Apple Day 2011

Huge thanks to everyone who turned out for Cambridge Apple Day – without a doubt the most successful that we’ve had so far.   It was a great event with lots of old hands and newbies all getting involved. As ever, the children did most of the real work (albeit under expert adult supervision at all times, honest).

The weather was incredible – 28 degrees in October – and the food was fantastic again.  Special thanks to Jane for the hog roast and everyone else who brought along a dish.  We all agreed that the cider made from last year’s apple day was some of the best we’ve ever tasted – both in the barrel and (for those that stayed to the end) the champagne cyder.  There’s still some bottles from last year left, so volunteers should give me a shout if you want to collect some.

Delighted to report that the new press worked a treat.  In total we reckon we produced over 70 gallons of juice, quite a lot of which was guzzled by the kids, but some of which is now busily fermenting away.  We want to avoid the “unexpectedly bursting bottles” problem that Stella Artois shared with us last year, so I’ve taken gravity readings with my trusty hydrometer.  For the geeks: the ten fermenters vary in gravity from 1044 to 1054.

Photos have been posted on the Cambridge Apple Day facebook page while those without facebook accounts can see them here.

Thanks again everyone.  We’ll update the blog as the cider making process progresses.


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Looking forward to Apple Day tomorrow

We’re all set and looking forward to Apple Day tomorrow.  It promises to be an absolute scorcher, so make sure you bring some sun tan lotion and a hat.

We’re aiming to kick off about 10 a.m. and will run through until all the apples are pressed or the cider has been drunk.  Jane will be serving hog roast with apple sauce and stuffing from 12.30, but they’ll be plenty of food to graze on throughout the day.

I’ve just tasted the barrel of cider from last year and it’s delicious.  You should definitely leave the car at home.  We’ll have fresh apple juice just as soon as we can get a press on.

I’ve got a few bottles of the good stuff (last year’s non-exploding champagne cyder) for those who stay to the end to help with the clear up.

What to bring?

Apples.  We’ve got a fair pile now, but the heat has done it’s damage and there’s a bit of rotting going on.  If you can bring some apples along please do.  If we get short, we’ll send out some scrumping parties.

Bottles to take home some juice.  Old milk or pop bottles would do a treat.  Soapy wash and a rinse.

Food.  Jane is taking care of the hog roast and veggie alternative.  Lots of people have already said they’re bringing side dishes and cakes along.  Don’t let that put you off though.  Prizes for the best apple dish.

Sun cream and hats.  Seriously, 28 degrees.

All that’s left to do now is spend tonight worrying about whether the kit new and old is going to work.  Fingers crossed and anyway, there’s always the cider.

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Getting ready for Apple Day

Only a few days until Cambridge Apple Day.  If you haven’t confirmed attendance yet, then drop us an email to let us know you’re coming.  It’s looking like a record attendance, so even more important that we know how many to cater for.

A few tips if you’re coming:

1.Bring some apples – we’ve made a great start, but we’re only about half way there.  If you can, bring some apples with you – look at the earlier blog for guidance on scrumping

2. Bring some 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 amd a rinse. The juice will last about 4 days in the fridge after which it will start fermenting. It can be frozen and enjoyed later.

3. If you want to make some cider, you can – it’s easier than you think.  You’ll need a demijohn (or other container), some sterilizing solution, sparkling wine yeast, sugar, airlocks with bungs and some resealable glass bottles (e.g. Grolsh bottles). Cutlacks on Mill Road is a good place to get brewing stuff. We’ve got some spare kit here, if you’re interested, drop Phil or Jane an email and we’ll see if we can sort you out.  We’ll put some instructions on the blog.

4. If you can, bring some food – Jane will be making the traditional hog roast, but if you can bring a side dish or cake along it would help a lot.  Drop Phil or Jane an email to let us know what to expect or if you need some inspiration.  Extra points awarded for dishes involving apples.

An amazing weekend scrumping. 

Huge thanks to everyone who worked so hard this weekend to fill the tumps.  Some deserving of a special mention:

Dylan: who tried to personally taste every apple that we scrumped, but found himself limited by only having two hands.  They were all delicious apparently.

The Balzanos: Becky, Rocco and the boys made a huge contribution on their debut.  Utterly brazen in their seeking of scrumping privileges to the point of being berated by a Victorian woman for “pillaging the beautiful trees of the fruit that I enjoy looking at”.

Phil McBrien: once again filling the tumps while we were out scrumping. The lone scrumper.

Vicky and Tom: delivering eight different types of apples, sorted into individual bags (which have now been mixed up in the tump).

Weather report

So far, the weather forcast looks good for the weekend.  The BBC has this to say:

“Signs are that high pressure may never be too far away through much of at least the first half of October, meaning many of us may well see some pleasantly warm days in the next few weeks.”

No equivocation there then.  Fingers crossed.

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Scrumping time is here again

Just a week to go until Cambridge Apple Day 2011.  It’s the weekend for some serious scrumping.  We’re already on our way with half a tump of apples, but we need a big push this weekend to make sure we’ve got enough for a decent pressing next week.

An updated set of simple rules to follow:

1. Make sure you ask permission, but don’t be afraid to ask.  Most people don’t make good use of their apples and will thank you for saving them the chore of filling the green bin.  If you see a tree in someone’s garden, knock on the door.  It’s the big society. [Note: I have been informed that mentioning the big society might not have the desired effect in socialist areas.]

2. Variety is really important, but let’s stick to apples this year.  Our method of cider making relies on getting a great mix of different types of apple: eaters, cookers, crabs, so try to scrump a couple of trees at least.  Last year someone went a step too far and scrumped a load of crab pears.

3. Get as many as you can, but chuck out anything with mould. Don’t pick from orchards with livestock in.  Feel free to drop them round to Phil and Jane’s house if you can’t store them until the big day – the tump is ready and waiting.

By the way the photo is (thankfully) of the Shropshire Apple Day tump, an altogether bigger affair with a press to match.  Check out their website in the links.

If you haven’t already done so, make sure you drop me or Jane an email so we know how many people are coming.  Instructions, cries for help and regular weather reports will follow on this blog in the next few days.

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The sorry tale of the exploding cyder

Fascinated to see this product recall from Stella after several bottles of their Cidre have “been found at risk of bursting unexpectedly”.

Three things strike me about this.

First: that Stella makes Cidre (and what’s with the spelling).  I didn’t know the world’s biggest brewer Inbev had branched out into cider making and I confess to being a bit interested in whether it tastes as bad as their other beverages.

Second: the brilliant marketeers’ language… found at risk of bursting unexpectedly?  Do they mean that some bottles have exploded?

The third is that it’s reassuring to know I am not alone.  Last year’s bottle conditioned cyder from Cambridge Apple Day was a little lively to say the least.  Something like a hundred bottles exploded and others created nothing more than a spectacular fountain of cyder when opened

I’d read about this happening before, but it’s the first time that our cyder’s been affected.  So what happened?

Pooley & Lomax’s bible on cider-making has this to say:

[Burst bottles] are due to any or all of the following: too much yeast, too warm a temperature, too high a concentration of sugar, too great a length of time in the bottle, too thin-walled a bottle, failure to leave 2.5 cm gap at the top of the cider.  Follow the strictures in the section on natural conditioning and you will never have any problems.

Cambridge had a particularly cold winter and, despite storing the fermenters in a frost proof out-house, we noticed that fermentation stopped for more than two months, starting again when the frost broke in January.  We left bottling until early April, by which time it looked like fermentation had stopped.

We added the usual amount of sugar as a primer and stored in a shed in the usual way.  We then had an exceptionally warm spring and it wasn’t long before the first bottle blew. Thankfully they were stored safely and no-one was injured by flying glass.

So what did we learn?

This year we’ll be using the hydrometer to check that fermentation has really finished.  We’re also going to be a lot more vigilent on how much yeast goes into the bottle (hazy not cloudy) and we’ll be testing some different concentrations of sugar at the priming stage.

Any advice, tips or sympathy most welcome.  But don’t worry, we had several hundred bottles that survived and produced some of the best cyder that we’ve ever made last year.  Like champagne, but from apples.

Now stop reading and get scrumping.

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2011 Cambridge Apple Day: Saturday 1 October

Spent the day getting stuff ready for this year’s Cambridge Apple Day, which is only a few weeks away now on Saturday 1 October. Same venue as last year.  We’ll get started around 10 a.m. and keep pressing until the apples are gone or the cider’s all been drunk.

Lots to look forward to this year.  We’ve got a load of cider left over from last year and the new press will get its first try out.

If you’re coming (and we hope you are), please drop me or Jane an email so we know how many people to expect.

For those who don’t know us (the blog’s picked up a few readers since last year), I’m afraid it’s not open to the public – friends, friends of friends, family and neighbours only.  You could always make friends though?

We need lots of help scrumping this year.  The trees that provided most of last year’s fruit are bare due to some freak weather around these parts.  We’ve got a couple of leads, but we’re relying on you to get scrumping too.

Three simple rules for scrumping:

1. Make sure you ask permission, but don’t be afraid to ask.  Most people don’t make good use of their apples and will thank you for saving them the chore of filling the green bin.  If you see a tree in someone’s garden, knock on the door.  It’s the big society.

2. Variety is really important, but let’s stick to apples this year.  Our method of cider making relies on getting a great mix of different types of apple: eaters, cookers, crabs, so try to scrump a couple of trees at least.  Last year someone went a step too far and scrumped a load of crab pears.

3. Leave them on the trees as long as you can, but collect the windfalls regularly.  Chuck out anything with mould and don’t pick from orchards with livestock.  Feel free to drop them round to Phil and Jane’s house if you can’t store them until the big day – the tump is ready and waiting.

Happy scrumping.

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Our new apple press part 2

This is the long-overdue second installment of my blog describing the process of making a new apple press.  Scroll down if you missed part 1.

Onto Stage 3 and out with the chain morticer again to make the tenon and mortice for the moving lateral beam.  It’s a brilliant bit of kit. Basically a massive chain saw set in a frame that makes sure you get a straight cut and even depth.

Only a little bit of tidying up with a chisel required and we’ve got a neat groove.  Important that the moving beam fits loosely.  Once that’s all sorted and the moving lateral has been sized and shaped, it’s time to put the whole thing together.








The laterals were fixed with 8 made-to-measure coach bolts, which means that the press can easily be taken apart for transport and storage (it fit comfortably in the back of my Golf estate) and the uprights connected to the feet with dowel, which means
they’re fixed good.

Stage 4 was making the tray.  Larch slats made to fit snugly around the plastic tray that we had made-to-measure.  (Note: the plastic tray wasn’t cheap c£100, but a heck of a lot easier than trying to make a tray that won’t leak precious juice).






And that’s pretty much it.  Still got to make the box frame in which you build the cheeses and separators that go between them.  Nothing too technical there, but I’ll post another blog when I’ve got the whole lot together and running.

Looks like Cambridge Apple Day will be a lot less hard work with this bit of kit.  Last year we managed something like 60 gallons on a barrel press.  This should do the same a lot quicker or much more in the same time…

I hope this blog has been useful.  If you want more details or have any questions, please leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.  Feel free to email Gerwyn direct on if you’ve got technical questions or want to book yourself in to make a press.

More posts to come as we get ready for Apple Day 2011, including an update on the sad story of the exploding batch of bottles.

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Our new apple press

Here it is… the new apple press for Cambridge Apple Day.

That’s me and Gerwyn in his workshop Hafren enjoying a glass of his excellent home made cider at the end of two days hard work.  Gerwyn is a master of his craft and since retiring from the timber-frame building business and lecturing, he’s opened up his home and workshop to teach woodworking skills one-on-one.  This is our third project together (earlier ones being a Shaker style stool and an oak dining table).

We thought it might be worth doing a blog on how we made the apple press – hopefully inspiring others to have a go.  This is a brief and non-expert description.  If you want some more detail, drop Gerwyn an email at

The design is Gerwyn’s own.

The main material is green oak, which is a joy to work with and can easily take the strain of pressing (especially once it’s had chance to dry out). The addition of a steel u-channel provides rigidity and a nice aesthetic touch.  The screw is from a horse trailer with an extra bit of steel welded to the handle to provide a leverage point.

Stage 1 was to build the legs.  First the oak needed planing and sizing.  Then we made the mortice and tenon joints.  This was made much easier (and more fun) with the use of a chain morticer – not a bit of kit that everyone has lying around.  There’s some serious machinery in Hafren’s workshop that handles the heavy stuff, as well as a fine selection of traditional and not-so-traditional hand tools.

Stage 2 was getting the laterals sized, starting with the steel u-channel.  The metal-work was all new to me and I confess to letting Gerwyn do the angle-grinding, while I concentrated on drilling the holes. Once the u-channel was in place with screw attached, we could get the measurements for the lateral oak beams, check the plastic tray fitted and mark where the channels for the moving beam would go.

More to follow in part 2.

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Apple Day 2010

A huge thank you to everyone for making Cambridge Apple Day 2010 a great success.  I’ve posted a selection of photos, which you can access through this link (even if you don’t have a facebook account):

Awards for the day:

Master of scrumping – Phil McBrien.  Easily responsible for scrumping 50% of the apples pressed.

Master scratter – Ed Sutton.  All the more impressive given he doesn’t drink cyder. Described scratting as “easily one of the most satisfying things I have ever done”.

Master of the press – jointly awarded to Olly and Andy, with an honourable mention to Sarah Sutton for coining the phrase “man-squeeze” to describe the last half turn of the screw.

Master of washing the crud off apples – Matt.  Unsurprisingly, the job nearest to the barrel of cyder.

Feeding the five thousand award – Jane.  Shame that five thousand people didn’t turn up, but an amazing spread none-the-less.  Medals to everyone who brought sustenance.

Photography award – Chloe.  No competition there – almost 400 photos, sadly none of Jo Cafferkey smiling.

Sunshine award – the BBC weather service / god (depending on your belief system).  An exceptionally stunning day in a week of misery and rain.

The day in stats:

– 60 gallons of apple juice pressed

– 1 barrel of cyder drunk

– 8 sacks of used pulp created

– 1 sneaky variety of crab pear that made it into the tump disguised as an apple

– 0 apples left in my garden

– 0 health and safety incidents

Thanks again to everyone.  If you put your name down for a demi-john to make your own cyder, then make sure you pick it up in the next couple of days.

More to come on the blog.  We’ll do some posts on the magical process of turning juice into cyder and let you know the details of bottling day.


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What’s with all this rain?

Lots of rain in Cambridge again tonight.  The weather forcast for is for heavy rain on Friday and Sunday, but Sunny intervals on Saturday.  Let’s hope that the BBC have got it right.

Whatever the weather we’ll be going ahead with Apple Day on saturday (there are apples to press and cider to drink), which means that just in case we need to sort out a gazebo or two. 

I’ve got Marc and Sarah’s, which I’ve only tried to put up once (last year’s apple day) and failed.  Marc – I might need a hand.

Does anyone else have a gazebo or know where we can get one?  Get in touch if you do!

And don’t let the rain put you off scrumping.


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