Sunday, 4 November 2018

Apple Harvest and Cider 2018

2018 was a strange year for our apples. The spring started warm and dry, and like all across Europe, the summer was a scorcher, and very dry indeed, shortening the season on many crops. "Notreif", or emergency ripe, one of my farmer friends said. And apples were of course affected. Varieties that we would normally be harvesting in mid-October were dropping en masse from early September, and the quality of the drops was not great, presumably a reason the trees decided to shed them so early. Nevertheless, it was indeed a bumper year for fruit, with most trees straining under the weight of the apples.

This was also the first year harvesting from the second orchard plot we purchased around this time last year. With about three times the amount of trees we had before, we didn't really have to care about the early drops, most of which we ended up discarding, as they would not keep. But we had plenty that we properly harvested using the tried and tested tarp-and-shake method.

This year we pressed over several weekends, including pressing for friends and neighbours. In total, I think we pressed about 2.5 tonnes of fruit, using the same mill and presses as last year. This time, however, as we had a greater choice in varieties to choose from, we also pressed some single varieties, to get a feel for them. If they work alone, fine, if not, I'll either bland them or get them distilled.

As well as our apples, this year I was also offered quince by a local chap. I expected a few sackloads, but it ended up being just over 300kg, which we pressed yesterday. Quince schnapps is quite popular here, so i reckoned that's what we'd do with them. But the juice is really tasty, with a decent acidity, a slight bitterness, and lots of sugars and perfumy, fowery flavours. If it still tastes good after fermenting, I'll set some aside for ageing as a kind of quince wine.

It's a difficult fruit to process, being rather hard and quite dry. But with a fine milling, the juice is released, though from about 280kg of fruit, we got 120 litres of juice, so about 42% efficiency. Other methods might be to use a steam juicer, but we couldn't have done that in any great quantity, but we might experiment with a 5 litre batch to compare.

For ourselves, we currently have the following in fermenters:

  • 60L Gloster
  • 60L Goldparm√§ne (King of the Pippins or Reine de Reinettes)
  • 60L Jonagold
  • 60L Conference pears (actually to be distilled, but if it tastes nice, may keep it)
  • 160L blend of several varieties, that has since been transferred to an oak barrel.
  • 240L mixed varieties that is destined to be distilled in the next couple of months.
  • 120L quince (also pressed for distilling, but the juice tastes so good, I may keep 60l as a wine/"quince cider", or for blending.

Pressing is not finished quite yet, as we have apples in storage (tumping, I learned is the correct term) that will be pressed for a keeved batch next weekend. Last year i made 50 litres of keeved cier as an experiment, and while i didn't think I got a full keeve, it fermented long and slow in our coldest cellar, and stopped with a final gravity of 1.012, so still has quite a nice sweetness to it. I'll report more fully on this year's batch, which i will increase to 120 litres.

So quite a busy and early harvest and pressing season this year, which has further distracted me from finishing the attic conversion, but I'll try to get back to that in the coming weeks, so I can start the tree pruning with a good conscience. Speaking of which, the orchard will expand again later this year, doubling our plot to 6000 square metres (about 1.5 acres). But that'll be a post in its own right!


  1. I will be interested to see how a Conference Perry comes out (even if you distill it afterwards). Traditional perry Pears were small things . there was a traditional variety near where I grew up but I don't remeber any on sale. I suppose the few trees that were left were pressed by a select group , in the know. Needless to say, it has a rude name

    1. We have a couple proper perry pear trees, and I will be making a point of using them next year!