A few weeks back we spent a weekend at my friends’ organic apple orchard and nursery here in Finland, where they were juicing the last of this year’s apple harvest. The timing was a little late, since the peak of the season had already passed, but our hosts were still eager to have a try with their new hand powered apple crusher and juice press, and store the yumminess and vitamins for the winter.
However, there was also an another motive driving this action of testing the new hand operated equipment, in addition to the direct benefits of local organic winter drinks for the family.
The story began over ten years ago when Virpi and Hannu, our hosts, started the Northern Savo region apple project by searching for and recording old tasty and productive apple trees that have survived in people’s back yards through the few extreme winters we’ve had over the past century – winters that in some areas killed a large part of the apple stock in Finland. They recorded over a thousand trees and collected samples of the best ones for cultivation. Right after the project there were two hundred new heirloom varieties in cultivation. This, however, was a bit too much to handle so they decided to cut the production to a few dozen of the best varieties.
Now, ten years later, in the local region where the nursery operates, there has been approximately ten thousand apple trees sold from all the stores and nurseries around. Soon those trees will reach their maturity and full productivity, and in a few years people might be drowning in apples.
That’s when locally available, simple and affordable low tech methods for small scale processing can provide a great relief for many, as well as more ways to enjoy the harvest over a longer period of time! Coming together for a day or a weekend to share apple stories and press juice can also be a great way to weave local community and connections when the equipment is acquired and used collectively, or available for renting.
One of the main goals of the apple press project in my friends’ nursery is to do the work of researching and testing the different options of hand powered juice press technologies and find the most convenient and easily operated equipment to provide and recommend to people.
They have initially started out with one set of machinery: an apple crusher which grinds the fruit into a juicy pulp and a 25 liter spindle press for extracting. The first step of the process is to remove the cores, which although a lot of work is done for three good reasons: First of all, even though big industrial presses use whole apples, the seeds aren’t actually palatable and are considered better not included in the juice. Secondly, since we are on a nursery, the seeds from these heirloom northern hardy apples are saved for growing rootstock, and thirdly, the second product of this process is the dry pulp which is mixed with rolled oats and some sugar, and dried in the oven for muesli. Yum! Multiple yields, and no waste!
The press can process 25 liters of pulp on each round, but we were using less, to get a better extraction rate and more juice out of each apple. It was also discovered that when the pulp is juiced once, and then crushed and pressed again, even more juice can be obtained. After the second run though, the pulp had lost a lot of its texture and wasn’t so good for muesli anymore. Some of the juice was bottled and pasteurised for hygiene and longer storage time, and some was bottled raw in plastic and frozen. We also tested pressing whole crab apples (with seeds and everything) which give a wonderful pink colored juice and have a distinct taste that is not as sweet as from regular apples.
It is fascinating how much potential there is in the technologies known to us today that can be harnessed for producing many things other than monstrously large industrial facilities and overly complex and energy consuming equipment. There are so many opportunities in wonderful small scale tools that use zero oil, gas or electricity and which provide better local self reliance and add value to home grown produce.