Making Cider

In my front yard is a gnarled apple tree, some decades old. The house dates to 1925, so it must be older than that, but it's old. Beginning in about July, it produces tasty, modest-sized red-and-yellow apples, a bit tart, not overly sweet, with crisp flesh. The past few years, we've collected them off the ground and moved them to the compost heap, but this year we prepared to make cider. I dutifully climed up and around the tree, reaching out dangerously for apples at the furthest point of my reach, as the ladder/limb below waggled precariously. I only managed to collect about a bushel--or anyway an apple basket, if that's a bushel--before we decided we needed to press them.

I will spare the texture of this grand narrative, except to offer a few observations along the way:
  • Steinbart's is your one-stop cidermaking shop. You can rent a press there (seen in these photos) for $10 a day, and also get instructions about how to turn it into cider. For brewers, this process looks incredibly easy, bordering on crude. Essentially: press and add yeast.
  • When I bought the yeast, I was shocked when the salesman sent me to replace the liquid yeast with dry yeast--an absolute no-no in beer brewing. Apparently vinters use dry yeast almost exclusively. The salesman was blase about it, and so I quizzed him: how many wine/cidermakers use dry yeast? (90%) How many brewers use dry yeast? (20%) Shocked but chastened, I bought the dry, which to add insult to injury was Red Star brand, famed for bread yeasts.
  • Apples are principally structure, and only minimally liquid. We managed to get less than a gallon out of our bushel.
  • "Summer apples" are reputed to be poor for cider, and I have no idea how they'll taste once turned into hard cider. But as raw cider, fresh from the apple, they were fantastic.
I have now collected another bushel off the tree, and I'm not sure what to do with it. I will use a few of the apples for a pomme lambic I'm making, but maybe it calls for anther trip down to Steinbart's. But damn, it's a lot of work for a few ounces of liquid.

I will keep you updated about the progression of this experiment.

First, the apples go into a hopper and are mashed by an electric motor.

The pulped apples fall into a slatted cylinder, which is moved underneath the press.

Finally, you crank the press down, squashing the pulp and driving the liquid out the slats.