Apple cider making is a part of our American Heritage that dates back hundreds of years, even when we were still subjects of Britain. Even though we can go to the store and buy apple cider, there is nothing better than fresh homemade cider from your own apples. Even if you don’t grow your own apples, using locally grow apples and pressing them yourself is a rewarding and flavorful experience you can share with your family to start a new generation in cider making. It's a great drink whether it’s served cold on a warm September day, or hot and spicy in the crisp November air.
Before starting the cider making process, make sure you develop safe handling practices when working with any sort of food product, and your own and your family’s safety is your responsibility. The information in this article is provided as a reference and it should not to be taken as professional advice.
Types of Apples
Large apple cider producers use a blend of different apples to create the desired flavor of cider. You will want to have a balance of sweet apples and tart apples. However, using whatever apples that are readily available is fine. Some cider makers like to add some type of crab apple in the mix which makes the final product more complex with an acidic, tannic, or nutty component.
- Red Delicious: Large, firm red apple with a sweet flavor.
- Yellow Delicious: Large, firm yellow apple with a sweet flavor.
- Jonathan: Medium, crisp semi tart apple, with red near the top, descending to green lower down the fruit.
- Granny Smith: Medium/small, crisp, tart apple with green color.
- Gala: Medium, crisp semi tart apple with yellow skin blushed with orange to red tinge.
Choose a blend from the above list, or shop at the local Farmer’s market or grocery store shelves. If you lean toward a sweet juice, use a 3 sweet to 1 tart combination, or for medium sweetness, use a 2 sweet to 1 tart mix. The best choice is to grow your own, but the next best choice is to drive to the nearest orchard and pick a selection of heirloom varieties as these will have the best flavor. Unfortunately, apples in the supermarket, grown by large commercial growers are often stored in refrigerated, airtight warehouses and can last for up to a year. Controlled Atmosphere (CA) Storage puts the apples to sleep by lowering the oxygen level, humidity and temperature to around 32 degrees Fahrenheit. This is why apples are available year round and this is also why fresh apples always taste better.
It's best to use apples picked from the tree at the proper stage of ripeness. Do not use apples picked up off the ground, known as drops, or ones from trees where livestock can come in contact with the tree. Sort and inspect the apples before use and discard any apples that are bruised, moldy, infected with bugs or worms, or otherwise spoiled. Damaged apples will accelerate the fermentation process and your cider will spoil much quicker. Also, choosing the best apples will help reduce the possibility that harmful bacteria that could spoil your cider or make you sick will be in the final product.
Fruit or Cider Press
Make sure all of your equipment is properly cleaned and sanitary before you use it.
Sanitizing Cutting Boards - For plastic cutting boards, clean daily by applying a solution of one tablespoon bleach per gallon of water. Let stand two minutes and air dry. For wooden cutting boards, clean as you normally would, then wipe surface with a solution of two tablespoons bleach per three quarts of water. Keep surface wet for at least two minutes. Drain. Prior to use, rinse with a solution of one tablespoon bleach per 4.5 quarts water, drain and air dry.
If you own a cider press or can borrow one, use it. The cider press, containers, knives, grinder, cutting boards, work surfaces and so on, should be clean. You should also wash your hands before beginning the pressing and bottling process. You can clean your equipment by washing it with warm water and soap or the sanitizing solution mentioned above. Do not soak metal parts in this solution for more than 30 seconds or pitting may occur. Rinse all items thoroughly with clean water.
Once you have sorted your apples, wash them to remove any dirt or dust. The next step is to chop or grind the apples to break down the cell walls and help release the liquid. The more finely ground the apples, the more juice you will be able to press out. People use various methods of chopping apples for cider including apple or fruit grinders, food processors, meat grinders, french fry cutters or just chopping them by hand. The method you use will depend on how many apples you have and how much cider you are going to make.
If your apples are finely ground you will want to line the inside of your press with a thin cloth such as cheese cloth. This will prevent the apples from pressing out through the slats of the basket. You can also place a cloth or paper filter over the container you are pressing the juice into. The amount of cider you get from your apples depends on many factors such as the variety of apples, stage of ripeness, how finely they are chopped before pressing, and how much they are pressed. You may also note that the more you grind the apples the darker the color of the cider will be and the more sediment will be present in the juice itself.
Instead of using a cider press, you can also squeeze out the juice from the apples using layers of cheesecloth. Quarter and puree the apples in a food processor or blender completely. Squeeze the pureed apple through a cheesecloth by twisting the top of the cloth together to form a softball-sized mass to extract as much of the juice possible. You can also line a large metal colander with a base with cheesecloth and place this inside a large metal bowl. Fold the cloth over the pureed apples and with a heavy pot, press down on the colander to squeeze out the juice into the bowl. Empty as needed. This is a labor of love.
Apple Cider Storage
All cider, whether fresh, pasteurized or frozen should be stored in sanitary containers with the pressing date clearly marked.
Fresh cider should be stored at temperatures between 35 and 40 degrees to slow the fermentation process as much as possible. Fresh apple cider will last 5 to 10 days before it begins to ferment and should be used within this time period. If you want your cider to last longer it is a good idea to pasteurize it to kill the bacteria by heating it to 160 degrees Fahrenheit but no higher than 185 degrees. Properly refrigerated pasteurized cider will last up to 3 weeks.
If you produce more fresh apple cider than you can use it is a great idea to freeze it. Remember to leave room in your container since the cider will expand when frozen. The cider will last up to one year when frozen.
Make sure you thoroughly clean all of your equipment with soap and water when you are done. It's easier to clean your equipment before the juice and apple pulp dries. If you are using a press, you can take it outside and hose it off to remove the bulk of the apples residue. Store your equipment in a clean area free of dust, dirt and other contaminants, and remember to sanitize everything before you make cider next time.
You can use your fresh cider in a variety of recipes as it goes very well with pork and ham, turkey and chicken, and even a cider vinaigrette.