Making Cider on the cheap

After picking 3 bags of apples from a number of trees over the past few weeks, I decided to do something different than just putting them in other things as a secondary ingredient. I decided to make cider.

There isn’t a lot of information on the web about this, and that which there is usually requires expensive and often hard to source items like a traditional wooden fruit press. However, not wanting to make this much of a investment in something I very well may only use once, I decided to make something myself using equipment I had to hand.

What I used:

  • Apples (picked wild or scrumped preferably rather than bought in a supermarket)
  • Smoothie maker
  • Workmate bench
  • Piece of hardwood cut in two (each piece roughly 2′ by 3′)
  • 2 pairs of tights
  • Young’s Super Wine Yeast Compound (Available from Wilkinson’s about £2 for 60g)
  • Young’s Pectolase (Available from Wilkinson’s £0.79 for 17g)
  • An assortment of bottles, bowls and jars.
  1. First, I cut the piece of hardwood into two (important to use hardwood so that apple juice isn’t absorbed into the wood) of roughly the same size. I then assembled the workmate bench and placed the two pieces of wood vertically into the vice.
  2. I then put some apples cut into roughly 1″ – 2″ pieces  into the smoothie maker, and after a bit of messing around with the end of a long spoon moving the pieces around, got them to blend into a brown slushy half-liquidy mess. I then put one of the pairs of tights into the other, and poured the apple mixture into them. At this point it is crucial to have a large bowl handy, as juice will start pouring out as soon as the mixture is put under any pressure.
  3. I squeezed the initial juice out into a bowl by hand, and when I was able to hold the mixture in the tights without juice leaking everywhere, put the mixture between the two pieces of wood in the workmate. This was more difficult than it sounds, and would best be attempted with 2 people, but I managed alone by placing the mixture in the tights between the wood horizontally, and then slowly rotated it diagonally and slipped it into the vice while still diagonal. I then tightened the vice with one hand, the other holding the wood. It is important (if you are using tights to hold the apple mixture) to keep the legs of the tights above where the main mixture is being held, as juice tends to travel down or across them and leak in awkward places. Ensure you have a large bowl or bucket underneath the vice to catch the juice.
  4. While the mixture is being squeezed, you can go back and prepare the next lot of mixture in the smoothie maker. I left each mixture for about 5 minutes in the vice, and although I am sure I could have got a lot more juice out of them in a longer period, felt that I had already got a substantial amount. After the 5 minutes, I re-tightened the vice which gave an increase in flow for a few seconds. However, it is important not to tighten too hard as this can damage or snap the workmate’s vice joints. I also moved the wood around to ensure that it was not just the centre of the mixture that was being squeezed, but the entire thing. When you are satisfied with the amount of juice you have gained from the mixture, loosen the vice and remove mixture form the wood. Empty the contents of the tights (it should be a dry, crumbly brown mess smelling strongly of apples) into a spare bowl to either throwaway or compost.
  5. After the juicing, I decanted the juice into a large preserve jar, and gave it 10 or 15 minutes to settle whilst cleaning up the equipment. Once settled I added a teaspoon of Pectolase (which should help the juice to clear up) and a generous sprinkling of the Wine Yeast.

I used roughly half of one of the bags of apples I collected (probably about 20 – 30 small – medium sized apples) and got enough juice to fill a 2-litre preserve jar, just for a reference to how much juice you may get.

What I would do differently if I did it again:

  • Drill or carve channels into the wood of the press to guide the juice rather than have it going anywhere.
  • Use a different method to pulp the apples – as the smoothie maker kept getting jammed with apples.

I plan to leave the cider for a month or so, at which point I might move it into smaller bottles. After the rebottling, I will leave it another few months, as I hear that home made cider is supposed to mellow and become tastier with time. I will probably attempt to drink it at Christmas and will report back with my results. I hope this post will help someone else to make their own scrumpy cider, and if you do attempt it, please let me know your experiences.

Luke

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