RG 2007 November
| This page is part of The Cidermaking Year by Rose Grant
Ni to the rescue!
The pressing demonstration at the College Apple day nearly put paid to the rest of my cidermaking. With my back still aching from apple picking in the preceding week, lifting the press and the mill into the Landrover, to take to the event, proved to be the 'last straw'. Ashley my fellow cidermaker in the demonstration marquee was very helpful and kindly saw to all the unloading and reloading of the gear at the event. However the damage was done and by Sunday I was in too much pain to do anything much at all.
Some days before this happened I'd had a kind offer from Ni to come and help me with the cider making. We had arranged that he would arrive on the following Wednesday, since I was due to collect the next trailer load from Somerset on the Tuesday. These carefully laid plans now seemed to be in jeopardy. On the Sunday it seemed as though the week ahead would be an ongoing disaster. Fortunately it proved to be just the opposite!
On the Monday I fixed an appointment with Nicki my therapist. She practises a gentle manipulation developed in Australia for the treatment of sports injuries. It had previously proved to be effective for my neck pain so I was now hopeful of a cure for my back. It just so happens that Nicki is also a cidermaker ( funny how I keep meeting fellow cidermakers!) and we chatted enthusiastically about the noble art, throughout my treatment on her couch. By the end of the session not only had I started to feel better physically, but both of us were itching to get going with the cider again! Nicki wanted to get pressing the apples she had collected at the weekend. A number of sweet smelling bags of apples still resided in her car and we went to have a good look at these after the treatment. Suddenly it seemed a lot more likely that I'd be getting that trailer load from Somerset on the following day.
When Ni arrived at lunch time on the Wednesday I had started washing the apples from the load obtained the day before. He drew up alongside the apple washing tank and set about unloading gifts of a Cherry Norman tree that he'd grafted and four bags of Cherry Normans for a trial pressing. My delight was followed by amazement when he got straight into the cider making after his long drive from Herefordshire! We just kept going until early evening, by which time we'd made nearly a full cheese on St. Em. Ni was really great and took over all the heavy jobs, like pulling the carts full of washed apples to the ciderhouse and then milling them. I had the easy part of smoothing the pomace on to each layer of the cheese as it emerged in sausages from the pipe above the press. Ni did not seem to tire, but I think we were both rather pleased to get sat down in the pub for the rest of the evening.
two pressings per day
The Thursday was phenomenal. We completed the first pressing and then did another. It was the first time St Em had pressed twice in one day since her retirement here. Her enforced labour was due to the speed of our combined operation. My back had now miraculously improved so I was able to take a bigger share of the preparation workload. We devised a system that allowed one of us to be washing more apples while the other milled the previously washed cart load. A furtive dash into the press room was of course needed every so often, to finish each layer and set up the rack, cloth and former for the next. Our objective was to empty the trailer. I had only been able to get a part load from Somerset, because Justin had nearly run out of apples, so I'd fixed up with Oliver to get another load from Bridport on the Friday. The trailer was indeed empty by nightfall and ready for the next load . We enjoyed the warm glow of achievement and went indoors to reward ourselves with a tasting of our own ciders ( or should I say 'cyders' with respect to Ni's )
This long and hard working day was alleviated by the visits of cidermaking friends. Ashley came to get some bittersweets to spice up his own 'culinary' blend. Nicki arrived with samples of the juice from her pressings. We then tested these for pH and Sg . The good results obtained showed that the promise of her aromatic apples had been fulfilled. We mixed her three samples and this showed that a good blend could be made from all of her bags of apples added together. This was no great surprise. I had noted that there was a good selection of useful jerseys in Nicki's collection.
the hills and sea
After such a big working day, it seemed as cheerful as a works outing when Ni and I drove to Oliver's orchard the following day. I pondered on my dramatic change of fortune. To be driving over the hills of west Dorset on a sunny morning with those joyous glimpses of blue sea every now and then, was more than I could have hoped for. Only a few days earlier I'd feared that my cidermaking was over for this year. Now I could visualise the completion my 7000 litres and Oliver's orchard was about to supply the raw material needed. I felt happy, having been buoyed up by the help of my friends.
When we arrived, Oliver already had the first half ton of Dabinetts in the hopper of his harvester. He soon dropped these into the trailer and then went off down the rows to pick up another load on the tractor mounted machine. We had hoped to also get some Porter's Perfection but these had not yet been shaken down. Ni and I got some very long panking poles from the barn and were soon shaking the branches of Mr Porter's trees with great vigour. It is always a pleasure to see the spotted Porter's dangling and ready for harvest. It is also very satisfying to make them rain from their trees, whilst being careful not to to look up at them as they thud down through the branches. ( A falling apple gave me a black eye last year that lasted for 3 weeks!) We managed to pull down enough Porters for a half ton of them to be collected and then added as a topping to the Dabinetts in the trailer.
Saturday morning we built a few layers from Oliver's apples as an offering to St Em. This was in the manner of a peace offering because we were two minds with but a single thought; to get to the Square and Compass for the annual cider festival! We got there by lunch time. It was another fine day and plenty warm enough to sit outside the front of the pub all afternoon sampling the ciders. We both commented on how very relaxing this was. It was of course just what we needed; to be able to unwind after our hectic few days and just watch the world go by. A good range of real ciders had been bought in by Kevin, the bar manager, including a box of my Ashmead's Kernel, especially for the festival. It was interesting to be able to try a few of the unusual ones. I'd always wondered what Slack ma Girdle cider would be like and there it was, bravely presented as a single variety! I just had to have a glass! Arrgh! the sharpness of the authentic scrumpy flavour took me back to those old Somerset cider making farms of yesteryear. A truly nostalgic experience, which when the initial shock of sharpness had passed, became quite enjoyable. It was similar to how Thai prawns may be enjoyed, once the palate has become accustomed to the hot spices.
Charlie had arranged all his equipment outside for a cider making demonstration. Boxes and boxes of brightly coloured apples were stacked high all around. We expected a full on episode of mass production, like last year, but this was not to be. Instead there were just a few demonstration bursts of activity every so often. There were many of Charlie's friends in evidence so we guessed that the drinking of cider had taken priority over the making of it! More and more people arrived as time went on and it was great to see so many of all ages just enjoying the event. It felt good to be there and it seemed to be a perfect finale to Ni's kind and very helpful visit.
I am greatly indebted to Ni and also to Sharon for putting up with his absence right in the middle of their own cyder making! Thanks to Ni's help and Nicki's manipulation I'm fully recovered from the back problem and am now on the last lap with my cider.
I've had a pumping session today and have blended the main tanks that now hold 6200 litres of next year's Cider by Rosie. There are also 300 litres of specials for bottling. This includes 60 litres made with Ni's Cherry Norman, an apple with delightful aroma. Now I can enjoy a few more fiddly bits, to use up the last 500 litres. The weather is expected to take a chilly turn this weekend, so tomorrow I will mill enough pomace to macerate for 300 litres of keeved Dabinett. There will be a touch of those pretty Porters in it, to lend extra flavour and a little of the essential acidity that the Dabinett lacks.
Hand operated scratter
Last year I used a blender and 9l vigo screwpress to get 12 gallons. This year the equipment has improved to a vigo hand scratter (the one with a big green steering wheel). It takes an entire evening to press 4 gallons. - Jez
You have just put a big smile on my face! The boredom of the box and the warmth of a good log fire had knocked me out for an hour or so. Now fully awake once more in the cool of the study, it was a joy to read your posting and return to the real world.
I too am an ex wrestler of the 'big green steering wheel'. I found it impossible to turn using the protruding wooden handle and had to wind it round with both hands, as though it actually was meant to be a steering wheel. I remember cursing it for being a steering wheel without power steering! I also had the barrel press that this scratter was designed to sit on. This was the better half of the duo but used to annoy me by its tendency to rotate when the screw started to get hard to turn. The little iron feet cut some nasty looking gouges in our kitchen table. I was able to get over this problem by using a car jack instead of the screw, but I was never able to tame the scratter. My one attempt at motorising it was a dismal failure. I think only a belt drive from a steam traction engine ( like at Barry's do) would have shifted it!
Your reasons for wanting to make cider also rang a few bells with me. In 1992 I planted 50 vines and for years afterwards I tried to make wine using their grapes. I'm able to enjoy even cheap supermarket wine, but seldom did I manage to make a grape wine that was even slightly enjoyable. Fortunately at the same time as planting the grapes, I also put in my first 6 cider apple trees. What a buzz I got from those first home made ciders! The feeling of achievement made wrestling with the scratter and the sandpapering of the marks from the kitchen table seem really worthwhile!
The vines are now a tangled hedge and have become part of the windbreak for my cider orchard. They are full of lots of bunches of tiny grapes. Anybody want to have a go at wine making? You'd be welcome to have them, if the birds haven't done so already.
I was inspired by my new found joy to double the output year on year to the excise limit. I consider this to be a sensible limit for one person to do, both commercially and physically. If you want to start going that way I would recommend making a small pack press ( plans on the wiki ). It is easy enough to do and hydraulic jacks are cheap as chips. I would not part with the 16 inch oak press that I made, it is so useful even now. A motorised scratter is a bit more difficult but again there are good working plans and photos on our wiki. If you baulk at this level of mechanics then try and go for a Shark mill. A good value purchase that will make producing pomace a pleasure.
Those russetty and veined apples sound promising. I can think of a few cider apples that have that look about them.
Good luck and keep us posted! Rose.
The Vigo hand mill more or less rips the apples to shreds. Does it mean that I should be doing more to the pomace after I mill? -Jez
Yes that is a fair description of what happens to apples after passing through the claws of a Vigo hand mill. It is why the "steering wheel" is so difficult to turn. The claws tend to embed themselves into the apples like little anchors. When enough force can be applied to the wheel they then mash their way through the apple. As a result the pomace produced is rather coarse. Small apples work better than large ones as they are less likely to become anchored by the claws. It pays to quarter or halve the larger apples but this tends to become rather a chore.
Having aired the problems I must say that I used one of these for many years and happily made umpteen demijohns of cider with it. It was certainly adequate to make enough cider for my own consumption and also enough to spread a little happiness at various little events in this village!
The Vigo electric centrifugal mills have a much better action and do produce a good juicy porridge with a uniform particle size of about 4mm. I did notice a considerable improvement in yield when I was able to get one of these. They have a two stage action, slicing and then hammering, which probably accounts for the improved texture of the pomace and better juice yield.
Andy and Lou (our May Queen) helped me to pick the remaining apples in Venetia's Orchard. It was good to have their help. Apple picking is certainly one of those jobs where many hands make light work.The apples were now all on the ground so we raked them into heaps. The three of us then lounged on the carpet of dry leaves around the heaps, roman style, each with an elbow on the ground for support. We chatted about apples, cider and life in general as we plopped the apples into boxes with our free hands. The pleasant sociable nature of this operation meant that the job seemed to be done in next to no time! In the course of the afternoon we collected over half a ton. I reckoned this would just be right to see the output reach 7000 litres so we left the large quantity of Michelins that had now accumulated below the last pair of Venetia's cider trees. Last year they had been just as plentiful but stayed small and green. This year they were bigger and golden. It was as though they were trying to tempt me to take them and in so doing, crash the 7000 barrier. I thought how foolish it would be to do that, especially with such a miserable variety! It was a temptation easily resisted. I had collected their early fallers a few weeks ago and when milled, found the pomace was so dry that it nearly choked the Mono pump!
Big red Dabinetts
The apples we had carefully collected were mostly Dabinett and Brown Snout. These were very fine indeed, having being fully ripened in the many days of sunny autumn weather. Amongst the Dabinetts were the large beauties from the sun blessed tree tops, that I'd admired from below on my last visit. Now so easily to hand, they looked irresistibly good enough to eat. Andy and I just had to try one ! They really were lovely, so sweet and juicy with a rich tannic flavour. I'd never truly enjoyed eating a cider apple before, but we both agreed that these were very tasty. The tannin in cider apples is usually hard to abide, but in these big red Dabinetts it provided a strength of character that enhanced their unique flavour. As I compared this flavour with the milder taste of some eating varieties, it put me in mind of the richness of a dark velvety real ale, as compared to the blandness of a lager. The thought did cross my mind that perhaps I have an addiction to tannin anyway, due to a lifelong love affair with the great British cuppa!
The supply of fine Dabinetts, together with the arrival of chilly weather, led naturally to my annual attempt at keeving. I have a wide bodied 400 litre stainless vat that is ideal for the job, so this year instead of messing about with several of the blue plastic tubs, I decided to do just one 300 litre batch in the stainless vat. Aware of the risk of 'putting all my eggs in one basket', it was essential to leave nothing to chance. Juice pressed on St. Em always starts fermenting within a few days, probably due to ancient yeasts in her old racks. This is just what I did not want to happen with the keeved juice. Clearly the only thing to do was to use the small press and ensure that everything was ultra clean and sterilised. Lashings of sulphite solution were applied to the woodwork. Then the 'net curtain' cloths were given a good clean in the washing machine. The uncertainty that still remained was the weather. I repeatedly checked the long range forecast until I felt reasonably confident that the chill would last, finally deciding to make a go of it over the weekend.
About 25 % of Porter's Perfection were added to the Dabinetts to improve acidity. The mixture was then milled into IKEA plastic boxes so that the pomace could be dosed with diluted enzyme. I mixed this in well, put the lids on the boxes and then left them to macerate overnight. It then took 7 pressings of the small press to get 300 litres, which was rather laborious, though hopefully worthwhile. There is now a lovely sweet smelling juice in the vat, with a gravity of 1064 and a pH of 3.6. Very pleasing!
I was still worried about a possible rise in daytime temperature and this led me to insulate the steel vat. A friend just down the road was doing a home improvement during the summer and threw out loads of Celotex insulation slabs. I thought these would be just the thing for insulating the walls of the tank room. Cider was therefore bartered and the slabs were then duly stacked upstairs in the ciderhouse. Needless to say, the tank room walls have not yet been insulated, but the blocks have now found a useful temporary home, forming a wall of insulation around the keeving vat.
Today I started the last pressing of the season, on St Em. This one should get me up to the excise limit. Later it became so miserably cold for washing apples that I've had to leave completion of the cheese until tomorrow. (Maceration is the name of the game here!).
The good thing, of course, is that the temperature of the juice in the keeving tank is now delightfully cool. Its temperature has now fallen from 11 to 7 C. The calcium chloride has been added, so now comes the wait and see part.
Will it or wont it? I'll let you know, when and if something happens.
Square and Compass festival video
Ni and I were amused to see Charlie energetically using this tool at the Square and Compass festival. Charlie seemed to have discovered that it can also be used like a piston to increase the throughput!. See Ni's footage of the event:
Good isn't it?
The press is operated by 2 rams that push upwards from below the cheese. Charlie told me that they are from (or perhaps were new spares for) a combine harvester. The hydraulic pump is powered from a large battery at the foot of the press, which he says lasts a long time between charges. You may have noted that the cheese layers are envelopes of porous material. These are small coal sacks that Charlie bought new. It seems to be a quicker way of doing things than conventional rack and cloth, rather like a vertical form of the Good Nature press. Last year they were used without racks. I see that since then Charlie has been to Vigo! If ever there was a demonstration of why racks are needed then this is it. Have a look and see how the juice gushes out from between the envelopes now!
I was intent on making a large rack and cloth press before I came across my beloved St. Em. Like Charlie's, this was going to be powered by a 12 volt hydraulic system and I got as far as buying a second hand ram and hydraulic pump. This is a powerful and hefty thing that came from an agricultural tipping trailer. It is still lurking in our garage but would really prefer to go to a good home, if anyone is interested.
The ram is 3 ins diameter and has a stroke of 30 ins. Like all trailer rams of this type, it is single acting. A solenoid valve is energised to allow the pressure to be released, but it needs the weight of the trailer floor to retract the ram and force the fluid back to the reservoir tank. St Em works the same way but uses water instead of oil. Like St. Em this jack could power a press by pushing upwards from below the table. The table would be made beefy enough so that its weight would be sufficient to retract the ram when the hydraulic pressure is released.
Excise duty in Ireland
Many of us will remember David Llewellyn posting from Dublin, a while back. He is an enthusiastic craft cider producer and very keen to promote the real thing in Ireland. I seem to remember his cider was appropriately called "Double L" and he sold it from a market stall in Dublin. One of our members had the pleasure of meeting him and sampling his cider. I can't recall who. Was it Vicky, or Tania?
I had an email from David the other day. I was sad to hear that the authorities are giving David and his cider a very hard time. With David's permission, I am forwarding part of the text. Coming on top of our worries that we may lose the 70 hl duty concession, what is now happening to David puts things very much into perspective. I foresee craft producers being hauled before the courts here, rather than pay a tax that cripples small scale initiative.
I am presently on trial in the Dublin Circuit Court - the trial started today! - for the "intent to defraud the state of excise duty on cider". Without going into details, the crux of my defense is that I have been making and selling cider under the understanding that a little-known section of the 1940 cider regulations has exempted me from having a licence and from paying excise duty, by virtue of the fact that I am essentially deriving my living from the land. I see this as a test case for apple growers here, and I am prepared to fight it to the death (or, more realistically, prison!!!).
It also makes one realise how fortunate we have been to have our concession in the UK and why we must fight to the utmost, in order to keep it!
I was just so pleased and proud to hear that ukcider has amassed 1000 signatures. Many of our members have also written to MPs and MEPS to support the campaign. That surely speaks volumes about ukcider. It can not be just dismissed as a chat group! I admit to once thinking of it in that cosy sort of way. It was so easy to think that it is only read by the same dozen or so people that post to it. How wrong I was!
Over the last year or so I have become more and more aware of how many people there are who just read ukcider because they like cider. Some who have spoken to me at events have a detailed knowledge of topics that we have discussed. I've had a good number of impromptu visits during the summer from people down here on holiday who have been following my exploits. I show them round and am amused to find that they are so familiar with it all. "Oh yes, seen all that on the website", they mutter. ( Ray's photos of my works). I think they seem to know so much about everything, that they can only have come for a taster. I make sure they don't go away disappointed. I also get emails from folks who have never posted on list but who want a bit of info about 'this', or where to get 'that'.
What does someone do who likes cider and wants to learn more about it? He puts 'Cider' in Google and there, never far from top of the shop is ukcider and the wiki pages, crammed full of everything there is to know about real cider. What it is and is not, how it is made and where it can be obtained.
I call that influential!
I think that craft made cider needs to have its own promotional organisation and one that is independent of the NACM. We need to do what CAMRA did so well at their inception, which is to educate the public, in our case that the real full juice product is poles apart from that which is factory produced and happens to share the same name.
We are actually in a better position than CAMRA were at the time. Nowadays we have the amazing advantage of the Web, the power of which is growing at an incredible rate as more people discover the convenience of it's shopping and access to information. This is why I'm so upbeat about ukcider and as I've already outlined, have personally become aware of it's increasing influence.
Off-trade sales of cider exceeded that of bitter ale in the last financial year (Cider £453 m, Bitter ale £447m). Our mission should be persuade people to buy a larger proportion of that 'cider' figure, as real cider.
Perhaps someone could design a suitable display card or sticker to promote the name of ukcider.co.uk in the places where real cider is offered. I could probably get one displayed in the pubs and off licences that I supply. Other producers and those with connections and friends in the trade could do the same. This could be a simple and effective way to spread the message to our increasingly computer literate populace.
The final pressing on St Em took me to 6600 litres, leaving enough allowance to do 300 litres of keeved cider and my last little pressing of Ashmeads from the 'Wassail' tree later this month.
I had taken great care to avoid early fermentation of the keeved cider. The cold spell of weather had also been very helpful. Every day I gently lifted the lid of the vat and peeped at the juice and hoping not to see those tiny telltale bubbles. I need not have worried. Inside the vat all remained perfectly calm. It continued to look like a large tin of golden syrup for a whole week. Then the excitement began! It started as barely visible swirls of cloudiness that seemed to be about a foot below the surface. Next day I could hardly believe my eyes. A large lump of solid pectin gel appeared to be hovering just below the surface. The bulk of this growth extended a long way down into the juice. It could be seen quite easily because the once syrupy juice had become remarkably clear. The miracle of keeving had happened in the night!
This was not at all what I had been expecting, having seen those classic brown caps this time last year. I've come to the conclusion that this year, the suppression of fermentation was rather too effective. Ideally the fermentation should start very gently at the same time as the pectin precipitation. Then the little bubbles of gas give just enough buoyancy to the gel for it to rise and form the cap. This is the uncertain and exciting nature of the job, because the whole thing depends on interacting variables and can easily go wrong. At least what had happened was still to my advantage and much better than the other extreme. It is a sad experience to see what was once a good brown cap, being devastated by a vigorous fermentation. I've had this happen several times.
It was time for a transatlantic consultation with keeving expert, Gary. The wondrous internet came into its own. A picture of the Thing in the tank was sent over the ether and an email discussion ensued. We agreed that it was best not to risk waiting for the Thing to rise and form a cap, but to carefully siphon off the juice from around it. At least that way not all would be lost. I used the little Europump to avoid causing a stir and found that 200 litres could be taken off before the pectin became too close to the end of the suction pipe. I then put a little fermenting juice from another tank into the remainder. A day later this proved to be just right as a proper looking cap had now formed. It was now possible to pump off the remaining juice from below the cap.
There is now a total of 280 litres of well keeved juice that has begun to slowly bubble. Glory Be! I'm looking forward to this one. I think that Dabinett and Porters should be a good combination for a special.