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How to Make Your Own Apple Cider
During the third week of National Apple Month, we’re talking about how to make apple cider! This sweet, refreshing drink is a favorite for many when the leaves change and the nights turn colder.
Many buy their apple cider at a store or roadside stand. And that’s fine… but why buy it if you can make some yourself with all the apples in your backyard?
Anyone with an apple tree or two can make great cider. We use Pound Sweets off our tree, but any sweet apple will do. Here’s how you can make your own, whether you make it at home or at a professional cider pressing place.
Stovetop/Slow Cooker Method
This is the most common way to make a small batch, and offers two key benefits: it makes your house smell nice, and you don’t have to contend with bees.
While there are many recipes out there that use cloves, cinnamon, extra sweetener, and more, all you really need is a sweet apple. Of course, if your apples are on the tart side, some additives won’t hurt.
There are many recipes out there, but they all follow a pretty similar pattern. Wash and quarter apples, put them in a stock pot or slow cooker along with spices and sweeteners if you’d like them, cover with plenty of water, and let cook for a few hours. Then strain the mixture when you’re done. And that’s it!
It’s cheap and simple, but it doesn’t make very much. And when you have a whole backyard full of apples, and it’s you versus the deer, you may have to think bigger.
Press It Yourself
If you have a lot of apples and want to make plenty of cider to last throughout the year, you may want to invest in an apple press and grinder, as well as some strainer bags. If you don’t want to buy, you may be able to rent or borrow from a neighbor.
The process for pressing apple cider yourself is fairly straightforward: you first rinse your apples in clean water to get as many germs off as possible. Then, using the grinder, you can add the clean apples into the grinder while someone with energy (like a kid!) turns the crank. The grinder turns the fresh apples into a juicy pulp.
Once you have a bucket full of pulp, you can arrange it in the press. The press has various layers for the apples, strainers, and crushing planks. Once several layers of apples are interspersed with strainers and planks, you can add a few top blocks of wood, and turn the wheel to lower the press. When you’ve tightened it as far as you can and very little juice is left coming out, you can discard the pulp and enjoy your freshly pressed bucket of cider!
Note that if you do this outside, the bees, wasps, and their friends will go crazy. You know how nutty they are this time of year to begin with – imagine what they do when there’s pure apple juice around for them. They will swarm, battle each other, and drink themselves silly on the pressed apple pulp. It’s funny, but a little annoying while you’re trying to work.
Have It Pressed Professionally
If you’ve got the bushels, but not the time to do it yourself (or if you just want to see something really, really cool) you can go to a professional presser.
A Catskills favorite is the Hubbell Farm. We have gone there on many occasions to get buckets of apples processed. It’s a lot of fun to watch whether you’re a kid or an adult.
It operates the same way a small single-person press would, except it’s automated… and much, much bigger.
Hubbells have been using the same press for over 100 years! Their machine is a real testament to the quality of old-time craftsmanship.
How to Preserve Your Cider
Once you’ve made your cider, you’ll probably find you have way more of it than you can use in one sitting. Or even one week (especially since too much at once can wreak havoc on your digestive system).
That’s where pasteurizing and freezing comes in. By taking just a little more time, you can preserve your cider to enjoy for months to come.
Pasteurizing is an important part of the process no matter when you plan to drink the cider, although it may alter the flavor slightly. Germs can stay on apples and enter fresh cider even after being washed. Pasteurizing on the stove takes very little time and can give you peace of mind. Here’s how to pasteurize your cider.
On another note: while you should still pasteurize, it helps to get all your apples fresh off the tree rather than using dropped apples. You can use an apple picker to get them out, or put clean blankets down and shake your tree. The ground has all kinds of dirt and grossness on it, and dropped apples are more susceptible to rot and germs. Plus, you never know what creatures may have been in or around those apples on the ground (worms, mice, deer, an irresponsible neighbor’s livestock… you know how it goes).
Once you’re done pasteurizing, you may want to save a bunch of your cider for another day. The best way to do that is freezing. Here are a few tips.
A Note on Hard Ciders
These have all been instructions for how you can make fresh apple cider – basically apple juice. Some people enjoy the alcoholic variety, and there is a different method used for that.
Unlike regular cider, hard cider can benefit from tarter apples. Interestingly enough, you can even use crab apples and other less desirable varieties when making hard cider. And goodness knows we have enough of them around here! Apparently, their high tannin content helps them ferment more efficiently.
Of course, if you’ve ever had cider sitting around the fridge for a week or so, you know any kind of apple cider, sweet or sour, can go a little bit… zippy.
There are whole tutorials out there on how to make hard cider. I won’t be held responsible for what happens if you try it, though!
No matter how you choose to make your cider, you’ll enjoy the benefits this fall. Start making your own cider today!