October 2020 A Juicy Harvest

A Juicy Harvest

It’s been a splendid year for fruit. The pears and apples have weighed the branches to splitting point and plums have been impossible to give away.

Yet there is only so much you can eat and when the bottling and jam boiling and chutney making is over, we reluctantly decline more gifts.

But one fruit we never turn away are apples, because in our region of south west France, apples, however small and misshapen, go to the pressing for juice.

This year we collected more than 150 kilogrammes. We check for quality, toss the bad ones on the compost heap and bag up the rest to take to the press.

It’s the same procedure each year, although this is 2020, so we wear face coverings and it’s harder to chat, especially as French is not our first language. Remarkably, one of the volunteers still manages to chain smoke roll-ups, shovel apples and talk at the same time!

The apples are thrown into a hopper, bouncing and rumbling through the huge mincer which throws out the shreds into a plastic barrel. My husband helps to shovel the pieces onto the press, which is layer upon layer of square, wooden boxes, one on top of the other. When the boxes are full, the carefully placed tower is slowly, but firmly pressed and golden juice runs down the sides. The air is thick with the sweet smell of fruit and wasps busy themselves on the heap of scraps. The cattle are in for a feast.

The juice is heated to pasteurization point and fed into bottles so hot you can’t pick them up without gloves. My job is to put on the caps, a serious task, demonstrated by one of the volunteers. I have to practice first. The bottles, 72 in total, are packed into our crates.

‘We usually get a few more?’ I say.

‘Ah.’ The boss waggles his finger at me, a typically Gallic gesture. ‘September apples are always less juicy.’

We are more than happy with our allocation. In the office, which is a table and chair, carefully set up in the back of a van, we straighten up – €5 to join the club, after that, 60 cents per bottle. Coffee is offered and a slice of fouace, which is a sweet cake, typical of this area. They joke with us, mention Brexit, but we refuse to be drawn.

‘Come back next year,’ the boss says offering elbow bumps. We promise we will.

As we leave, car windows misting up, the scent of apples strong, a jaunty clinking from the boot accompanies us all the way home.