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.