Sunday, 2 February 2014

Cider time

Chilling in my pallet chair
sipping on home-made apple cider. 

The sweet life. 
So it's that time of year when we rack off our cider. For me, cider is like bottled sunshine. In a previous post on this blog I mentioned how there was no shortage of apple in Norfolk last year. It's been an amazing year for top fruits (namely apple and pears). We've collected a large quantity of apples and made apple juice and lots of apple cider. Last week we sampled our cider and decided that it was time to rack off. It was me best cider yet. Slightly tangy but not bitter and goes down smooth. It's amazingly simple to make cider and well worth it if you find yourself with a large surplus of apples (or pears). I'll take you through the process I used to make our apple cider this time round.
Cleaning and pressing apples
First step is to collect some apples. I think the more varieties you can get hold of the better. It's said that to make good cider you need at least three different varieties of apples. A mixture of cookers, deserts and crab apples is used. Cookers for the acid, deserts apples for the sugar and crabs for the tannin. Using too many desert apples will give a bland taste. According to the experts the best blend is probably 65% cooking apples and 35% dessert apples and if possible 10% crab apples as well. The proportions we used was more like 70% deserts, 20% cookers and 10% crabs. The proportions you use would more than likely be determined by the variety of apples available to you. I honestly think that proportions are not too important if you're making simply for your and family and friends' consumption. as long as you have a few different varieties you should be fine. So we collected all the apples we would need and left them to sit on the ground for at least a week to macerate. Maceration is simply softening of the fruit. By leaving apples to sit off the tree will cause them to macerate. It is important that the apples are fully ripe to ensure the sugar levels are at their highest and soft as it is very hard work to mill and crush hard apples.
Ready for racking (re-bottling).
Fermented apple juice and syphon pump.
Once we collected enough apples and they were well macerated we got an apple press in and after crushing the apples began pressing. We used a traditional 12lt basket fruit press, and the juice went straight into demijohns for the fermentation process. The secret here is to use clean containers for the fermentation process, and if it's practical for you pass the juice through a sieve or muslin to remove any bits from the crushing. We cleaned our containers by washing them with soap very hot water. In the past I have used campden tablet to sterilize my containers but If I can avoid it I rather not use any synthetic chemicals. Washing the containers well seems to work fine. It is my understanding that the during fermentation it is important that air does not enter the container, but the gases created during fermentation should be allowed to escape. For this to happen we used an airlock on each contained. I have seen versions without the use of airlocks where you simply vent the container every few days by loosen the cork slightly then tightening again. The danger here is that if you forget to vent the container might explode undoing all your hard work. There are many ways of excluding air from fermentation but we used simple cider airlocks.
Syphon cider (L), sediment (R).
After about 4 months the fermentation stops. and it's time to rack off the cider. During fermentation the gases released causes the water in the airlock to bubble. Once this stops the fermentation process is over. The next stage is to get the liquid in the containers separated from the sediment at the bottom. The longer you wait to separate the more likely the sediment will taint the flavour of your cider. The sediment is dead yeast and all the bits of fruit that were not sieved out. The remove the liquid from the settled sediment we used a manual syphon pump. You can use a simple tube long enough to get into the container and whose outlet is lower than the inlet. The trick here is to syphon from the centre of the container trying not to disturb the sediment at the bottom. I leave about an inch or two of liquid above the sediment to ensure that I get as little disturbance as possible. I don't waste this inch of cider. I just don't bottle it.
Bottled for immediate
Once the cider has been re-bottled (racked) we cleaned and replaced the airlocks and stored the cider until we're ready to drink. I like to keep the airlocks in place just in-case fermentation starts up again. This year we managed to rack off 30lt with another 25lt to go. The cider is great and gets me nice and tipsy but not too drunk, and the best part is that you don't wake up with a hangover. I highly recommend everyone have a go at making cider. It's a great way to store and some of your summer produce. I've kept cider for two season and it still tasted as good as the day it was racked. Goon, have a go. It's simple, cheap and very rewarding.          
Bottled for storage.

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