Many urban areas have apple trees with fruit to spare. Making apple juice to drink, bottle or make into cider is an excellent alternative to composting the surplus. This guide is intended to help community and other groups plan and undertake small scale apple pressing. Leeds Urban Harvest (LUH) is a group run by volunteers that are the custodians of apple collecting, pressing and processing kit which local groups can borrow (for a small cost) to make use of waste apples.
Apple pressing is fairly straight forward but can be labour intensive in setting up and cleaning down the kit and processing the apples. Working as a group to do this is rewarding in terms of shared effort, socialising and efficiency; setting up and taking down takes the same amount of time no matter how many apples you have. Having an agreed procedure to guide this work will make the session run smoother and ensure individuals understand what’s needed and what their role in the process is.
How much juice will we make?
Apple yields vary from year to year and in a good year a smallish bush tree may bear 50kg and a large standard tree, the sort of tree you can walk under can bear more than 250 kg. Apples will yield up to 50% or more juice by weight. As a rough guide, 10kg of apples will yield about 5 litres or 6 x 750ml bottles of juice.
LUH estimate that a food crate holds approximately 16kg of fruit, and will produce about 8 litres of juice, and a 45lt trug holds 24kg of fruit and yields approximately 12 litres of juice. The link below is a simple yield calculator.
There are certainly more apples out there than people make use of. Lots of people with trees are happy to give them away or have them taken away. In juicing terms, there are three types of people:
• I have apples and want to make juice
• I have apples which I don’t want
• I don’t have apples but can pick / juice.
Bringing these groups together will maximise a pressing session and benefit everyone.
Suggested principles for sharing juice at the end of a session; picking and pressing apples is a lot harder than having an apple tree in your garden so the bulk of the produce should be given to these people:
• Bring apples and then juice them – get a proportionate share based on fruit contribution.
• Bring apples but don’t stay to press – offered a bottle of juice per weight of fruit
• Pick apples and have them collected – offered a bottle of juice per weight of fruit
• Have the apples picked and taken away – we did you a service in taking the apples away! All the apples go to the pickers who get a share based on the above.
• Help on the pressing day – get a proportionate share based on time given.
It’s logistically unfeasible to make sure someone only gets the juice from their apples so it’s advisable this is clear at the onset. Blending the apples together gives a better flavour to the juice and makes the process more efficient.
Generally, only use hand-picked apples for juice, but windfalls can be used for cider; the alcohol will overcome harmful bacterias.
These methods are offered as suggestions only. The individuals picking the fruit need to make sure their activity is safe.
1. Use telescopic apple pickers to reach individual apples. This is pretty slow!
2. Shake apples into a tarpaulin or sheet – an experienced and competent person climbs the tree and shakes it, or grip the tree with a hook on a long pole and shake it from the ground.
Wear protective head gear! Gets lots of apples out of the tree quickly. You end up with twigs and leaves in with the apples which are a pain when washing the apples.
3. Shake the tree as above, but just let them hit the ground. This is pretty quick, but lots of bending over. You can get all the windfall at the same time, and sort apples you want from those you don’t.
4. Pick any you can reach off the branch. Easy.
Remember, if you are picking in someone else’s garden, rake up any leaves and other fallen debris once your picking is complete.
See picking kit list at the end of this guide
The three stages to pressing apples are:
1. Setting up all the kit in a logical ‘production line’ so everything is where you need it to be.
2. Processing the apples – sort, wash, mill, press, package the juice.
3. Setting down – clean dry and put away all the kit, wash down the pressing area, dispose of the pomace (what’s left of the apple) and any rejected fruit.
Setting up so you have a logical flow to your processing ensures people know they need to be and avoids them getting in each other’s way. Getting everything out and in its place before you start avoids bottle necks in the process and ensures the workers have all the things they need straight off, making effective use of people time. There are three main stations on the production line below. From right to left there is sorting and washing, scratting then pressing.
It helps to have one person in charge of each station at all times who understands the process and can give direction and advice and ensure there is a consistency of approach. To avoid the risk of bacterial infection and spoiled juice make sure all kit is clean. LUH chemically sterilise all containers that hold juice. Make sure one person is in charge of this to ensure everything is rinsed after sterilisation.
See kit list at the end of this guide
Processing the Apples:
Sorting and washing; This is where the apples are inspected for rotten elements which are cut out or the apple rejected and go through a two stage wash to remove dirt and nasties. Pay special attention to mud and any that has collected in the crevasse at the top and bottom. Some apples have a natural waxy covering – there is no need to clean this off. Skin blemishes are okay, rotten bits are not. Save time by knowing the difference and not cutting out bits you don’t need to. The washed apples are put in crates ready for scratting.
Scratting: The two common types of scratter are eclectic and hand powered scratters. They process whole fruit into pulp which is then pressed to extract the juice. The apples need to be crushed enough to let the juice flow. If the pieces are too big the pressing will be inefficient.
The hand scratter is positioned between two tables with a trug below it to receive the apple pulp. The hopper is loaded with apples and the crank turned. It’s a low-tech labour intensive process, but great fun. You need a few people to keep this going.
A free-standing electric scratter has a deep hopper fitted over a spinning blade. The apples are slowly introduced to the scratter while it is turned on to avoid the neck becoming blocked and the blade overloaded. When connecting the hopper to the base keep fingers away from the blades which are very sharp. Make sure the rubber V seal is in fitted around the throat of the base so that juice does not leak as apples are pulped. It take about 5 minutes to turn 6 crated of apples into pulp. Have one trug in place before you start, and two more to replace the full one. Never load the hopper then turn the scratter on. It will burn out the motor and be expensive to fix. And you won’t be able to finish your apple pressing!
There are several other types of scratter to buy or hire. The principles are largely the same, but efficiency and speed will vary. From experience, a domestic garden wood chipper doesn’t get the apples pulpy enough so juice extraction is poor.
Pressing is great fun. There should be plenty of cups to hand because everyone will want to drink the juice as it pours out. There are three main types of presses:
Barrel press; This is a removable cylinder that sits on a base plate with a pressure plate attached which is deployed by a screw thread. The barrel is lined with a removable cloth sac which the pulp sits in. The pressure plate is screwed down and the juice gets squeezed out. This is quick to use and come in a variety of sizes. Small ones need to be secured to a table or similar to stop it moving about.
Rack and cloth press; The pulp is placed in a piece of cloth which sits on board and folded into a square. Multiples of these are stacked up, then the pressure plate is put on top and compressed with screw thread fitted to a cross arm that sits at the top. Many homemade presses are based on this design, with the pressure applied by a car jack. This press takes longer to set up with pulp, but can take a large volume in one go. This one makes about 20 litres of juice each time.
Hydro press; A hydro press has rubber bladder in the centre and the pulp is packed around it, and inside the steel mesh drum. The bladder is inflated with mains pressure water and this forces the juice out. LUH have no experience using this type of press, but folk who do are pleased with them.
All types of presses come in different capacity size. The bigger it is the heavier it will be to move and will take up more space in storage.
Pressing is the slowest part of the process, so make most sure the press(es) are in constant use. Experience in using the press and the methods for adding the pulp will help the pressing to be done at pace.
All the glamour has gone, and you still have work to do. Two important things with setting down – make sure people know this is part of the day so there are enough to help, and allow enough time to do this while you have daylight. An incentive (cider) for the end of the day helps. The stations will become clear in order of the process, so once the apple washing is done crack on with cleaning down.
Make sure waste fruit is removed from all your kit or it will become welded to it! Dry all the equipment before its put away to minimise mould growth and if you have space, air dry after everything has been dried with a cloth.
Clean the scratter by pouring water though it while the blade is turning. Put a bucket below so you don’t flood the area. Clean the seals on the electric scratter and make sure everything is dried down.
Rinse the cloths from the press. If you put them in the wash, get all the bits of apple off first or it will infest your machine. Rinse down the press and its components. Don’t scrub the threads as this removes the lubricating grease.
You will be left with a proportionate amount of waste apple pulp. Some council tips will take this in the garden waste skips which all goes to compost. If you have a local allotment some of the growers would love your waste. Or if you have enough space compost it yourself; read up about this because the pulp is acidic and needs to be mixed with something like bark chipping. It’s a good idea to plan where the pulp will go and how it will be transported. Some groups ask each person pressing to take an amount to dispose of.
See pressing kit list at the end of this guide
What to do with the juice?
Fresh apple juice will naturally want to start ferment, even if stored in the fridge. So what do you do with it?
• Plan to drink it all within a week: Even after a few days a slight fermentation can start and because this produces a gas that can shatter a glass bottle, it’s recommended you use plastic. Some people like the sparkle a slight fermentation gives
• Freeze it: Cut the top off an empty fruit juice carton, place a polythene bag inside, fill with juice, tie the top of the bag and freeze. Once frozen, the bag can be removed from the box and you have a brick of juice, which can be stacked in your freezer. One cubic foot will hold over five gallons. Juice can be frozen for months without any appreciable loss of flavour
• Make it into cider: Apple juice wants to become cider and has all the natural yeasts, sugars and nutrients it needs to ferment
• Pasteurise in the bottle: Pasteurised juice can be stored for anything between six months and two years, depending on how it is stored. Careful pasteurisation will kill off any organisms that could cause spoilage of the juice whilst preserving its fresh apple flavour. You can use a purpose made electric pasteuriser, or use a pan deep enough to cover your bottles up to the neck. Fill clean glass bottles to the base of the neck with juice (to allow for expansion) and close the caps loosely, place them in the tank of the pasteuriser and fill the tank with water to within about two inches of the top of the bottle. Place a thermometer in one of the bottles and heat till the temperature reaches 75°C. Maintain this temp for 20 minutes. Remove the bottles using heat proof gloves and tighten the caps. Lay the bottles on their sides so the cap becomes sterile and leave to cool. You can reuse the hot water for other batches. Electric pasteurisers hold 13 x 75cl bottles so juice can be bottled in large batches with ease. The shelf life of bottled pasteurised juice should be one to two years
See pasteurising kit list at the end of this guide
How many people do we need?
Apple juicing can be a really social process. You can do any element described here with two or three people but it’s not much fun and will either take a log time or make a small volume of juice. It’s also quite tiring and can be a long day with setting up and down, and having enough people working to allow other to have a brake is important. A local group often makes 1000 litres of juice in a day and has about 30 people taking part.
If possible, aim for:
• 2 people to set up (about an hour)
• 4 people sorting and washing apples
• 1 person scratting
• 1 person per barrel press, 2 for a rack and cloth
• 1 person to move juice to juicing or fermenting
• 1 person bottling
• 1 people per pasteuriser
• 1 person floating
• 4 people setting down.
Apple Pressing Suggested Kit List
• Head gear
• A tree climber
• Telescopic poles
• Pole(s) with a hook on the end
• Trug or other collection vessels. Trugs are easy to drag and carry, but be mindful of the weight.
• Wheelbarrow to move the fruit from the garden to your car
• Tarp or sheet
• Rake / broom
• Somewhere to put compostable waste
Sorting and washing
• Table – it’s good to have enough space for people to be on each side
• Chopping board and knives
• Waste bin for rejected apples and bits
• First and second wash basins
• Hose pipe to fill the basis (warm water is a real treat)
• Gloves for the washers
• Crates for washed apples
• Electric extension reel
• Pulp trugs (6 crates of apples fills about 3 trugs with pulp). You will need enough to have some being filled while the others are being emptied at the press.
• Bench for them
• Clamps to hold them in place
• Scoop for filling the press (or gloves if filling by hand)
• Clean place to put the scoop etc when not being used
• Juice buckets – one being filled and one in reserve once its full.
◦ Pan or electric pasteuriser
◦ Glass bottles
◦ Heat source
◦ Heat proof gloves
◦ Place to let the bottles cool
◦ Funnel and jug to fill the bottles
Written by Leeds Urban Harvest with support from the Orchard Project
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