It became evident that apple-pressing in Grantchester is no mere idle Saturday-afternoon pastime when the Nevilles’ trailer arrived and, Tardis-like, proceeded to disgorge an astonishing array of kit, including an industrial-length hose, a pulper/shredder, all the precision elements of the press itself, a variety of receptacles for the juice and, of course, very many apples. Surveying the terrain with an expert’s eye, they set up their operating theatre on the lawn, washing down the equipment, ready for the onslaught. We tested the production line: the apples are fed into the shredder, which dispenses the pulp with a gratifyingly crunching sound; this mash is then poured into a sort of holey, giant handkerchief, which sits on the press, its sides held upright by a square metal frame. Once the first ‘hanky’ is full, the sides are folded over, sealing it envelope-like, the next layer is added on top, and so on until three or four tiers are leaking promisingly under their own weight. This oozing pile is then capped with the top section of the press, which is wound gently downwards, squeezing out cascades of sluggish brown juice. Clear, pretty and sterile this stuff is not.
The trial run successfully completed – and sample quaffed – the villagers arrived, as if on cue, in the style of an “Apple most like its Grower” competition: bigger, smaller, some a bit red, others very green, some particularly juicy, these ones shiny, those ones a little bruised but all, crucially, adding their own individual flavour to the whole. The raw material arrived in a gallimaufry of carriers: apples came in wheelbarrows, sacks, buckets, trugs, plastic bags and even by the dustbinful, and the juice then left in almost as varied a collection of vessels: glass demi-johns and a couple of rather serious-looking five-gallon fermentation buckets were joined by two- and four-pint milk bottles, claret and San Pellegrino bottles, and five-litre plastic water urns, among others. As for the waste product of this industry, our chickens are still busily exploring the mounds of biscuity crud left over when the press is unwound, so perhaps we will enjoy green eggs with our ham for the next few weeks.
Whilst the so-called grown-ups largely did what they do best (standing around, yakking), the Under-13s put in the hard yards, including in particular the crucial role of blending, which requires the skilful scooping of handfuls of pulp out of one bucket and into another, as it awaits pressing. It is this kind of attention to detail that, as any fule kno, makes the difference between mere juice, and Juice. To keep their, and everyone’s, energy levels up as the drizzle started to come down, Sara Hennessey served up tea and a wonderful selection of delicious cakes, brownies and other goodies, raising substantial funds for the African [Charity name] in the process. Closer to home, when I went to their Mill Road shop a few days after the apple- pressing, Cutlacks complained that they had been caught out by unusually strong demand, which had depleted the stocks of juicing-related paraphernalia they had been planning to take to the 12th Ely Apple Festival the following weekend.
The last laugh and sorest heads, though, surely go to the Big Beasts of Grantchester’s apple- pressing community: the cider-makers. By the time you read this there will be sickly-sweet fumes building up in a number of garages, cellars and airing-cupboards across the village. To butcher Tolstoy (himself not averse to linking falling apples with an understanding of Destiny): all flagons of Juice are alike; each flagon of cider is mildly toxic in its own way. Following (or even asking for) instructions has never been my strong point, but on this occasion I made the schoolboy error of asking more than one expert for the secret of juice- fermentation success, with the result that I am even more confused now, than before. So if you hear a loud bang one night, and notice in dawn’s soft light a smoking crater where Dove Cottage once stood, you will know that I used too much (or perhaps not enough) yeast or sugar or warmth or pressure. In which case please feed the chooks and – assuming you can still stand the sight of the things – help yourselves to any apples you can scrump.
Tom Day, cider apprentice