14 November, 2017

On the importance of bad apples

The forklift lifts the apple bin of 300 kgs into position in the bin tipper. The tipper is hydraulic and made specifically for tipping apple bins onto a sorting table where they’re sorted before moving on the milling part of the press.

Unlike grapes, apples, large unwieldy things for any machine to handle, need to be crushed, or milled, in order for the press to be able to separate the solids from liquid. The apple juice that then goes on to become cider.

You know the saying “one bad apple spoils the bunch”? Well, it’s true. Every bin, even if sorted at picking, has apples that have rot. Mostly it stems from apples that have had had their peel damaged from pressure (an apple again, contains 300 kgs of fruit so the bottom layer has a lot of weight on it) or from having been dropped somewhere in the process.

As the fruit gets damaged its natural protection, the surface peel, is compromised and it’s open for the onset of naturally occurring dirt or fungi. It also causes the apple juice to seep out to start fermenting which will also speed up the decomposing process. The bad apples need to be sorted out before milling and pressing.

Knowing which bins mean a lot of sorting or none at all can’t be seen by looking at the surface of the bin. To know what the bin has to offer it has to be tipped onto the sorting table where the person sorting decides which apples go into the mill and which don’t. A bin that looks bad on top with visible apples rotting or browning might be good in all layers of fruit below the surface. A bin that looks perfectly ok on top might have a lot of apples below the surface that have ruined large parts of the bin.

When you find a bad apple however you mostly can tell which apple started the process. The bunch going bad is like a little cluster of star and planets or a molecule where the center atom decides the life of the surrounding atoms.

And so pressing apples is always a balancing act between pressing them before they go bad on the one hand and letting them mature as much as possible before pressing, concentrating their flavours.

At the start of the day, any day, everything needs to be thought about, small decisions made in a conscious way. How far to tip the bin before the first apples fall onto to the table, how to avoid tipping the bin too far causing apples to spill all over the table and then start bouncing quickly and heavily everywhere but the sorting table, when to stop tipping to avoid the latter, mechanically trying to keep up with the pace of the mill and the press, not working too fast for the pace of the mill and press to keep your workflow as a flow, rather than as a start and stop start and stop start and stop rhythm.

At first that also goes for the sorting. You try and catch the apples faster than necessary. The conscious attempt to avoid mistakes usually results in the opposite. Overthinking it will cause you to tip the bin too far, sorting too quickly will make you miss apples that need to be sorted out. You have to be in state between ambitious and laid back.

But then. Four or five bins into the day out of a twenty or thirty bin day the eye and the hand and the head starts working together. Not only do you see them, you feel them, you smell them. If a portion of apples tipped onto the table contains a lot of bad apples the smell will change from fresh apple to fermented, earthy. First you use your eyes to sort out the obviously browned, mushy or moldy apples. As you push the apples closer to the washer that cleans the apples before milling those as your hands passes the fruit the sneaky ones the apples that looked good because they were lying with the soft side down are spotted by touch and are discarded as well.

This is when the bad apples are the only thing you can see. They become the main focus, the most important thing in spite of being discarded, of the job to go from apples to cider .

/Andreas Sundgren Graniti, Brännland Cider