It's been very, very busy these last few weeks, both in the orchard and in the ciderhouse. The Yarlington Mill harvest is now all in, and we've made a good start with the substantial task of pressing it all. More recently we spent a few days in the orchard harvesting the yellow sharp apples that we use to add a bit of acidity to the bittersweet blends. The plan was to haul these home and spend another day working through the Yarlington Mill mountain, but a quick exploration in the top orchard revealed that the Vilberie apples were ripe and more than ready to be shaken from the trees. Another few days and the slightest breeze was likely to bring the whole lot down, making the harvest that much more difficult from the long wet grass. A change of plan was required...
So the final day of our long weekend turned out to be our final day in the orchard this season. Karen pulled on her wellies, rolled up her sleeves, and on a cold drizzly day helped harvest all four Vilberie trees. The fruit is now gently maturing at home ready for pressing at a later, unspecified date. It's been the longest harvest we've ever had, starting way back in mid September with the Malvern Hills perry pears, and finally finishing with these dull green, late season bittersweets. So it's goodbye orchard, hello ciderhouse for the next few weeks. It's time to make some cider.
We've applied a bit of science to the pressing this year in the form of a small bottle of Iodine to test starch levels in the apples. When a cider apple is ready to harvest, in common with all apples it should have dark brown pips, and come away easily from the tree. This doesn't mean it's ready to press though. At this point the fruit may still be quite hard, the flavour may not have developed fully, and most of the stored energy will be in the form of unfermetable Starch. This Starch needs to turn to fermentable sugars before the apple is ready to press, and this is why we leave some fruit to mature for a time after harvest.
Some good rules-of-thumb for judging when an apple is ready to press include testing the softness of the flesh with your thumb, which should give easily and not be too hard. Waxy or greasy skin is a good indicator of optimum ripeness, and the skin of some apples will turn from green to yellow as the fruit reaches full maturity. Rules-of-thumb only get you so far though. To be really confident that we're pressing our fruit at the optimum time, we need to turn to a bit of Junior School chemistry.
You can see from the picture below how the Mid-Late season Yarlington Mill apple on the right has very little starch remaining in the flesh, as evidenced by the unchanged colour of the Iodine. The late season Vilberie on the left has turned the Iodine dark blue, indicating there is still plenty of unwanted starch present in the flesh. From this we can deduce that the Yarlington Mill are ready to press, but the Vilberie will need more time, possibly several weeks more. We'll be testing the Vilberie every week now until all the starch has turned to sugars.
*Headline c/o the Grantham Picking & Panking Apprentice