St Beuno's apple juice
by Inge Wilson
It's autumn and one of the delights here at St Beuno's is the new batch of apple juice that has been produced almost singlehandedly by Fr James SJ. Hundreds of bottles. On a couple of afternoons I had the great joy of joining him.
With care and patience James had already picked the apples and transported them, wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow, first to the car and then on to a small marquee generously set up in the garden of our friends Heather and Dennis Fitzgerald, a few miles away. The marquee contains the apple pressing paraphernalia. Throughout the year James collects empty wine bottles and stores them in the cellar. We set off with as many empty bottles as the car could hold.
In the marquee the juicing journey begins with whole apples being dropped into a huge chopper turning them into pulp. The apples looked a motley crew. All shapes and sizes, spots, marks and imperfections. Supermarkets like to sell apples that are as identical as possible and free from imperfections. I marvelled at the different colours, sizes, shapes, flavours and textures. Maybe this is how God views us; wonderfully varied, imperfect and perfect all at the same time.
The pulp is carefully spread onto thick cheese cloth (a strong open weave nylon square) and wrapped into parcels of apple pulp called 'cheeses'. Then the pressing begins. It is all fairly primitive, squeezing the juice out into waiting buckets, pouring it into bottles and placing it in a special hot 'bath' to pasteurise the juice. The dried out apple pulp that remains results in an extraordinarily beautiful tile, delightfully textured and rich in autumn colours.
Aprons and gloves on, a meditative rhythm of pulping, pressing, bottling, pasteurising, and filling boxes with bottles absorbed us for the next few hours. Outside torrential rain battered the marquee. The evening got gradually darker. Inside the process kept going. Pulping…pressing…bottling…pasteurising…filling boxes and eventually cleaning. At first we chatted then slowly, a companionable silence settled over us. Sometimes we just sat and watched the thermometer inch its way up to pasteurising temperature. With fading light my phone served the triple function of taking photos, ringing Beuno’s to set some supper aside for us and, most importantly, acting as torch to see the thermometer. This was key for successful pasteurisation.
The next morning I found James busy sticking labels on all the bottles. I hope you will get to enjoy some on your next visit to Beuno's. It's truly delicious.
As I walked round the garden this morning I looked with renewed wonder at the old, gnarled apple trees that had given us their fruit, planted not long after St Beuno's was built.