Every year Rochelle Schwartz noticed her neighbours’ garden disappearing under a mountain of unwanted apples. Horrified at the waste of perfectly good fruit, she found a solution. She, her husband, Peter Newton, and friend John Burgess co-founded London Glider Cider — producing a cider made entirely from apples picked from the gardens of suburban homes.
“It was quite a big tree with lots of fruit, which would fall and turn mouldy. The wasps were attracted which meant their children could not play outside,” she recalls. Her neighbour would give friends and family bags of windfalls, but there were just too many apples to collect all of them.
Schwartz asked if they could pick the remaining apples, and using a home juicer, extracted 40 litres of juice. “It took us about three or four hours of work,” she recalls. The men used their limited experience of home brewing to turn the juice into cider. “It tasted lovely,” she smiles.
The couple went on a cider-making course in Hereford and were introduced to an expert, Simon Abbiss, who is now their guru on all matters cider.
Schwartz and Newton, who run a printing consultancy and management business, realised that a great number of homes neighbouring theirs had fruit trees. They leafleted 40 houses to ask for their fruit. Eight people said yes, and many more referred them to others with fruit trees. “That year we picked three quarters of a tonne of apples from 40 houses, which we stored in two rooms in our house,” she laughs.
That year they produced 300 litres of juice, making 600 bottles of cider, which they sold in the Farmer’s Market at Loughton, Essex.
Encouraged by the reaction, they spread the net to further north-east London suburbs, including Chigwell, Chingford and Wanstead, taking apples and pears from 45 houses and a couple of local orchards.
“Our domestic juicer was struggling under the weight of apples, and leaving considerable wet pulp,” she says. So they constructed a traditional wooden rack-and-cloth press using a car jack to squeeze it down. They also invested in a scratter, which pulps the fruit before juicing, as well as a second-hand wine press.
“The press really takes all the juice from the fruit,” explains Schwartz. “All that is left is a dry pulp”. Hardly a pip is discarded now, as even the pulp can be recycled — sold to local farmers to feed their sheep. “There is almost no waste — the only thing we can’t use is mouldy fruit,” she says.
Schwartz explains that London Glider — the name is rhyming slang for cider used in Newton’s hometown of Swansea — is a blend of ciders from different apples: “Each tastes a little different — some have roundness or dryness or sharpness”.
Such was the quality of the finished product, they were contacted by Camra — the Campaign for Real Ale — which now serves it on draft in some of its pubs. Schwartz explains that as the cider is made with dessert fruit, it has none of the tannins you often get with normal cider. “It hasn’t got that edge. We do a dry and a medium dry, which is almost a bit like Babycham,” she says.
For Schwartz a high point of the project has been meeting many of her neighbours in Woodford Green for the first time after living in the area for 17 years.
“Everyone is on side and really nice and helpful. Many of them have even given us space in which to store our barrels of cider.” Everyone who helps them gets to taste the end product.
What started as a project to avoid waste has taken a life of its own. “It has proved so popular it surprises us all of the time,” Schwartz says. “Next year we hope to make cider vinegar and apple juice.”