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Making Apple cider is one of our fun fall projects that my daughter and I do on the years that our apple trees "over produce". It's a good way to use the extra apples, and also a good way to spend quality time together.
Home made cider tastes so much better than anything you can buy in the store that you'll never think of cider the same way again!
Back in the old days, when most country folks had a few fruit trees of their own, and there was no refrigeration, any apples that were damaged in any way could not be stored for long or they wold simply rot.
So only the best apples were segregated and put into the root cellar, and damaged apples were either made into apple sauce or apple butter and canned or ground and pressed into cider. It was just another way to get nutritional value from food that couldn't easily be stored in any other way.
Once cider is made it can be frozen or canned for long term storage, or it can be fermented into apple jack (apple wine), or converted into apple cider vinegar. There are several different tools that can be used to grind and press apples into cider - here's the way that WE do it.
Generally a good blend of sweet and tart apples make the best tasting cider. However, if you have your own orchard, you know that apple trees don't always co-operate. In any given year, your Golden Delicious may over produce, but your Winesap may not bear a single apple.
For me, making apple cider is a way to use surplus apples to avoid waste and spoilage. Not to mention the fact that my family all loves cider.
When we made this batch we had an overabundance of Jonathan apples.
The first thing that needs to be done before you even think about starting making apple cider, is to wash everything thoroughly. All equipment (knives, shredder blades, press, bowls, bottles, etc.) need to be washed in hot soapy water.
The apples need to be cleaned in a bucket or tub of water. Even if the apples are fresh from the tree, it's best to clean them before processing.
Once the apples are cleaned, they need to be processed into small pieces. The smaller the pieces, the more juice can be extracted from the apples. This can be accomplished by chopping, grinding or shredding.
There are commercially available apple grinders out there and they do a great job reducing apples to tiny pieces. Because I work on a relatively small scale, we use a food processor with a shredder blade to shred our apples.
Most apples are too large to fit into the feed tube on a food processor, so we have to halve or quarter most of them before shredding. It's also a good idea to remove any large bruised places.
Some folks will go to the extent of coring their apples before shredding or grinding, but In my opinion, there's no real need to do that.
Yes, I know apple seeds have a small amount of arsenic in them, but the pressing process doesn't apply enough pressure to crush the seeds or extract anything from them.
Once you have your apples ground up, you need to extract the juice from them.
We use an old sausage press to do the job. I've also heard this referred to as a lard press.
Either way, the crank handle and threaded feed mechanism applies enough force to extract juice from the apples.
I picked this item up at an antique store a few years back for about 20 dollars. Lord knows how old it is or what it's really worth.
We have to process in small batches of about a gallon of shredded apples at a time.
Our press will extract around 3 pints (give or take a cup) of juice from each gallon batch of shredded apples.
There are probably more efficient methods to extract more juice, but for us, it's all about using what we have available.
There are commercially available cider presses (also called fruit presses) available on the market, and even plans with hardware so that you can build your own, but they tend to be a bit pricey. And they probably don't work a bit better than my old press.
Once we have a batch of juice extracted, we'll pour it into a clean glass or plastic juice bottle or milk jug.
The strainer basket inside the press will hold back most of the solids, but a little will still get through, so we pour it through a strainer nested in a funnel as we pour it into the bottles.
I used to just dump the pressed apple shreds on my compost pile, but some of our chickens (usually our bantams) seem to always find a way to get out of their pen and eat most of them anyway, so now I just dump them in the chicken yard. The girls seem to just love digging and scratching through them!
In my opinion, freshly pressed apple cider doesn't have that distinctive "cider" flavor, it just tastes like apple juice.
I have found that leaving the jugs sit out on the kitchen counter overnight, with the caps loose allows enough oxidation to occur that by the next morning it will taste like cider should taste.
Once it has reached that point, tighten the caps and refrigerate.
Anyone who has let cider sit in their fridge too long knows that it will turn "winey" tasting after a couple of weeks. This suggests a couple of uses for cider beyond just drinking it. Of course there's nothing wrong with "just" drinking it...
Cider can be fermented into a fine apple wine that some folks call "Apple Jack". Follow the procedures from my making wine page. The key to success with Apple Wine is to allow it to age after bottling for a year before drinking it.
I've made apple wine before that smelled so awful while I was bottling it, I was ready to pour it out. Fortunately I stuck with it, because after a full year of aging, it turned out to be one of the finest batches of wine I ever made - of any type.
Cider can also be converted into vinegar, buy a process called acetobacter fermemtation, which uses bacteria instead of the yeasts used for winemaking. Follow the procedures in my making vinegar page.
Making apple cider from your own home grown surplus apples is an easy way to convert them into something thing tasty and useful, when they might otherwise go to waste. It's an easy job - nothing difficult about it.
It can also be a fun family project on a beautiful fall day that teaches your kids about thrift and efficient use of home grown foods. Learning how to make and process apple cider is just one more skill you can add to your library of self sufficient living.