We moved into our home in France in the autumn and the first sound we heard was the clinking of bottles from the pressoir next door. It’s apple time here on the edge of the Alsace and people are bringing their apples in trailers and tractors to be be crushed and turned into thick golden juice to be enjoyed all winter long.
People here don’t farm apples, they just have three or four trees in their gardens or a strip of land they still own squeezed between the ever encroaching fields of maize. The trees are thickly festooned in mistletoe , often cracked apart by lightening and are the favored roosting spots of long eared owls . This year the spring was cold and wet and fruit did not set on many trees, but some old varieties caught the weather and the bees perfectly and are laden with fruit. Weekend farmers collect the apples on Saturday morning and pile the fruit into sacks and tubs to bring to the pressoir on Saturday afternoons. Old farmers slowly pick their fruit on Wednesday mornings and bring it in during the week. The school children are brought in minibuses to watch the fruit being crushed and the clinking bottles fill.
In front of the pressoir is the old wooden press for show, but the real business of washing, crushing and bottling the fruit now takes place on a modern mill in a converted barn. Locals keep their empty bottles for reuse the next year and the warm pasteurized juice from their own fruit fills the washed bottles as they clink along the line and are then cooled in wooden racks, before being loaded back in cars and trailers. I never realized what a remarkable place this pressoir is until I looked at the car number plates lined up on the curve of the road in front of our house on a busy Saturday. There are local cars from France; cars from over the border in the cantons of Baseland , Baselstat , Soloturn in Switzerland and cars from over the next border in Baden-Wurtemberg, Germany . It seems that the things you take for granted when you first arrive in France are odder then you think: there are not many pressoirs left and so people come from far and wide in order to transform their wind falls into juice and cider. Scout groups and families with excited children, well heeled city types playing at the good life, crusty farmers , hippies and hells angles all appear eventually here with their apples.
We own the tiniest apple tree and this year it produced no fruit at all, so I scavenged apples from parks where they lay unwanted on the ground, picked some from a friend’s tree and collected windfalls from a tolerant neighbour’s lawn. We managed to find enough apples to turn into 50 liters of juice that was poured totally unpasteurized into two large fermenting kegs to turn into good dry English style cider. We have learnt a trick or two from our neighbours who make cider and the most important advice was not to add yeast to the juice until 48 hours after pressing . Of course you don’t really need yeast at all. The natural yeast on the apples is really all you need and so we have two kegs slowly fermenting in the garage now using champagne yeast and one Demi- John with no yeast, fermenting even faster!
By Christmas the cider will be ready and by spring it will be all drunk. The lovely clink of the bottles from the pressoir will continue until November when the late apples have all been picked and the rest have been left on the branches to feed the hungry winter field fare or hidden in the long grass for the wild boar and the Roman snails to feast on in the snow.