Tag Archives: apples

Game Changing Kale Salad

#Imbolc salad. Made Seamus Mullen's #kale salad recipe from @food_writer's website. Freakin #awesome.

Last weekend was Imbolc, the halfway point between winter solstice and spring equinox, and an all-around good excuse to celebrate the season and have a party. The etymology of the word “Imbolc” is a little unclear, but most scholarly people agree it has something to do with ewe’s milk, thus making sheepy things a common symbol of this festival. For us food adventurers, this was all the excuse we needed to play around with sheep milk in various guises, and one of our biggest successes was this kale salad.

The recipe is a slight riff on Seamus Mullen’s Kale Salad with Apple, Toasted Pecans, and Yoghurt and Dill Dressing currently featured on Matching Food and Wine.

Three things make this kale salad awesome:

  1. The candied pecans – I used the recipe for spiced pecans from David Lebovitz’s Bourbon & Spiced Pecan Ice Cream. If you make this once, I promise you will be putting candied pecans on salads for the rest of your life.
  2. The dressing – Here is where we deviated ever so slightly from the recipe, using Woodlands sheep yogurt in place of cow milk yogurt. It worked a treat. Dill and yogurt aren’t an obvious choice for a kale salad dressing, but it totally works. YES, even with those candied pecans.
  3. The kale! In particular, the cavalo nero from The Organic Farm Shop in Cirencester. Almost zero food miles and totally delicious. Seasonal to the max.

It’s worth pointing out that this kale salad required no “massaging”, kale chipping or other trendy kale techniques to make it spectacular. It’s all about the ingredients and the perfect combination of flavours. Sweet, sour, savoury. If Imbolc actually did have a God, Seamus Mullens might be it.

This salad isn’t a life changer per say, but it is a game changer in that it’s raised the bar for my usual big kale salad routine, which up until Imbolc had been average at best. It reminds me of something worth aiming for when cooking for other people: the element of surprise. And it also reminds me to experiment with flavors and try other people’s recipes, even if they do sound weird.

So does anyone else have a crazy weird awesome kale salad for me to try?

Get the recipe:

Seamus Mullen’s Kale Salad with Apple, Toasted Pecans, and Yoghurt and Dill Dressing [matchingfoodandwine.com]


How to Make Fruit Leather (Oven or Dehydrator)

Making Fruit Leather

Is it just me or is this a bumper year for strawberries? My accidental strawberry patch (it started as a potted plant then escaped to the gravel and has taken over) is producing way more than I could ever eat, freeze or smoothie-ify. Jam is an option, but I’ve been looking for something less sugary, yet equally non-perishable. Enter fruit leather!

First Strawberry Harvest

My fellow Americans know fruit leather as “fruit roll-ups”, which when purchased from the shop contains just as much sugar as that jam I’m trying to avoid. But if you start with real fruit, puree it and dry it yourself, you’ll find the fruit needs little sugar if any. The drying process super-concentrates the fruit sugars leaving you with a naturally sweet “leather” that tastes like pure fruit

Making Fruit Leather

Strawberries are perfect for this and since the elderflowers are in bloom, I thought I’d kick up my fruit leather with a little elder-injection. I also had some homemade apple puree in the freezer, the lingering remains from last year’s orchard crop, so I thawed that out, added some grated fresh ginger, and turned that into leather, too. The apple was by far my favourite – I added a LOT of ginger and I loved the spicy kick. But I must admit, the strawberry leather tastes like pure summer.

Really blown away by my strawberry crop. This has been my daily harvest the last three days with more are on the way!

These fruit leathers are perfect for the lunchbox or for taking on long hikes. In fact, “hiking” was my motivation for all this as I’m heading to the Lake District this weekend and am getting ready to hike the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in July. The fruit leather will be a welcome energy shot on the “rocky road” (and for a super energy shot – fruit leather rolled up with almond butter!).

Best of all, you can do this in the oven (no fancy dehydrator necessary).

How to Make Strawberry (or any other fruit) Leather

Making Fruit Leather

You can skip the elderflower in this but it does add that extra something. Try swapping it out with other flavour add-ins: orange zest, cinnamon, ginger… be creative! And feel free to sub the strawberries for any other fruit. You can do this in either an oven or a dehydrator; I’ve included instructions for both. If you live in a warm climate, you can also do this on a hot day by simply leaving the fruit to dry out in the sun!


  • 5 cups strawberries, stems removed and halved (or any other fruit)
  • 2 tablespoons honey (more or less to taste)
  • 3-4 clusters of elderflowers (optional)

Method (Oven)

  1. In a medium saucepan, on a low heat, cook the strawberries until they are soft and the juices are released.
  2. Tie up the elderflowers in a muslin or jelly bag and add to the juicy strawberries. Cover, leave to cool, then put in the refrigerator and leave overnight. (If you skip the elderflowers, there’s no need to leave the strawberries overnight – you can make your leather right away!)
  3. The next day, preheat oven to its lowest temperature setting.
  4. Remove the elderflower bundle and pour the berries into a blender. Add the honey and puree.
  5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  6. Pour the berry mixture onto parchment lined pan – it should be about 1/8 inch thick.
  7. Put in the oven and bake for 4-6 hours, until leather peels away easily from the parchment. Using scissors cut into rectangles and roll them up, parchment and all.

Method (Dehydrator)

  1. Follow the oven method through step 4.
  2. Spread the mixture out onto a dehydrator sheet to about 1/8 inch thickness.
  3. Dehydrate at 130 F / 50 C for four hours. Check the fruit leather periodically – when it peels away easily, peel it off, flip it over and dry for another hour or two.
  4. Remove from dehydrator and use scissors or a pizza roller to cut it into you desired shapes.

Making Fruit Leather

Christmas Granola with Orchard Cottage Apples

Christmas Granola with Orchard Cottage Apples

So it’s that time of year when I get a little obsessed with homemade gifts and seem to wind up putting cinnamon and nutmeg into everything. I’m lucky to have an orchard, and so most of my gifts are inspired by that, and the hedgerows that surround it. Jam, chutney, sloe gin… you know the drill. But this year, my very generous friend, Kanna, loaned me a food dehydrator, glamorously named “The Excalibur”, which has taken my apple preserving – and my gift giving – to a whole new level.

Dehydrated Apples

Right about the time I’d amassed my third mountain of dehydrated apples, a neat kitchen-y thing arrived at my doorstep: this nifty recipe box from Instaprint, along with recipes from ten groovy foodies (including me and my recipe for Pear and Avocado Smoothie).

Christmas Granola with Orchard Cottage Apples

Flipping through the recipes, I came across Karen’s Maple Almond and Pecan Granola with Blueberries which instantly inspired me to create something similar with my apple stash. I liked the heavy dose of pecans, the wintery spices and the coconut action. And I really liked the idea of doing something OTHER than jam and chutney for my DIY Christmas presents this year.

Christmas Granola with Orchard Cottage Apples

I didn’t change much from the original recipe. I used honey instead of maple syrup and dried apples (plus a few dried cranberries) instead of blueberries.  I kept the dried apple pieces really big and left the pecans whole. I love the crunchy rustic-ness of it all. And I love how it smells! Just like Christmas. 

Christmas Granola with Orchard Cottage Apples

Christmas Granola with Apples, Almonds and Pecans

  • 125mls honey (use maple syrup or similar to make this vegan)
  • 25g Demerara sugar
  • 30mls rapeseed oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 400g jumbo oats
  • 100g porridge oats
  • 50g pumpkin seeds
  • 50g sunflower seeds
  • 100g whole almonds
  • 100g pecans
  • 100g dried coconut flakes
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt (I use Maldon)
  • 2 teaspoons ground mixed spice (or ground cinnamon if you prefer)
  • 150g dried apples and cranberries


  1. Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F. Line three large roasting tins or trays with baking paper.
  2. Pour the honey into a large bowl and then add the sugar, oil and vanilla extract. Mix well before adding the oats, mixed seeds, almonds, pecans, coconut flakes, sea salt and mixed spice.
  3. Using your hands, mix all of the ingredients together so that all of the dry ingredients are coated in the the maple syrup and oil mixture.
  4. Spoon the mixture over the paper lined trays so that is is evenly spread and in a single layer. Bake it in the oven for 10 to 20 minutes, checking every 5 minutes or so and giving it a good stir. Make sure it doesn’t burn!
  5. The granola is done when it’s toasted to a light golden brown colour. Remove it from the oven and allow to cool completely before mixing in the dried apples and cranberries.
  6. Store the granola in airtight containers and use within 3 to 4 weeks.

Marrow and Ginger Chutney

Marrow & Ginger Chutney

Last week my friend Sam came over with what seemed like half of her kitchen and a huge load of beautiful vegetables from Shipton Mill‘s biodynamic garden. Much of the booty became salad (see my previous post on cooking from Ottolenghi), but the vegetable that eluded us was marrow, perhaps the most substantial and most plentiful item in the Shipton veggie stash.

Veg from Shipton Mill's Biodynamic Garden

Marrow is a vegetable that I’d only heard of since moving to the UK. It’s like a ginormous zucchini (aka courgette), and like zucchini, is very easy to grow. As a result, it’s very easy to end up with marrow glut (as I’m sure the gardeners at Shipton Mill can attest to).

I never really understood why people bothered growing marrow when zucchini seems far more easy to deal with. But I was willing to give it a try and reached out to the Twittersphere for suggestions. Elaine Stocks came back with this Marrow Chutney recipe from the BBC Good Food website so I thought I’d give it a go.

Marrow Ginger Chutney

A little bit of a disclaimer: I’m not a massive chutney fan, especially of the typical apple and raisin variety. It’s not so much that I don’t like chutney, it’s just that I don’t eat much of the things that chutney typically goes with: namely meat and cheese. So while I enjoy making chutney, I’m usually hesitant to do so because it just ends up sitting around taking up valuable shelf and jar space.

However, this marrow chutney appealed because it contained ginger and suggested that it might go well with Indian food (something I do eat quite frequently and often enjoy with mango and ginger chutney – particularly in curried omelets and chickpea flour pancakes – so why not marrow and ginger chutney instead?).

Marrow, Brined

So I did make the chutney – which used up two marrows! – and before I tell you how it tasted, let me report on the process which was a moment in my country living experience that made me laugh. The day I made the chutney, I also had Airbnb guests coming to stay and so was also baking bread, too. The moment my guests arrived happened to be exactly when the bread was coming out of the oven and the chutney was bubbling away in the pan. Add to that the gentle breeze bustling around the apples in the orchard, birds dancing around the bird feeder and my dog Rocky‘s eternal – but polite – exuberance at meeting new people, I was feeling pretty good about having lived up to the foodie countryfile portrait I’d painted of myself and my cottage on Airbnb!

The best part was when my guest exclaimed how good the chutney smelled and went right over to the pot to have a whiff (she is a Brit who lives in France and I suspect she’s been missing her British food).

Marrow & Ginger Chutney

To my great relief, the chutney tastes as good as it smelled. It’s got a good hit of ginger without being overpowering, but what I really like is the texture that the marrow brings. They’re soft, but discernible. They also work flavour-wise. I find most chutneys to be cloyingly sweet, but the marrow creates a good balance.

The real proof of its goodness is in my guests’ response: they’ve had marrow chutney with Keens cheddar and toast for breakfast for the last three days (over my other breakfast options which include yogurt, fruit, muesli, almond butter and jam). They’ve also been saying that the chutney gets better and better with each passing day.

The next test is to see how the marrow and ginger chutney goes with Indian food. I think it will work.

Marrow and Ginger Chutney
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 


Adapted from BBC Good Food. The weight of the marrow is BEFORE peeling and de-seeding. I was also short on malt vinegar so used about 550ml malt vinegar and 300ml of apple cider vinegar. I also used golden delicious apples but I suspect any apple will do!
  • 1½ kg/3lb 5 oz marrow, peeled and deseeded
  • 225g shallots, sliced
  • 225g apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 225g sultanas
  • 2cm piece ginger, finely chopped
  • 225g demerara sugar
  • 850ml malt vinegar
  • 12 black peppercorns

  1. Cut the marrow into small pieces (about 1cm dice), put in a large bowl and sprinkle liberally with 2 tbsp salt. Cover and leave for 12 hrs. You should wind up with a lot of liquid at the bottom of your bowl.
  2. Rinse and drain the marrow, then place in a preserving pan or large saucepan with the shallots, apples, sultanas, ginger, sugar and vinegar. Tie the peppercorns in muslin (or put into a small enclosed tea strainer) and place in the pan. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring from time to time, until the consistency is thick (I simmered mine for a couple of hours, though the BBC’s website says “cook time” is 25 minutes; I suppose it all depends on how much moisture is in your ingredients!).
  3. Leave to settle for 10 mins, then spoon into sterilised jars (see tip on BBC Good Food‘s website), put on the lids and label. Will keep for a year in a cool, dark place.

Cider Making: My Best Year Yet

Taste the difference?

This week is Bramley Apple Week and to mark the occasion, I’ve writing about my own experience making homebrew cider over at Great British Chefs. Here are a few more reflections on this year’s batch…

This is only my second year making cider, so I suppose it’s no huge feat that this is my “best year yet”. Still, it’s exciting, hugely rewarding and ultimate proof of the value of a little note-taking.

Recovering from the weekend by attending to other boozy necessities: cider bottling!

I’ve been pretty lucky with my current living situation: I live in a converted barn called “Orchard Cottage”, so called because there’s an apple orchard literally in my back yard.

Orchard in bloom

First of the Orchard Cottage Apples

Anyone who has apple trees knows that one of the year’s most entertaining challenges is making use of an apple glut. For the past two years, I’ve been using my deluge of apples to make my own cider.

Why make cider? It’s fun, fascinating, delicious and, if you’ve got the apples, relatively cheap – all you need are some demijohn containers and some airlocks, available at any decent homebrew shop (I bought demijohns and airlocks – the bare minimum to get started – at West Wilts Home Brew, then later ordered a siphon, hydrometer and funnel from The Home Brew Shop).  Commercial cider is made with “cider apples” but you can do this with whatever apples you have around, including Bramley apples, crab apples, eating apples or a combination of what you have on hand. In fact, part of the fun is experimenting with different apples and comparing the results.

You also need a cider press to juice those apples, but this is where your friends come in – no matter where you live, chances are someone in your community has a cider press, which is really at the heart cider’s beauty: it brings people together for the greater good (and alcohol!).

To summarise, here is the bare minimum of what you need to make cider:

  • Apples
  • A way to turn the apples into juice (ideally an apple pulper and apple press)
  • Containers with airlocks
  • Optional: hydrometer, funnels, a siphon, bottles, reference books

The process of making cider is pretty easy: make juice and leave it to ferment. Boom. You have cider.

Here’s a few more specifics:

1. Collect a bunch of apples.

Awaiting their destiny

2. Juice the apples.

This requires first pulping the apples and then pressing the pulp into juice.

If you can find someone with a good electric mill and industrial press, become their best friend – chances are anyone who is enthusiastic enough about cider to own these devices is going to be pretty swell by default. These new apple presses are much quicker, cleaner and easier than traditional apple presses.  This means less time press and more time talking and tasting! Last year, I found such a press at Court Farm in Somerset, a holiday cottage that also has an apple orchard and offers a self-pressing service. This year I stayed closer to home and pressed apples the old-fashioned way. Let’s just say, once you go New School apple pressing, you can never go back.

Old school:

Old school apple pulping and pressing

New school:

New school apple pulping and pressing

3. Put the juice in a container with an airlock (a device that keeps the air out while still letting carbon dioxide, a bi-product of fermentation, escape).

CIder on the go

Bonus step: use a hydrometer to measure the amount of sugar in your apple juice; this will give you a rough gauge of how alcoholic the resulting cider will be.

SG 1004 (ish)


4. Leave the juice to ferment for a few weeks – it’ll make little bubble sounds as the carbon dioxide escapes the air lock and make for a very pleasant soundtrack to your winter. After a few weeks, the bubbling will slow down and you’ll be left with a bunch of sediment at the bottom of the container.  (You can use your hydrometer at this point to check if there’s any sugar left in the juice – if not, you’re ready for step 5!)

5. Pour the liquid into a new container, leaving most of that sediment behind (this is called “racking off”, and a siphon is handy for this). You can add a bit of sugar if you’d like for a sweeter cider. This starts off a secondary fermentation cycle.

6. After a few more weeks, you can drink the cider, or add a little more sugar and pour it into bottles (swing-top glass bottles or plastic screw-top bottles are best). Seal the bottles and let the cider sit for a few more weeks, during which time it will get all carbonated and bubbly. There’s nothing like ice cold sparkly cider on a warm day, and you get to use the cool phrase “bottle-conditioned”!

Homebrew Sparking Cider


I’ve hugely simplified the process, and you can get super nerdy about the chemistry of it all, but this too is part of the fun. This year I experimented with varying the amount of added sugar to my cider and produced a range of results, some very dry, others almost Magners-esque, all brilliantly fizzy and almost dangerously drinkable. In a blind taste test, I decided my favourite was the batch that got a dose of sugar after being racked off, and another dose at the bottling stage.

Blind taste testing the orchard cottage cider. Winners both got a dose of sugar pre-bottling. (The one that also got sugar after the second racking is almost Magners-esque). The batch without any added sugar was least tasty. Overall beyond pleased with th

Friends also confirm that this year’s cider is a hit:

Cider tasting! Cider tasting!

If you’re keen to give cider making a go, I recommend picking up a copy of Real Cider Making on a Small Scale by Michael Pooley and John Lomax which is full of useful advice for newbies, including an indispensible flow chart that really simplifies the whole process. It also gives very clear directions on how much sugar to add at the different stages to achieve the type of cider you want (dry, medium dry, sweet, etc).

And if you really want to get into the nerdy biochemistry side of things, Andrew Lea’s Craft Cider Making is essential.

So, who wants a taste?

Related Links:

Waldorf-Inspired Breakfast Salad

Heeding the call of the #vegan #breakfast #salad. Apple, celery, carrot, red onion, little gems, walnuts, chilli, mustard vinaigrette.

This has been breakfast the last few days, a sort of glorified vegan version of the classic Waldorf salad, inspired by this season’s apple harvest and a few stalks of celery lurking in my fridge. You could bulk this out with added quinoa, bulgar wheat, maybe a few raisins, or even a blob of yogurt, but I found this wasn’t necessary. As is, this was my idea of perfect breakfast: delicious food that satisfies without over-filling. Major feel-good factor here.

For one serving:

  • 1 apple, chopped
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • a few thin slices of red onion
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 10g walnuts
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • a few little gem lettuce leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • sliced green chilli (optional)
  • 2 tsp dijon-based vinaigrette (mine was the House Dressing recipe from Arthur Potts Dawson’s Eat Your Veg, but any mustard-based dressing would do – I love this honey mustard dressing recipe)

Mix it all together and serve.

Cider Making Update

Taste the difference?

Another session of apple pressing at Court Farm in Somerset last Wednesday, and another 15L of apple juice en route to becoming cider. This time: crab apples (there’s quite a few crab apple trees scattered around the farm).

There’s an amazing colour difference between the crab apple juice and the juice from the eating apples I picked from the orchard (the crab apple juice is on the left). Interestingly, both the crab apple and orchard apple juice had the same sugar content (SG 1.045), about 10% sugar, which should yield a cider of about 5-6% alcohol.

I posted this photo on Facebook and it evoked a few comments about alcohol content and apple differences, so I thought I’d blog the outcomes of that conversation:

On alcohol content, you can actually get a higher alcohol content by adding sugar to the juice (more sugar = more “food” for the yeast to eat and turn into alcohol). However, I’ve kept mine unadulterated – 5-6% alcohol is plenty for me (most of the beers I drink are less than 5%).

Then there’s the matter of FIZZ. Right now, those airlocks are letting all of the carbon dioxide out of the containers (CO2 is a byproduct of yeast eating sugar). Eventually, the sugar will be used up, and all of the yeast will have settled at the bottom (you can see some of it already). At this point I will “rack” the cider into clean jars and let it mature for another few months. After this, I can pursue the fizz.

Making fizzy cider is pretty simple: I’ll take the matured cider, add a bit of sugar, and put it into sealed bottles. This sugar will kick start another cycle of fermentation. But now that the bottles are in sealed containers, the CO2 will get trapped, and hopefully give me fizzy cider.

The other question is – what’s the difference? Why crab apples vs. eating apples? Crab apples have more tannin than eating apples, and are closer to real “cider apples”. The tannins are said to give cider a greater range and depth of flavour. So we shall see! The nice thing about brewing cider from different apples separately is that I can taste all the differences, then play with blending ciders to get the taste I’m after.

Of course, this is all assuming that the process WORKS. I’ve added no additional chemicals or yeasts to control the process, leaving my cider to the fates of the natural yeasts in the air and juice.

Having said all this, I’m totally learning this cider stuff as I go. My first lesson was from James at Court Farm a few weeks ago when Craft Cider Making by Andrew Lea and Real Cider Making on a Small Scale by Michael Pooley and John Lomax. The latter has a nice flow chart that has helped me come to grips with this process.


Next steps for me are to get a siphon, a funnel and a clean jar, as it’s almost time to rack off the first lot of apple juice. I’d also like to get a hydrometer to measure the specific gravity (and thus sugar) of my cider as it progresses. All in all, the whole process is pretty cheap, and with luck, I will have a LOT of cider to share with friends and family at the end of it. Very excited.

Let the fermentation commence.

Read how it all began: Apple pressing at Court Farm

My crab apples, the true beginning:

Crab apples

Jablecznik: Polish Apple Cake

Jablecznik: Polish Apple Cake

The apple theme continues. This time, apple cake. There’ve been loads of recipes making the rounds and three have caught my eye which I plan to try this season:

My first cake, chosen purely because I had the ingredents, was Carla’s Jablecznik. The 25% of me that’s Polish was giddy at the thought.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m not really a big cake eater, or fan of sweets in general. But this apple cake suited me perfectly, largely because it’s less like “cake” and more like a sweetened apple frittata: think layers and layers of apples held together by a luxurious egg- and flour-based batter. The moisture from the apples give the cake an almost custard-like quality.

Jablecznik: Polish Apple Cake

This is the kind of dessert food I like: rustic, full of fruit, layered with texture and not overly sweet. Being Polish, I feel compelled to add creme fraiche, but it doesn’t need it. It does, however, really enjoy the company of a hot cup of coffee or tea.

Jablecznik: Polish Apple Cake

A true celebration of apples. I’ve halved the ingredients of the original recipe to fit a 20cm spring-form tin, which serves about 8. For Carla’s original 25cm cake, check out her recipe on Facebook.


  • 135gr plain cake flour or Italian ’00’ flour
  • 1.25 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 100 gr of granulated sugar
  • 55 gr soft unsalted butter
  • 125 ml full fat milk
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 4 large apples peeled cored and thinly sliced

For the topping

  • 22 gr cold diced butter
  • 25 gr granulated sugar
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon


  1. Line a 20cm cake tin with parchment paper (if you don’t know how, read this).
  2. In a large bowl sift the flour, baking powder and salt. Than add the sugar,butter, milk and eggs. Beat well till smooth. The batter should be of a soft dropping consistency.
  3. Pour half of the batter into the cake tin, spread it out and layer on just a bit more than half of the sliced apples. Spoon half of the remaining batter on top and then add the rest of the apples. Dot the rest of the batter on the apples.
  4. With your fingertips work together the cold butter, sugar and spice till you have “butter crumbs” and scatter on top of the cake.
  5. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the top is golden and the apples poking through the top have started to brown.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Per serving: 262 Calories | 9.6 grams Fat | 42.5 grams Carbohydrates | 3.6 grams Protein | 2.6 grams Fiber

Apple Pressing at Court Farm

Apples washed and ready

Apple chutney be damned.

I’m lucky – the cottage I live in sits facing an old English orchard owned by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust (who also own my property, aptly named “Orchard Cottage”). Few people know the orchard is there, and I’m free to enjoy as much of its fruit as I can bear. And this year, there’s been a LOT of fruit.

Last weekend I took a stroll and counted 17 apple trees and 2 pear trees, most of which were bursting with fruit. It is both awesome and overwhelming. People on the interwebs have been sharing their ideas for various apple chutneys, cakes, jellies and so on, but these things don’t excite me so much. Then I started getting curious about pressing apples into juice, not so much because I care about juice, but cider – now that’s interesting.

Awaiting their destiny

Twitter is amazing. I mentioned something random about wanting to press some apples and before I knew it, Sam of the fantastic Sam’s Kitchen & Deli in Bath introduced me to his stepdad, James, who lives on a fantastically picturesque farm in Somerset called Court Farm. He rents part of the farm as a holiday cottage, and has converted another part into a small apple pressing “factory”.

Court Farm

Court Farm's Apple Juice

James has been making juice and cider for 5 years and has just upgraded his kit to include an electric mill and hydropress which makes the juicing process really fast and easy. James is very keen to grow his “small band of enthusiasts” and invites people to come in and, for a very small fee, use the press for their own apples.

So last weekend, I picked about 43 kilos of apples and visited James who very kindly showed me how to turn the apples into juice. It was all very simple: rinse the apples, pulp the apples in the electric mill, then press the pulp into juice using a “hydropress”.

Pulping apples Pulping apples Pulp goes into the hydropress
More juicing Voila! Apple juice! James in his element

The hydropress is an ingenious little device: a bladder sits within a porous cylinder, which you fill with apple pulp. Then you fill the bladder with water and the pressure pushes out the juice. So simple.

What's left

The juice is then strained, and then pasteurised UNLESS you plan to turn the juice into cider – that’s when things get interesting.

With James’ help, I was given the know-how and tools I needed to get started making cider. In this first step, all I needed to do was put unpasteurized cider into demijohns topped with airlocks. What should happen in the days to follow is this: the juice starts fermenting and releases carbon dioxide. To avoid a scary explosion, the airlock is filled with a bit of water so that carbon dioxide can bubble out, but oxygen in the air can’t get in.

CIder on the go

Then what? Well that’s what I need to find out.

I’ve got two demijohns, 20 litres worth, of cider on the go (plus another 30ish litres of pasteurised apple juice to drink at my leisure). In three weeks time, I’m going to have to do something with my cider. I’m not sure what, but I plan to do a lot of reading between now and then to learn how to finish the process.

Per James’ suggestion, I ordered Craft Cider Making by Andrew Lea. One of the Amazon reviews said “Great if you’re a biochemist”. You know what: I think this is what I’m going to like about cider making. When James was showing us his own kit, he used a hydrometer to measure the sugar content (which indicates alcohol content) and is a way to measure how the cider is progressing over time. He also talked about making ciders with different apples and combining them to achieve the perfect taste. I love this chemistry-set aspect of cider making. So I very well could have an expensive hobby on my hand. It’s just as well the apples are free.

The results of my labours

Next steps: learn more about making cider and return to Court Farm with some crab apples, which I hear make an excellent cider, and there are plenty of untouched trees around the farm whose fruit would love a home.

If you live in the Somerset area and have lots of apples to spare, get in touch with Court Farm. James and Helen are the friendliest of people. I’m so moved by their generosity in sharing their tools and their knowledge with folks like me. It’s people like them who make living in this part of the world such a great thing: there’s a real excitement about the ingredients and the process of creating something from start to finish, something that’s bigger than the sum of its part. A real celebration of the country. And a fantastic way to spend a beautiful Sunday.

P.S. Court Farm is beautiful and I especially enjoyed meeting the happy pigs. Thank you, James and Helen.

James and happy pigs

Photoset on Flickr: Turning Apples into Cider