Why not make cider?

Boxes of apples in the Drapers.

It all began with a big sign on the window of our local home-brewing shop, the unfortunately named Brewer’s Droop: ‘It’s Cider season! Borrow our cider press!’

We’ve been blessed with apples this year. Or rather, with some exten­sive YouTube study and a five hour prun­ing ses­sion in Feb­ru­ary, I man­aged to get the unpro­duc­tive tree in our rent­ed prop­er­ty to pro­duce hun­dreds of absolute whop­pers. I have hith­er­to been almost the oppo­site of green fin­gered, so I’m inor­di­nate­ly proud of this.

We had already made pies, frozen puree, made apple but­ter and eat­en apple pan­cakes for break­fast every day for two weeks. But, still, we had loads.

So I wan­dered into the shop to find out more and came out fix­at­ed on the idea. As in, Ray ask­ing, “What are you think­ing about?” as I stared into the mid­dle dis­tance pon­der­ing the process. As in, drift­ing off to sleep with visions of sweet juice flow­ing freely from the press.

The shop­keep­er told me I could hire a scrat­ter (pulper) and the press on a dai­ly rate. I didn’t need any oth­er kit as we already had fer­ment­ing ves­sels and cam­p­den tablets. That just left a cou­ple of issues to sort before press­ing day.

First­ly, it turned out that, though we were try­ing to deal with an apple sur­plus, we’d actu­al­ly need more apples – “at least five 20 litre buck­ets to make it worth­while,” said the help­ful chap in the shop.

The poster I put up in the Drapers.

Fine, no prob­lem: I con­tact­ed a cou­ple of friends who also have apple trees and then had the bright idea of putting a sign up in The Drap­ers Arms. This turned out to be wild­ly suc­cess­ful and mild­ly stress­ful.

We had to get them from the pub to home on foot. Gar­van, land­lord of The Drap­ers, lent us his sack truck but, still, we still end up scat­ter­ing apples around the pub and Hansel and Gre­tel style along the Glouces­ter Road.

It all worked out, though, and with­out any plan­ning at all we hit upon a good mix for cider – most­ly eat­ing apples, a few cook­ers and some actu­al cider apples.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, not many peo­ple left their details so I have no way to say thanks to lots of the donors apart from here, and per­haps anoth­er sign in the Drap­ers. So, thank you all, it is real­ly appre­ci­at­ed.

Next, I had to work out what process­es to fol­low and how to use the kit.

Cider pro­duc­tion, even more than brew­ing beer, seems to be a field full of con­tra­dic­to­ry advice and incon­sis­ten­cies, with rep­utable sources dis­agree­ing on meth­ods.

You don’t need muslin”, said the bloke at the shop – not much of a sales­man, with hind­sight.

You def­i­nite­ly need a strain­ing sock or some­thing sim­i­lar,” said two Drap­ers reg­u­lars, refer­ring to a sys­tem for lift­ing the crushed apple out of the press when it’s done.

You’ll need Cam­p­den tablets and a cider yeast,” said one; “I nev­er use yeast, just let it do its thing,” said anoth­er.

I even­tu­al­ly set­tled on no strain­ing sock but decid­ed I would do the Cam­p­den tablet plus yeast thing.

The press in action.

I learned a few things in the thick of it:

> You need at least one oth­er per­son, and prefer­ably three or four. That way, you can be scrat­ting while some­one is emp­ty­ing the pre­vi­ous press­ing, or putting more pres­sure on the press, or mak­ing a round of tea with­out a break in pro­duc­tion.

> Pulp­ing apples in a hand cranked scrat­ter is incred­i­bly sat­is­fy­ing but the juice and pips will fly sev­er­al metres as the fruit dis­ap­pears into the maw, so either do it out­side or cov­er every­thing.

> Yes, you def­i­nite­ly need a bloody strain­ing sock. Dig­ging out com­pact­ed apple cheese from a press is a lot hard­er work than dig­ging out a mash tun, and you have to repeat it sev­er­al times.

> The press can always be turned one more time, though it might not be worth the effort after a while.

> Size of apple real­ly mat­ters in esti­mat­ing yield. “About five buck­ets of apples to one buck­et of juice” said the chap in the shop. “About three times as many apples as vol­ume of liq­uid,” said a cider mak­ing expert in the Drap­ers. I think my yield was more like one buck­et of juice from six buck­ets of apples. I think that’s part­ly because a lot of our apples were huge – the bloke in the Drap­ers has a tree that pro­duces love­ly lit­tle red apples, hence, I reck­on, his much bet­ter yield.

We learned after­wards, from books:

> As well as size of apple, amount of juice is depen­dent on when you pick the apples and press them. We don’t real­ly have the room to do what most sources sug­gest, which is to pick the apples and leave them for up to four weeks before press­ing, so we prob­a­bly couldn’t have done this dif­fer­ent­ly.

> We should have aimed for a bal­ance of sweet­ness, acid­i­ty and tan­nin in the juice, and should have made adjust­ments to achieve it. Well, the juice we got was absolute­ly beau­ti­ful, but I’m not sure if it will have enough acid or tan­nin to make good cider.

We got 30 litres of juice in the end after about 17 hours of hard labour, most­ly me but with Ray’s help in the evening.

That juice is, at present, still juice, as fer­men­ta­tion does not seem to be quite kick­ing off as it ought to.

The fermenting vessel full of juice.

One of the small­er car­boys is going fair­ly well, though not spray­ing foam every­where as promised; the oth­er is more slug­gish. Our mas­sive 20 litre jar seems to be going nowhere, at the time of writ­ing.

It’s all the same yeast so per­haps I used too many Cam­p­den tablets and killed it? We will prob­a­bly mix up the one that is going with the one that isn’t and see what hap­pens.

At the moment, then, we don’t know if all the has­sle was worth it, and by all accounts, even if we do get cider, it won’t be drink­able for anoth­er year. Still, we’ve already gone from “Nev­er again!” at one o’clock on Fri­day morn­ing to “When we do this again next year…”

2 thoughts on “Why not make cider?”

  1. This is bring­ing back night­mares from home press­ing cider not once but twice.

    The first time we decid­ed to pick wind­falls from an orchard about an hour away in Bran­den­burg. We had to hire a car as we don’t own one and there was no pub­lic trans­port to the orchard. We spent the best part of a sun­ny Octo­ber day pick­ing wind­falls from the grass that were not mouldy or rot­ten then we drove home, car­ried them up 3 floors to our flat and left them in the liv­ing room for a cou­ple of weeks.

    We had noth­ing to chop the apples up with but dis­cov­ered online that if you got a paint mix­er drill bit and a drill this could be used to chop the apples into small enough bits to fill the bag to press. So I used the drill and our new­ly pur­chased paint mix­er to chop the apples up and my hus­band (whose idea the whole thing was) filled the press bag and pressed the apples. We end­ed up with 20 litres of cider after 9 hours of chop­ping and press­ing. We also end­ed up with a kitchen cov­ered in light coat­ing of apple pulp and juice. Nobody tells you about the squirt­ing apple pulp from the press.

    The sec­ond time a local super­mar­ket had a sale on apples that were ugly but per­fect­ly fine to eat for a bar­gain price.

    We vis­it­ed sev­er­al branch­es and man­aged to get a rea­son­able amount of apples. We decid­ed to do the press­ing in the bath­room as it was easy to clean.

    We were pre­pared for how much hard work it would be and for the mess after­wards. We did­n’t have near­ly as many apples as the first time and end­ed up with just over 10 litres.

    The first batch was pret­ty good as we’d used a mix of apples. The sec­ond batch was­n’t quite as good as it was most­ly one vari­ety of apple but was easy to drink, quite dry. Unfor­tu­nate­ly our press broke when mak­ing the last batch of cider so we’d have to buy anoth­er if we ever decide to make cider again.

  2. Fan­tas­tic. The joy of projects like this is the doing, not nec­es­sar­i­ly the result. And for those want to con­tin­ue to do it, a base­line of choic­es to tin­ker with (or not) in future batch­es.

    You didn’t ask, but I’ve made a few batch­es of cider in recent years and here are a cou­ple of pref­er­ences I’ve devel­oped:

    1) Nat­ur­al fer­men­ta­tion (no yeast) pro­duces fan­tas­tic fla­vor, and that can be impor­tant if you’re using a large pro­por­tion of culi­nary apples that main­ly add sug­ar.

    2) I’ve nev­er added sul­fites and I’ve nev­er had any trou­ble. This was one les­son I learned talk­ing to old farm­house cider­mak­ers. They do very lit­tle except com­pos­ing them apple blend and let­ting nature take its course. The key is tem­per­a­ture. All the per­ni­cious crea­tures get active above 10 C. Keep it below that, and bet­ter to be cool­er, and they stay inac­tive until the alco­hol con­tent ris­es and kills them off.

    3) Cool and slow fermentation’s are good for devel­op­ing fla­vor.

    4) You can actu­al­ly starve the yeast if you rack often enough. Each time you do, the yeasts have to repop­u­late, which takes a lot of nutri­ents. You have mul­ti­ple ves­sels, so it’s a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to exper­i­ment rack­ing one fre­quent­ly and let­ting anoth­er go to dry.

    Good luck! Have fun!

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