Picking Apples For Juicing: Why Timing Is Important

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This year has been an exciting one for Orchard Origins, launching as a Community Interest Company and getting ready for our first season of juicing and cidermaking in our purpose-made workshop, hereafter known as the Shed.  Last year’s harvest was a challenge for us as we got the Shed up and running; this year we are clean, clear and ready for action – we’ve even washed the crates in anticipation.  Cider apples are going to be a little while as their high sugar levels take a long time to develop, but why haven’t we started picking for juice yet?

Many garden trees are already bearing their bounty.  While weather earlier in the year clearly has an impact on readiness [see Ready To Pick v Ripe To Eat] the two big factors for us are the varieties we want and the location of the orchard.  Our main juice orchards are rather high, meaning they ripen several weeks after more tranquil spots. As far as variety, it is worth mentioning a concept introduced by Dr Barrie Juniper and David Mabberley in the excellent “The Story of the Apple” which suggests apples may be thought of in 3 “phases” paraphrased as;

Phase 1 – thin skinned, shiny and sweet. The earliest and prone to bruising and decay; apples in phase 1 are generally ripe when they are ready to pick.

Phase 2 – later ripening, with harder skins and firmer flesh (Cox’s Orange Pippin is always the example given) these apples benefit from storage and will keep for some weeks

Phase 3 – dry, thick skins and firm fleshed, they tend to contain lower sugar levels.  Phase 3 apples should be stored before consumption, some for several months before they hit their peak.

We have learned that Phase 1 apples produce sweet juices with subtle flavours which tend to deteriorate rapidly, despite pasteurisation.  Conversely, the thick skins of Phase 3 apples produce more aroma and complexity, while the juice itself is less sweet, giving more interesting flavour and much better storage characteristics.

We have tended to favour varieties that give us juices which store well, but last year our first batch was sold out in a few days (we must be doing something right!)

If you have an orchard in striking distance of Hereford with a good amount of dessert or culinary fruit going begging, we’d love to hear from you.

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