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Are your apples ripe?

“The apple will fall when it’s ripe!” It’s an old country saying which has served us well, but apples don't just fall when they are ripe. For example, some apples are prematurely shed during a tree’s natural thinning in June and July, known as 'June Drop'. These apples will be hard, sour and not suitable for anything. So, how can you tell when your apples are ripe and why does it matter so much for juice and cider making?

Why do apples need to be ripe for pressing?

When pressing apples for either juice or cider it is important to use ripe fruit. This maximises flavour and juice yield. It also ensures the full sugar potential of your apples; particularly important when you come to fermenting for cider.

When are apples ripe?

Here’s how to judge whether your apples are ripe and good to use:

1. Pip colour! Pick a sample apple and cut it in half. If the apple is ripe the pips should be black and glossy; if they are pale or just brown then they need to hang on to the tree for longer. Only windfalls that do have black pips are good for juicing and cider making. You can use the Apple Wizard and Flexitub to gather them.

2. Easy picking. Cradle a large fruit in the cup of your hand and gently twist it off the stem. If the apple is ripe it will readily fall into your hand. This is the best way to harvest fruits un-bruised for storage. They can be loaded into the comfortable Harvesting Bag , as its soft but strong construction is gentle on the fruit. For apples that are high and difficult to reach the Wolf Fruit Picker and Telescopic Handle are both ideal. Alternatively you can access high fruit with the very stable Orchard Tripod Ladder and load the fruit into the Harvesting Bag , which when slung safely over your shoulder, leaves 2 hands free for picking. Never use rotten apples and certainly don’t store them as they will spoil adjacent apples. The golden rule is that you don’t press what you wouldn’t want to eat, although for cider making small blemishes won’t matter.

3. Know your apple variety. This will help you to identify the typical time of ripening. It’s generally a good idea to not only label your trees – a metal label stuck into the soil beside the tree is best - but also to make a named garden plan. To help identify the variety try Ben Pike’s 'The Fruit Tree Handbook', Orange Pippen, 'Apples a Field Guide' by Michael Clarke (currently out of print – watch out for new stock in 2014), or contact the national advisory service and fruit archive - The Brogdale Trust.

Apples for cider making may need to mellow

Each region has its particular style of cider. In the West Country there are special varieties of cider apple that are high in tannin and produce a rich brown juice which ferments to a gloriously golden cider whereas in the Eastern Counties a paler cider is produced from blends of dessert and culinary varieties.

However, apples for cider making need to have a high sugar content. This is needed for the yeast to feed on during the fermentation process and will determine the potential alcohol content of the finished cider. Try to avoid solely using really acidic fruit as once the sugar has converted to alcohol the acidity will be more pronounced. Culinary apples will mellow if left to mature until late in the season. For cider making, pressing the apples in December or the New Year is recommended. If you want to store the maturing apples do remember it is important to exclude any rotten or bruised fruit, store in a cool airy place and check regularly for rot. Click here for books on cider making.

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