This season of mellow fruitfulness continues and today we joined in an annual Woodthorpe Hall ritual extracting the juicy goodness from excess apples collected from all over Sheffield. I have a particular affection for the cider press at the Hall having been married within its very walls in 2008, so it was interesting to see it used for its originally intended purpose.
By the time we arrived it was clear that the 15 or so family, friends and willing volunteers had perfected a slick system which was resulting in an impressively continuous stream of apple juice flowing off the press. Richard Shepley, (Dick) later explained that this was the result of 40 years of continuous improvement in the process.
The apple juice pressed at Woodthorpe is used to make their legendary Woodthorpe Hall cider. Plenty was being quaffed to assist the work involved and on tasting it was wonderfully fruity. This full flavour was exceptionally well balanced by the powerful level of alcohol recorded at 10.2% by volume – at this strength worryingly refreshing. Dick was a great host and insisted we keep drinking, offering next their special apple and pear blend. This was also very moreish, slightly sweeter with almost a “candyfloss” caramelised flavour.
But back to the job in hand. The well practised system goes like this. First the apples are washed. One of the volunteers told me that this years innovation was heated water so no more freezing fingers during this stage.
Like a lot of Dick’s equipment it may not look particularly pretty but its the practical result that matters. In this case keeping the people at this station happy is vital for it is they who not only wash the fruit but carry out quality control by cutting off any bad bits and discarding stray stalk and leaves.
From here the apples go into a two stage chopping and shredding process. Another great old piece of agricultural machinery carries out the initial chopping using a powerful grater at the bottom of its hopper.
This is juicing on an industrial scale so spades are used to shovel the chopped apple into buckets ready for transfer to the shredder. This machine makes short work of bucket after bucket of apple chips, reducing them to a fine mulch which oozes with juice and is clearly ready for the press.
Once out of the shredder the mulch is again shovelled into buckets and can be finally carried through to the cider press. Its heavy work with what I would estimate to be in excess of 20 kilos of apple in each bucket. The apple mulch is tipped into a large hessian sheet which is held in shape by the wooden ‘cheese mould’ which is a square frame or former.
The apple is distributed to an even depth by hand and even at this stage the juice is starting to pour off the press. There is a full-time job for at least another two people to man the washing-up bowls in rotation to catch the juice and transfer via a simple sieve into the 20 litre plastic bottles in which Dick initially collects the juice. With the first frame full the cloth is carefully folded over the top and the wooden frame lifted off (I was very impressed with the skill shown by the men at this as if they have been making beds all their life). Two wooden slats are then placed on top of this first “cheese” and a second one built on top. As the buckets of apple mulch are added to the frame for a second time the weight immediately causes the juice production to accelerate and at times a torrent of juice seems to be flowing. After folding the cloth on the second cheese and removing the frame the full weight of the press can start to be employed. Another two men, taking one side each, gradually wind down the press applying huge pressure which requires long lever extensions to the screws handles. And all the time the juice flows on appearing for much longer than you would imagine. We guessed that at least 80 litres came from
each pressing of these two cheeses. This would correspond roughly to one litre from every two kilo of apples based on the estimate of 80 kilo of apples going into each “cheese”, 160 kilo in the press at any one time.
Later in the afternoon a couple of pressings of the very special pear and apple mix were done, the resulting juice tasting different but indistinguishable in appearance. This necessitated an ingenious storage system as the containers were filled – pure apple to the right the blend with pear to the left as you exit the cider press.
And so another year and another harvest is dispatched. Now the natural alchemy will begin as the natural yeasts start their work of fermentation to produce another vintage to be enjoyed in 2012. Great thanks to Dick and Sue at Woodthorpe Hall for allowing us to join in and experience this occasion.