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Over the last few weeks we have been hosting and taking part in a number of community apple pressing events. I wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who made their way down to Swan Barn Farm with their apples to take part, and get involved.

Apple washing

In the introduction to the fantastic Common Ground “Apple Source Book” Sue Clifford and Angela King say “Over the years we have bred or chanced upon hundreds of varieties of apples that suit the vagaries of the British weather, the mysteries of our locality and our taste. In half a lifetime we have squandered this cultural inheritance. Monoculture has taken over our countryside and monotony our shops… Yet we should be as proud of our orchards – as protective of them, the hills, valleys and the people who support them, and as imaginative about the food, drinks, songs and stories they generate as the french are of their vineyards and vines. Traditional orchards are cultural landmarks, the source of genetic variety, local recipies and customs. They are beautiful to be in and are Havens for wildlife.”

apple pressing day

I couldn’t agree more, I am so proud of the two orchards we have planted at Swan Barn Farm. On our apple pressing and Wassailing days they come alive, they are filled with the promise of bounty, taste, blossom and life. To see people making their way to us from the High Street with their bags and bucket fulls of apples makes me smile. I know that the way to properly protect a landscape, and ensure it lives on into the future is to give it value and relevance in the minds of local people. Making apple juice and cider might be a bit of good fun, but more importantly than that, for me, it is the best chance we have of giving our orchards a future.

 We pressed over a tonne of apples this year, the fermenters were all lined up in a row.

fermenters

Most of them were carried back up the farm track with the people that brought the apples. We kept a few to ferment out though, watch out for our events over the coming year, where if you are lucky you might get a chance to taste some cider made from the apples that grow in our orchards.

pressing

Our historic apple pressing and scratting machinery was a big hit again, people love using it to squish and press the apples. You never grow tired of seeing the fresh juice flow straight out of the press. It tastes better than anything you could ever buy in a shop.

I am sure lots of the juice was drunk over the next few days, but I know that lots of people wanted to make it into cider. We try to explain to people the process on the day, but I have had a few requests from people asking for more information, so I thought I would try and post something useful.

We took the juice from the press and put it into the fermenters, where we added yeast, and nothing else. Over the next week or so the juice started to froth and bubble and come to life. By now the fermentation should have started to slow, and the pulp in it will be starting to settle out.

 ready to rack

The whole process is completely temperature dependant, so if your fermenters have been in a colder room than the one above you could still be weeks away from this stage. Be patient, it will all come good in the end!

The fermenter above is ready to be “racked off”. This simply means seperating the juice from the pulp and yeast. You can either use a syphon tube or simply gently pour it into a pan, leaving the sediment behind, and then wash out the fermenter and return the juice to it. I will top it back up to the same level with water (to keep out excess oxygen) and then leave it to go through a second, much slower fermentation. If you want to either speed this fermentation up a bit, or add extra strength (rarely neccessary!) add a desert spoon or so of sugar as well. With the airlock back on it will ferment slowly for several more weeks before almost all of the rest of the yeast and pulp has settled out, the bubbling ceases, it clears, and is ready to bottle. I bottle it in recycled Newcastle Brown bottles, and add half a teaspoon of sugar to each bottle. This sugar will be acted on by the last of the yeast, bottle conditioning and adding a light fizz. Presentation is all when it comes to home made drinks. A chilled pretty bottle with clear liquid and a delicate fizz is always more likely to win people over, I think anyway.

finished cider

I hope that helps, if you follow that basic process you shouldnt go too far wrong, there is loads of information out there on the internet if you need it, the only thing I would recommend is patience and time, once it is in the bottle give it time to settle and mature, if it isn’t nice it probably isnt ready yet. Give it till next summer for the ultimate in local, sustainable, feel good, fresh, appley goodness.

Good Luck, Happy Homebrewing, and hope to see you at the Wassail!

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Thank you so much to everyone who came along on Saturday and made our Community Apple Pressing Day such a success.

apples on community day

We reckon around 300 or so people made their way down Collards Lane to the Farm, many bearing trugs, buckets, bags and other containers of apples, goodness knows how many apples we processed in the end, but we were flat out all day long.

Everyone got stuck in and saw the process through from beginning to end, fist chopping the apples.

apple day 2013

Then scratting (the scratter processes them into mush by squeezing them between toothed rollers).

scratter

Before they were stacked in “cheeses” in the press. The screw of the press was then wound down to force the juice out through the cloth’s and seperate it from the left over pulp or “pommace”.

Press

It was great fun, it is always fantastic to see so many people getting involved and having fun using our traditional machinery. It really makes the orchard come alive. Our press has been making apple juice in this corner of the country for well over a hundred years and it is still going strong. That first taste of fresh apple juice each year makes all the work tending and planting the trees worthwhile. If you still have apples on your tree and want to get involved our machinery and some of the Black Down team will be at the Lodsworth Community Pressing Day this Saturday, so there is still time!

Many, many gallons of apple juice were taken away from Swan Barn Farm last weekend. It tasted absolutely fantastic on the day, and keeps well for a few days in the fridge. Any longer than that and it needs to be frozen, but in the freezer we find it lasts till at least Christmas really well.

We also gave out cider making instructions to lots of people on the day, I have had quite a few people asking questions about this since then. So, for them, here is my duffers guide to cider making.

apple juice

I tend to use a bought yeast, and add it to the juice in a demijohn as soon as possible. The airlock and bung then goes on and over the next few days the yeast starts to act on the natural sugars, releasing bubbles of CO2 and converting the sugar to alchohol. The plastic demijons with cork bungs are often not completely air tight and so the bubbler airlocks dont always work as well as in glass ones, but it will all still work, don’t worry! Look closely and you will see little bubbles rising through the cider showing you all is well.

After a couple of weeks (although the timing is very temperature dependant) the fermentation will start to slow, at this point you rack off, which just means seperating the cider from the settled out mass that will have appeared at the bottom. I use a syphon tube, but you can pour it gently into another container if you don’t have one. Then wash out the demijohn, getting rid of the sediment before pouring the cider back in. I usually top up with a bit of water back to the same level. If you want you can add a desert spoon of white sugar to kick off a secondary fermentation (beware though, this will add strength as well!). Either way it will continue to ferment away, more slowly this time. Over the next few weeks the cider will clear as the last of the sediment settles out and the fermentation slows and eventually almost entirely ceases.

When it has finished fermenting, has cleared and it is no longer producing carbon dioxide it is ready to bottle. Old beer or lemonade bottles are perfect as they can take pressure. Add sugar at a rate of 1/2 a teaspoon per pint for a lightly sparkling (hopefully a little bit classy) cider. You can probably have it ready to drink by christmas, but it will be even better if left in the bottles until the spring.

It isn’t a conplicated process, if you are careful and use clean containers you should be able to make something pretty nice. I suppose the point partly is to preserve all that fantastic fresh produce and keep it long term. But for me what it is really all about is looking after our orchard, and giving it a long term future, through the mechanism of getting people to appreciate it. When you sit down with a glass of chilled, clear, lightly sparkling cider on a warm spring day and think of the bees back out pollinating the orchard blossom it makes it tastes pretty sweet.

Swan Barn Orchard

 

Having only been presented with the screw for the press there was quite a bit of new metalwork that needed to be bought and fitted to get the project off the ground.

Unfortunately when it comes to buying nuts, bolts and tie straps unless you spend a lot of money the only ones it is relatively easy to get are galvanised and distinctly shiney looking, not really what you want for cider press restoration. I managed (again with lots of help from John, thankyou!) to source the bits we needed, but they needed some pretty severe distressing, and I don’t mean by calling them names.

The plan we came up with was a highly scientific programme of hitting hard with a hammer, dragging round behind a landrover on string, chucking in a very hot fire and then leaving in a water trough for 24 hours…

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It was a bit of a messy faff cleaning them up after so that the threads all worked nicely, and some might say it wasn’t worth the effort, I guess you just have to judge for yourself from the before and after bolts below. I know which one I reckon looks the part.

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All of the parts in the press are really oversize and heavy, lucky for the Slindon team the thing is going to be huge, otherwise after all this work I reckon I’d be sneaking it in my pocket and dragging it back to Black Down!

Next was fitting the boss in the top beam.

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The boss holds the screw up in the air, so needs to be really snug in the beam otherwise the whole thing would just drop rather than pressing. Much nifty drilling and chiseling later it was being driven into a beam with a very large hammer. When it was halfway in I must confess to weak thoughts of blimey, if this doesn’t drive all the way home we are never getting it out again. But, with a few more judicious hits success was achieved. Suffice to say the bolts that hold it in place are entirely decorative, that thing is never coming out.

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Mortice cutting in the top beam next. I wanted to get a few of the key joints cut to give a plan to work to next week when there are more people helping. That way the maths could be done in advance without too much thinking on my feet. The mortices are the slots cut into the beam that will later recieve and hold the legs in place.

The other job that I knew was going to be really tricky, and therefore wanted to get out of the way was making the plattern (which is what I am reliably informed is the correct name for the plate of a press).

It is made out of a large chunck of oak sawn out of the middle of a tree. It needs holding together with metal tie straps otherwise the force it excerts on the crushed apples to extract the juice would split it apart. Katie and Lauren did a fantastic job of marking out and recessing the straps into the wood.

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It was really fiddly and complicated, there are straps underneath as well as on top and they all need to line up perfectly. Daves penchant for working in inches when working in wood probably doesn’t help much either.

Recessing the metal meant lots of marking and measuring, but we were really pleased with the result.

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Next comes lots more joint cutting and fitting together… wish us luck!

If you are interested in orchards, apples, apple trees, cider or just fancy trying out something different this Saturday afternoon why not pop down to our Swan Barn Farm Community Apple pressing day.

We will be here from 10.30 till 3 for this family freindly fun event.  If your apple tree at home did well this year why not bring along your own apples and join in using our fantastic heritage press and scratter to turn it in to the finest tasting apple juice you will ever have come across.We will check how many apples you bring and you will be able to take home the equivalent in juice (bring a container!). The juice is pretty fantastic, but if you want to go the extra mile we can also instruct you how to turn it into your own delicious cider. Our orchards did pretty badly fruit wise this year due to the terrible weather at pollination time, but we have managed to beg, borrow and steal enough apples for the day so even if your tree was bare (or you have no tree) you can still come along and join in.

Our press has been making apple juice around Haslemere for over 100 years and is still going strong.

The scratter was kindly donated by a friend of Black Down, it came from a small farm in France. They are both fascinating machines, that require quite a bit of human power to get them working, they are great fun to work with.

The Black Down countryside team will be on hand to offer advice or answer any of your orchard, apple, or cider related questions. In the light of this years bad harvest we hope to increase chances of good luck for next year by holding a community wassail and bringing some positive appley luck to the orchard, further details coming soon.

Refreshments will be available on the day and there is plenty of space for kids to run around and have fun, hope to see you there.

 

I wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who came along to our apple pressing day yesterday. Everyone seemed to be enjoying it, and it was great to see so many locally grown apples being put to good use.

We didn’t get chance to count, but reckoned over 150 people came along and brought their apple harvest with them. I reckon we processed over a tonne of apples. Stirling work was done on the scratter and press on a very hot day, a few people in particular put in some really hard work, thanks especially to you.

There was plenty of fantastic tasting apple juice being drunk, and plenty more went home with people to be turned into cider. My demijohns are now happily fermenting away in the kitchen, hope yours are too.

There were also a number of tours of the new Speckled Wood building throughout the day, the project seemed to get a very positive reaction.

On the roof of the building last week we passed a major milestone. At four o’clock on friday afternoon the last shingle on the eastern side went on.

The sunshine was pretty fierce up there last week, and it was hot work for everyone. We had lots of help on all sorts of jobs last week from a group of working holiday volunteers, they really helped us move things along, and the roof was just one part of that.

I know lots of people who read the blog have had a hand in making or sponsoring these shingles. I hope you like the way they look now they are in place.

Its on to the other half of the roof next week. We will be hoping we have made enough shingles, there aren’t enough to finish the southern verandah, that will have to be finished later, but we are all hoping we have enough to finish the main roof, otherwise we will have a few days of extra shingle making out in the woods!

Last friday we had our first apple pressing of the year. A group of working holiday volunteers who had spent the week with us on the building and in the orchards got to see the process in action.

First of all the apples were all quartered and any rotten bits were discarded. There was a fantastic collection of varieties of apple on display, including some which are quite rare these days. That’s the best thing about making apple juice and cider in this way, it is such a product of the place it grew, no two pressings (sometimes even bottles) are ever going to taste quite the same.

From the chopping boards the apples were taken over to the scratter (its the machine with the big fly wheel on it to the right above). The scratter squishes the apples and turns them into pulp. It was restored in our workshop a couple of years ago having been kindly donated by a freind of the estate. It is hand powered, and takes a bit of effort to get it going, its really effective though and processes a trug full of quartered apples in not much time at all.

From the scratter the crushed apples go over to the press. A frame is set up with a cloth inside it, the scratted apples go into the cloth which is folded over, the frame is taken off and a board put on top of the “cheese”, as it is known.

Several of these cheeses are built up, and as the weight starts to build the juice starts to flow. when the stack is high enough the press is wound down to squash the stack and force out the rest of the apple juice.

Our press has been in action in this part of the world for at least a hundred years. It was also restored in our workshop using Swan Barn Farm oak and plenty of TLC. The result has been a machine which people really enjoy using. It takes a bit of hard work to process the apples, but the required teamwork and resulting flood of apple juice is always really satisfying.

It collects in the wooden tray at the bottom, when there is enough there the cork is pulled and out flows the juice. We drank plenty of it on the day, and it tasted fantastic. The rest was put into fermenters to be turned into cider. A lot of this was sent home with our volunteers (along with some cider making instructions), but a fair bit stayed here too. I’m looking forward to some of it being ready in time to toast the building with when we have finished.

If you want to find out more about the mysteries of cider making, why not pop along with some apples to our community pressing day this saturday, 10.30 till 3.

Meanwhile, on the building, another piece of significant progress has been made, we have started to put some of our shingles on the roof.

I have no idea how many people have worked in the woods helping us to make them, but I know its a lot. Its something we are all very proud of. When the roof is finished it will be the result of so much effort by so many people I think it will be really quite special.

The shingles are made of coppiced sweet chesnut, and any number of volunteer groups have been helping us to make them over the past year. We have 12000 or so made, we think we will need another 3000 or so in the end, but the onsett of autumn has meant we really had to start getting some of them in place so the main section of the roof at least could be finished.

Chris and Sam have come in to help us get the roof right, and we are glad of the help, as it is quite a complicated job, especially as our hand made shingles are not exactly uniform in size and shape.

I think the overall effect is pretty spectacular though. There is a long way to go to get it finished, but we are all glad they have started to go up.

 

Coming up on the 1st October (10.30 till 3) we have a community apple pressing day here at Swan Barn Farm. It will be an opportunity to see the Speckled Wood Building, as well as to take part in pressing and processing any surplus apples you can get your hands on. The idea is that you bring along any apples you can beg, borrow or scrump and then join in the fun of chopping them, feeding them through our scratter (which crushes them) and then the apple press to produce the finest tasting apple juice you will ever come across.

The scratter and press are both historic pieces of equipment, and people have a lot of fun helping us to operate them. The team here will check how many apples you brought and then dole out a fair portion of juice for you to take home. You can either enjoy it fresh over the next couple of days, or, even better still, follow the instructions we give you to turn it into cider!

The team here have been responsible over recent years for planting 3 new orchards, and will also be on hand to try and answer any of your apple or orchard based questions.

If you can’t find any apples (and I’m sure a bit of inginuity will lead to finding a few) you can always just come along, partake of the tea and cake that will be on offer and join in the fun processing and pressing the fruit. The postcode for the Farm is GU27 2HU, hope to see you there!

Meanwhile, back in the orchard, the bees have been busy making honey. This was recently removed from the hive for processing. They are a new colony this year, and as such I had not been expecting much of a crop, but they have done really well, and we should get a few jars so our volunteers can get a taste of the local wildflowers.

The bee’s store the honey in a box called a super (because its for honey which is superfluous to their needs) which sits at the top of the hive above their nest.

The frames within a beehive encourage them to build nice straight combs, this makes handling and managing the bees much easier as without frames the combs can twist and turn all over the place. This is fine for the bee’s, but makes the beekeepers life a bit problematic. You can see this effect in the piece of honeycomb in the picture below which one of my colonies recently built inside the roof space in their hive.

When the supers get back to the honey processing room (kitchen in my case) each frame has its cappings cut off and is then put into the extractor.

The extractor is like a sort of giant spin drier, it spins the frames round fast and the honey flies out of them and collects at the bottom of the vessel.

The honey is then filtered and bottled. I don’t heat treat it or change it in any way, it comes in the jar just as the bee’s made it, a natural product which is full of character and of benefit to the local environment. Honey bee’s are having a really tough time of things at the moment, and without beekeepers to look after them would have pretty much dissappeered from the countryside. The problems are caused by a parrasitic mite which sucks the blood of the bee’s and spreads diseases. This mite is very difficult for them to control without help and can kill off entire colonies in no time at all. We all rely heavily on honey bees, both for our food and polination of many species of flower and tree. The simple action of putting honey from a local beekeeper on your toast in the morning can have knock on benefits across the countryside.

There are a number of ways of managing the mites in a colony, I try to avoid chemical input wherever possible, and one of the methods I use is placing a small tray of thyme oil in the colony after the honey has been removed.

This natural oil has a narcotic effect on the mites, knocking them off the back of the bees. Its just one of a range of weapons being deployed at the moment in defence of the bees.

This years honey crop turned out to be a big surprise to me. Haslemere is surrounded by heathland, and for all the time I have been beekeeping people have been telling me how lucky I must be to get heather honey. Its a highly sought after product which commands a high price. Up till now though I have hardly ever had any, the heather is often really difficult for the bee’s to work, as it flowers when the colony is starting to wind down for the winter. Its a useful source of winter feed, but I rarely see any in my jars.

This year though the supers were packed full fo the stuff. I did the extracting with a freind who is also a beekeeper, we were extracting from three diffent apiary sites around the town, mine, his and Swan Barn Farm, and each one of them was packed full of heather honey. Fantastic tasting stuff and as I said highly thought of, but an absolute pain to extract. It is one of the only substances in the world which is thixotropic, this means when it is stirred or agitated it turns liquid, but when it stands still it is a solid, most unusual. The extractor got properly clogged up and we made a bit of a mess. We managed to get it out of the combs in the end, but it was really difficult work. I had noticed the heather was flowering really nicely this year, but hadn’t been expecting this. Its the first time I have seen it in eight years of beekeeping, I wonder when I will see it again?

 

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