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The ManyTracks Orchard


Fresh Apple Cider


pressing apple cider

 

    Fresh from the press, or lightly fermented, or canned for later enjoyment, homemade apple cider is a deceptively simple beverage that has no need of fancy labels, advertising or marketing. Once tasted, forever loyal.

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Cider
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2022 September 19 -- Cider Time

I stepped into the root cellar to add another box of apples and realized the only place to put it was where I was standing. I'd been drying apples and saucing apples and eating apples but that just wasn't enough. It was time to make cider! And the day presented itself, not too hot, not too cold, just enough clouds, just enough sun. Life can be so good. And so is the cider! It had been three years since we'd had a bumper crop of apples enough to press so we were very ready for some fresh brew. Five half bushels, about 100 lbs, of Beacon and Dudley apples, soon (well, after a couple of hours) emerged as 4 1/2 gallons of fresh sweet cider.

cider pressing time September 19, 2022

Half of the pressings went into clean buckets to be made into vinegar and half onto the compost pile to add their own contribution to the garden. The cider was heated and canned to keep it from turning into hard cider (while interesting that wasn't what we wanted). Any unsuitable apples (and there weren't many) went into the woods for our local deer (usually two does and their current offspring) who do a good job of keeping the small pile of rejects cleaned up.

There are more apples to be pressed -- it was truly a bumper healthy apple year -- but we find this amount to be just right to enjoy the pressing. Thankfully apples are patient and will contentedly wait in the root cellar for the next "right" day to make cider. It's still happily crowded in the cellar but we can now walk all the way in.


2019 September 25 -- Cider Day!

We're blessed with an abundance of apples this year which means it's a cider year! There is nothing quite like the taste of fresh pressed cider, and the only way to get that is to be right there, cup in hand, as the juice starts flowing from the press. Mmmmm! Enjoy all you can that first day because left to its own devices it soon starts turning. Now for some folks that's the whole point - they're going for hard cider. We prefer sweet cider, so stop the process fairly early. But the first step is to gather the apples.

apples for ciderWe've made many a cider with mostly just one variety of apple - Beacon in our earlier years, along with whatever wild apples were ripe. Two years ago it was Dudley's, which made a real good juice (as do the Beacon's). It just depends on what is available. This year it was about half/half Beacon and Dudley with a smaller amount from one of our wild seedling trees, Splitter. It's a "Duchess type" which is pretty common around here, a good tart-sweet September apple. The Beacons were interesting because this is the first year since we did major cut back of the two tree that we had a good harvest (so nice to have them back!), enough for both sauce and cider. Secondly, while one tree had beautiful, blemish free clean fruit the other one's fruit had a significant watercore, almost getting to the "rot" stage. I was a bit bummed by that but when I cut into a well watercored fruit and tasted it I realized it was tasty and would do just fine for cider. Watercore tends to sweeten an apple. Unfortunately, it also makes it not keep as wellpressing cider. That wasn't a problem - all those apples were going right into cider.

This is a bit earlier than we usually press, but those Beacons were ready and the root cellar was getting crowded with baskets of apples. It was a lightly cool day, no rain, just right to take a few hours off from firewood and gardening and enjoy this enjoyable homestead event. So we did. I washed apples and tossed them into the chopper; Steve operated the press, slowly squeezing the pulp as the golden pink juice ran into the pot. A lone yellow jacket arrived to keep us company. Cider making would not be the same without the yellow jackets. Unfortunately we have very few nowdays; a state we certainly hope is temporary. But the one lone y.j. did his best to get in the way however he could.

Two hours and 100 pounds of apples (about 5 - 5 gallon buckets) later we had 4 1/2 gallons of sweet, sweet cider. Ambrosia of the gods for sure.

Two days later the cider had gone past the super sweet sticky stage and I canned the batch (after drinking all we could fresh!). This stops the fermenting progress and is where we like it, with just a touch of zing. Sometimes it takes four days, it just depends. Heating the cider to the boiling point does change the flavor some but it is still very good drinking, and will be enjoyed all winter. It goes boiling hot into jars with regular canning lids then set aside to cool. The regular "pop" of the metal lids as each quart seals is a welcome music in the kitchen during canning time.

They are more apples coming and more cider to be made - a very happy situation to look forward to. We sure appreciate our apple trees!


2017 October 9 - Cider Timepressing cider

It's been quite a few years since we've had extra apples to make cider but finally this year our Dudley tree came through with a great harvest. We ate them fresh, I dried them, I made sauce, and I saved out the smalls and damaged ones for cider. Today was the perfect cool fall day for pressing. We didn't have a lot compared to previous years of many bushels of apples to press but were very happy to get what we did. And it was very good - sweet and thick. Much sweeter than I expected from the Dudley's as they are more tart than sweet eaten fresh. We drank some and I canned the rest. We prefer sweet over fermented cider, though I usually will let it go for a few days to get a bit of a zing to it before canning. Next time though I'm going to save out more apples for cider. I had forgotten how good it is.


pile apples loading into wheelbarrow

1995 - 2015 -- Twenty years since we had made our first batch of apple cider. Not many notes from that first entry into cider making, except that we made 14 gallons and gave 4 away. Another year it was 15 gallons and I made some of it into cider vinegar (really nice cider vinegar!). We were borrowing friends' large, antique, very heavy hand cranked cider chopper/press those first years. It did a great job, but it took more than a little muscle, several people and a sturdy trailer or truck to move the unit. One had to be serious about making cider, and plenty of apples to make it worth while to bother getting and returning this old, very well built, machine. So we didn't do it very often. But that cider was wonderful!

Finally in 2003 Steve noticed an ad in the paper for a 'kit' press. A press of our own sure would be handy, so we went to see it. It was a much smaller unit, 2x4 frame, small chopper. The folks had used it off and on but now that their kids were gone decided they didn't need it any more. I was a bit skeptical. Compared to the hunky unit we'd been using this was definitely light-weight. But it had a nice sturdy basket and screw press. And being light weight did have its advantages - we could move it without worrying about putting our backs out. It became ours. It was a hand cranked unit and I think that lasted only that first season before it soon sported an electric motor for the chopper. It took some fiddling and trial and error with different sized pulleys before Steve got the combination right so it didn't throw the apples right back at you if you didn't get the lid on really fast when putting apples into the chopper.

It was a poor apple year that year but this is where the press really shined. Making cider made use of the scabby, mis-formed, small, culls - and that's all we had, a mix of fruit from our wild trees and tame. Definitely an 'off' year. But we got 4 delicious gallons of cider, and found out that this small chopper/press was well suited to the job. Easy to clean, easy to store, and up to the big harvests as well. The next year we made 25 gallons! That was a good apple year. The nice thing was we could do small batches or large, and easily fit it into our schedule. Plus we could, and did, lend this easily moved unit to friends to use.

The apple mix changes every year so the cider has a flavor unique to that year, but it has always been good. We found that we like it just slightly fermented, about four days, then I can it. The apples are easiest to chop, and press best, when somewhere between fresh crisp and too soft. The flavor is better when the apples have aged some. A half bushel makes about 3 quarts of cider, though this varies depending on what apples we have. The only time I've added sweetening is one year when all we had was wild sour apples and some mild Wolf Rivers. But with a bit of brown sugar even this 'not best' mix of apples made a good beverage.


Copyright Susan Robishaw


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