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.