For Bramley Apple Week Monica Shaw will be celebrating with her own homebrewed cider. She shares how much fun it is to make at home.
I've been pretty lucky with my current living situation: I live in a converted barn called "Orchard Cottage", so called because there's an apple orchard literally in my back yard.
Anyone who has apple trees knows that one of the year's most entertaining challenges is making use of an apple glut. For the past two years, I've been using my deluge of apples to make my own cider.
Why make cider? It's fun, fascinating, delicious and, if you've got the apples, relatively cheap - all you need are some demijohn containers and some airlocks, available at any decent homebrew shop. Commercial cider is made with "cider apples" but you can do this with whatever apple you have around, including Bramley apples, crab apples, eating apples or a combination of what you have on hand. In fact, part of the fun is experimenting with different apples and comparing the results.
You also need a cider press to juice those apples, but this is where your friends come in - no matter where you live, chances are someone in your community has a cider press, which is really at the heart cider's beauty: it brings people together for the greater good (and alcohol!).
The process of making cider is pretty easy: make juice and leave it to ferment, a process that turns the juice's sugar into alcohol. In a few more words, here's been my experience:
1. Collect a bunch of apples.
2. Juice the apples.
This requires first pulping the apples and then pressing the pulp into juice.
If you can find someone with a good electric mill and industrial press, become their best friend - chances are anyone who is enthusiastic enough about cider to own these devices is going to be pretty swell by default. These new apple presses are much quicker, cleaner and easier than traditional apple presses. This means less time press and more time talking and tasting! Last year, I found such a press at Court Farm in Somerset, a holiday cottage that also has an apple orchard and offers a self-pressing service. This year I stayed closer to home and pressed apples the old-fashioned way. Let's just say, once you go New School apple pressing, you can never go back.
3. Put the juice in a container with an airlock (a device that keeps the air out while still letting carbon dioxide, a bi-product of fermentation, escape)
Bonus step: use a hydrometer to measure the amount of sugar in your apple juice; this will give you a rough gauge of how alcoholic the resulting cider will be.
4. Leave the juice to ferment for a few weeks - it'll make little bubble sounds as the carbon dioxide escapes the air lock and make for a very pleasant soundtrack to your winter. After a few weeks, the bubbling will slow down and you'll be left with a bunch of sediment at the bottom of the container. (You can use your hydrometer at this point to check if there's any sugar left in the juice - if not, you're ready for step 5!)
5. Pour the liquid into a new container, leaving most of that sediment behind (this is called "racking off"). You can add a bit of sugar if you'd like for a sweeter cider. This starts off a secondary fermentation cycle.
6. After a few more weeks, you can drink the cider, or add a little more sugar and pour it into bottles (swing-top glass bottles or plastic screw-top bottles are best). Seal the bottles and let the cider sit for a few more weeks, during which time it will get all carbonated and bubbly. There's nothing like sparkly cider on a warm day, and you get to use the cool phrase "bottle-conditioned"!
I've hugely simplified the process, and you can get super nerdy about the chemistry of it all, but this too is part of the fun. This year I experimented with varying the amount of added sugar to my cider and produced a range of results, some very dry, others almost Magners-esque, all brilliantly fizzy and almost dangerously drinkable.
What little cider you don't drink can be used in cooking where you can treat cider as you would wine. Cider mussels are especially good, or try it with firm white fish like John Dory or with roast chicken.
If you're keen to give cider making a go, I recommend picking up a copy of Cider Making on a Small Scale by Michael Pooley and John Lomax which is full of useful advice for newbies, including an indispensible flow chart that really simplifies the whole process. And if you really want to get into the nerdy biochemistry side of things, Andrew Lea's Craft Cider Making is essential.
So, who wants a taste?
Have you ever made cider? Have you used it in recipes as Monica suggests? Let us know over on Great British Chefs Facebook page.
Hi Chiliberto - no yeast is added. Traditional cider making relies on wild yeast - the yeast that it's in the air and all around - to kick start the fermentation. Much like sourdough!
6 November 2013
Hi Monica, I am a first timer at cider !!! Have made Pear wine in the past that was very passable )))
I have used a liquidiser to break the apples down, and had to add some water in the process. I managed to get them in to demijohns, and fitted airlocks. It has been 3 days now and there is absolutely nothing happening !!!!!!!!!!
Would it be worth transfering to a bucket and adding some yeast ???
Please help as it would be a shame to waste all the apples (((
Keep on brewing.
6 November 2013
Hi Chiliberto - I'm glad you liked the post. I do not find that I need to add yeast to the juice - there are naturally occurring yeasts in the air that seem to work marvelously. However, different environments might not be so conducive, and indeed many people (certainly commercial cider makers) add wine as soon as possible after the juice has been pressed. If you're really interested, check out the book I mentioned - Real Cidermaking on a Small Scale - and see p55 which explains in more detail. Hope this helps!
14 March 2013
I love the article, and the photography is beautiful. But I didn't see the addition of yeast in any of your steps. Isn't that needed to make alcohol?
14 March 2013