Wednesday, 27 September 2006


Two days ago I gathered windfall pears from around the small perry tree, the one in the field where most of the campers were in the summer. The hunting season is now fully open and more than once I was surprised by nearby bangs, wondering if my neatly displayed bottom had driven some frantic killer to loose his shot into me. However, I gathered a plastic trug full without harm, about 12 kgs.

The authors of the various books we have on cider and perry making are not agreed on the greatest risk to the amateur fermenter. One warns of the dangers of patulin, another of possible e.coli or salmonella poisoning from livestock in the fields, others of mysterious organisms that will spoil the brew and turn it to slop if the fruit isn’t perfect in every way. Each one emphasises the risks of their preferred peril, then reveals that fermentation is expected to kill the bugs anyway. These dangers are all more serious in the windfall fruit. Mindful of this I discarded the worst damaged but as this was a first try and likely to be wasted anyway I wasn’t too particular and just gave them a good wash off under the hose.

Then I spent an hour chopping them in half to make crushing easier. We’ve spent a long time agonising over the press and how it’s damaged by rot, lost various appendages, weakened by wood worm and age. I’m here to tell you that that may be a problem but we’ll never know unless we can crack the crushing phase.

For the first attempt I put my halved pears in a big bucket and used a heavy length of beech branch as a mortar. Half an hour bumping this unwieldy weapon up and down barely made small boulders of the pears, nothing like the fine gravel of fruit I needed. My arms were aching and my head spinning. I decided to give it a go anyway.

For this tiny amount of fruit there was no point in using the full sized press in the pressoir. We are fortunate to have a small amateur construction put together by Paul’s father one year after a bumper crop of grapes in his garden, which as far as we know had never been used before. I dusted this off and assembled it, nearly all interference fits that had to be hammered into place with my fist. Then I shovelled half the lumpy pulp into a pillow case and popped it into the press. The first thing I discovered was that none of the juice created came out through the spout positioned at the bottom, the second was that it did come out from every other nook and cranny and because I had stood the press over its receptacle instead of in it all the juice was lost into the gravel. I sat the press in a plant tray and chucked in the rest of the pulp, no need for a bag, then pressed again. About 3 pints of juice was my reward but it could have been so much more. The juice was very sweet, disgustingly cloudy and probably lethal with bugs from the barely washed tray. It was at that point I discovered I had no Camden tablets to sterilise the extract. The left over pear pomace had many barely crushed pear halves in it. There would have been much more juice if these had been properly pulped.


So today I thought I’d have a go at using the crusher that came with the farm. Like everything else in the cider house it was filthy dirty and encrusted with the detritus and insects of years past. We’d had a go at cleaning it last week when Paul was here and this morning I brought the hopper over to the house so that I could give it a good scrub down with a wire brush and some water under pressure. That cleaned up well enough revealing rather a lot of wood worm holes but enough fabric left for the job. The main mechanism was brushed off again. It has been well greased in the past a good thing, but it has attracted dust. The crushing blades are rusty but there isn’t much that can be done about it without risk of contaminating the fruit. The crusher rests on a wooden ‘coffin’ which is designed to catch the pulp as it falls through. This is so dirty, full of broken glass and cobwebs and in such a poor state that it seemed better to sit a plastic bucket under the grinding teeth to catch what came through. I chucked in a few kilos of pears and turned the wheel.

The pears were whole – that was mistake number one. They are just too big to slip easily into the jaws of the machine or if they do too dense to turn the wheel against them. The second problem is that if the pears don’t go into the teeth then they roll out the ends of the feeder and slip out down the sides without being ground at all. The bucket was not broad enough to encompass the wide spread of falling fruit and pulp and a lot of it landed in the dirty box below. I suspect the grinder can be set to different positions to allow several passes of the fruit through, getting tighter each time and finally producing the necessary fine paste but the adjustments aren’t clear and the bolts and springs rusted up. It will take more of an engineer than I am to work it all out.

Overall, not much progress but I suppose issues have been discovered that can be thought about. We have to decide if we’re doing this for fun or as potential income. Will it be too much hard work to be fun or too inadequately remunerative for business? There need to be further investigations.

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