Squeezing the juice out of St Beuno’s

Published on 19 Nov 2018
Image of apples

by Peter O'Sullivan SJ

Around October time every year, all the apples on the trees at St Beuno’s are collected. James does incredible work in getting the apples. Ladders, bags and barrows are brought out so every apple possible can be picked to make St Beuno’s Apple Juice.

Admittedly, the process for making the apple juice begins a year in advance. Since October 2017, screw-top wine bottles and their lids have been collected so that Beuno’s has enough bottles to store the apple juice. Since last year, James has collected over 1,200 bottles, but it looks like with this year’s bumper harvest that they will not be enough for the amount of apples that have been picked. We think that the bumper harvest of apples this year is because of the hot weather, and the bees in Beuno’s pollinating all the flowers on the trees. The bees pollinate the apple trees, which means that the honey sold in Beuno’s comes from their nectar, showing a neat relationship between the two. 

There are sixteen trees in the gardens of St Beuno’s and many more have been planted, so the amount of trees to be picked will increase for years to come. According to James, who does most of the picking and processing, some of the trees are over 100 years old. It is difficult to say how many apples are picked. However, according to James, each bottle contains around, depending on size, twelve apples’ worth of juice, and this year nearly 1,500 bottles of apple juice will be produced. The apples in the gardens of St Beuno’s are a mixture of Bramley’s, Russets and two unknown species (one yellow and one eating apple). This unique combination of apples means that when they all go into the bottles, there are different amounts of each one, making each batch a different taste to the others.

Usually, when the trees are picked, there are already some on the ground. If they fall on the gravel, which pierces the skin, then the apples cannot be used for anything except compost. If the apples fall on the soil and do not have a pierced skin then they can be used in the kitchen the same day, for dessert or as apple puree. The apples picked from the trees are turned into juice.

The apples are taken on a five-minute drive to nearby Cefn Du, a family business run by the Fitzgeralds. They were the ones who showed James how to make apple juice and freely allow him to use their juice-making machinery. The apples are put into a machine that does all the mashing. Before this machine was used, a lot of hours were put in by a lot of people to get the apples manually mashed. The mash is then taken to a press that squeezes the apples. Kilos of mash are put between wooden slats and sheets of fabric, so that when the press is rotated and it squeezes the mash, mostly juice pours out. The juice is then put through two sieves and two sheets of muslin, before being bottled and pasteurised in a water bath that heats the bottles of juice to over 70 degrees Celsius. On a very productive day over 100 bottles of apple juice are made. After being squeezed for every drop of juice the remainder of the apples are given to a local pig farmer who uses it for feed, guaranteeing that there is no waste in the making of the juice. 

Admittedly, the whole process seems quite straightforward, but the picking of the apples can be a bit dispiriting. Too many times have I picked one apple to then have five apples fall to the ground, and when I inspect the apple I picked, I see that it is rotten so it has to be chucked onto the compost heap. One of the trees has a rose bush growing around its central branches. The thorns on the bush make the picking of the apples very difficult and many curses are uttered when I brush the thorns off my clothes. 

Ultimately though, it is more than a worthwhile thing. The juice is a product of a very long process that didn’t just start with the collection of bottles, but with the planting of the trees over 100 years ago, with the bee hives being established in the grounds and the Jesuits and the community of St Beuno’s nurturing the trees and picking the apples: all of which guaranteeing that there will be thousands of recycled bottles filled with natural hand-picked homemade locally-sourced organic apple juice, to be sold throughout the year here at Beuno’s. Which is a mouth-watering prospect.