Homespun cider making made easy

October 4, 2020 at 7:00 pm

It is cider making time again, the temperature has dropped and apples are abundant, either to be scrounged, scrumped, or gathered from the wild. Over the past few weeks we have gradually accumulated over 60 lb of several varieties of donated garden windfalls, both cookers and eaters along with feral apples gathered from local hedge rows. It was time to literally dust off the cobwebs from the “equipment” stored each year in the shed and begin on a cool, dry late September morning.

A typical mix of apples in the washing bin, ready to be processed.

Here is the production line that I have used over the years to extract the juice from the apples ready for fermenting. Don’t laugh, yes it looks crude and very basic, but don’t forget that people have been making cider for hundreds of years with very rustic equipment, mashing the apples with heavy poles and pouring the rough juice into barrels and leaving it to ferment from the natural yeasts in the air and the apples themselves. My two pieces of modern equipment are a garden shredder, for creating the mash and a car hydraulic bottle jack for compressing the juice on my home made wooden frame, which is screwed and glued together using 4 x 2 rough timber. As can be seen, the frame is held in an old Workmate.

This is a two person line. My wife cuts the apples into pieces that will fit into the shredder, removing any rotten fruit as she goes, while I collect the mash from the bowl beneath the shredder.

Note that much of the mash is already juice. The mash is ladled into an old ice cream container, which has netting, or muslin draped over it. The netting is then folded tight over the mash, forming a parcel of mash, squeezing out some of the juice along the way into the container. The parcel is lifted out, the container emptied into the 5 gallon bin holding the squeezed juice. Without a press, just wringing out the mash parcel would produce about 75% of the juice on its own.

The parcel is then placed on the press platen, the secondary platen placed on top then a block, followed by the jack, which is pumped to squeeze the remaining juice out.

This image shows the roasting tray around which the press was made, with the pine platen, part of an old shelf, in place and the parcel ready to squeeze. The tray can be lifted out easily to drain the juice. I considered fitting a drain plug at one time, but this takes only seconds to lift and pour out the juice, so why complicate matters? Due to the tannin in the juice, it soon turns brown, but a test taste proves it to be pleasantly sweet. Sweetness means sugar and sugar ferments into alcohol. Floating a hydrometer into the juice gave a Specific Gravity (SG) of 106, enough for around 6 % alcohol, when fully fermented. Enough for a pint, or two around a summer BBQ.

This image shows the press at full squish, with the juice flowing into the tray. Another platen and parcel would speed up the whole juicing process, but this system and rig produced 3 gallons of juice from 6o lb of apples in 2 hours. We started with a cup of coffee at 11 am and finished with a toasted cheese sandwich at 1 pm for lunch. Perfect timing. I used to make 6 gallons of cider each year, with a break for lunch, but you were very ready for that cup of tea at 3 pm.

A useful byproduct of cider pressing is the left over apple cakes. Once these would have been fed to the family pig, but the worms like them just as much, boosting the working of the garden compost heap and giving a ready supply for fishing.

We now have a bin full of juice, what next? When I made my first cider, I lived in a rural setting with my own trees and hedgerows full of crab apples a hundred yards down the lane. I wanted to be as traditional as possible, deciding to only use the wild yeast from the apples, that formed as a light foam on the top of the juice. Stirring in the foam, I then poured the juice into demi jons, put on air locks and left the cider to get on with fermenting in my kitchen. I racked them off before Christmas and did a taste test. Each demi jon had a different flavour, one very harsh and dry, two very bland and one perfect with a sweet dryness. From then on I used shop bought sachets of wine, champagne, or cider yeast, sprinkled over the juice, all giving good consistent results.

This year I have gone one step further, stirring in a sachet of nutrient twenty minutes before adding the yeast, which I started off in 100ml of warm water at 30 C degrees. According to the blurb, the fermenting time will be reduced, which will result in a happier wife, who gets fed up with cleaning around the demi jons.

Certainly the initial rapid fermentation that takes place within the first few days has been accelerated, the demijons below very active after only 18 hours.

I used a jug to remove the rough juice from the 5 gallon bin, then pour through a fine mesh, or sieve in to the demijons. I then use rolled up newspaper to stop the rapid fermentation from bubbling over as the yeast eats up the sugar, producing a thick brown scum of dead yeast, which will be removed after a few days.

After three days the cider had settled down and I cleaned the necks of messy debris, then fitted air locks, seeing bubbles blowing through the air locks immediately.

The lees and settled out yeast can be seen in the bottom of the cleaned demijons. These will be left for another two to four weeks, until fermentation has slowed down and the cider has changed to a slightly hazy golden colour. At this stage the cider should be racked off into a clean demijon. Racking is the process of syphoning off the cider from the lees using a tube, which is placed into the demijon with the clean container at a lower point. I put the full demijon on the kitchen worksurface, with the clean one on a chair below, sucking through the tube to draw the cider through and down into the empty one, watching the tube as it empties the demijon, allowing the tube to draw off a small amount of yeast into the new container, making it hazy again. Top up with water and refit the air lock. The emptied demijon will contain about 20 mm of yeast, which can be washed out ready to repeat for the next one.

A TIP HERE. To avoid the syphon sucking up too much yeast at this point, a small piece of cane can be tied to the tube with, say 25 mm (depending on the depth of yeast)  protruding from the end of the tube, which will prevent the syphon from getting too close to the yeast.

If a still dry cider is required, then move the demijon to a cold place like a garage, until the cider has cleared, usually about two weeks. All fermentation should have stopped. There will be a slight film of lees at the bottom of the demijon, which should be racked into a  clean one, avoiding the lees. The cider can now be bottled, pouring into a jug, then through a funnel into bottles. I use old pint beer bottles. Tasting it at this stage, the cider will be dry and acidic, but will mature enough after 4 to 6 weeks to be drunk, when left in a cool place off the ground. The longer the better.

A medium sweet still cider can be produced at this this time, after the cooling, by adding 4 oz of sugar, dissolved in hot water as a syrup to the racked off clear cider, when cooled, sealing the top of the demijon and giving it a good shake to mix the sugar, before bottling.

Obviously, the more cider that has reached this stage, the more experiments can be carried out.

For a dry sparkling cider, after the second racking, having brought some yeast through, keep the cider in the kitchen, until the lees have settled and fermentation should have stopped, usually another week, or two. Rack again, drawing through a small amount of yeast. The cider will be slightly hazy and can be bottled, adding a level teaspoon of white sugar to each bottle. Store in a cool place. The cider will clear leaving a paint of hardened lees in the bottom of the bottle, although care should be taken when pouring to avoid them, as they are quite bitter. I am told that the lees contain some valuable vitamins, but I’ll take their word for that. The beer bottles will contain any pressure generated, while a heaped teaspoon will result in a slightly sweeter cider. I don’t advise two full teaspoons for more sweetness, as a champagne style outpouring from the bottle, including the lees, will occur.

I prefer a strong, dry, sparkling cider and add 4 oz of dissolved white sugar after the first racking and top up with water. A slight, fresh fermentation will take place, when most of the yeast will be used up after another week, or two. Rack off again, drawing off a small amount of yeast, continuing as above.

I do not advise plastic caps for the bottles, as they can lift off, allowing air in, which will ruin the cider. Compressed bottle caps are the answer. When I first started bottling, I used a hand held swaging tool. The cap was placed over the mouth of bottle, the tool placed over it and tapped down with a hammer. Each year I tragically lost a few bottles this way and the precious liquid inside and eventually bought a much more efficient, safe alternative.

The original swaging tool is at the bottom.

I store my cider on a rack on the north side of the garage to avoid possible over heating in the summer. My usual output of 50, or more pints a year, resulted in a surplus, which has built up and am currently working my way through four year old cider. Three month old cider is drinkable, but it definitely improves with age.

I hope that this has persuaded you to have a go at cider making. There are many varieties of cider sitting on the supermarket shelf, but the satisfaction of making and drinking your own cannot be beaten.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

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.