At the end of October, a lovely holiday in Cornwall yielded an unexpected bonus – three sacks of apples from the orchard where we stayed. There was only one thing to do – make cider! Only one problem – I didn’t have a cider press. We’ve been faffing about building one for the last couple of years, but hadn’t got round to it. A bit of pleading and cajoling later, and I’d managed to score a brand new apple press for an early Christmas present – what a result!
Of course, apples don’t just press themselves. Real cider making – unlike most of the country skills in this blog – is time consuming (and good exercise!). Set aside a nice sunny autumn day, and if you can talk some friends into coming around to help, so much the better.
For an idea of how much apple juice you’re likely to produce, we got a yield of just over a gallon per bag of apples – the bags are the sort you buy logs in. It’s possible that with more practice and different equipment we may have done slightly better, but I doubt there was much waste.
As well as apples – lots of apples, all different sorts if possible – you will require:
- a cider press – bought or home-built
- a robust bucket, and a crushing pole (or a proper scratter, but they’re expensive) – we did try a cheap plastic bucket from B&Q but caved the bottom in very quickly, so ended up using a carefully washed old metal wastepaper bin
- a large bucket for washing apples in – I used a big garden trug – and clean water
- knife and chopping board
- sieve / colander and muslin for straining
- bucket or demijohn for collecting the juice
- wine yeast and yeast nutrient (optional)
A quick note on sterility, first. Home-brewers are obsessed with sterilising things. I am not washing my apples in camden to kill off wild yeasts, my ingredients (the apples) and tools (wooden equipment and press components) will not be sterile. But do wash everything very carefully in hot soapy water (not the apples, obviously), and rinse them carefully before using. There is general advice to avoid metal tools and receptacles when cider pressing – we used a metal bin for crushing in the absence of any alternative – it was enamelled and in good condition, and does not appear to have caused any obvious problems, I suspect because the apples and juice were not in contact with it for very long.
If you have time (and let’s face it, if you’re planning for next year, time is on your side!) there are various plans for DIY presses on the internet, or have a look at some old-fashionned presses, they’re quite simple things really. I was going to build something using a car jack for the pressing mechanism. My lovely bought press has a 6l capacity which seems about right for domestic production – the bottleneck on our two-man production process was the crushing stage.
Start by washing your apples in the big bucket, you can do this quite a large batch at a time. Then slice the apples up into quarters or eighths, discarding any obviously bruised or damaged areas. Transfer these a batch at a time into your crushing bucket.
To crush you could use something like a new clean round-section piece of timber, we bodged a crusher together out of a small piece of inch-square timber we had and a plum-wood log, trimmed and stripped of it’s bark and formed into a blunt wedge at the end. Avoid using anything which has been treated with timber preservative as it will be in intimate contact with your apples. Make sure the pole is long enough that you can use it in a comfortable standing position above your bucket, or you’ll hurt your back and shoulders.
Now crush your apples to a rough pulp, until they’re making a wet squelching noise when the pole goes down and there’s just some free juice in the mixture. The aim is to make it easy to extract the best juice yield you can from your precious apple harvest, so do put in the effort here, our first batch was definitely under-crushed and we got much less juice from this than from subsequent ones.
Now load up your press. Mine has a mashing bag to retain most of the solids within the press, some will use muslin cheeses or other approaches. Once the press is loaded, apply pressure slowly, building it up over a few minutes, rather than trying to get the press as tight as possible straight away.
Collect your juice into a bucket through a muslin to take more of the solids out. It’s ok to taste some juice at this stage (and it should taste absolutely awesome!). It will look… well, dirty brown coloured, probably. This is a result of being hardly-filtered, and the tannins in the apple juice reacting with oxygen. Don’t worry about this. The leftover apple pulp (‘pommace’) can be fed to livestock, or composted. My hens loved it, but be careful not to overdo it. The rest can be composted.
At some point you will run out of daylight, apples, or energy. At this stage you’re done. Admire the juicy product of your labours. At the moment you have unprocessed, unfiltered, unpasteurised apple juice. Smells marvellous, looks decidedly suspect.
Next time, we make the juice into cider – that’s proper, ‘hard cider’ to any Americans reading!