Apple cider has a special place in my heart thanks to fond childhood memories of pressing apples, and I haven’t done a DIY post in a while, so I thought it would be the perfect subject to dive into. Let’s start by defining what we’re discussing, since many people are confused with the subtle difference between apple cider and apple juice. Cider is made by crushing apples and squeezing the fluid out, juice is made by taking cider and clarifying/filtering it to make it clear, as well as sweetening it. Cider contains a fair amount of sediment and is cloudy, juice usually is not. Juice is made from cider, and cider is the original juice… got it? Great!
Making apple cider is incredibly easy, gratifying, and delicious. The biggest investment is in the press, of course, but there are plenty of DIY options to get around buying a full-up press. If you choose to purchase one, I would suggest Lehman’s as a good source, or you can purchase plans from Planet Whizbang to build your own. When we made our cider last fall, I had the distinct pleasure of using the original press that I grew up with. My sister had inherited it, and was happy to lend it to us for our adventure. It was only a little worse for wear than I remember, and required a ratchet strap or two in order to keep things together, but in the end the cider came gushing out just the same.
Keep in mind that all apples were not created equal. Some have been developed for eating (Fuji, Honeycrisp, Cameo), others baking (Granny Smith, Crispin, Rome), and some for cidering (Harrison, Campfield, Yates). Never heard of some of those, you say? Unfortunately apples, like everything else in our food system, are falling victim to the “one size fits all” mentality, and we’re losing more varieties every year. Once you find your favorite apples, remember that they don’t have to be perfect to make cider with. In fact, crushing them up and squeezing the juice is a great way to use “seconds” or “drops”, those apples with bruises, worm holes or defects that keep them from making it to the showroom floor! Plus you can usually get a discount for them.
For planning purposes, anticipate 1/3 of a bushel making 1 gallon of cider. We used a mixed collection of Golden Delicious, Fuji, and Jonagold seconds from our local orchard, Hirsch Fruit Farm, just because that is what they had available at the time. If you wanted to work a little harder, you could search out specific cider apples to improve the taste and longevity of your cider. Shelf life for the un-pasturized cider is pretty short, 2-3 days tops before it starts to sour, so we leave some extra head space in the jugs and freeze them. That way, you can thaw a gallon whenever the mood strikes you!
To make cider, all you have to do is crush up your apples into a pulp (called a “mash”), and then squeeze the mash to extract the cider. The press we used has a manual crushing barrel with metal teeth to chew up the apples, a circular frame to support the mesh bag that collects the mash, a top that gets pressed down on the mesh bag with a screw jack, and a tray to collect the cider and dump it into a pail. If you don’t have a setup like this, then just use a food processor, a bucket with some holes poked in it, and a car jack set between a piece of 4×4 and a door frame. You get the picture, this isn’t cosmic or highly involved… you crush the apples, squeeze the mash, collect the juice, then sit back and enjoy! Creativity definitely gets rewarded in this case.
Ultimately, the end result is spectacular regardless of the type of apples you use or the method chosen to press them. Pressing cider is an enjoyable pursuit in and of itself, and is best partaken with friends and/or family. When you have a crisp fall day, plenty of folks to participate, and the knockout taste of freshly pressed cider to drink at the end of the day, you’ll soon realize what living is all about! We hope to make a tradition of pressing cider on our farm, especially now that we are physically closer to family, and are already looking forward to next year’s cidering. I would recommend taking some time this winter and looking up plans for building your own press, so that you’ll have something distinct to look forward to in the dog-days of summer that will soon be upon us!