Yorkshire Wolds Apple Juice: Meet the former outdoor instructor and teacher whose fruit pressing business has a drinks contract with Bettys

These are pressing times for a former outdoor pursuits trainer and primary school teacher whose lives now revolve around apples and turning the fruit into either their own brand of Yorkshire Wolds Apple Juice or on behalf of others.

Jon and Jane Birch took over the business at Welham Wold near Malton in November 2018, the time of year when production is at its height, and in September 2019 they launched their ‘have your own fruit pressed’ service that sees customers bringing what they have grown in their gardens and orchards.

“That side of the business has grown from just a couple of dozen local people coming along with their apples four years ago to over 120 last year and by the looks of it even more this year,” said Jon.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“We also now press for larger commercial customers such as Sledmere Estate for their own branded apple juice. It now means that both October and November we are absolutely flat out, and we also undertake another pressing in January.

Jon and Jane Birch at Yorkshire Wolds Apple Juice.Jon and Jane Birch at Yorkshire Wolds Apple Juice.
Jon and Jane Birch at Yorkshire Wolds Apple Juice.

“We have seen a big spike in the ‘have your own pressed’ this year and I think some of that has been a greater awareness from customers that they have a resource in their garden and with the price of food on the rise it is better to utilise it, rather than go to waste. The other reason is word of mouth spreading. Neighbours are telling others about us.

Ironically the apples that are used in Jon and Jane’s branded Yorkshire Wolds Apple Juice come largely from a different area of England, as Jon explained.

“The issue is that Yorkshire is not a reliable growing area. In some years you can harvest more apples locally, but we often source between 60-80 per cent from Kent with a full articulated load of apples coming to Welham Wold, and sometimes one and a half loads.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Jon also said that their preferred variety for Yorkshire Wolds Apple Juice is under threat due to supermarket demand for three other main varieties.

Jane helps customer Helen Harrison with her fruit she is having pressed.Jane helps customer Helen Harrison with her fruit she is having pressed.
Jane helps customer Helen Harrison with her fruit she is having pressed.

“Cox’s Orange Pippin is our default main apple. It is a lovely Old English variety that provides really rounded fruit that is very nice on its own as a juice and also adapts quite nicely to being blended with concentrated soft fruit flavours from raspberries and strawberries.

“It is a variety that’s getting a little bit more tricky to get hold of because growers are currently ripping the trees out to replace with other apple tree varieties because supermarkets don’t want them. There is a rush for what they see as the crunchy Gala, Braeburn and Pink Lady.

“It’s all down to economics, fashion and the growing seasons. There is nothing at all wrong with the Cox’s Orange Pippin. Where such as Pink Lady is scoring is that ii has been genetically engineered to grow across a longer season and to store for longer, so that supermarkets have an all-year round supply.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Jane said the apples they receive from local people include a huge variety of varieties and that their service for others is a delight, as well as being hard work.

Jon and Jane Birch at Yorkshire Wolds Apple JuiceJon and Jane Birch at Yorkshire Wolds Apple Juice
Jon and Jane Birch at Yorkshire Wolds Apple Juice

“We have won many awards for our own label Yorkshire Wolds Apple Juice and recently we have picked up even more with a Great Taste Award for our Braeburn Juice and a National Fruit Show Award for our Apple & Raspberry Juice. Our juice is served exclusively at all three Betty’s restaurants in Harrogate, York and Ilkley and at a number of other leading restaurants.

“But what we do for others is very special ,as are their own juices. We press all sorts of varieties. The range of heritage apples is wonderful. We get so many people who come along, so proud of the fruit trees they have nurtured with everything from their Annie Elizabeth, Arthur Turner or Ribston Pippin. We quite literally have every shade of green, yellow and red in here and they are all delicious. There is no one common variety, but we do see a lot of Bramleys, which appear very popular in Yorkshire.

“I was talking to someone recently who said that the UK’s wonderful maritime climate is perfect for apples to be produced that would make us self-sufficient for 10-11 months of year.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Yorkshire Wolds Apple Juice was started in 2008 by local man Ray Kirby, who came up with the diversification idea of using windfall apples from gardens to make juice. Ray subsequently started sourcing greater volumes from more reliable cropping orchards in Kent perfecting the blend that Jon and Jane use today.

When Ray passed away his family kept the YWAJ flag flying and then his good friend John Brooks partnered with Joe Cole in 2013, taking the business to where it is situated today at Joe’s family farm at Welham Wold in 2015.

John and Joe’s wives Fiona and Alison were involved alongside their husbands, in the production of juice and selling their wares at Famers Markets.

“I’d worked with Joe at pressing time,” said Jon. “Jane and I took over the business when he expanded his farming business. We have now grown the business to such an extent that we have both given up our former day-jobs and are now wholly committed to expanding our fruit juice production and our product lines.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“YWAJ was just one line when we took over. We now have a range of 11 products with another three in testing for next year. We now produce apple juice and use an increasing variety of soft fruit concentrates from such as pears, raspberries, strawberries and rhubarb grown at another award-winning Yorkshire countryside fruit producer, Spilman’s in Sessay.

Jon said that the warm weather this summer will have more of an impact on next year’s apple crop than this year’s.

“It is what happens the previous year that makes most difference. Apple trees rely upon stored water down deep in the soil and next year, because of the lack of rain this summer could have an impact on yield.

“Frost is a fruit grower’s nightmare. That can have a massive impact. There has been a bumper crop this year partly because the late frosts didn’t come.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Since Jon and Jane have taken over the business they have launched an online shop, have started their own local delivery service and delivery through courier network nationwide. They are also regulars at Farmers Markets and Jon said there is nothing like that personal touch.

“We have met lots of lovely new customers. Delivering or selling juice direct has that personal touch that we also enjoy through our ‘have your own fruit pressed’ service. We also have a number of other ideas for the future and we were delighted to be nominated in the recent Yorkshire Post Rural Awards. It was just a shame we couldn’t be there, but as you know our business really is pressing especially at this time of year.