We got our apples juiced today.
I think I mentioned a while back that we have some apple trees -- five in the back yard, one in the front. Well, this was a good year for apples. We have apples. We brought a hundred and twenty kilos to the juicery, and that was after throwing at least that many away on the compost heap. (In retrospect, I was probably too picky. The juicer doesn't worry much about bruises or the occasional worm.)
Picking apples is pleasant exercise; you bend down a lot, then you shake the tree, then you bend down some more. You whack the tree with sticks. You send small boys up the tree to shake the higher branches. You carry buckets of apples around from here to there. I can imagine that if we had more apple trees it would quickly grow tedious, but we have just five, which means it's just a couple of hours of work, done in ten- or fifteen-minute intervals over a few days: let's go out and collect some apples.
(All of the equipment is at least 50 years old. It's in good condition and everything is clean and works fine. Just, old.)
The paste gets ladled onto big swathes of canvas-like fabric. The fabric gets folded over like origami, to make something like a big fat canvas envelope full of apple mush. This gets put between two big plates of white plastic -- the sort of stuff a cutting board is made of, yeah? And then another mush-envelope gets placed on top of that, and another plate. You end up with a sort of Dagwood sandwich, several levels of mush-plate-mush-plate. And then this whole thing gets put under the press. Which squeezes it. Really hard.
What you end up with is juice -- in our case, almost 70 liters (or 20 gallons) of the stuff. (You also end up with 50 kilograms of dejuiced mush, which is now a sort of pressed cake of apple fragments. The juice people keep this, and sell for animal feed -- apparently pigs particularly love the stuff.) It pours down a hose into a big black plastic barrel, which you heave into the back of the car and drive home. Before you leave the juicer, you pay them a small fee (about 15 euros) for their trouble, and you also buy a bunch of 5-liter plastic bags with spigots from them.
Once at home, you ladle the juice out of the barrel into a... I don't know what it's called in English. A big boiler, basically. Like a five-gallon rice cooker. You plug that in and wait a while and it heats the juice close to boiling, pasteurizing it. When that's done, you take one of the plastic bags and put a funnel into the opening. Then you open up the boiler-thing and start scooping the hot juice into the funnel. Soon you have a 5-liter bag full of hot, hopefully sterile apple juice. (If you put it in a cool dark place it should keep for at least six months. Or so we are told.) After a few cycles of this your kitchen will begin to smell richly of apples. (The fact that I spilled a couple of liters of juice may have helped here, sure. The kitchen floor was still slightly sticky this morning.)
There's a dispenser -- a box-like thing with a hole for the spigot. You put the plastic bag in that and set it in your kitchen and, voila, you have five liters of apple juice, straight from your own back yard, waiting to be decanted and served with every meal.
And how does it taste?
It tastes fantastic, actually. I'm not really one to rave about the wonders of country living -- I'm a city kid at heart. When someone says "great food" my first association is more likely to be "this amazing Thai place on the corner" rather than "fresh vegetables from our own garden". But the apple juice, scooped fresh from the heater, tasted amazing. Mouth-puckeringly sour, yet sweet, so sweet. Utterly delicious.
It's possible that after months of apple juice -- and we have enough for months; 70 liters is kind of a lot -- we'll be sick of it. On the other hand, it's also possible that drinking a cup of it in February will bring back a hint of September, and clear sunny days of climbing trees and hitting branches with sticks.
I guess we'll see.