"Scottish Apples for Scottish Cider: Thistly Cross Cider needs you!" That’s the message being sent out to the public by Scotland’s original cider producer.

Thistly Cross is offering free cider or apple juice to all those who donate any spare apples they may have, welcoming donations from large orchards as well as apples grown in residential gardens.

Peter Stuart, Head Cidermaker at Thistly Cross said: “As an award-winning, real fruit cider producer, the apple season is the most important time of year at Thistly Cross.  Apples donations are already making their way to the farm and, as a proudly Scottish brand, Thistly is inviting the public to donate their spare fruit and, in return, we’ll give them cider or apple juice.

“One of the things that make Thistly Cross Cider so unique is its blend of Scottish heritage apples, hand-pressed on our farm in East Lothian.  We have a tradition of using apples grown across Scotland from a wide range of sources including professional apple growers, schools, large estate owners and the general public who grow apples in their gardens at home.  We even use apples donated from the grounds of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital.”

Based in the heart of East Lothian, Thistly Cross was established in 2008 as a collaboration between farmer, Ian Rennie, and artist-turned-cidermaker, Peter Stuart.  The unique Scottish cider has rapidly gained a growing reputation for making ciders that people enjoy.

The traditional cider producer now serves up its variety of ciders across the UK as well as in a number of countries throughout Europe and as far away as Australia and the US.

Picture: Thistly Cross Cider

Picture: Thistly Cross Cider

Peter added: “Our popularity is increasing, but Thistly can’t make all the cider it wants to without the help of the public!  Every year, we accept fruit donations from all over Scotland, ranging from a bucketful to a truckload.

“And to say ‘thank you’ we’ll give everyone who donates apples their choice of cider or apple juice.  Essentially, we operate a ‘bucket for a bottle’ system.

“Our unique system of using donated apples also eliminates the waste that is all too often associated with the food industry of modern times.  Apple growers can do their bit to reduce this by donating unwanted and excess apples that would otherwise go to waste.”

Think your apples might fit the bill?

Picture 2 - Apples

Which apple varieties are accepted?

The cider farm accepts most apple varieties (apart from crab apples – sorry!). Part of the reason that Thistly has such an authentic flavour is its unique blend of apple varieties. Thistly also accepts pears, providing these fit the same criteria as set for the apples.

How do I know if my apples are ripe?

Very simply, healthy apples should drop to the ground of their own accord when ripe. However, the wind in Scotland makes this a little tricky to gauge, as big gusts can knock apples down before they are ripe. Once a few ripe, healthy apples have fallen to the ground, this is an indication that the rest of the apples are nearly ready for harvest. A ripe apple should come off the branch with ease, when twisted lightly. Once ripened, apples become slightly softer and sweeter.

What condition of apples does Thistly accept?

Thistly needs good ingredients to make good cider – that means clean, sound, rot-free apples. It really is true that one rotten apple can ruin the barrel. The fruit is weighed and sorted on arrival, but it saves time if bad or heavily bruised apples are taken out beforehand.

How should I store my apples?

Apples should be stored in a breathable container – paper bags, tattie sacks and crates all work perfectly for this. Please don’t store your apples in plastic bags as this causes them to sweat and rot.

When should I bring them?

The short answer: as soon as possible after harvesting.

The longer answer: this depends very much on the variety and condition of the apple. If you pick your apples directly from the tree, it’s best to get them to Thistly within one or two weeks of harvesting. The most important thing, though, is that they meet all of the criteria above.

Apples are milled at Thistly on Wednesdays and are pressed on Thursdays and Fridays. Please bear this in mind when arranging drop-off. As we are very busy during the harvest, we Thistly can’t always process your apples in the same week that you drop them off, so it’s important that they’re fit to be stored for a few days.

Brilliant – my apples fit the criteria! What next?

Please drop your apples off at The Store, Belhaven Fruit Farm and enjoy a cup of tea and look around the farm shop whilst you’re there. It is open from 10am to 4pm, seven days a week.

If further north, Thistly now has a Highlands drop-off point at Gordon Castle. Opening hours and visitor information here: (www.gordoncastlescotland.com/opening-times-and-booking/). The Gordon Castle Estate has its own cider, in collaboration with Thistly which will be swapped for any donations.

• Thistly can also collect any fruit donations weighing over a tonne – to arrange this, call them on 07960962510 or email Head Cidermaker, Peter, on peter@thistlycrosscider.co.uk to arrange.  To find out more about Thistly Cross and its award winning ciders visit www.thistlycrosscider.co.uk .

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