Turning apple juice into cider

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Hard to believe that another year has passed and we’re starting to think about Cambridge Apple Day 2015. We’ll announce the date and other details in the next week or so, but for now, I thought it was about time I did a blog post explaining what we do in between Apple Days to turn all of that juice into cider.

Those of you who are regulars will know that we end our Apple Days with something that looks a bit like this:

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We drink a fair bit of delicious fresh apple juice on the day (the kids usually drink at least their own body weight) and our happy band of volunteers take a good amount of juice home with them. It keeps in the fridge for a couple of days and freezes very well.

That usually leaves somewhere around 70+ gallons left for us to turn into cider.

The process is fairly simple.

First, put the fermenters somewhere dry with a constant room temperature. A shed or cellar is fine, but we have also fermented in the house.

‘Constant’ room temperature is important. We have in the past used a drafty shed which was pretty much open to the elements; cider wasn’t so great in those years. Also find a spot where you won’t need to move the fermenters for at least a few months. Moving them won’t necessarily upset the process, but they’re heavy.

If you want to know the final alcohol content of your cider, you need to take gravity readings before sundown on Apple Day using a hydrometer. It’s super simple and your hydrometer will come with instructions or you can find them online. Honestly, we never used to bother, but we’ve getting more diligent since the year of the exploding cider bottles (see this old blog post for details).

Within 24 hours we add some champagne yeast to each of the fermenters (any good quality brand will do). Follow the instructions on the packet – which will involve mixing up a “starter” for the yeast before adding it to the juice (don’t skip this step).

For the first couple of days we bung the fermenters with cotton wool. That allows air to escape and keeps anything nasty from getting in. At this stage, fermentation should be fairly aggressive and we expect some yeasty froth to spill out. So check regularly and wipe away any mess.

How do you know that mother nature is doing her thing? Simple. You should be able to hear the fermentation happening. At this stage there should be a constant and audible fizzing coming from each of your fermenters. If you’re not sure, pull out the cotton wool bung and you should see a yeasty froth forming on top. It will also smell of lovely apple-y yeast.

If nothing’s happening, don’t panic. Just add some new yeast.

In 15 years, we’ve only ever had one fermenter of apple juice that didn’t start fermenting after a second attempt with yeast (that was a failed experiment with a sterilising tablet).

After a couple of days you want to pull out the cotton wool and insert clean air locks. If all’s going well, you should have something like this:

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Once they’ve got going, your fermenters should keep bubbling away until all of the sugar has been turned to alcohol. After a few days they’ll slow down to a steady ‘bloop, bloop, bloop’. That can continue for quite some time.

For those of you who want to experiment with some of the more mysterious approaches to cider making, this is where you should refer to the craft cider makers’ bible by Pooley & Lomax, where you’ll find instructions for how to control your fermentation to produce different types of cider through ‘keeving’ and other such dark arts.

Over the years, and after much experimentation, we’ve settled on the simple approach. We let nature run her course and wait until all of the natural fermentation is over. It can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to 3 months, depending on the temperature and mix of apples.

We’ve found that the cider does well sitting in its full fermented state for quite a long time, provided that the airlock is tight and the temperature is reasonably constant. This year for example, we only got round to bottling in June – a full seven months after we pressed the juice. It tastes awesome.

Bottling day is one of my favourite parts of the process. It’s hard work, but you get the joy of tasting how all the different fermenters of juice have turned out. If you follow our method of blending different varieties of apples, then there is bound to be variation in taste and alcohol strength.

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One of the tricks we’ve learnt is to ‘rack off’ the cider from the fermenter without moving it. Basically, what you’re doing here is siphoning off the lovely clear cider at the top and leaving behind the ‘lees’ which is the fruit / yeast that settles naturally at the bottom of the fermenter. You will lose a little cider at the bottom, but if you’re careful it’s fairly minimal.

We siphon into a clean fermenter, which we then use to fill bottles or barrels.

If you’re aiming to produce still cider in bottles or barrels, then you want to make sure that the cider you have racked off is as clear as possible. If you draw too much ‘lees’ through your siphon it will look cloudy or hazy, and you might want to let it stand for a while and have another go.

If you want to create bottles with a little conditioning or fizz, then you will need to bring a little yeast with you when you siphon. Hazy not cloudy is what you’re aiming for. This is where the real craft comes in and we’ve got it wrong a few times, leading to some over lively cider.

If you’re keeping track of your alcohol content, then this is the stage to get out the hydrometer and take a second reading (look here for instructions). This year we had an incredible year, with one batch reaching 10% ABV with no added sugar!

We tend to make a few barrels of still, clear cider. That’s simple. Just fill the barrel to the neck, leaving a little space at the top, and you’re done. If it’s too dry, then add a little sugar syrup to taste just before drinking.

We save most of our cider for bottling and we always try to get a little conditioning or fizz going. This can be tricky, but is really worth it. At it’s best, our cider is like a fine champagne.

Four things to get right:

  1. Good quality, clean bottles.We use a mix of flip top bottles or standard crown caps. Both work well, but they need to be robust and able to handle a bit of pressure. Invest time in washing and sterilizing your bottles. It is a pain, but it pays off.

2. Hazy not cloudy. When you siphon your cider out of the fermenter you want a little bit of yeast in there to kick start the secondary fermentation in the bottle, but not too much. I know that ‘hazy not cloudy’ is a terribly imprecise phrase, but it’s the best I’ve come across so far.

3. Add a little sugar. This is always a point of controversy at our bottling days. After much debate, we have settled on about 300g for a 25 litre fermenter. We dissolve the sugar in boiling water before adding to the fermenter. Provided your cider is fermented right out, we find that provides just enough sugar for fizz and flavour. It is a matter of taste, trial and error.

4. Temperature. Pooley & Lomax advise keeping the bottles cool when conditioning to allow the process to happen slowly and not to leave them too long. Cool is definitely good. Put your bottles somewhere warm and you run a high risk of them blowing. But we have found some of our best tasting cider has been left in the back of a shed for more than a year, so we’re a bit more relaxed about timescales.

One final thought is that we’ve found it worth investing in bottling equipment, including a simple gravity bottle filler and a decent crowning machine. It has made the process much, much quicker. Our friends at Vigo supplied our kit.

Hope that’s useful. We are always learning and trying to improve our craft, so if you’ve got hints, tips or ideas please post in the comments.

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All set for Apple Day tomorrow

We’re all set for Apple Day tomorrow.  It’s been a huge effort today, but we’re in good shape.  The new fruit mill is here, the press has been reconstructed and most important of all, we’ve scrumped a tonne of apples.

Massive thanks to everyone who has donated apples – we hope you enjoy the cider.

For those of you coming tomorrow, the weather is looking dry and fine.  Couldn’t ask for better.

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We’ll be starting around 10 a.m., aiming for the first pressing at around 11 a.m.  There’s a lot of sterilising to be done in the early morning, so if want to help out with that, you’d be very welcome.

Lunch will be served at around 1 p.m.

We’ll carry on until the apples run out, which is usually about 5 p.m.  Remember we especially need volunteers at the end of the day to help clean up and we’ll keep some special treats back for those who do!

A couple of last minute tips:

1. Apples – there’s no such thing as too many apples so don’t give up on any last-minute scrumping!  We are short on crab apples this year – we have literally none.  So if you pass a crab apple tree please fill a couple of bags and bring them along.

2. Containers for juice – make sure you bring along a couple of clean bottles to take home some juice, e.g. old milk containers. Give them a good clean in hot soapy water and a rinse. The juice will last a couple of days in the fridge or can be frozen and enjoyed later.

3. If you want to make some cider, you can – it’s easier than you think. We’ve got some spare kit here we can lend you if you want to give it a go.

4. If you can, bring some food – Jane is preparing a whole shoulder of pork that will be slow cooking overnight – it promises to be a real treat. The brilliant Balzano’s Delicatessen has donated the bread rolls again.  If you can bring some kid-friendly snacks or cake it would help a lot.  Extra points awarded for dishes involving apples.

We’ve got a couple of barrels of cider and a whole load of bottles from last year so that you can take some home with you.  All we ask in return is that you get involved and help make the day amazing for everyone.

Looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow.

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You’re awesome – Ed is saved.

Fullscreen capture 02102014 201407.bmpWe did it!  Thanks to our fantastic group of supporters, we have raised the £795 we need to buy a spanking new Vigo fruit mill.  You are awesome!

If you haven’t pledged yet, you still can.  If we exceed the target we’ll use the money to buy more essential equipment that will help us produce even more cider to give away.  We promise to publish a full account of every penny on this blog.

Make a pledge here and we promise you gratitude, fame, cider and our recipe for eternal youth in return.

We’ll also publish a list of all of the generous donors after the campaign has ended, but for now a special “thank you” to Will and Fran Perrin whose super generous £115 took us up to the finish line. Cider will be yours.

In fact, it’s double awesome, because those brilliant people at Vigo were so impressed by your fundraising efforts that they shipped us a fruit mill on loan in advance, so we will definitely have a beautiful yellow fruit mill for this Sunday’s Apple Day.

Amanda at Vigo was super helpful and I can warmly recommend them for all your apple day needs.  Click the picture below if you want to check them out.

Fullscreen capture 02102014 202622.bmpAnd so as Apple Day approaches, let us not forget the real reason for all of these fundraising efforts: Ed.

Thanks to all of your generosity, Ed is finally safe.

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No more fears that his hand will be chomped up by my grim attempt to adapt a garden shredder with a cardboard tube for safety.

No more splinters of wood flying out at his face as he tries to free the apples that have got stuck on the blades with a bamboo cane.

No more back-aching chore of feeding the apples in one at a time for 8 hours solid.

No more hideously loud grinding noise.

 

You did it for cider.  You did it for community.

You did it to stop me spamming you on facebook, twitter, email and text.

But most of all, you did it for Ed.

Thank you

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T-4 until Apple Day

Four more days until Apple Day! The weather forecast is cloudy but dry which suits us just fine. The apple tump is also starting to look at bit more respectable. The whole garden smells of apples.

but that’s only a start, as always, we need more apples! Any kind is fine, including cookers and crabs, so get scrumping.

We had a donation of apples from the local 28th Cambridge Scouts on the doorstep last  night:

Thanks scouts! We’d love to come and do another apple pressing session with you using our new, safer fruit mill.

Speaking of which, the fruit mill campaign is going well, up to a brilliant 81% thanks to a last minute donation from stalwart Cambridge Apple Day supporters Cyril McDonald and Louise Lomax. But with only 4 days until the project ends, we’ve still got some way to go.

So if you were considering donating, now’s the time to do it – remember we only get the pledges if we reach the total. You can donate via our Yimby project page.

More soon – happy scrumping, scrumpers!

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Bring us your apples

Today we officially opened the tump and Dylan and Bethan had the honour of putting in the first apple of the year.

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For the uninitiated, the tump is what we use to store the apples that are collected in the run up to apple day.  This year’s is a beauty thanks to the kind donation of some used pallets from our local scout leader (cheers Jeremy).

Over the next two weeks it needs to look a lot more like this (that is, full of apples):

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Which is where you come in… we need everyone who can to start scrumping.  We follow some simple rules here at the Cambridge Apple Day.

1. Ask before you scrump, but don’t be afraid to ask.  Most people with apple trees don’t really know what to do with them and you’ll probably be doing them a favour.  If you need an incentive, we’ve got some delicious bottled cider that’s ready now.  Come and get a few bottles to say thanks for the apples.

2. We take any type of apple.  We follow the centuries old recipe for cider making that basically involves having a great mix of cider apples, eaters, cookers and crabs.  Sweet or sour we want them all.

3. Windfalls are fine as long as they aren’t from orchards with animals in.  Throw away anything with mold on, but a bit of bruising isn’t usually a problem.

A huge thank you to everyone who has contributed so far to our campaign to raise funds for new equipment.  Every donation large or small brings us a step closer to making our Apple Day bigger, better and safer.  Click the image below to make your donation and claim your reward of cider.

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And finally, if you’re coming to apple day this year (Sunday 5 October), please remember to email me or Jane to confirm so we know how many to cater for.

Now, get scrumping!

Phil

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Help make Cambridge Apple Day bigger (and safer)

A fruit mill or scratter is an essential bit of kit for any Apple Day.  It’s the thing that turns your apples into a mash that you then put into your press to get the juice out.

Friends of Cambridge Apple Day (or regular visitors to this blog) will know that when we started four years ago, I adapted an old woodchipper to become our fruit mill.

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To be fair, it’s done the job, not least thanks to the superhuman efforts of Ed S (handsome guy in the light coloured shirt above) who has taken charge of the feeding the apples in (and pushing them onto the spinning blades) for at least three years now.

The problem is that it is pretty slow – even with Ed’s heroic work – and if we’re honest it wouldn’t pass even a rudimentary health and safety audit.  Frankly, we’re worried for Ed.  It’s only a matter of time before he falls in and…

We want to make Cambridge Apple Day bigger, better and safer.  So this year we want to get a brand new purpose built Vigo fruit mill.

Beautiful isn’t it?  Designed specifically for apples.  Safe.  Quick.  Yellow.  What’s not to like? We’ve tried one out at the Shropshire Apple Day and it is as good as it looks.  With one of these we can produce more delicious juice and cider to give to all you lovely volunteers, street parties, school fetes and other great people.

We also want to loan our kit to other community groups, but we can’t even think about that until we’ve got a proper fruit mill that we know is safe.

We need help to raise the funds to buy this thing of beauty.  We need £795 and we have set ourselves 30 days to do it.  Those smart people at Just Giving have made it all easy with their new website Yimby.

All you need to do is log on here and you can make a donation through Just Giving’s super secure platform (you’ve probably used it to sponsor someone before).  Even a tiny donation would help us get to our target of £795.  If you’ve ever joined us for Apple Day or if you just like what we do (or you’re worried about Ed), please get involved.

Help us make Cambridge Apple Day bigger, better and safer.  Be awesome and we’ll give you some cider.

Phil

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The return of Cambridge Apple Day 2014

After a hiatus last year, I’m delighted to confirm the return of the Cambridge Apple Day for 2014.  Just like Glastonbury, we’re returning better than ever.

We’ve set the date – Sunday 5 October. Usual venue.

Put the date in your diaries and start securing those scrumping privileges for your neighbours’ trees.  It looks like a bumper year for apples in Cambridge, but fruit is ripening pretty early after all of that sun.  It’s never too soon to start thinking about storage.

A small group volunteers got together on Saturday to bottle the fermented juice we had left over and, although we were generally very abstemious, we did sample a little of the cider and it was fantastic.

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One of the challenges this year is what to do about our scratter.  Regulars will know that a few years ago I adapted a wood chipper and it’s served us very well so far.

Back CameraThe emerging consensus is that we need to move to the next level in safety and capacity, buying our very own “purpose-built” fruit mill so that we can continue to provide delicious juice and cider for our neighbours, friends and family.  More news to follow on that project.

We’ll also try to use the blog to document the cider making process a bit more thoroughly this year.  It’s been great to get lots of feedback and ideas from fellow cider-makers and people who’ve been inspired by what we do to give it a go for the first time.

Apologies again to the many people who’ve asked, but the Cambridge Apple Day is still an invite only affair. We might open it up to the public one day soon, but for now it’s only for neighbours, friends and family. Drop me (Phil) an email if you want an invite.

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