With a lot of apples you need a big press or a lot of presses or both. At the New Forest Cider Pressing weekend on the New Forest Cider Farm in Burley we had both and the bonus of great weather over the weekend. This pile of apples ( and you are lucky you can’t smell it on the internet – ripe would be an understatement!) is Kingston Black, the holy grail of cidermakers. By the end of the weekend you’ll find you grow to quite like the smell of smoke and fermenting ripe apples, though it’s an acquired taste.
Despite taking part as a woodturner it won’t surprise you to know that the cidermaking is the major attraction for me. I had to work hard to finish pressing my own apples before leaving for the show. So the weekend is a great opportunity to finish off the season by talking to more cidermakers than you are ever likely to see in one place, taking in some history and consuming plenty of the product – all in the pursuit of knowledge of course - as well as turning a bit of wood. It’s more than a little bit indulgent, but in this article I’m going to look at the role that wood traditionally plays in pressing apples and I’ll save the greenwood part of the show for the next post.
There were several presses working over the weekend and all were either manually powered or assisted by steam engines. This steam driven press is trailer mounted and has a mill (or scratter) in the center with a press on either end so that one can be loaded whilst the other is pressing. A great example of the type of mobile press used in Hereford and Gloucestershire at the beginning of the 20th Century.
As you can see, though the metalwork is the key to the moving parts, the press itself is largely wooden – and for good reason – as the cider apple juice is very acidic and full of tannins so will corrode iron if it comes in contact. So wood is used for the press, the tray and originally for the troughs and barrels though plastic and stainless steel have largely taken over these days.
Even the tools would have been wooden – a good wooden shovel was in use on one press. Typically the apple pomace (shredded apple pieces the size of peas) are pressed in cheeses, formed in a wooden frame and held together with hessian, cloth or even straw, built up on top of each other to the capacity of the press before all being pressed together.
You can never have too many presses. Over recent decades many old cider presses have decayed outside or in barns and cider houses and with barn conversions, it’s not unusual for them to be discarded as the apples they used to process are left rotting or the trees are grubbed up. Often only the metal work will survive, so how do you restore a vintage press ?
Over the weekend a team of cidermakers, sawyers and carpenters showed us how to restore a big wooden press. Here’s the wood in flatpack form, but you’ll need more than just an allen key to put it together. First up is the Stenner rack saw, again driven by a belt from a steam engine, to convert the oak butt into the big beams needed to take the pressure of the press.
This is a twin screw press and the screws are mounted up through the base of the bottom beam. Even the metalwork is too heavy to move by hand, one screw is almost in and the other is offered up with the help of a telehandler.
A great idea to rebuild the press at the show – as all of the woody The press didn’t quite make it into operation by the end of the weekend, but it wasn’t far off and I found it a really interesting demonstration of the skills needed to make, and also to keep these presses in operation year in and year out.
There was a very similar press to the one being rebuilt that was in use over the weekend which I understand was itself restored about 20 or so years ago – though it certainly looks as if the woodwork is older. It’s mounted on wheels and has a winch to assist in the raising of the top beams. So now you know how to do it there’s nothing to stop you making a press for next season?
Of course you might not want to start with such a big press, and that’s fine there are plenty of smaller presses around, or you can make your own to process the juice from spare apples from a couple of trees. The small fruit press and mill by Vigo are well made – though you pay a steep price and it’s not to hard to make up one yourself if you are so inclined. I started with a similar size of press but I soon built a bigger one though I am still (just) getting by on the Vigo scratter.
All too soon, apples pressed, cider drunk and even some wood turned – but that will have to wait for the next post – it was time to pack up and leave. A great weekend, lovely show and the very best of company – I’m very grateful that they all put up with me. I’ve learnt a lot and I can’t wait to do it again next year.
Before leaving Burley and fighting my way back to Sussex on the M27 I stop at Picket Post on top of the hill for a few minutes to take in the view and in the tranquility I enjoy the afterglow from the hard work of the weekend – not such a great sunset this year, but it’s become something of a tradition for me.