Making Hard Cider
Parts of New England have already received their first snowfall, but there are still apples being picked and crushed into delicious sweet cider. Now, there is only so much sweet (not fermented) cider one can drink before turning into an apple or before the cider turns to vinegar. You could preserve some by freezing it but chances are there is no more room in the freezer at this time of year because it is already stuffed with pork, beef, vegetables and stashes of flour and cornmeal.
Another delicious way to preserve the apple harvest is to make hard cider. This is an easy process that doesn't require any fossil fuel. Also, the initial investment is low and you make your money back with the first batch.
1. The first step is to buy a carboy which is a glass, 5-gallon container. Water used to be delivered in these until they discovered they could save a lot of fuel by shipping in plastic. A frugal Yankee can still find glass carboys at the dump, salvage yard or antique store. Otherwise, plan on spending $37 for a new one.
2. Find a source of freshly pressed, preferably unpasteurized, cider. Lull Farm in Hollis, NH is the best we've found and they are pressing (and filling carboys) every Friday through December. It costs $20 to get 5 gallons filled directly into your container. This is a savings of $7.50 when you compare buying it in 1 gallon, plastic jugs with expensive stickers on them.
3. Locate the optimal space for your cider to hang out in for the next 10 months. It should be relatively dark, free from funky odors and around 55 degrees F. The basement immediately comes to mind but an unheated closet will work as well.
4. Make a mini-fermenter by putting a cup of warm water, (not hot or you'll kill the organisms) and the packet of yeast into a jar with a cup or so of cider. You might want to add a little sugar to really get things going.
5. After a day or so, "pitch the yeast" or add the contents of the mini-fermenter to the rest of the cider. Also add 1/2 - 1 cup of sugar per gallon of cider. This will make the cider more alcoholic so that unwanted bacteria will not take up residence in your cider while it is clearing and aging over the next 10 months. Notice the plastic gallon jugs in the picture- we found out later that we could have our carboy filled directly.
6. In a week or so, the vigorous fermentation will have stopped but tiny bubbles will still be visible on the sides of the carboy.
Put a rubber stopper and fermentation lock (also called water or air lock) on the top and forget about the cider for a few months.
Notice the different colors of the 2 carboys. The lighter one was pressed on 10/13 and the darker one was pressed on 11/14. Lull Farm uses a variety of their apples to press the cider depending on what is ripe and they don't use "drops" (apples picked up off the ground) so the likelihood of contamination from anything such as wild or domestic manure is extremely low.
7. When the cider has cleared, it's time for bottling and tasting. I don't have pictures of that yet since we haven't done it yet, but you will siphon the cider out of the carboy and into sanitized beer or champagne bottles. At this time, you will decide whether or not you want a sparkling cider or a flat cider. If you want a little sparkle (more fun I think), add 1/2 tsp of sugar to each 12 oz bottle before you add the cider. Be exact when measuring the sugar because adding too much could result in a "loaded" bottle that could explode without warning. Then you might really need some hard cider while someone extracts glass fragments from your eye.
8. Let the bottles of cider sit until they're carbonated. (Try one to see if it is.) Some ciders are good now but some need 3 months of aging in the bottle to really mature. Cider keeps for a year or more if temperatures are cool but, for longer storage, keep them in a refrigerator.
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Posted by Mary Ellen at November 21, 2008 6:00 AM