Let’s scrump

It’s feeling a bit chilly in the mornings, which can only mean one thing…

Just one week to go until Cambridge Apple Day and this is the weekend for scrumping. I’ll be building the tump this weekend, which means we’re ready for you to drop off your apples.

Last year was an amazing year for apples. Incredible variety and a bigger pile than we’ve ever managed to gather before. Let’s see if we can do even better this year!

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Which is where you come in… we need everyone who can to get scrumping this weekend. We follow some simple rules here at the Cambridge Apple Day.

1. Ask before you scrump, but don’t be afraid to ask.  Most people with apple trees don’t really know what to do with all of their apples, and you’ll probably be doing them a favour. If you need an incentive, we’ve got some delicious bottled cider that’s ready now.  Come and get a few bottles to give to people to say thanks for the apples.

2. We take any type of apple.  We follow the centuries old recipe for cider making that basically involves having a great mix of cider apples, eaters, cookers and crabs.  Sweet or sour we want them all.

3. Windfalls are fine as long as they aren’t from orchards with animals in.  Throw away anything with mold on, but a bit of bruising isn’t usually a problem.

If you’ve got access to apples, but need some help scrumping, get in touch and we’ll send out some of our wonderful volunteers to help.

Finally, if you haven’t confirmed you’re coming to Apple Day this year, please get in touch and let us know.  We’d love to see you there.

Phil

(on behalf of the Cambridge Apple Day crew)

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Apple Day 2016: Sunday 2 October

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I am happy to confirm that Cambridge Apple Day is all set for Sunday 2 October.

Last year was a record-breaker (read all about it here: 2015 Apple Day) and we’re looking forward to another great event this year. Fingers crossed for good weather.

It’s time to start looking out for apples to scrump. We can use any type of apple and the more variety the better.

Remember to always ask before you scrump, but don’t be afraid to ask. Most people with apple trees don’t know what to do with them and you’ll probably be doing them a favour by putting them to good use. Prizes as ever for the most audacious scrump.

If you need an incentive, we’ve got some delicious bottled cider that’s ready now. Come and get a few bottles to say thanks for the apples.

This year we’re trialing Eventbrite to manage RSVPs, so that we know how many people to expect on the day. If you haven’t received an invite by email yet, drop me (Phil) an email, text, facebook message, dm on twitter, or shout at me in the street, and I’ll send you an invite.

Apologies to the many people who’ve asked, but the Cambridge Apple Day is still an invite only affair.  We currently hold it in Phil and Jane’s back garden, and while we want to open it up to the public one day, we aren’t able to do that yet.

Phil

(on behalf of the Cambridge Apple Day team)

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A record breaking apple day

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Huge thanks to everyone who came along to Apple Day 2015 and helped make it such a fantastic day. Popular consensus is that it was the best ever and we broke all kinds of records:

Best scrump. Thanks to an awesome effort from our scrumping team, the tump was overflowing the day before Apple Day. We didn’t even need to send out a scrumping party on the day.

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More volunteers than ever. Our best estimate is that over 80 people took part in this year’s Cambridge Apple Day, including something like 30 kids. Incredible to think that so many people could fit in our house and garden. It wasn’t just the numbers though, this year everyone got involved in a great team effort.

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Most apple juice. Thanks to that amazing team effort, we created over 122 gallons of apple juice! Yes, you read that right. Over 122 gallons. Volunteers drank or took home 10 gallons of juice (not counting what the kids drank straight from the press), meaning that we have an amazing 112 gallons in fermenters brewing into cider. That’s almost 900 pints. 

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Earliest finish. Despite having the largest harvest ever, a combination of more volunteers, better kit, and process re-engineering (led by our new head of engineering Tom), meant that we finished earlier than ever. At 4 p.m. we did the last pressing and we were all cleaned up and stowed away in a couple of hours. Even Andy C did some work (although not too much).

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First experimental brew. In preparation for the Raspberry Pi Foundation birthday party in February, we’ve created our first ever “Raspberry Blush” cider. Basically we chucked a kilo of raspberries into the final press of the day. The juice tasted amazing, but we don’t know if it will translate into great cider. It’s a bit of an experiment, but if it works, we’re thinking of trying out a load of different fruit combos for next year.

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Special thanks to Jane and everyone else who once again provided a great lunch. Thanks also to our friends the Balzanos who provided the bread rolls and some child labour (like them on Facebook here – for the rolls not the child labour obvs).

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I’ve posted a selection of photos on facebook. Either visit the Cambridge Apple Day page (and remember to click Like) or follow this link: Cambridge Apple Day 2015 photos.

So that’s it for another year. We’re so grateful to everyone who came along. We love the apples, the juice, and the cider, but mostly we just love having an excuse to get together in the autumn sunshine and do something fun.

I’ll post some blogs to update on the cider making process over the next few weeks, and please don’t forget to come and pick up some cider.

Phil

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Last minute preparations

Apple Day is only two days away so time for the last-minute details.

Weather forecast is currently sunny, so should be another good one, no raincoats necessary! The tump is already brimming with some beautiful apples, we’re expecting lots of lovely juice this year. But, as always, the more the merrier so if you have a source of apples get picking and bring them along.

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As usual we’ll be starting around 10 a.m., aiming for the first pressing at around 11 a.m. There’s a lot of sterilising to be done in the early morning, so if want to help out with that, you’d be very welcome.

Lunch will be served at around 1 p.m.

We’ll carry on until the apples run out, which is usually about 5 p.m.  Remember we especially need volunteers at the end of the day to help clean up and we’ll keep some special treats back for those who do!

A couple of last minute tips:

1. Apples – there’s no such thing as too many apples so don’t give up on any last-minute scrumping!

2. Containers for juice – make sure you bring along a couple of clean bottles to take home some juice, e.g. old milk containers. Give them a good clean in hot soapy water and a rinse. The juice will last a couple of days in the fridge or can be frozen and enjoyed later.

3. If you can, bring some food – Jane is preparing overnight pork with apple sauce again, ideal when you’ve worked up an appetite pressing apples. The brilliant Balzano’s Delicatessen has donated the bread rolls again.  If you can bring some kid-friendly snacks or cake it would help a lot.  Extra points awarded for dishes involving apples.

We’ve got a couple of barrels of cider and a whole load of bottles from last year so that you can take some home with you.  All we ask in return is that you get involved and help make the day amazing for everyone.

Looking forward to seeing you all on Sunday!

Jane, Phil and the Cambridge Apple Day crew.

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The tump is open!

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The 2015 tump is open and is starting to fill with apples! Dylan and Bethan are showing off the smallest and largest of the apples collected so far. The largest was mysteriously left on the lawn while we were out scrumping – was this perhaps the work of Philip McBrien?

The weather was perfect for apple collecting today. The sun was shining and the apples were abundant, if a little battered from the freak hail we had this summer. Fingers crossed the fair weather hold out for the next week.

What more inspiration do you need? Bring us yer apples!

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Apple Day: 4 October

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The date is set. This year’s apple day will be Sunday 4th October. As usual we’ve had to fit it in around a flurry of work travel, birthdays, other apples days and, this year, with added Rugby World Cup.

But we’re very much looking forward to it. It’s looking to be a great year for apples and the recently bottled cider is delicious (and not at all explosive).

It’s a little early to start collecting apples (they only tend to keep for about 2 weeks) so for now be on the look-out for apple-laden trees ready to scrump. We’ll build the apple tump in the next week or so. Watch this space.

Hope you can make it – drop us a line to let us know if you can come.

 

 

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Turning apple juice into cider

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Hard to believe that another year has passed and we’re starting to think about Cambridge Apple Day 2015. We’ll announce the date and other details in the next week or so, but for now, I thought it was about time I did a blog post explaining what we do in between Apple Days to turn all of that juice into cider.

Those of you who are regulars will know that we end our Apple Days with something that looks a bit like this:

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We drink a fair bit of delicious fresh apple juice on the day (the kids usually drink at least their own body weight) and our happy band of volunteers take a good amount of juice home with them. It keeps in the fridge for a couple of days and freezes very well.

That usually leaves somewhere around 70+ gallons left for us to turn into cider.

The process is fairly simple.

First, put the fermenters somewhere dry with a constant room temperature. A shed or cellar is fine, but we have also fermented in the house.

‘Constant’ room temperature is important. We have in the past used a drafty shed which was pretty much open to the elements; cider wasn’t so great in those years. Also find a spot where you won’t need to move the fermenters for at least a few months. Moving them won’t necessarily upset the process, but they’re heavy.

If you want to know the final alcohol content of your cider, you need to take gravity readings before sundown on Apple Day using a hydrometer. It’s super simple and your hydrometer will come with instructions or you can find them online. Honestly, we never used to bother, but we’ve getting more diligent since the year of the exploding cider bottles (see this old blog post for details).

Within 24 hours we add some champagne yeast to each of the fermenters (any good quality brand will do). Follow the instructions on the packet – which will involve mixing up a “starter” for the yeast before adding it to the juice (don’t skip this step).

For the first couple of days we bung the fermenters with cotton wool. That allows air to escape and keeps anything nasty from getting in. At this stage, fermentation should be fairly aggressive and we expect some yeasty froth to spill out. So check regularly and wipe away any mess.

How do you know that mother nature is doing her thing? Simple. You should be able to hear the fermentation happening. At this stage there should be a constant and audible fizzing coming from each of your fermenters. If you’re not sure, pull out the cotton wool bung and you should see a yeasty froth forming on top. It will also smell of lovely apple-y yeast.

If nothing’s happening, don’t panic. Just add some new yeast.

In 15 years, we’ve only ever had one fermenter of apple juice that didn’t start fermenting after a second attempt with yeast (that was a failed experiment with a sterilising tablet).

After a couple of days you want to pull out the cotton wool and insert clean air locks. If all’s going well, you should have something like this:

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Once they’ve got going, your fermenters should keep bubbling away until all of the sugar has been turned to alcohol. After a few days they’ll slow down to a steady ‘bloop, bloop, bloop’. That can continue for quite some time.

For those of you who want to experiment with some of the more mysterious approaches to cider making, this is where you should refer to the craft cider makers’ bible by Pooley & Lomax, where you’ll find instructions for how to control your fermentation to produce different types of cider through ‘keeving’ and other such dark arts.

Over the years, and after much experimentation, we’ve settled on the simple approach. We let nature run her course and wait until all of the natural fermentation is over. It can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to 3 months, depending on the temperature and mix of apples.

We’ve found that the cider does well sitting in its full fermented state for quite a long time, provided that the airlock is tight and the temperature is reasonably constant. This year for example, we only got round to bottling in June – a full seven months after we pressed the juice. It tastes awesome.

Bottling day is one of my favourite parts of the process. It’s hard work, but you get the joy of tasting how all the different fermenters of juice have turned out. If you follow our method of blending different varieties of apples, then there is bound to be variation in taste and alcohol strength.

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One of the tricks we’ve learnt is to ‘rack off’ the cider from the fermenter without moving it. Basically, what you’re doing here is siphoning off the lovely clear cider at the top and leaving behind the ‘lees’ which is the fruit / yeast that settles naturally at the bottom of the fermenter. You will lose a little cider at the bottom, but if you’re careful it’s fairly minimal.

We siphon into a clean fermenter, which we then use to fill bottles or barrels.

If you’re aiming to produce still cider in bottles or barrels, then you want to make sure that the cider you have racked off is as clear as possible. If you draw too much ‘lees’ through your siphon it will look cloudy or hazy, and you might want to let it stand for a while and have another go.

If you want to create bottles with a little conditioning or fizz, then you will need to bring a little yeast with you when you siphon. Hazy not cloudy is what you’re aiming for. This is where the real craft comes in and we’ve got it wrong a few times, leading to some over lively cider.

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If you’re keeping track of your alcohol content, then this is the stage to get out the hydrometer and take a second reading (look here for instructions). This year we had an incredible year, with one batch reaching 10% ABV with no added sugar!

We tend to make a few barrels of still, clear cider. That’s simple. Just fill the barrel to the neck, leaving a little space at the top, and you’re done. If it’s too dry, then add a little sugar syrup to taste just before drinking.

We save most of our cider for bottling and we always try to get a little conditioning or fizz going. This can be tricky, but is really worth it. At it’s best, our cider is like a fine champagne.

Four things to get right:

  1. Good quality, clean bottles.We use a mix of flip top bottles or standard crown caps. Both work well, but they need to be robust and able to handle a bit of pressure. Invest time in washing and sterilizing your bottles. It is a pain, but it pays off.
  2. Hazy not cloudy. When you siphon your cider out of the fermenter you want a little bit of yeast in there to kick start the secondary fermentation in the bottle, but not too much. I know that ‘hazy not cloudy’ is a terribly imprecise phrase, but it’s the best I’ve come across so far.
  3. Add a little sugar. This is always a point of controversy at our bottling days. After much debate, we have settled on about 300g for a 25 litre fermenter. We dissolve the sugar in boiling water before adding to the fermenter. Provided your cider is fermented right out, we find that provides just enough sugar for fizz and flavour. It is a matter of taste, trial and error.
  4. Temperature. Pooley & Lomax advise keeping the bottles cool when conditioning to allow the process to happen slowly and not to leave them too long. Cool is definitely good. Put your bottles somewhere warm and you run a high risk of them blowing. But we have found some of our best tasting cider has been left in the back of a shed for more than a year, so we’re a bit more relaxed about timescales.

One final thought is that we’ve found it worth investing in bottling equipment, including a simple gravity bottle filler and a decent crowning machine. It has made the process much, much quicker. Our friends at Vigo supplied our kit.

Hope that’s useful. We are always learning and trying to improve our craft, so if you’ve got hints, tips or ideas please post in the comments.

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