Thursday, September 13, 2012

Cider making time

Last year we were inspired by an article on how to make apple cider (the hard kind) in Mother Earth News. We harvested all the apples off the large, heritage trees that live on our farm and juiced hand, using a kitchen counter juicer.  It took forever because you have to chop the apples by hand into tiny pieces in order for them to fit in the juicer.  Hardly seems worth it, that is, until you drink the finished cider... yummy!

This year, we are doing things a little bit differently.

Brand new, home made, apple press.  The Capitan spent a few weeks putting this together in his spare time. Considering that it's made from 100% reclaimed wood, it's amazing how well it works.

I think we got more juice per apple last year, but for the amount of work we put in (friends love to come over and help you press apples when you have a nifty toy they can play with), this is far, far, far less work per pint of juice.

We have two demijohns full so far and enough apples still on the trees to fill one or two more.  Notice the large amount of head space in the demijohn... last year, we learned to leave extra because it froths up like crazy.

How We Make  (hard) Apple Cider

There must be hundreds of different ways of making cider (note, just assume that I mean cider as alcohol made from apples in this context).  Ours is pretty simple.  We don't have a lot of gadgets to test for sugar or gravity or whatever.  We also don't mind if we get a huge jar of vinegar.  I use it for everything from rinsing my hair to cleaning the house.  Natural vinegar is barely affordable these days, so making our own would be just fine.  un/fortunately, we haven't managed to make vinegar yet.  Just really yummy, really strong cider.

Note: we don't juice anything that has touched the ground.  We have chickens, and sheep, and goats, and ducks that live under the fruit trees and they tend to poop a lot.  Although it probably isn't a big issue, we like to be extra safe as we are not pasteurizing the juice before we ferment it.  So if it's been on the ground, it does not go in the juicer.

What you need:

  • Big, food safe, sterilized vessel that can be sealed with an airlock (like a demijohn or carboy - aka, big glass jar, or a designated plastic pale with an airtight lid and airlock)
  • An airlock - something to let the extra gas out so that it don't explode and make mess, but not let the air in.
  • Lots of fresh, un-treated, un-pasteurized, apple juice.
If you are getting your apple juice from somewhere else, then it may be treated with chemicals, heat or UV light.  This won't ferment naturally.  Sometimes you can add yeast or other You-Brew goodies, but sometimes even this won't work.  See the Mother Earth News article for more info.

We simply juice our own apples, which are grown without chemical spray, and put the juice directly in the demijohn.  Then we put the airlock on top, carry it to the basement, and leave it to ferment at about 65 to 68 degrees F.  for a few months.

When we feel like it we rack it - transfer it to another similar container.  We are careful to leave any sediment behind and this helps to clarify it a little bit.

Then, about 4 to 8 months from when we first started, we bottle the cider using the honey method described in the article I linked to.  We melt some honey in hot water (how much depends on how much juice we have) and then add the cider to the honey.  Then we bottle it in high-pressure bottles, and leave it downstairs for a month or two.

That's it.  Tastes really good, but one does need to be careful when feeding this to guests that might be driving home later.  Last year's cider is what I call, three hour cider - aka, how many hours our guests have to wait until they can safely drive home after drinking one bottle on an empty stomach.

Note: if you want to make cider yourself, please do a bit of research on health and safety procedures.  I didn't go into them much here, but the article I cited earlier does have a nice overview.  Also, there are places in the world, including some rather large chunks of North America, where it is not legal to brew your own homebrew.  It's your responsibility to know the local laws before you start, or at least before you start bragging about it.

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