Archive for the ‘Cidermaking’ Category

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.

With the screws mounted in the bottom beam the top beams await mortice drilling (by chainsaw) to fit onto the top of the press.

By Sunday afternoon the press takes shape. While the beams are persuaded onto the screws the racksaw is busy milling out the timber to make the tray and boards to operate the press.

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. 


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The final show of the season for me is the Annual Cider Pressing weekend at the New Forest Cider Farm, Burley which is on this weekend. Link to more information is on the side bar of the site at the moment or visit the new forest cider blog.


If you are near to the New Forest it is worth a visit. A great little show with proceeds to charity and a last chance for nostrils full of fermenting cider apples, wood smoke, coke and steam. As I don’t need to make stock now I am planning to relax, enjoy the event and turn a few bowls I’ve been thinking about.


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This is a long post so feel free to browse through the picture – or perhaps you’ll want to go and get a cup of coffee (or cider if it’s the right time of day) and soak up some of the atmosphere of the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum at its best with a tale of threshing, woodland crafts, some turning (but not much) and plenty of apples. The Autumn Countryside Show is one of my favourite events, a celebration of many of the things that mark out the rapid change in pace of the seasons and preparations for the long winter to come.

Some weeks ago the wheat on the museum fields was harvested, stooked and then stacked in a traditional rick ready for threshing.  With the weather looking changeable the threshing team started early, working hard through Friday and both days of the show to get all of the wheat threshed.

The wheat grown at the museum is a traditional long straw variety (triticale) with a much longer stem than a modern wheat variety which makes it useful for thatching straw. The threshing machine has an extra unit to sort and bundle the long straw so that the thatchers can store it whilst the shorter straws are discarded and baled.

I think it’s very unusual to see a threshing machine working all weekend and really rare to have two working at the same time. I particularly liked the way that Ben used one of the museum waggons as a part of the threshing display.

Normally I demonstrate on my own as I find two polelathes can be a bit of a crowd, but the Autumn show has always had wood at its heart and this year we decided to put on a bit of a show. No longer ‘Billy-no-mates’ I was joined by friends from the Sussex & Surrey Coppice, Hampshire  Coppice and the Polelathe turners and Greenwood Workers groups.  Thanks to everyone who turned up – it was a pleasure to work with you.

If you read the posts on this blog occasionally you’ll be no stranger to most of the talented greenwood workers who came to demonstrate at the show, so I won’t go through everyone even though they do deserve it for putting on such a great display. Thank you!

The traditional Chestnut lathes that Justin, Tony and Freddie make for many building projects were particularly appropriate to the museum and it was great to have them with us at this show.

First time at the show, Martin, Chris and Catherine aka ‘The Special Branch’ added some willow weaving activities for children.

Wot no pegs? The recipe section of the Horticultural Marquee needed pegs, so thanks to ‘the special branch’ we soon had it pegged with some simple but very effective twig pegs. Hardly a big issue, but it’s simple skills like this that are so rarely used today. It’s not that we can’t do it, virtually anyone can make pegs with a twig, a  knife and some wire, but we don’t respect these skills anylonger.

Melvyn made an impromptu appearance to make liggers for the day. And yes I did include this just so I could use the word ‘liggers’ which are the long thatching spars used at the top of the roof to bind the thatch together.

Alan Waters spoilt us all with an excellent freshly baked apple tart on Sunday morning. Thank you Alan! There will be more on the subject of apples at the show, but first…

The Hurdle Making Competition. A great event, which is fast becoming a fixture at the show, takes place on Sunday together with the (thatching) Spar making contest. Luckily the weather held up, though it was extremely windy on the Sunday during the competition.

This year somehow Rosie (Alan’s apprentice and responsible for keeping Alan in line) was persuaded to take part – not an easy thing to do, I remember the sheer terror of the first time I took part in a polelathe turning log-to-leg competition. Rosie managed to find a quiet spot at the back of the area and as she’s none to keen on cameras I had to pretend to be taking a photo of the tractors in the ring (OK so not much pretence needed  – a fine example of a field marshal by the way).

I am often asked if I make hurdles, somehow it’s seen as the epitomy of a rural craft, but as a woodturner I am well aware that it’s just one step too far for me, though stepping on it is something that Rosie demonstrates here with fine style.

At the other end of the competation area Robert (from Wiltshire) is getting there with his hurdle. He claims to be an amateur and amongst his many amateur skills Robert also makes fine cider and country wines, which we sampled over the weekend. A good opportunity to compare notes on apple milling and pressing.

All done. To my inexpert eye a fine example of a wattle hurdle. But the judging is tight and points are lost for using loppers and not having enough twists. Still as Rosie said, it didn’t come last!

Meanwhile back at the farm, up in the courtyard the apple mill and press are busy pressing something like a tonne of apples over the weekend.

We got to taste some of the product around the campfire in the evening, the two year old cider seemed to go down very well together with plenty of music and singing.

Most of the apples are from the West Dean estate adjacent to the museum though the apples from the museums own orchard are great traditional varieties.

Julian tells me that they managed to press about 80gallons of apple juice, and quite a lot of it was given away as samples but perhaps 70 gallons will be fermented on to make cider, which will be ready for drinking in a couple of years.

The show is very much an end of season marker for me, so as we packed up it was auspicious to have such a fine sunset, marking a great show with great friends, to say goodbye for a while and look forward to the coming season as we all return to the woods.

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‘Tis the season to be pressing; apples that is. Before we left for Gower I managed to press most of the apples that I’d gathered from our garden and scrumped from various friends and neighbours. These are quite early apples, Early Worcester, Bramley, Tom Putt and a fair few unknowns that all go into the cider. But most apples, especially those used for cider are ready later in the season and the main cider pressing season is only just about to start.

I pressed about 300kg of apples this year – good exercise – but if you only have a sack or so of apples and no mill(to tear up the apples) or press then the good news is that there is still a way for you to make cider. Community Pressings are becoming popular and they are a great recreation of the travelling presses and cider rings which used to operate in communities throughout Southern England where cider making has a history at least as long as that of beer.

The local (Blackdown – that’s the West Sussex Blackdown) National Trust team is holding a Community Pressing at their Swan Barn Farm headquarters behind Haslemere High Street (access from Collards Lane ) this Saturday 1st October  10:30 to 3pm so take along your unwanted sacks of apples and turn them into juice or ferment the juice on into cider!

The press used by the Trust is a vintage Sussex press from Gospel Green, at least 100 years old and superbly restored as is the scratter (or mill) you can see here in the foreground . I can claim to have had a hand in the restoration of the mill as it features two handles turned on my lathe. Photo courtesy of the Speckled Wood blog where you can find more details of the community pressing or contact the Trust at Swan Barn Farm.

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I recently had the opportunity to drop in on David Saltmarsh’s smallholding on the Devon/Dorset border, Fivepenny Farm. I was impressed (pun entirely intended) and inspired by the work he and his family have been doing there.  The 25acre smallholding is a traditional mixed farm with vegetables, fruit and livestock, something of which I thoroughly approve. Inside the cruck framed, thatched barn that they have built is this cider press, rescued from another Dorset barn. I could write an entire post just on the barn and more on the farm but ….let’s start with the Cider Press.  It’s big and very tidy, but I couldn’t help thinking I was missing something.


And I was because the top beam of the press is actually on the top floor of the barn! I have never seen such a large top beam on a press before. This lump of elm, is hewn from a single butt and was some hundreds of years old when the cider press was made – by now it’s a few hundred years old at least.


The Iron screwthread is big, but not original and it’s dwarfed by the size of the original wooden thread which you can steel see and feel, at least several inches in width, though I failed to measure it at the time.


I got a bit distracted by the cider press, but it’s not a museum exhibit it’s very much a part of a working small holding. At the moment most of the apples used to make the bottled Cider and Apple Juice are bought in but just behind the barn is the first of the orchards planted on the farm and by the look of it, it won’t be long before more of the fruit being pressed is home grown!


The reason for dropping in was to discuss polelathe and greenwood things (The bodgers ball in 2012 to be more precise) and next to the cider press were a few of the superb (award winning) chairs that David is renowned for making. You might remember some of these chairs from the Mastercrafts chairmaking programme and you can read more about his chairs at his Fivepenny chairs website .


His polelathe is built into a really tight corner of a shed cum workshop. I was surprised that he can’t see the view from it, but then I realised that’s not necessarily helpful – I might be a bit too distracted by the view and no doubt the polelathing hours and normally in darkness anyway.


Here is a sneak preview of a chair that David is finishing at the moment, he reckons about 100 hours have gone into this one and it was inspired by the curved shape in the side pieces of the back which are natural and not steamed.


The workload on a small holding is enormous, it is indeed a way of life and not a job – but if its the way of life that you want then I expect that it’s about as good as it gets. The lambing season is just about 24hours a day.  I was inspired, not just by the small holding that David, Joti and their family are running but by the sustainability that underpins all of it.


There is no sign that they will run out of ideas anytime soon. I spotted these iron cogs and wheels hiding in a corner of the barn. An old apple mill (scratter) waiting to be restored. If you live around West Dorset look out for fivepenny farm produce, preserves and juice in your local markets!



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Over the last few years it seems that apples and orchards are making a comeback, not to say becoming trendy. Thats a good thing in my book and just in the nick of time. For decades the government has paid farmers to grub up old orchards and since the 1950’s over 60% of traditional orchards have gone. Vandalism on a grand scale. Thanks to such thoughtless actions old orchards have become a rarity. Finally the government has realised that traditional orchards are an important habitat and are now promoting their planting. Brilliant! You could not make it up.

You may have noticed that I’m keen on old apple varieties. Our tiny garden is full to capacity with bush trees  and I’mtickled to see that our six trees technically count as an orchard in their own right – but I’m not satisfied. Our local National Trust estate at Swan Barn farm has planted 3 orchards in the last few years and also planted the seed of an idea in my mind.

An apple tree has become almost an ornamental tree in our gardens and the fruit something of an annoyance when  they lie on the grass and rot!  Whilst the habitat is important I am equally keen to restore a sense of planting and using fruit locally. The fruit can be eaten, cooked and turned into juice. They can be preserved by drying, pickling, storing or fermenting (something that’s never far from my mind). But these days we could be forgiven for thinking that apples grow on supermarket shelves and are transported from exotic climes rather than on local trees.

When our Parish Tree Warden suggested that we might plant a Community Orchard in Lynchmere I think she was a little surprised to get immediate support for the idea. Apparently the concept has been promoted for some years but no site in the Parish has been found.  It took myself, Robert and Dave about 5 minutes to show Alexandra a potential site by the Barn and the Lynchmere Community Orchard project was born.


I already had a full schedule of work to do over the winter, but I just could not resist being involved in the Community Orchard project. Having fenced off the corner of the field I’ve been busy planning the layout of the trees, selecting the varieties and getting together the materials.   I managed to source the trees from a respected local nursery, Blackmoor, near Selborne and last week we planted the first batch of trees, 20 apple varieties including a traditional crab apple, plus a quince tree and a victoria plum.

Selecting the trees has been an interesting learning experience. As a Community Orchard we wanted a mix of traditional apple varieties which would both educational for locals as well as enjoyable for the volunteers who will maintain them. Because of the small area of the site and limited height (overhead power lines) we’ve gone for MM106 rootstocks which will allow us to grow half standard trees. These trees will be a lot bigger than the modern bush trees but easier to maintain than full standard trees.  Bearing in mind the pollination groups and the exposed nature of the site we’ve selected these as first batch of varieties:

Egremont Russet – Although it’s not particularly rare it is a great traditional tree and a very popular eating apple.  Though it’s origins have been lost it is thought to have originated in England and first recorded in 1872. It is alleged to have been raised by the Earl of Egremont at Petworth only a few miles away.

Crawley Beauty – Discovered in a Sussex cottage garden in around 1870 by Mr Cheal a nurseryman of Crawley and introduced in 1906. A culinary variety which flowers late and is very hardy.

George Cave – a seedling discoved by chance in Essex in 1923 and named after the man who discovered it. An early dessert apple.

Newton Wonder – a culinary apple from King’s Newton in  Derbyshire introduced in 1887, very hardy and very vigorous.

Court Pendu Plat – is believed to originated in Roman times! An eating apple which is hardy and frost tolerant.

Tydeman’s Early Worcester – An eating apple raised by H.M. Tydeman in 1929 at the East Malling Research Station in Kent

Howgate Wonder – A late cooking apple which can also be eaten and produced enormous fruit. Originally from Howgate on the Isle of Wight and raised in 1915.

Ashmeads Kernal – An eating apple from Gloucestershire and raised by Dr Ashmead around 1700.

Katy – The most recent apple we’ve selected, raised in 1949 in Sweden from James Grieve and Worcester Pearmain. We’ve selected it for it’s hardiness, the attractive fruit and as a good pollinator (and nothing at all to do with my liking for a single variety cider made from it’s apples).

Lanes Prince Albert – A late culinary apple from Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire in about 1840. Although not particularly hardy several old specimens of these trees were in an orchard at up at Ridgecap, the farmhouse only a few fields away. I’m told that the apples were so popular that they were originally sold through the local greengrocer. Perhaps thats a traditional that we should be restoring?

Blenheim Orange – found at Woodstock in 1740. Locally known as Kempster’s Pippin as its thought that a local countryman named Kempster planted the original kernal. Reputedly the best eating apple of all.

John Downie – A crab apple, raised in Lichfield in 1857. The fruits are edible and good for making crab apple jelly.

I’m still on the hunt for some local and rare varieties such as Bramshott Rectory, Sussex Forge and Kobbly Russet (from Midhurst) which we intend to add to the final batch of planting next season.


So how many volunteers does it take to dig a hole? Dan Cornell digs the hole whilst we study his technique! Once the hole is dug we tip in a barrow load of well rotted manure from the local stables.


And then it’s time to plant the first tree. Alexandra, Lynchmere Parish Tree Warden does the honours, with assistance from the volunteers of the Lynchmere Society and South Downs National Park rangers.

The finished job, well almost. Root protector to guard against rabbits and a home made stocknetting guard against deer. I will be adding tree stakes for each tree but the need to plant them overcame the desire to wait until I had finished the tree stakes.

Bringing the orchard into existance has been a lot of work. There is still lots to do and the plants will need plenty of care and attention in their first year. But it’s enlightened self interest as we have the fruits of our labours, literally, in mind! Bring the orchard to fruition (pun entirely intended) will take a few seasons yet and in the meantime there will be lots of pruning and scything the grass to look forward to.




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Before the end of the fruit season I was offered a few bags of ripe pears. Not the kind of thing I find easy to turn down so a couple of weeks ago with some help from Charlie (who offered and delivered them) I washed down the press again and got milling.

Pressing and fermenting pears follows much the same approach as apples but the result is called perry not pear cider! Though I suppose that is arguable as real perry should be made with traditional perry pear varieties whereas I am using dessert pears – probably conference pears.

Pear trees live a lot longer than apple trees and can become much larger, but in the second half of the 20th century perry became disastrously unfashionable as a drink and most perry pear orchards were destroyed. The orchards were grubbed out partly because of the lack of labour on farms to maintain the orchards, harvest and make the drink and perry pears are barely edible, very different from dessert pears. But also because perry as a drink acquired a very poor image most likely due to the influence of Babycham (though it made the Shepton Mallet firm of Showerings a fortune and is still made there) and Lambrini. So calling it pear cider is a new marketing twist to make up for the last one – but two wrongs don’t make a right in my book!

Pears can be very hard to press when they are picked so it’s best to leave them until they are just on the verge of going off – then they are very soft, juicy and packed with sugar. Perry pears are also packed with tannins so also need to be left until they are less astringent but dessert pears are low in tannin and acid so I add a few cooking apples (mainly howgate wonders in this) to the mix to raise the tannin level but not enough to overcome the very delicate pear taste from the dessert pears (perry pears have a much stronger taste).

With ripe pears the juice rushes out of the press even before any weight is applied. Because I am always short of pears I do a second pressing – that is I repress the pomace after freshening it with some water and mixing it up to ensure that I get all of the sugar, colour and flavour from the pears. Commercial makers will add sugar and water to their pear cider, and most of the commcercial available drinks are made from imported pear concentrates.

So if you want to try the drink search out some of the traditionally made Perry’s and help to save what remains of our perry pear orchards. If you are interested in the making of perry’s there is a good Perry entry on wikipedia with some good links at the end to your research going.

In the interests of maintaining some woody content I’d just like to point out that my press is made with planks of local birch on a pine bed inside a metal frame salvaged from an old waste paper baling press.

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