Franconia is not only home to the largest cohesive cherry-growing area in the European Union, it is also the land of the Easter wells, a tradition closely connected to the age-old European practice of collecting “March water”.
Until well into the 19th century country maidens used to jealously guard their supply of “March water”, collected at midnight in jugs from the rivers and streams swollen with the melted snow of spring. Washing with it daily, March water was said to ensure a fine, fresh complexion all year round. Allegedly endowed with magical powers, March water was considered to be especially pure and able to cure a variety of ailments as well.
In Franconia, and in the Franconian Switzerland region in particular, March water was known as Easter water and was also alleged to hold the promise of a good harvest without hail and fire damage.
Collecting Easter water was still practised in Franconian Switzerland in the 1950s and 1960s, going hand in hand with an initially pagan celebration of water in the springtime, water at times being a scarce resource in this region of porous limestone hills.
The tradition of decorating wells and fountains with greenery (symbolising luxuriant growth), flowers (an expression of joy), hand-painted eggs (for fertility) and ribbons (symbolising the joy of life) at Easter remains widespread throughout Franconia today.
Type that question into your search engine of choice and you will come up with an unappetising mix of results featuring mechanical harvesting, industrial-scale stainless steel processes, enzymes, apple concentrate from China, more enzymes… nanometer-scale filtering…
… and an end result very low on appeal.
There is another way.
And now that the autumn evenings are closing in and the last of the fruit presses are shutting down for another year, I have time for the keyboard again by way of a change from apple picking.
All of our apples are picked by hand. Each and every apple passes through our fingers, into the basket, and then into the sacks.
The apples on the ground are the windfalls waiting for the sheep to come and enjoy them.
Nine to ten sacks (about 300 kg in total) make up one press run with our home press. Once we have a batch – or at the height of the season, two batches (about 20 sacks) picked, its off to the apple press.
In the garage.
Where our all-in-one stand alone home press processes some 3 tonnes of apples for us in any good “apple year”. The apple years tend to be alternating but it is Father Frost who has the ultimate say in around April of every year- a single night of frost when the trees are in blossom can wipe out the whole year’s harvest.
Assuming this has not been the case, though, its back to the home press in the garage:
Pressing one batch of up to 300 kg apples takes about 4 1/2 hours.
Each sack of apples produces about 20l of juice, depending on apple variety and what stage of the harvest we are at. The apples get juicier as they ripen further into the season.
Further facts for fans:
An insulated 200l tank takes about 5 hours to reach 80°C, at which point the apple juice is then filled into bags (Bag-in-Box) or bottles. It takes about 1 hour to empty the tank into bags / bottles.
At the end of the season we fill the tanks with the last of the press runs, pasteurise the juice and it then stays in the tanks, preserved via the floating lid and oil technique: a floating lid is placed on top of the pasteurised juice. Food grade vaseline oil is then poured around the lid to ensure that the pasteurised juice has no air contact at all. The juice stays fresh for months and is drawn off from the tanks via a silicon tube “tap” at the base of the tank.
The pomace – that’s the mash left over after the juice has been pressed out of it – is placed in these barrels which are then collected by the local forestry commission. They use it for winter feed for the deer in the forests, and also as “bait” for their deer culling activities. Doesn’t sound as appealing but facts are facts.
Our apple harvest starts around the middle of August and lasts through to around mid-October.
By the end of the season in a good apple year we will have pressed around 3 tonnes of apples, producing some 1600l of juice (and around 1400 kg of pomace for the foresters).
Word of mouth sales account for just a small proportion of our harvest which keeps us in apple juice for about a year.
Blessed with many a pocket full of pears in the orchard this year I have been refining my recipe for Pear Mustard and am now very happy with the results 🙂
Here comes the recipe: Makes about 3 kg finished mustard, which keeps for months on end and just gets better and better in the process!
Pears 1 kg
Mustard seeds 550 g
Apple juice 1150 ml
Fresh Ginger 3cm piece, peeled and finely diced
Salt 4 tsp (I use my homemade celery-apple-onion salt)
Grind 550 g of the mustard seeds to a fine powder using a coffee grinder or pestle and mortar. Place the ground mustard in a large glass or ceramic bowl, jug or similar, together with 650 ml of the apple juice and the remaining 150 g of whole mustard seeds. Mix together well, cover and leave to stand overnight.
Core the pears, place in a pan with 500 ml of the apple juice and diced fresh ginger . Bring to the boil until pears become soft. Remove from heat, leave to cool and then puree with / in a blender.
Combine the soaked mustard seeds, pureed pears, salt and honey, mixing together well. Blend again briefly if you prefer an even smoother mustard – I prefer a degree of wholegrain though.
Fill into sterilised jars and seal. Kept in a cool, dark place like a cellar the mustard will keep for many, many months and just gets better with age.
Perfect for salad dressings, marinades and sauces all winter long!