I never really took to cider when I was young. Everyone drunk ‘bitter’ where I lived, and often in large quantities. Cider to me, and to my bitter swilling tap room friends, was something ladies sipped in small glasses in the saloon bar, or what teenagers sneakily guzzled in darker corners of parks. Then one day a mate decided to organise a local cider festival and I offered to go and take some pictures for him. He was very much into ciders and often went touring around exotic places like Herefordshire. Thus begun my education. After a few carefully selected ‘samples’ I discovered that ciders were not what I thought they were. He quickly found one I liked. So then I offered to take some more pictures on a cider making course he was setting up, because now I wanted to know more about cider. I had stumbled into a new world.
The course, run by Mike Pooley, was excellent, and everyone on it went home at the end of the course with a smile, a demijohn or two of gently fermenting cider, and lot of useful notes.
Apple Days were becoming popular around the country and not least of all in our little valley in the Pennines. At many of them you can take your surplus apples to the event (traditionally in carrier bags it seems) and come away with apple juice, from your own apples, to drink, to freeze for later, or to make cider with. At some events there is a small charge for this service but at many it’s free.
Apple Day at a local pub. An electric ‘scratter’ and a manual press.
At the time I attended the course I had just acquired an allotment, my first, and so I planted apple trees on it. I even acquired a cutting of a Tom Putt cider apple tree and grafted it onto rootstock. It would be a few years before I got my first apples but I was happy with the situation as I had enough to be going on what with all the other allotment stuff and my beekeeping (another new hobby).
After a few years of successful wine and mead making I begun to think again about cider, about having a go at making my own. I looked forward to getting my first apples and when they eventually came on my trees I started to enquire about local apple days, now common in the area. When I mentioned this to another friend she said:
“Don’t bother, I have a press you can borrow”.
“Yeah but I need a ‘scratter’ as well” I replied, (showing off my course knowledge).
“No, just smash them up in a bucket with lump of wood, that’s how they used to do it, that’s how I do it”.
This sounded great, doing something the old fashioned way. I really started to get excited now, and smashing things up to, well I’m good at that. And my friend just happened to be Mike Pooley’s sister.
“You’ll need about 25kg for 1 gallon of juice”, she helpfully offered, “depending on the varieties used”.
I went away and recalculated, and I didn’t have 25kg, but willing friends helped me out with surplus from their trees. In the end my apples came from 3 sources and there were about 7 varieties. I remembered from my course with Mike that different varieties were better for cider making than just using one, so I was very happy.
I didn’t weigh my apples but I reckoned an old 5 gallon fermenting bin was about right and later it proved to be so, a nice rule of thumb for the future.
A 5 gallon bucket full of apples
And so one day I assembled my borrowed press, found a suitably heavy and broad bottomed lump of wood, put half a dozen apples in the bottom of a big bucket, and smashed away.
Smashing the apples with a lump of wood
The resulting mush, known as ‘pulp’, is then scooped up and put into a net bag inside the slatted walls of the little press.
The ‘pulp’ is put in a net bag in the press.
Then the press is set up and turned down to steadily increase the pressure on the apple pieces.
The press is slowly screwed down
The juice flows out.
The juice gently ouzes out and flows around the press and into a bucket
It was easier, and faster than I expected. It took about an hour, and four presses to get through all the apples, and I ended up with almost a gallon of juice. Perfect!
The demi-john slowly fills with each pressing
Once you have your juice you can add wine making yeast if you want but I decided to leave it for the natural wild yeasts to develop. I already had lots of experience of wine and mead making using wild yeasts so I was confident in this technique. (I wrote an article of Harvesting and Using Wild Yeasts, which is also on this web site).
My first cider is a brown murky mess with a couple of apple pips floating in it, but I didn’t care. The yeasts would sort the murk out and I would get the rest later. I was happy. As long as I got two or three bottles to try it would be fine, just enough to encourage me to do more next year, proper quantities.
My first cider
And so here I am, patiently waiting for my first home made cider, and practicing my Somerset accent. It took a week for the ferment to get going, for the wild yeast to multi-ply up.
Next year me and my apples might just wander along to an apple day but for now I am pleased that I tried the old fashioned way. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
The smaller the pieces the more juice you will get out.
About 5 gallons of apples will give you one gallon of juice.
Wasps love people splattered with apple juice and bits of apple.
Read the instructions that came with the press before you use it.
Asking around for spare apples is much easier than growing your own.
Bruised, blemished or windfall. It doesn’t matter.
Smashing apples in a plastic bucket results in a smashed bucket (use a big stainless steel pan next time).
Happy Apple Smashing Day
Update: May 2019 – A wonderful refreshing taste on bottling, and quite a dry cider.