Making cider at home is a very rewarding way of using apples, which might otherwise go to waste, to produce a refreshing and wholesome drink. Cider is fermented pure apple juice and can be made from almost any variety of apple. Cider apples produce a deep coloured slightly bitter cider whilst a paler cider is produced from dessert and cooking varieties. Most home cider makers make use of the apples they have to hand. Choose ripe fruit, avoiding unripe early windfalls or those apples which may have been shed early due to drought. Ripeness is important because ripe fruit will contain the highest sugar levels and it is the sugar level which will determine the potential alcohol level of the finished cider. Bruised and slightly browned apples are acceptable but avoid rotten fruit.
Apples must be crushed before pressing; the degree of pressing will determine the yield of fruit from the press. One method is to place the apples in a strong tub and to pound them with a length of heavy timber, 4” x 4” is ideal. Alternatively, purpose built apple crushers are available to hire or buy, which reduce the fruit to a suitable consistency for pressing without the brute force of pounding.
Once pulped the juice can be pressed. For small scale pressing, basket presses are used, which consist of a cylinder into which the pulp is poured and a piston which is driven into the cylinder by means of a screw. The juice escapes through gaps in the cylinder and is collected in a channel in the base of the press.
Once pressed the juice should be poured into food grade containers. Check the Specific Gravity. This is likely to be between 1040, which will give about 5% alcohol, and 1065 which gives about 8.5 % alcohol. If the gravity is below 1040, or a stronger cider is preferred, then sugar can be added to raise the gravity.
In the traditional process nothing is added to the juice, the naturally occurring yeasts are left to bring about the fermentation of the juice, converting the apple sugars to alcohol. Modern cider makers add at least two extras, sulphur dioxide in the form of campden tablets, and then a cultured wine yeast. The sulphur dioxide subdues some wild yeasts and bacteria and thus reduces the risk of spoilage of the cider. Add two crushed campden tablets per gallon, and after 24 hours add a sachet of Gervin No 3 yeast per container of juice holding up to 5 gallons.
Keep the fermenting cider at a steady temperature of about 15 C. The initial fermentation is usually quick and violent. Make sure that any overflow will not cause a problem. As soon as possible fit an airlock to the container and from now on try and avoid air contact with the cider, keeping all containers topped up.The fermentation should take from 10 days to 10 weeks. When the gravity drops to 1005 or below the cider should be racked carefully into another container leaving behind the sediment and solids. Ensure that the newly filled container is topped up to exclude air and that an airlock is fitted. Store the containers in a cool place and if more sediment forms over the next few months then repeat the racking process.
The finished cider should be treated with one campden tablet per gallon, stored in bulk and when ready for drinking racked into smaller containers such as bottles.
So choose reasonably sound apples. Crush and press the fruit to produce the juice. To each gallon of juice add 2 campden tablets. After 24 hours add one sachet of Gervin No 3 yeast to each container of up to 5 gallons. Place the container in a warm place and fit an airlock as soon as possible. Fermentation can take from 10 days to 10 weeks.When finished syphon the cider into a clean container and top up to exclude all air. Put the container in a cool place to speed up the clearing process. Your cider should be ready for drinking by early summer. Some ciders clear, others remain slightly cloudy. This does not impair the drinking quality. If you would like a sweet cider mix up a little sugar and water to make a syrup- add this to the cider prior to drinking. Do not add sugar to the cider before bottling, this may cause an explosion due to fermentation in the bottle.
This recipe is abbreviated, with the authors permission, from the booklet ‘Basic Cider & Juice Making’ written by Alex Hill of Vigo Ltd.