As soon as the trees started to bear fully (about half a ton annually) I needed a proper mill, so in 1993 I bought one at auction from a local winery (Westbury vineyard near Reading) which was selling up all its stock after the death of its owner (Bernard Theobald).
Here's me (in a picture taken by Roy Bailey) feeding the mill with the first pass of fruit. You can see some other cider kit in the background too.
The mill itself is a German (Amos) grape crusher dating from 1964 and not ideally suited to apples. It has a pair of contrarotating ridged rubber rollers which are geared together and beltdriven from a 1.5 kw electric motor via a flywheel. The spacing between the rollers is adjustable, which is just as well because for crushing apples it's necessary to make four or five passes through the mill, progressively closing the roller gap on each pass.
The first pass is the most difficult because the apples are still intact. Although there's a driven set of stainless steel 'fingers' on a shaft situated above the rollers, a great deal of manipulation with a stout wooden stick is also required to ensure that all fruit is initially crushed through the rollers.
The pulped fruit is collected in a plastic box placed under the mill, and its contents then re-introduced to the top of the mill for the next pass.
Here in close-up you can see the fruit, the wooden stick, the rollers and the steel 'fingers'.
Although this system served us well for 5 years, it did consume a lot of time and effort because of the need to make multiple passes to break the fruit down sufficiently. Amos couldn't supply replacement 'grater' rollers and I could find no way of converting the existing rubber ones.
I've now (summer 1998) invested in a centrifugal apple mill designed for European 'hobby' producers which I bought from Alex Hill of Vigo Vineyard Supplies in Devon. This should be much faster and produce a much finer pulp via its rotating knife and screen arrangement. Later note - now (2005) that I have a fully automated mill and press system (see below), I sold the centrifugal mill on to my friend Roy Bailey.
Basically it's a stout frame of timbers on
a set of 'cheeses' can be built up for expression of the juice using a
hydraulic 'bottle jack' as the motive power. The original design is for
4" x 4" hardwood timbers and a 12" square cheese bed, but I expanded
to use 6" x 6" timbers and a 16" cheese. This is because I wanted a
throughput and I also had access to some ash timbers of that size.
been sawn and seasoned for me by a local tree surgeon and timber
when he felled some ash for me which had to come out when we built an
on our house. So there was a sentimental reason for using that timber
The joinery was by chainsaw and the frame is reinforced with threaded
and metal plates, so it's not very pretty if you start to look too
- but it's done the job now for the last six years so I'm not
The timber was finished in a non-toxic water-based wood preservative of
the modern resin type (not old-fashioned creosote since we don't want
The racks I made from hardwood laths and chrome plated screws, well covered in polyurethane sealer. The juice tray is made of marine ply and likewise well coated with yachtgrade PU sealer. The press cloths are cheap nylon net curtaining bought from a drapery store in Oxford they've lasted at least 5 seasons but now need replacement. I've progressed through three bottle jacks (1, 4 and finally 8 tons), the latter being a secondhand bargain which I came upon by chance in an Oxford surplus store and couldn't bear to pass by. The frame creaks a bit when the full eight tons is applied, but it seems to take it. I wouldn't like to go any more than this, though, for fear of splitting the frame!
The picture here shows us building up a
The pulp is being scooped up from the grey plastic tub which was
under the mill, and is spread out in the press cloth using a wooden
to keep it central on the rack. The cloth is then folded over, the next
rack added on top, and the process repeated. A typical load is six or
cheeses from about 3 boxes of fruit (40 kg). This gives about 25 litres
of juice or a yield of about 60%, but the actual yield depends on the
of fruit and the fineness of the mash. A proper hydraulic pack press
probably give a 10% greater yield, simply because of the harder squeeze.
The free-run juice comes out pretty quickly, but pressing goes on for an hour or two to get as much yield as possible, and the total turnaround time to include making up the cheese and stripping it down again is in the order of two to three hours depending on what else we're doing in the meantime. As the juice is squeezed out, and the jack piston reaches the end of its travel, we have to replace the lost volume with 'packs' of hardwood or faced high-density fibreboard (we use a PU-sealed offcut from a kitchen worktop as a top-pressure plate!). Everything's hosed down with clean water immediately afterwards because once the pulp or juice has dried on it's the very devil to remove! The compressed 'sheets' of pomace we occasionally wet and re-press if we need the yield, but generally they are broken up roughly and go straight for composting with alternating layers of lime to keep them 'sweet'.
The juice is then tested for sugar (specific
by hydrometer and/or percent sugar by hand-held refractometer) and for
pH. It's then bulked and blended as required, treated with sulphur
as necessary, and yeasted next day if that's appropriate. We ferment
store in 60 litre polythene Speidel or Graf tanks (shown below) which
made in Germany for 'hobby' winemakers and again obtained from Vigo
in Devon. They're ideal for our sort of scale (maximum 400 litres per
light and easy to clean with large top apertures for proper internal
The 60 litre size can also be moved by two people when full, without
handles breaking! We always ferment outside to keep things cool. If the
temperature does drop below freezing for a day or two it's only by a
degrees and does no damage even if the contents set solid for a while!
Generations of English and French cidermakers have been doing it this
with no problems - though it would be different in a harsher climate,
On the following page you can find some details of actual fermentations from the 1997/98 season, as typical examples of what happens next.
Click here to go forward to 'Fermentation and Storage'
Click here to go back to 'Andrew's Orchard'
Or here to go back to my 'Contents Page'
Last updated 22 November, 2006