Cider making in Somerset – the traditional way

Stoke Red, Tom Putt, Dabinett, Somerset Streak – just some of the old apple varieties that were used to make cider in the traditional way in Westbury-sub-Mendip. Over two Sundays in October our friends, Mick and Buffy, invited family, friends and local people to bring apples and join them in making cider.

The communal effort was essential to help with all stages of this labour-intensive process. First we had to wash the apples in a large bath to remove surface muck.

With each successive bag of apples emptied into it, the bath was crowded with dramatic reds, scarlets, greens and delicate yellows.

Willing hands of all ages set to, rolling and washing the apples in the darkening water and then lifting them for inspection before putting them in wire trays to drain.

We fed the washed apples into the top of the ‘scratter’ to be cut and squashed into small pieces. Turning the wheel requires a lot of effort, but there was no shortage of volunteers to take a turn.

The apple pieces fall through to a trough at the bottom of the scratter from which they are then shovelled onto the press where a team of helpers created the ‘lissoms’ (layers) each about 8”-1ft deep.

Over the course of each day seven layers are formed in all, each smaller than the one beneath it, to create the ‘cheese’ (the multi-layered cake from which the apple juice is pressed). Between each layer of the cheese stalks of corn are laid to help the juice drain through and stabilise the layers. The press is slightly angled so that the juice runs off into a plastic bucket to be transferred to an old spirit cask for the fermentation.

For many taking part this was their first experience of these old methods, a fascinating glimpse into the past made all the more real by actually taking part in the process. From time to time we tasted the juice fresh off the press and marvelled at its sweetness. We also tasted Mick and Buffy’s previous year’s cider to give us a sense of what it was we were about.

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