Posted by: Jenny | Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Big Squeeze

Despite my best intentions, I didn’t manage to write this post in time for Blog Action Day 2009 on the topic of climate change.  But here it is, better late than never…

Apple Day

A local farmer has invited our Transition group to pick apples in his orchard.  This gives us the idea of holding an ‘apple day’ in the village, for the local community to bring along their apples for pressing, and take away the juice.  Windfalls, apple varieties that are not very good for either eating or baking, even fruit that is bruised and beginning to rot, provided it is not mouldy – all these can go into the press.

The orchard we have been offered turns out to have been neglected for many years.  There is not much fruit on the trees.  Here’s our first challenge: where do we find a sufficient quantity of apples for pressing?  Some of the group have one or two apple trees in their gardens.  One member, who has an allotment, mentions that there are trees near the allotments but he is unsure who they belong to.

Challenge number two: how do we acquire, or even construct, the machinery needed for chopping up and pressing the apples?  We have read up on the process, and learn that you need a ‘scratter’ to mill the apples into a pulp suitable for pressing.  And then you require some form of press.  Most of the farms in this part of the country have made cider and perry in the past.  You sometimes see abandoned presses lying around in farmyards as you walk past.  But in the time available to us, we need to find a press that is in working order.

Gathering the fruit

We set our sights lower: for this year, we will learn about the process and do a ‘pilot’ run.  If it’s successful, we will plan a public event next autumn.  The group agrees to meet one Saturday in October, bringing along any apples they have already gathered, and going round various gardens and farms together, by agreement, to gather more.  The result: about 12 sacks of fruit.

Scratting and Pressing

We have arranged to take the apples to a local farmer, Vic Holder, who spends much of his time during this season scratting and pressing apples and pears for his own cider and perry production, as well as for others who bring their fruit to him and collect the juice for a small fee.  The group plans to go along to watch and join in the juice production.

The apples are fed into the machine straight from the sacks.  The milled apples are then decanted from the tubs onto layers of nylon netting, each of which is wrapped around the five-centimetre layer of apples to make a flat parcel on the press.  Up to 15 such parcels are constructed, one above the other, neatly arranged using a wooden form.  A metre-square block of wood is placed on top, and the beam is winched down using manual force and two ancient-looking screws.  Juice is already flowing from the weight of the apples, even before the beam reaches the stack of milled fruit.  A concrete block at the base of the press has a channel around its four sides, and a spout at one corner.  A tub collects the juice as it runs off the block.

Someone has brought a glass, and holds it under the spout to collect a sample of the juice.  The glass is passed round and we all taste the sample.  Having seen the state of the apples that went in, the variety of fruit we collected, and the various additional ‘ingredients’ – grass, leaves, wasps – I am pleasantly surprised at how delicious it tastes.

Then our amateur bottling begins.  We have brought along all the bottles and containers we can find, and set to work filling these using a funnel which one member had the foresight to bring.  Still there are not enough bottles to take away all the juice we’ve produced.  We donate the rest of the tub to Vic.

Climate Change

What has all this to do with climate change?  At this point I will make an unashamed plug for the Transition Towns movement, which started in Totnes in 2006.

The main aim of Transition projects is to raise awareness of sustainable living and build local resilience in the near future, to be better prepared for a future where the combined realities of a shortage of oil (and the accompanying increase in prices of oil and oil-derived products), climate change, and population growth, will require more and more local solutions.  Communities will need to seek out methods for reducing energy usage as well as increasing their own self-reliance.  This translates into initiatives such as community gardens and orchards for growing food; promoting renewable energy and insulation for businesses and homes; recycling and reusing ‘waste’ items.

The Transition Towns movement seeks to encourage local communities to engage in these and other projects now.  This is not only in preparation for the ‘transition’ that is to come.  By relying increasingly on local solutions and community action, an oil-deprived future may in fact be far more enjoyable and fulfilling than the present consumption-driven lifestyles that many of us lead.

The ‘Big Squeeze’ trialled by Transition Cleeve this month leads me to think that community food projects are certainly worthwhile – and fun!



  1. Excellent work! Ron and I have also been very busy making bottles and bottles of apple juice (never enough bottles!) from a neighbour’s over-laden apple tree – though of course on a very much smaller scale. However, loads of apples mean juice for us for many months to come (I freeze it) and lots of apple crumbles!

    • It’s a great delight, isn’t it, to be able to harvest and use your own food, and prepare delicious menus without the need to visit a supermarket!

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