In a cost a living crisis like this one, it makes sense to find ways of being more self-reliant and self-productive at home in order to save money as well as be in control of exactly what we’re putting in our bodies. Aside from anything else, making what we typically purchase at the shops is both fun and incredibly satisfying! Here we show you how to make cider from scratch, with either free apples you’ve found on your travels or those from a shop, market, or supermarket.
1. Sourcing the fruit
Apples are available practically everywhere in the UK, from petrol stations to trees along public verges, from traditional markets to specialist orchards.
What you put in is what you get out. Obtain the best quality apples you can find, whatever the source, to ensure the best possible tasting cider. If you have the luxury of access to numerous different varieties, you may want to do some research to understand the different flavours and how they work for cider making.
You can expect to get around 10 litres of apple juice for every 15-20kg of apples. Ensure your cider-making equipment is clean and sterile before starting.
Prepare the apples
After you’ve washed your equipment, wash your apples to remove loose dirt and leaves and discard rotten apples. A bit of bruising is fine, even a little rot. However, any that have ‘turned’ or decayed too far will need discarding.
You then need to mill the apples. This is a discussion in its own right. Very small scale cider makers need only use a blender to break the apples up into small chunks. Anything more than a few kilograms would be better done with a ‘Pulp master’ or small hand mill.
Extract the juice
There are a few methods for doing this. Basically, you need to contain the apples within a cloth (anything that will allow the juice to escape without the pulp) and press them. If you are serious about making cider an apple press is a must have. These can be expensive or cheap, usually depending on size and whether you’re buying new. You could also try making your own. You need to capture the juice with a sterile container, probably the one you’re going to ferment the cider to save decanting it.
Kill the yeast
You’ll need to add sodium metabisulphite to the juice to kill off wild yeast. A general approach is to add 1 Campden tablet per gallon. This needs to be left for around 48 hours before pitching bought or cultured yeast into the juice. Alternatively, if you leave the sulphited juice for a week or two under airlock, the benign strains of wild yeast will multiply and start to ferment spontaneously after the adverse yeast and bacteria have died out.
Checking alcohol content
Check the potential alcohol content with a hydrometer. Anything above 6% will enable the cider to store. Now is the time to make any alcohol adjustments, although normally the addition of sugar should not be necessary.
You may also want to consider adding a pectin enzyme (e.g. pectolase), depending on how long the apple pulp has been stood (if you are pressing the apples immediately after milling, this should’t be a problem unless you are using dessert fruit).
If the atmospheric temperature is warm enough the juice will start to ferment between 12 hours to a few days. The fermentation will go on for between 7 days and a few months (depending on ambient temperature). The best way to monitor progress is to check every couple of days with a hydrometer.
You may wish to start things off with an aerobic fermentation by leaving the lid of the container off but covering with something that lets the air (but not flies) in. However, you should seal the container and fit an airlock to stop excess air getting in (an anaerobic fermentation). As the cider ferments, a layer of carbon dioxide will form to protect the cider from spoilage.
Storing and bottling cider
It is time to rack the cider from the yeast deposit (lees) – this helps to stabilise and clear the cider – by using a tube into a fresh, sterile container with airlock. Congratulations! You now have cider. However, you might want to leave it to mature for a few months before putting into your preferred cider bottles and drinking/gifting to friends. If you leave it until the following spring, you may even get a malolactic fermentation (a second fermentation which will reduce acid tones in a cider). Good luck!