Cider making time again

October 23, 2017 at 12:54 pm

Being known as a cider maker, offers of apples have been coming in from all quarters this year, while wild trees growing on council land near my home have been weighed down with a variety of the fruit. Boxes and bags of apples were soon covering the floor of the garden shed and it was now a matter choosing a day.

With storms driving across the country bringing sunshine and showers at regular intervals, the forecast was for a cold, dry day, as one storm was banished to the North Sea aiming for the Netherlands, while another was sweeping in over Ireland. Using no specialised equipment, my wife and I set out our cider making production line.

This looks like disorganised chaos, but there is method in the apparent madness. The apples are dunked in a bucket of water to clean off dirt, any bruising is cut out, before being chopped into pieces and dropped into the garden shredder, which mashes the fruit, the resulting pulp falling into a bowl. This is my wife’s side of the process, which in between cups of tea and lunch, keeps her busy for at least four hours.

My side of the process is equally busy, the bowl of pulp constantly filling. The pulp is scooped into an old ice cream tub, in which doubled over window netting has been laid. This creates a parcel of pulp, which oozes juice before being presented to the press.

The press is a 4 x 2 screwed and glued wooden frame held in a Workmate. In the base of the frame fits an old stove enameled baking tray, into which two pieces of pine shelving sit. The pulp parcel is placed on the lower piece and the second piece set on the top of these. Juice will already flowing out of the parcel into the baking tray, before a block and a bottle jack are used to compress the pulp. The result is juice in the baking tray and a dry slab of compressed apple cake as a by product. The jack and plattens are then placed on the wallpapering table, while the baking tray is emptied into a covered six gallon plastic bucket. Each year I consider fitting a drainage system to the baking tray, but it only takes seconds to empty each time, so it has yet to be done. The apple cake is placed into another bucket, before being tipped onto the compost heap, where it is soon covered with red worms.

That is basically all there is to start the cider making process. I always wait for cold weather in October, as it is unlikely that any wild yeasts will be in the air to contaminate the juice. Yeast from the apples can be seen forming in the tray as it is pressed, but I use a sachet of cider yeast sprinkled over the bucket to kickstart the fermentation, stirring this in and leaving covered for twenty to thirty minutes, while I get demijohns ready to receive the juice. Using a jug, I scoop the juice from the bucket, to fill the demijohns through a funnel to within two inches of the neck, then create a wick of cotton wool pushed into the neck. This will allow gases from the fermentation out, while excluding any unwanted organisms from the juice.

Just a few hours in the warmth of the kitchen, sees the fermentation starting in earnest, the newspaper a wise precaution against spillage. Another few hours a month of racking and bottling before Christmas, will see about 50 bottles of golden cider set aside to mature.

Cider making

October 4, 2014 at 7:37 pm

Last year I was overwhelmed with offers of apples for cider making, resulting in two fermentations and a surplus of bottles relative to my consumption, but this year was different story, a cold wet spring and shortage of bees resulting in many bare apple trees this autumn. Of late, a ready supply of Cox’s and Bramley’s, mixed with a third locally gathered sour crab apples, has resulted in a medium dry cider of around 7% alcohol content, that has livened up many a BBQ.

As the month of October approached, I was on the lookout for donor trees in the area, following a visit to a farm, where last year the owner was pleading with me to take away bags of apples, while now he had none. I usually make at least 5  gallons of cider a year, which at 20 lb of apples per gallon means a good reliable supply is needed. A wooded bank behind my house had only yielded 25 lb from three different trees varying sour to sweet, way down on expected, the trend continued where ever I looked. My last shot was to return to a green lane close to my old village, which runs through farmland on the way to a  long closed schoolhouse, where a variety of feral apple trees have grown amongst the hedgerows, no doubt seeded from domestic apple cores discarded by pupils in days past. As a road to nowhere, the lane has almost returned to nature, kept open by the occasional walker and deer, but for my wife and I, it provided us with an untapped source of apples. The fruit was hard won, brambles having taken over much of the lane since our last visit, but the remembered variety was still there, some almost good enough to grace the supermarket shelf, while others were small, hard and tart, gathering about 40 lb in total. Picking another 10 lb of sweet red Royal Gala from our own trees, we were ready to start.

As can be seen from this picture, a wide mix of apples is to be preferred, if actual bitter/sweet cider apples are unavailable. Two vital items needed for cider making are a press and a means of reducing the apples to a pulp. A garden shredder is my pulp provider, while a bolted and glued frame of 4 x 2 inch hard wood provides the basis of the press, a bottle jack from the garage being the crushing power. My wife roughly chops the apples, cutting out any bruising and other nasties, before dropping them in the shredder. The pulp drops into a plastic bowl, which I collect in an ice cream carton lined with a window net mesh, folding the mesh to trap the pulp, then placing the parcel between two plattens of an old pine shelf on the press. The jack pushes the plattens together, forcing the juice out into a stove enameled oven tray, this is then emptied into a six gallon plastic bucket. It is important to use plastic and non-metallic utensils and buckets, as the apple juice is acidic and will introduce corroded elements to the juice otherwise.

Cider making should be a social event and after four hours, which included cups of tea and lunch, the juice was ready to receive a sachet of cider yeast scattered over the surface, to start the fermentation process. A stir after twenty minutes and the juice was transferred into demijohns, working out exactly at three gallons. Into the top of each demijohn, a swab of cotton wool keeps out unwanted microbes, while allowing the ferment to breath out, as the yeast beings to multiply, causing bubbles to rise to the surface, along with dead, used up yeast, as the sugar is converted to alcohol.

The following morning, at the base of these demijohns, the yeast can be seen, while at the neck, the dead yeast is forcing the cotton wool swabs up. As good house keeping, it is OK to remove the swab and hook out the dead yeast with the back of a spoon, replacing the swab with a fresh dry one. The dead yeast will continue to grow for a few days, until the ferment slows down as the sugar is converted. This will be the time to finally clean the neck and put an air lock in place, leaving the demijohns in an out of the way place, that is not too cold, to begin the maturing process. I keep mine in a corner of the kitchen.

Depending on the cider you wish to produce, there are several phases, that can be followed. The cider can be left as it’s in the demijohns for up six weeks before siphoning (racking) off into a clean demijohn, leaving the lees behind. At this stage the cider should taste sweet and can be left in a cool place to settle and clear, then bottled in strong bottles to mature further. If the cider is too dry at this stage, racking should take place again and sugar syrup added to taste, then bottled. This will produce a still cider of around 5%.

I prefer a slightly sparkling, stronger cider and rack off when the fermentation has almost stopped, after about three weeks, bringing just a squirt of yeast through into a clean demijohn, while adding 4 oz of white sugar dissolved in hot water. The air lock is put back on and the cider will start to gently work again on the sugar, increasing the strength, the cider being slightly hazy. Leave until fermentation stops after another 7 – 10 days, racking for the last time into a clean demijohn, bringing through just a squirt of yeast again. At this stage I taste again, it will be quite dry and tangy. If you prefer dry cider, add one tea spoon of sugar to the pint bottle before filling and capping, sweeter, add two tea spoons. Once capped shake the bottle to mix. If you have a demijohn bung, then you can mix in that, by shaking it before bottling. I use old “Spitfire” beer bottles and have not burst one yet, using a simple capping tool to seal the bottle tops. I store my cider on shelves in my garage, where over the winter, the liquid will fine down to a clear golden colour. When the cap is popped, there should be a pleasing hiss and a sign of vapour in the neck. There will be just a trace of lees in the base of the bottle, which should be poured carefully to avoid introducing it into the glass, as it is bitter, wasting about half an inch. The poured cider should be clear with just a hint of effervescence. Enjoy.

 

 

Cider bottled

December 24, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Being a cider making household, we share our kitchen during the autumn months with the latest batch, as it goes through it’s fermentation processes housed in a variety of demi-johns hidden under the table, unseen by our visitors sipping mugs of tea above.

Due to a cold wet spring and a similar summer, many apple trees did not set fruit and on those that did, the apples were slow to ripen and the cider making season was put back a month. This was the reason why we still had fermenting cider and I had instructions to bottle it before Christmas. The clear juice is syphoned out of the demi-johns, leaving the lees behind, this is called racking and being the second racking of this juice, the lees were minimal. I had to sample each dem-john and can report a very drinkable cider of good strength, has been produced this year, although the final fermentation takes place in the bottle and should be left for at least six months to mature.

In the past, having made beer and wine and even apple wine, when we had a surplus of fruit from our trees in the garden, it was only a matter of time, being a lover of cider, that I would make my own. We were fortunate to live close to an overgrown lane, that used to serve a big country house and also the Victorian village school, but now lay bypassed by modern roads, being encroached by brambles and various varieties of crab apple trees. Some were sweet others dry, an ideal mix for cider making. We no longer live in that area, but have found other trees to forage, although this year wild pickings were sparse, but once the word got out that we needed apples, the invites came to pick all we wanted from other’s gardens. About 20lb of apples are needed for a gallon of juice.

Continuing the theme of free apples, none of my “equipment” has been bought for purpose. The most important item is the cider press, which was made from odd lengths of 4 x 2 inch wood, forming two verticals and two horizontal struts, glued and screwed in place to create a stressed box. This I lock in an old workmate portable bench vice. The horizontals were cut to accommodate a baking tray into which two pieces of a 6 x 1 inch thick shelf were cut to form the crushing plattens for squeezing out the juice. A bottle jack from the garage supplies the crushing force, pushing up to the top horizontal, while pushing down onto the apple mash, held in an old net curtain, the juice flowing out into the baking tray. It would be easy to put a drain into the baking tray to flow down into a bucket, but it is no effort to empty it by hand, when it fills. The one labour saving device is an electric garden shredder, into which the washed, halved, or quartered apples are dropped, having cut out any bruising, but leaving the skin on. The rear end is raised on a brick so that the mash produced flows out of the spout into a bowl. The net is placed over an empty ice cream carton, before the apple mash is loaded into it and a sealed parcel formed. When the parcel is lifted out and placed between the plattens, juice will already have come out into the carton, which can be poured directly into the bucket through a flour sieve. I already had a five gallon bucket, which is the final destination of the juice ready for the introduction of a dried cider, or champagne yeast. On my first ever batch of cider, I covered the juice with a cloth and let it get on with natural fermentation from the wild yeast in the skins and the air, which took a couple of days, but now using a dried yeast sachet  for up to five gallons, sprinkled over and stirred occasionally over a couple of hours, the mix can be ready to transfer to the demi-johns for the first rapid ferment.

This is my backyard set up for cider making, it looks chaotic, but a production circle has been created, from washing, to chopping, pulping and juicing at the press. The flat apple cake byproduct is good food for chickens, or pigs, while on a compost heap it will soon become a nursery for young worms and speed up the composting process.