at the Water's Edge

Living life and learning all I can along the way!

When Life Gives You Apples...Make Hard Cider!

When we first moved into our house 5 years ago, I noticed that we had a crabapple tree in our side yard. Some years it has bloomed beautifully and produced a good amount of apples; other years, it hasn't done much. The deer frequently come up to munch on the dropped apples or eat them right off the tree (like last winter when there were somehow still apples on the tree in February??) We trimmed back a bunch of the branches last year and the apples came in full force this year. Tom and I had discussed doing something with them rather than letting them go to waste, but crabapples are quite sour. Tom had though about making a hard sour cider out of them; looking up crabapple recipes was still on my to-do list. A friend was over recently and asked about the tree. She said she had a recipe for a crabapple cobbler -- so I decided, why not try it?  We picked a few of the better looking apples and started chopping them up. After taste testing a few, I came to a shocking conclusion: these were not crabapples after all -- they were real, regular, sweet apples! Although, I still don't know what variety they are...

After 5 years of wasting perfectly good apples, we were sure going to use up all we could this year. We did make the cobbler and it turned out great. But the tree was FULL of apples. We decided to go with Tom's idea to make hard cider, but it would be a regular somewhat sweet cider rather than sour. We spent an afternoon picking all of the apples we could, using two ladders and 1 monkey-like, tree-climber husband. I could not believe how many apples we picked and how many of them actually looked pretty good -- especially considering we had done nothing special to the tree and nothing to protect them against pests or disease (we will be careful about what we do going forward because we'd prefer to keep them organic).

Picking and sorting apples

Tom monkeying around in the apple tree
The harvest! We got a wheelbarrow plus a couple 5-gallon buckets full of apples from our tree.

Most of the apples had spots on them, which I determined to be sooty blotch and flyspeck -- not harmful, but not something I want to eat, either. While making the cobbler, I discovered the spots come off pretty easily with some scrubbing. However, it took a long time just to hand scrub the apples for the cobbler -- there was no way we could hand scrub a wheelbarrow full! Fortunately, I had an idea. Somewhere recently somebody had showed us a video of this ingenious idea for how to peel a bag of potatoes in under a minute. It involves dumping the potatoes in a 5-gallon bucket, adding water, fitting a (NEW!!) toilet brush on the end of a drill and scrubbing away! We decided this might work for apples, not to peel them, but to scrub them clean. Tom gave it a try, and it worked like a charm!  WAY, way easier than trying to do these by hand! We let the apples dry out in our sun room after the scrubbing, then transferred them back to several large containers.

Scrubbing the apples clean with a drill / toilet brush!

Drying out the apples

To make the cider, we first had to figure out how we were going to juice/press the apples. We didn't own a juicer. We do now. We ended up getting a Breville juicer from Amazon, and it worked great. We quartered the apples first and removed any bad apples or bad spots. Then, Tom ran all of the apple chunks through the juicer. From there, we dumped the juice into a 5-gallon bucket, but strained it through a mesh bag on the way in.

Quartered Apples - I did try to remove the stems.

Our apple-juicing workstation

Dumped the juice in the bucket, through this mesh bag

And the delicious apple solids go here -- and then get added to my garden for compost.

 After we juiced the apples, we had another decision to make: to pasteurize or not to pasteurize? Pasteurizing the juice will kill off any bacteria -- which sounded appealing since we didn't know what might be on there (think: bird poop), even with the scrubbing. However, it would also kill off any of the wild yeasts in the juice. This could be good or bad, but it means that the taste will be altered.  We opted to pasteurize, bringing the juice up to at least 160 degrees on the stove. Tom picked out the yeast we wanted to use from the home brew store -- I'll have to get the name of it later, but it's a dry ale yeast.

Big pot 'o fresh juiced apple cider!

Heat 'er up! 

Then, we transferred the pasteurized juice to a 5-gallon carboy. Yes, we had 5 full gallons of juice -- and still enough apples to perhaps make another gallon batch! We ended up filtering the juice through a finer mesh bag, as well, and we were glad that we did. There were still a LOT of fruit solids left that we strained out. Tom pitched the yeast (while I fell asleep on the couch after another late night of juicing!), and it's taking off! Now...we are contemplating getting a kegerator, and if I have my way, adding a little extra carbonation in the cider once it's done. Mad props to Tom, the Master Brewer, for figuring out how to juice, filter and ferment the cider all in very short order. If we're lucky, we'll have some hard cider available in time for this year's Halloween Party.  

Transfer to carboy

...and we're off! Hard cider coming soon...

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Hi there! My name is Dana and I live in West Michigan with my husband, Tom and our dog Copernicus. I created this space as a place to share the things I learn along this journey I call life. I work in marketing and I'm a sort of Jane of All Trades, interested in all things nature, gardening, cooking, exploring and learning new things. This blog is a conglomeration of my interests, hobbies, life and life lessons. Thanks for stopping by!