Each year my family gets together on the family farm to make apple juice. We’ve been doing this since 1936 when my great-grandfather bought the out-dated machinery from the local juice factory – which has since evolved to become the largest in the country but used to be just a mother and her spinster daughter making juice for local farmers – and we are still using the same machinery. The pulping machine is actually still under warranty from the manufacturer, so they service if for free…
Oh, and of course the whole session takes place in the village which has become synonymous with juice in Denmark; Rynkeby, which is now the brand name of the small juice factory that my great-grandfather bought the machinery from. (Though the factory has long since moved to a town in a completely different part of Funen.)
First step, obviously, is to ensure we have somewhere to put the juice. We have a few thousand bottles of different shapes and sizes, but every bottle is washed and then rinsed in a chlorine solution.
The apples are bought in bulk since the farm no longer has an apple orchard (it has been replaced with cherries which is much more profitable). Large crates of apples that can only be moved with a fork lifter.
The apples are then washed in an old bath tub, and this is perhaps the part that’s easiest for the kids to help with. Especially when there’s no rush and the apples can be washed at a leisurely pace…
When the apples have been washed they are then pulped in this grinder. It’s old, weather-beaten and absolutely beautiful. And the local factory repairs it without charge whenever there is a problem, since they delivered it with a lifetime service warranty. (And “lifetime” in this case means perpetual…) The image below is a few years old since I forgot to take a decent photo of this part of the process, so the young girl in the picture is now the mother of two, and the man in his prime is now the grandfather of three.
The pulp is then layered in the press, covered in cheesecloth, and then the juice is pressed into buckets that are emptied into old milk cans (10-litre buckets, 40-litre cans). The two young bucks working the press below are my cousins Martin and Mikkel, but really anybody can work the press; it might seem like hard work – and it is – but it is not so hard that my mother-in-law couldn’t take her turn at it.
Some impurities will make it through the cheesecloth and the sieve that you see on one of the milk cans above, so the milk cans are emptied into a huge tub that can hold up to 1000 litres. Normally, though, we never fill it to capacity; we simply haven’t the time! We start working on Thursday morning around 9AM, and during the course of that day we produce some 6-800 litres. Then on Friday we bottle it and pasteurise it, while simultaneously producing another batch of juice.
The juice is rather muddled at this stage, so to clear it we add a tiny amount of dissolved gelatine to the juice in the evening. This causes the impurities to sink to the bottom of the vat, and allows us to tap a cleaner, purer juice.
The juice is then left to settle overnight, and the next morning the tapping begins. (In order of appearance, to the left is a friend of the family – Tommy – my aunt Inge and my uncle Knud.) This is one of the important steps of the process, since this is where the quality control takes place. Bottles with impurities are poured into jugs to be served at lunch and dinner, and if a bottle is filled too much the “capper” takes a swig of it to make sure it is filled to the right level. After all, an over-filled bottle will be more likely to explode during the pasteurisation, so all the effort would be wasted.
The final step is to pasteurise the juice. This ensures that it will last for several years in the capped bottles. We do this in the old boiling vats of the farmhouse, originally built for laundry. The vats are heated to 80 degrees Celsius and then left for 20 minutes, and this kills off any organisms in the juice. The furnaces are fired with newspapers, since this is the simplest way to raise the temperature once the vat is full of bottles and water, and it allows the vats to cool down slowly once they have reached 80 degrees, rather than continue to heat up as they would if we used wood.
This year we only made 1100 litres of apple juice. Normally it is 14-1600 litres, but we didn’t get through all of the juice last year, so we always adjust. After all, the juice from last year is still good – it will easily keep for 5 years in the bottle without loosing the taste – so there was no need to make too muchAnd this is the result. Bottles and bottles of apple juice that tastes better than any you can buy in the shops. It tastes like biting into a fresh apple, even after a year in the bottle.
This year, though, we suffered a minor failure; the juice is normally completely clear and brilliant, but this year we used Aroma apples to make up the bulk. We always use one ton of cox’s orange, one ton of Ingrid Marie and two tons of “bulk apples”, but normally the bulk is phillippa or another cooking apple, whereas this year we used Aroma, which is an eating apple with a lot more juice but apparently also a proclivity to make the juice unclear. Lesson learned, and next year the juice will be as brilliant as last year.
Now, how many people does it take to make 1100 litres of juice? Well… I’m sure it could be done with 5-6 hard-working people, but for dinner on Thursday there was 38 of us, including children. (It goes some way in showing how ample the space is on the farm…) It’s always the biggest family reunion of the year, though numbers seem to increase as those who were once children turn up with their spouses and children – or as in my case their Mother-In-Law.
I – as the rest of my family – feel blessed that my uncle and aunt decided to continue this tradition when they took over the farm. (Even if they are visibly relieved when people start leaving again…) It is a lovely tradition, and the product is second to none; you can find no better apple juice in the world.