Apple juice (often known as sweet cider in the USA) is a refreshing healthy drink which can easily be made at home. Freshly-pressed apple juice from home-grown apples has an intensity of flavour that is a far-cry from the long-life supermarket products.
Apple pressing is best when you have many hands to help, and is a great excuse to invite friends and family over to join in the fun - and to help clear up the mess afterwards! Children in particular seem to love watching the juice seeping out of the press, and nothing tastes quite like freshly-pressed apple juice.
Benefits of juicing
- Dealing with a surplus. Within a few years the insignificant-looking young apple trees that you planted will start producing apples … and even dwarf apple trees are capable of producing very large quantities of apples. Pressing them into apple juice is a great way to deal with a surplus.
- Dealing with second-grade apples. Most gardeners and community orchard projects do not spray their trees, so inevitably there will be a proportion of second-grade fruits. As long as they are still edible they can be used for juicing.
Whilst juicing apples used to be seen primarily as a way of dealing with a surplus or using second-grade apples, customers are increasingly choosing to grow trees specifically for juicing.
Which varieties are best for apple juice?
All apple varieties can be used for juicing, but there are a number of varieties that are particularly useful because of the qualities of their juice, and these are highlighted on our website. The best juices often come from a blend of sharp apples (usually cooking apples) and sweet apples (usually eating apples).
How many apples will I need?
You need a lot of apples to produce a small amount of juice. The quantities vary from one variety to another, and also depending on the power of the press you are using, but as a very rough estimate:
2.5kg of apples = 1 litre of apple juice
1 large supermarket plastic bag will hold enough apples to make 1 litre of apple juice
How many apple trees will I need to make apple juice?
Yields of apple trees vary enormously depending on the variety, the rootstock, and the soil and climate conditions, but here are some approximate figures:
|Tree size / Rootstock||Likely production||Juice per tree|
|Dwarf tree (e.g. M9, G11 rootstock)||10-20kg (0.5 - 1 bushels)||4-8 litres|
|Semi-dwarf (e.g. M26, G202, G935 rootstock)||10-40kg (1 - 2 bushels)||4-16 litres|
|Semi-vigorous (e.g. MM106, M7, G30 rootstock)||20-50kg (1 - 2.5 bushels)||8-20 litres|
|Full-size (e.g. M25, B118 rootstock)||80-160kg (4 - 8 bushels)||32-64 litres|
It might seem from these figures that you should always plant full-size trees to get the most production for juicing, but the reverse is actually true and if outright production is your goal then dwarf trees are the best choice.
The reason is these figures do not take into account the space needed, so if you want to maximise your apple production in the least amount of space, do what commercial growers do, and grow trees on dwarf rootstocks. You could easily fit 12 dwarf trees in the same amount of space needed for a large traditional tree, and whilst each tree will not produce as many apples, collectively they will produce far more apples (and you can grow different varieties to give a range of flavours).
Our fruit tree spacing guide gives more details on the space requirements of different rootstocks.
Turning apples into juice
Apples are naturally hard fruits so unlike soft fruits and grapes, cannot just be pressed to release the juice. Instead making apple juice is a two-stage process.
Step 1 - Crushing
Firstly the apples must be crushed or milled into very small pieces - known as 'pomace'. Most apple press manufacturers offer dedicated apple crushers or 'scratters' for this purpose. Washed apples are fed whole (stalks and all) in to a hopper and then passed through rotating metal teeth, turned by a handle. The pomace falls out of the bottom and is collected ready for the next stage. Often the crusher can be mounted on top of the press so that the pomace falls straight into it.
If you don't have a crusher, you can achieve a similar result by freezing and then thawing your apples (which breaks down the flesh) and then pounding them with a wooden post in a large bucket. Cutting the apples into slices by hand generally doesn't work.
Step 2 - Pressing
Again, unlike soft fruits, which can often be turned into juice in a kitchen liquidiser, apples (or rather apple pomace) has to be pressed to release the juice.
Apple presses come in all sizes, from large old traditional ones turned by horse or ox, to small domestic ones turned by hand. Regardless of size the principle is the same. The pomace is placed inside the frame of the press, usually between layers of lightweight cloth to catch the seeds and stalks. Modern domestic presses are usually supplied with a fabric straining bag which achieves the same result.
A handle on top of the press forces a wooden plate down into the press, applying pressure to the layers of pomace. Juice rapidly flows out to the base of the press where it is directed into a small channel and thence into a jug for collection.
It is best to apply the pressure steadily, so that the fruit cell walls are broken slowly, rather than pressing as quickly as possible.
Once the juice has stopped flowing, you can unwind the press. The dry pomace is traditionally fed to pigs, or it can be used for garden compost. If you removed the stalks and cores before pressing, the pomace can also be dried slowly in an oven and then used as an ingredient in home baking.
Preserving and Storing apple juice
The flavour of freshly-pressed apple juice is distinctly more intense and flavoursome than commercial apple juice, mainly because it is unpasteurised and unfiltered. In our experience many people who do not normally like apple juice will find the flavour and sheer freshness of home-pressed apple juice a revelation.
The colours can vary considerably depending on the varieties you have been pressing, from dark brown to pale yellow. Pink or red-fleshed apples make particularly attractive juice.
Home-pressed juice can be drunk immediately, or kept in a covered jug in the fridge for up to 2-3 days.
However even the most enthusiastic apple juice fans might find that they cannot drink or give away all their fresh juice. Fortunately juice can easily be preserved by freezing it.
You can buy sterilised containers for this purpose, but here is a much simpler way (thanks to Becky at Vigo Presses for this tip).
- Collect some old plastic or cardboard juice cartons, clean them out (but no need to sterilise them) and cut the tops off with scissors.
- Then take a similarly-sized polythene food bag and push it into the carton, and fill it with fresh apple juice - the carton simply supports the bag containing the juice.
- Tie the top of the bag, leaving a bit of a gap, and place in a freezer.
- Once the juice has frozen you can discard the container, leaving a block of frozen juice inside a plastic bag. This can be kept in a freezer for 4-6 months.
If you want more advice on choosing apple varieties for juicing please contact us.