The Press Gang

How to make and store your own apple juice.

By George Monbiot. Published on the Guardian’s website, 28th October 2010

You can find the photo guide to apple pressing which accompanies this post here.

You have one hundred kilos of apples and most of them are lying on the ground. What do you do with them? Here’s a guide to producing enough juice to last you through the year.

Most of the people I know who press apples use them to make cider (in Britain this means the alcoholic drink; in the US apple cider means juice). It seldom works. Cider making is a fine art, which generally involves a dead rat (the nitrogen it contains assists fermentation), plenty of swearing, a fair bit of magic and even more luck. Mostly it means turning several hundred gallons of delicious juice into homemade Toilet Duck. My advice is to stick to the juice.

In doing so, you’ll make a small but significant improvement in your environmental impact, as packaging and shipping ensure that most fruit juices are quite energy-intensive.

It’s probably getting a bit late for this year, as it takes a while to assemble your kit: in fact it’s worth beginning your bottle collection for next year now. The equipment I’m using in these photos is not ideal. The scratter pictured in the guide (which pulps the apples before you press them) is clunky, difficult and no pleasure to use. But it’s cheap. Proper scratters cost around £200, and at the moment I can’t afford one. They have a hopper and a pair of toothed barrels which you crank round by hand. As the barrels mesh together, the apples fall through them and get smashed. It’s easier and quicker to use than the gear pictured here, and more satisfying.

Ideally I’d scale up the rest of the kit too, using a bigger press. That way, with a group of friends, you could turn out about 200 litres of juice in an afternoon. With the mid-sized kit I’m using here, the maximum is about 50 litres. If you’re intending to fill only a few bottles, on the other hand, you can use a kitchen juicer for the whole process, cutting out both the scratter and the press.

If you’re keeping the juice for longer than three days, it’s essential that you prevent fermentation from taking place. Apples have natural yeasts on their skins, and unless these are killed they will work their magic. The result is that the pressure inside the bottles can rise to 400psi before they explode, wiping out anything and anyone within range. Bottling juice without sterilising it is extremely dangerous. In the guide I’ll explain how to pasteurise the juice. Some people don’t bother, but add citric acid to preserve it instead. I haven’t tried this, so I can’t vouch for it.

Here’s a list of kit you’ll need for either medium or large-scale pressing:

Hessian sacks for collecting the apples, and garden wire for sealing the sacks.

A wheelbarrow, bath or very large sink for washing them in.

A scratter (or pulper) for mashing them up.

A press.

A straining bag for lining the press.

A bucket or large bowl for collecting the juice.

A funnel.

Loads of screw-top wine bottles or other re-sealable bottles. You’ll probably need to start gathering them months in advance. They should be sterilised before you begin (see below).

Sodium metabisulphite.

A thermometer.

Large saucepans.

A group of friends. There are several jobs that need to happen simultaneously, so it’s not easy to do alone. Get them to bring all the windfalls, spare apples and bottles they can lay hands on.

Make sure everything (including your friends) is clean before you start.

You can find the photo-guide here.