Last week at Growhampton – a sustainable social enterprise at the university of Roehampton, we teamed up with The Orachrd Project and harvested apples from the campus orchard. Until recent years the orchard was completely grown over and had been neglected for a period of time. One of the tasks that Growhampton and The Orchard Project undertook was to re-open up the orchard from the overgrowth and maintain it. The Orchard Project started as an urban orchard project in London and now helps maintain community orchards nationwide. The fruit of this labour, is as predicted, a variation of fresh apples growing on the healthy trees. Last year some pear trees were also planted and will come into fruition within the next 3-4 years.
In order to harvest the apples we used a tool which was a bit like a small pond fishing net but instead of catching fish, we were catching apples. Once the apple is in the bag you position the bag so the branch goes between the teeth of the entrance to the bag and snaps the apple free from the tree. This on a really long pole, which extends to what must be ~3m in length at the maximum extension. This makes it quite hard work because when the weight of the apple drops into the bag it takes a bit of effort from your shoulder, arm and back muscles to keep control of the pole.
When harvesting we separated the apples into ones for cider and ones for juice. If they had become bruised then they went into the cider pile. On Sunday we went to the pressing site in an arch way at Herne Hill in South London. We had ~550Kg of apples to sort, crush and collect juice from. It was quite as big a task as it sounds and took a whole day of work between a team of 10 people in order to get through the yield.
The first stage was quality control. If there is a lot of bruising then the apple was discarded. If there was only a little bruising then we just cut it off. The reason for this is that when the apple bruises beneath the skin a chemical reaction occurs and the waste product of this can spoil a batch of juice. However, when fermenting for cider it is destroyed in the fermentation process – which is why apples with bruises are OK for cider and not for juice.
We washed them once in the first bucket, then again in the second before piling them into crates. From these crates the apples went into a pumped up blender that smashed the apples up into small pieces and churned them out of the bottom. Form this you make cheese – which sound odd but that’s what it is called. It doesn’t involve real cheese.
The building cheese process involved using a square frame within which a cheese cloth fabric square was placed at a diagonal angle. The smashed apples were scooped into the frame then once the frame was full the cloth was folded over in one direction. Once the frame was removed a wooden pallete was placed on top and the process happened again until there was a pile of apple parcels stacked upon one another separated only by the wooden palletes. Once stacked as tall as it could go and still be able to fit under the press the basin rotated 180°. The machine then slowly raised the base upon which the pallettes were stacked upon. In the process all the juice was released from the apple and funnelled out through pipes in barrels of juice.
Each time apples are pressed from an Orchard the juice and cider are different because of the variety of the apples changes from orchard to orchard. This means that no two batches of juice or cider are identical.
The Orchard Project works to enable communities to conserve and utilise the natural orchards around the country and in London that may have been neglected and forgotten about. In return for the apple yield The Orchard Project give 50% of the juice yield to the orchard or organisation who maintains each orchard, and use the other 50% to bottle and sell for funds to keep The Orchard Project going.
The drinks produced by The Orchard Project in London is called Local Fox Cider and London Apple Juice – it is a dry cider with no sugars or juices added in the process. It is a completely natural process of fermentation that occurs naturally. Both products are produced only from apples harvested from the urban orchards of London. More than producing juice and cider, The Orchard Project is a community project that empowers local communities to develop community spaces and harvest.
I really enjoyed getting involved with the harvest and juice pressing with The Orchard Project. It was good fun and speaking for myself, I really enjoy getting involved in community projects like this: you tend to meet nice people, have a bit of a giggle whilst you work and in return I had some banging apples from the orchard day and a Local Fox Cider: both of which were banging by my account.
To find out more The Orchard Project and see what they’re up to in your area click here.