By Bri Valliere, Fermentability Consulting & Education
While the fruit this time of year begins to disappear from tree branches, there still may be plenty on the ground. Before you pluck up those apples and throw them into the press, you should know some of the basics of turning these ground-dwellers into your favorite drink.
- Regulations & Food Safety
Make sure you know what’s legally allowed and not allowed in your country. In the U.S., growers must follow the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Safety Rule. The Produce Safety Rule clearly states that covered produce – including apples – may not be used for human consumption unless it has undergone sufficient processing to eliminate food safety concerns. Fortunately, there are many steps that both apple growers and cidermakers can take to ensure safe practices and products when using ground-harvested fruit for cider. One of the best steps is fermentation, as high ethanol concentrations and the low pH of the cider together help eliminate human pathogens.
2. Method of Harvest
Gathering the fruit from the ground needs to happen relatively quickly to prevent further rot or animal scavenging. The quickest, most efficient way to scoop up your apples is to use a mechanical sweeper on your orchard floor, though this may be a major capital investment. The other option is to pick up the fruit manually. Regardless of if you’re using machine power or human power, make sure you’re able to get there soon after the apple meets the earth.
3. Immediate Sorting and Processing
One of the downfalls of windfalls is that the fruit can get bruised and beaten on its journey from the branch to the ground. While apples can usually be stored for weeks or months before processing (depending on the fruit maturity at harvest), ground-harvested fruit may quickly begin to rot and must therefore be processed immediately. Make sure that you also sort out any “bad apples” before crushing and pressing. Also, mature apples can be softer than their earlier-harvested counterparts, so be sure to build in some extra time for troubleshooting your crushing and pressing operations.
4. Cidermaking and Fermentation
Apples fall from the trees when they’re ripe, so ground-harvested fruit may have more sugar (and therefore a higher alcohol potential) than when fruit is harvested and processed earlier in the season. The presence of fruit rot may also result in higher levels of acetaldehyde, a compound that affects SO2 binding. If molds take hold, they can raise the pH, so it’s extra important to sort out rotten fruit and make pH adjustments if necessary. You might also notice different flavors and sensory characteristics!
Cider business owners must always be aware of their triple bottom line (profits, planet, people). Using dropped apples may be good for the planet by reducing food waste and for your business by making full use of available resources. However, will your employees develop injuries from bending down to pick up apples repeatedly? Will you lose significant time (and therefore money) if you have to stop frequently to clean out the gummy apples from the crusher? What additional steps will you need to take to ensure your product truly is safe from foodborne pathogens, and what will they cost? Make sure your use of ground-harvested apples is sustainable for you, your environment, and the people who depend on you.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for making cider with ground-harvested fruit. However, if you keep in mind these 5 points, you are well on your way to having some serious dropped knowledge.