Cider Season … It’s here and we’ve started processing!

There are two things we are seriously passionate about … chickens and apples.

Now while I could talk about either topic for hours, today was all about the amazing bounty of fresh Summer apples … and turning those little gems into cider!

There are plenty of online sites out there that describe the ins-and-outs of making cider. So we won’t do that, rather, lets see how we go about making our cider. Here is a rough summary…

  1. Collect apples
  2. Clean apples
  3. Cut and juice apples
  4. Pasteurise the juice
  5. Clean and dry the vat
  6. Mix in the yeast
  7. Ferment (stage 1)
  8. Siphon and bottle
  9. Ferment (stage 2)
  10. Drink and enjoy!

Collect apples

There are a lot of different aspects you need to consider when choosing apples for cider. For us, we use a juicy fruit which has a nice crisp flavour but not too sweet. We have visited hundreds of feral apple trees and found some favourites. The fruit from this tree is no exception. It is a small tree, standing only 3.5-4m tall with an upright habit, but every year, it is laden with so much fruit that the branches are always bent under the weight of them. The fruit with a red blush was on the outer branches, exposed to sunlight, whereas the green ones were well covered with leaves and did not receive any direct light.

This year, we collected around 30kg from this one tree. Not bad for a freebie!

Clean apples

We always give our apples a good wash before juicing them. We fill a tub with water and add around one cup of vinegar. When we put the apples in, we remove any leaves and ensure that there are no seriously damaged fruit. This little tree has never had any fruit fly or codling moth in all the years we have visited it. We can only dream of having such luck on our new farm! *sigh*

Cut and juice apples

To make sure that there are no wriggling surprises in the apples, we slice them through once. After going through around 10kg of the apples, there was not a single insect larvae found! So we stopped that and just juiced the whole fruit for the last 20kg. We use a regular juicer, which means that there is a foam created on top of the extracted juice due to the aeration produced by the spinning juicing disk. You can use a pressure juicer if you want, and this won’t produce the foam like ours.

 

Some common fruit problems.

Apples, like all fruit, are not always perfect straight from the tree. When fruit growers harvest their own fruit, they have to grade them. The best fruit is sold as fresh edible produce and the rest are either fed to animals or juiced. As we harvested our fruit from a feral tree, the only care taker was Mother Nature … and while She can create some amazing things, Her idea of pretty is not the same as ours. Here are a couple of ailments you might find on feral fruit…

Bird or Fruit Bat Damage

Feral apples are a great food source for wild animals. Even in managed fruit crops, orchard growers need to ensure that their fruit is protected from all sorts of critters and insects alike. In our up-coming orchard, we need to contend with protecting our crop from rabbits, wombats, kangaroos, fruit bats, possums, fruit fly, coddling moth and birds (especially cockatoos) to name the worst offenders. It’s a delicate balance. But fruit that has been attacked by animals is still salvageable for cider as long as the fruit flesh has not been damaged. Simply cut off the affected area and juice away. The following images are examples of bird damage (note the pitting) and  of fruit bat damage (note the smooth scrapped sections) respectively.

Fungus and bruising

Some fungus is only skin deep. This particular fungus is a dry rot. It sets in under specific conditions and creates small indentations in the skin of the affected fruit, covered with a dark scab like substance. Although it looks horrible, this is a purely an aesthetic issue. When you cut through the flesh, only the bruising affects anything below the skin. You can remove these parts of the apple, but as we pasteurise our juice, we leave it on.

Scab and bruising

One the fruit below, you can see a bump with a scabby section on it. This is a form of apple scab, a fungus that again affects the skin of fruit under certain conditions. You can also see bruising under the skin from when we picked the fruit (we were not delicate in the process and had some throwing competitions at some points … great memories but not too good for the fruit!). In the second image, you can see how, on cutting the apple directly through the scab, there is no imperfection in the flesh except the bruising.

 

Pasteurise the juice

Once the juice is in the pot, we move the pot to a stove and bring it to the boil for several minutes. This ensures that the correct temperature is reached to kill off any bacteria from the apples. While you can simply use unpasteurised juice, we are aiming for a consistent flavour. That and the fact that the fruit came from a feral tree on the roadside of a major highway means that we would rather be safe than sorry!

Once the juice has been pasteurised, we skim off the frothy layer and let it cool a bit. The froth will float to the surface and congeal as it cools (apples are high in pectin, which is used as a jam setting agent). Once it has congealed, it is easy to skim off the top with a ladle.

Clean and dry the vat

While the juice is cooling, we clean out the fermenting vat and sterilise it. We are using a 30L vat available from your local brewers shop. We then pour the juice in and wait for it to cool. We supplemented our juice with that from our local orchard, Cedar Creek Orchard, who do amazing apple juice from their trees.

Mix in the yeast

Once the temperature has dropped down, we add the least. We are using a champagne yeast, 10g to the whole vat. This is enough to kick start the fermentation process. Simply add the yeast to the warm juice, stir it through, seal it with a lid and airlock, then let it do its thing for a few weeks.

Ferment (stage 1)

Fermenting is the process of converting the sugars in the juice using microbial activity into either an acid a gas and/or alcohol. There are lots of natural yeasts but we find that using a specific strain is best to ensure you get consistent results. During the fermentation process, the vat will give off lots and lots of gas. We need to monitor the airlock regularly to ensure that there is enough fluid in the S-bend to ensure that no oxygen gets into the vat.

This stage of the fermentation cycle is always good for laughs as, when all is quite in our house, there are random gurgles and bubbles heard from the air lock of the cider vat. We keep the vat in our laundry where the temperature is the most stable and it is well ventilated too. We managed to get a photo of some gas escaping. You can just see it in the image below on the right hand side of the S-bend in the air lock.

Siphon and bottle

(to be updated in late February)

Ferment (stage 2)

(to be updated in March)

Drink and enjoy!

(to be updated in March)

 

 

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