After picking the apples and building the press, it was time to make the cider. It took me about a day to process the five bushels into cider and dehydrated apples. We’ve got another bushel that will be turned into desserts and apple butter in the next few weeks (I’ll post on this as well).
First, the apples have to be rinsed and quartered. They do not have to be cored, but it still takes a while to chop this many apples. Once ready, they go into a 5-gal bucket. It took about two buckets to hold one bushel. I had originally used my apple grinder to shred the apples into pumice (ground apples), but these were not ground finely enough to release their juices, so I had to resort to the food processor’s shredder. Next year I will rejigger the grinder to give a finer pumice, as it has a faster capacity and is more convenient as the pumice must be packed into a muslin sack inside the pressing bucket. The grinder has a chute to drop the apples right in, but since I used the food processor, I had to stop constantly to empty the processor’s container into the bucket, and this really slowed down progress.
As the pumice filled the first half of the bucket, I folded the corners of the muslin in over the shredded apples and put in a flat disk (a pot lid) and then added another muslin square into the top half of the bucket. This partition increases the yield as it gives more hard surfaces to build up pressure against. Once this square was filled and the corners folded over, a wooden plunger was added. The whole bucket held about a bushel of shredded apples. This whole bucket was then slid over underneath the press screw and pressure was applied by turning the screw, driving the plunger down. The full bucket was pressed down to about the half-way mark. The first part of the press goes quickly but the last few inches of pressing need a little more time and pressure. The frame creaked a bit but I got about two gallons per bucket, meaning two gallons per bushel.
The left-over apple pumice was tossed in the compost, much to the delight of my chickens. In future years, I’d like to find another use for the remains, as they have lots of fiber and nutrients left after the juice is drawn off.
Making the Cider
As the juice filled the bucket, I started pouring off a few gallons at a time into 1-gal glass jars. In each gallon of juice, I added 1 t of food urea (a yeast nutrient) and 1 t of dry wine yeast. In one gallon, I added water and honey to make cyzer (mead + cider = cyzer). In all, I ended up with 7 gal of cider, 1 gal cyzer, and 1 gal unfiltered juice. Each fermenter has a one-way airlock to keep unwanted critters out of the cider.
I did an experiment with two of the gallons. Apples have natural yeasts on their skin and will ferment without added yeast. Usually yeast is added to end up with a more uniform product as natural yeasts can give funky flavors. Two of the gallons were left to ferment naturally. While the gallons with added yeast got to bubbling within a half a day, the natural yeasts lagged behind, only starting to ferment after day two and three. As I write, I can hear them bubbling away in the pantry.
We’ll have to wait a while to find out how they taste, though, as the fermenting beverages will take about a month to finish their first stage, after which they’ll sit for a few more months. Some ciders are drinkable at that stage, but some need to sit a while longer for some off flavors to settle out.
I wanted to pasteurize the unfiltered juice because some kids will be drinking it and they have weaker immune systems. Raw, cold-pressed, unfiltered juice might harbor low levels of bugs like e. coli. I put the gallon of juice in my crock pot and brought it up to 158°F (70°C) for at least a minute before pouring it into a warmed, sterilized cider jug. Once cool, it went into the fridge. It should be good for a week or two now.
I also sliced up a half a bushel of apples and put them in the dehydrator. Each slice was about 1/8 in thick and bathed in watered-down lemon juice to keep them from browning. It took about 18 hours for them to be dried to the point that they bent without cracking but were dry enough to avoid spoilage. These pieces will be added to our oatmeal all winter.
We’ve got another bushel in the fridge which will be turned into apple butter, but that will be the subject of another post. We did make an apple pan dowdy last night though (it is basically an apple pie with no bottom crust and a slightly-submerged upper crust) that was pretty darn good.
If you’re enjoying apple season, please leave some comments or photos below.