite it according to the pH. As I have 3 of these vats in the press room, the juice from each pressing can remain there for a few days to give the sulphite time to work before I pump the juice into the 1000 litre fermenting tanks in the next room. I also check the starting SG but haven't seen anything exciting as yet. The early sharps were 1045, which is what I usually get for Tom putts etc. I'm doing Majors and Brown's apples now and getting 1050. Its going to be a job to catch you up Stephen, but I'm looking forward to seeing what the Dabinetts and Kingstons can do for me next month.

Today a friend came and helped me to move the elevator into position below the gantry at the back of the barn. I will now be able to hoist it into position when there's some time to screw and bolt it all together. Its getting there slowly! However I'm not as worried now, about not being able to use it. The new way of working with St Em is proving to be a good temporary measure. I really enjoyed the work today. When I got back from my morning dog walk it was so nice to be able to get going straight away building the cheese. I love this part of the job. It is such a very pleasant thing to do whilst listening to music on the radio from Classic FM! ( I can't hear the radio at all when milling). When half the cheese was completed, I then felt justified in taking a leisurely coffee break before starting the apple washing for the second half.

Actually what I am doing is similar to the way that I intend to use the elevator. On day one I will get all the apples up into the loft, mill them and fill the hopper above the press room with pomace. On day 2 the pomace will be let down from the hopper to build the cheese that will then be pressed by St. Em. The difference will be the lack of all the lifting and carrying. What a joy that will be!

Another reason to be joyful has happened already. The sheep's whatsits are no more! The Browns and Majors in my trailer are clean, sound and without foreign bodies save the odd leaf here and there. Either the orchard they came from went longer without being grazed, or the heavy rain that we had a week ago did the trick and dissolved it all away. I'm really pleased, as it took a lot of extra effort to ensure that nothing unwanted got as far as the mill.

8289401_8cd6453906_s.jpg end of September, 2006

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