The apples are getting ripe in our orchard and most of the varieties are producing nice, pest-free fruit this year. With an abundance of quality fruit, our family gathered over the Labor Day weekend to make ‘apple cider’. Actually, for us, it was just fresh apple juice as we did not allow it to ferment.
We began by setting up the equipment (crusher and press) and making sure it was clean. Then we headed to the orchard with buckets to pick apples from a variety of trees. We like to use a mix of apple varieties as over the years we have found that the best cider comes from a blend of sweet, tart, and aromatic apple varieties. The grand kids were the taste testers to help determine if the apples on the various trees were ripe, firm, and sweet enough. Green, immature apples give cider a flat flavor when juiced.
Apples for cider do not have to be flawless so apples with blemishes or of small size are okay. We tried to avoid picking apples with spoilage. However, if the spoilage was small and could be cut away, those apples made it into the cider press, too. Spoilage will cause the juice to ferment rapidly and ruin it.
After picking the apples, we washed them in a big tub and then set about coring and cutting them into quarters. For the most part this was a job for the adults and older kids. As the apples were cut up, they went into the crusher. After a sufficient amount of crushed apples had accumulated, the smaller kids help load the crushed apples into the press. With the weights in place, the grand kids were allowed to take turns turning the ratchet handle and were thrilled to see the juice pour out of the press into a bucket.
Next we took the fresh juice into the house and squeezed it through a jelly bag to remove as many particles as possible. Since it was our intention to not ferment the juice, we immediately pasteurized it by heating the juice to 160°F to eliminate the possibility of E coli or Salmonella poisoning. After the juice had cooled for a while, we poured it into clean, recycled juice bottles. There were lots of ‘yums!” as everyone sampled the warm juice before refrigerating it. Fresh juice or cider will keep in the refrigerator up to five days. If there is more than can be used in that time, it should be frozen after chilling.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation has additional information on making sweet, hard, or dry cider and turning apple cider into vinegar.
It was a great afternoon of family fun. In addition to making some great tasting ‘apple cider’, we made some great memories with the grand kids, too.