How-to: Apple Cider
Nothing reminds me of fall more than the smell of apple cider.
We discovered half-way through the summer that several of the trees on our property were apple trees. Apparently, way back in its past, our land was an apple orchard. Unfortunately the trees have been unattended for a long time (one of the biggest trees on the lot is an apple tree if that tells you how long its been). Without proper pruning several of the trees didn’t fruit, but a couple did. One had a few apples, but the hurricane quickly took care of them, the other was heavily laden with fruit. The one remaining tree with good fruit bared apples that were not quite as big as store-bought, but were sweet and crisp – definitely not crab apples. When presented with so many edible apples this fall there was only one option – APPLE CIDER!
Here is how we went about making our apple cider. The tree yielded enough fruit to make 3 half-gallon Ball jars.
This was by far the least elegant part of the process. We pulled the truck under the tree, stood a ladder in the bed, and started picking. We used a garden fork for reaching into the higher branches. Fortunately bruised apples are OK for making apple cider, so it is fine to to just whack the apples out of the tree as long as you don’t completely mangle them.
We collected all the apples and piled them up in an old wagon and left them overnight to sweat a little. Ideally you would store them for a few weeks under a tarp to sweat, or freeze the apples then thaw them. Sweating and/or freezing allows some of the water to be released from the apples and concentrates the sugars.
The apples had all sorts of dirt and leaves on them, as well as the occasional ant. While I’m not averse to a little protein in my juice, we washed all the apples to get them clean to remove any bugs. To wash we placed them all in a 22 qt. food-grade plastic Cambro we bought for storing maple sap and filled it with water from the hose. We don’t use any pesticides so no need for a serious washing, just a good rinsing.
Step 3 Cut and Grind
In order to get the most juice out of the apples they must be ground up before pressing. If we were doing high volume we would have an apple grinder, but instead we cut the apples into chunks and then ground them with a large paint mixer bit and a corded power drill.
When cutting we found it is important to cut the apple into small chunks, ideally 1/8th. Quartering them isn’t enough, the drill has a hard time breaking them down.
For grinding we put them all in a 5 gallon plastic bucket, we didn’t want to use a Cambro because I knew we would be dinging it up a lot with the drill. We found that putting as much as possible in the bucket helped with grinding, the deeper the pile of apples the better chance the drill bit would hit one and cut it up. As we were working we tried putting a sharp edge on the drill bit with a Dremel, it didn’t really help so if I was doing it again I wouldn’t bother. I would also strongly recommend a corded drill, we have a really strong cordless but it didn’t have the power or stamina to grind the apples. It took a 10-15 minutes to grind the first batch of apples (we did about 3), and then we moved on to pressing.
Step 3: Pressing
This is where the magic happens. The ground apples are pressed to force the juices out, and the apple cider drips into a catch basin – in our case into another 22qt Cambro.
An apple press is a pretty simple mechanism, and you can make one at home with the right parts, but we decided to save the time and labor and bought a small one from Beech Hill Artisans. The press is unfinished wood, so it must be sealed properly to prevent rot. We used a food-grade linseed oil sealant, you can use whatever you want but make sure it is food grade.
The ground apples are not put directly into the press, otherwise there would be a lot of material pushed through the cracks in the wood and into the juice, leading to more of an apple sauce than apple cider. Instead, the apples are placed into a nylon pressing bag. We ordered ours from Amazon, they were a little tall for our table-top press so we cut them off at the top. We found the best method was to take the cylinder out of the press, drop the bag into it, fill it about 3/4 of the way with ground apples, drop the cap into it and put the whole thing back in the press. It is tempting to fill the bag to the top, but it makes it almost impossible to get back into the press.
Once you have your ground apples in the press, crank the handle down as far as possible and press out the juices.
The last step is getting the apple cider from the catch basin to some bottles. We put ours into large Ball jars, our tree’s worth of apples yielded 3 jars of cider. Our tree was a little anemic, so I think a health tree could yield at least double.
We sterilized the Ball jars by boiling them in a pot along with the lids. From there we used a Chinois strainer to funnel and filter the juice. Personally, I like my cider un-filtered and a little cloudy, but if you would prefer yours with less sediment I would suggest several layers of cheese cloth within the Chinois strainer – this will catch more of the apple particles.
Once our cider was bottled we put one in the fridge and froze the other two. If you are planning on drinking everything within a week or two, of if you have a pressure canner, you do not need to freeze them. Frozen cider can store indefinitely and it freezes wel in the Ball jar if you leave a couple of inches of space at the top and leave the cap loosely screwed on so air can escape as the juice expands.
Step 5: Drink
The cider can be drunk cold, or heated up for a nice drink on a fall evening. Personally, I love the cider mixed with a little bourbon or in a Chimayo Cocktail.