Year 2 – Cider Making

2015 Cider Making 1What a gorgeous morning to start cider making (hard cider to our friends in the US)! I’d booked the scratter and press from Melbourne Area Transition a few weeks ago, giving us time to pick the apples that were ready to crush, and leave them outside for three weeks to ‘sweat’ – if the weather had been wetter then we’d been advised to move them under cover as heat and wet can spoil them.

2015 Cider Making 2The press was a 20 litre cross beam press – a bit larger than our 5 litre spindle press, which really isn’t useful for any quantity of cider, but probably more suited for crushing soft fruits for juice.

2015 Cider Making 4The scratter could take around six whole average-sized apples in one go, or you could fill the hopper with cut apples. I chose the first method as it was easier with only one person, but it was a doddle!

2015 Cider Making 3The apples we used were roughly 60% dessert, 30% culinary and 10% cider. I had grand ideas of a ‘mix’ of certain types, but when it came down to it I took what we could get – around a third came from our lovely neighbours at number 1, the rest we scrounged from our trees – there were definitely Warner’s King, Elton Beauty and Catshead – the rest I really can’t remember, or I don’t know – hopefully next year I’ll be more organised!

2015 Cider Making 5The cider making method was simple – apples began in the green cart, a half bucket loaded into the white bucket, hosed down, washed around and inspected by Penny, who would have jumped in the bucket if there had been the slightest chance she’d fit! Then six at a time were dropped in to the scratter and munched into tiny pieces. It took about one full washing bucket to fill the smaller 2 gallon bucket which sat under the scratter. Two of the 2 gallon buckets of pomace filled the 20 litre press (don’t you love mixing imperial with metric?), so basically 2015 Cider Making 6two stints on the scratter for every stint on the press, and the press gave between 4 and 5 litres per pressing (that’s the white pouring jug under the press). The pomace left over after pressing didn’t feel as dry as that from the spindle press last year, but the pieces of apple seemed a bit chunkier than last year, so maybe that had something to do with it? Or maybe because we’d let the apples sweat some of their juice out – who knows!

Anyway – it took me about 6 presses to fill my 7 gallon fermentation bin, and about three hours in total, maybe a bit more. Assuming it works, that’s around 55 pints (assume one lost to keeving later into another vessel) – not bad for three hours’ (enjoyable) work! Last year was heart-breakingly slow, with our tiny press, and I expected this year to feel as bad – in terms of the effort-to-produce ratio.

2015 Cider Making 7But this cider making experience was a whole different ball game! To see the juice pouring from the press was a beautiful sight – and makes me realise that we need at least a 40 litre press. We really do need to decide in which direction to take this, once we have some experience under our belt? Do we stay as hobbiests, making our own product for friends and family to enjoy, or do we expand the idea to create a mini business that can self-fund? We’ll have plenty of apples to play with, there’s no doubting that! Plenty of time to worry about that, and for now it’s great that people like Melbourne Transition rent out kit that can suit a serious hobbiest.

A quick reading of the Specific Gravity showed 1.046, at a room temperature of around 19 degrees, which is fine. Again, as last year, I’ve decided not to sulphite, to rid the juice of wild yeast. That would mean adding a known yeast back into the cider, but I quite like the idea of seeing if natural yeast, present in the air and on the apple and pressing equipment, can do the job for us. Health-wise – sulphites can cause problems with people suffering from asthma, or people with allergies to sulphites themselves.

2015 Cider Making 8As it was, Jay and Smiler came back from school just as I’d finished – impeccable timing! Seeing the press, the dived right in and pressed out another 4 litres of apple juice from the Forfar tree – a light and slightly acidic juice, but then we may have been a bit early picking them. It only seems fair to press something they can also enjoy.

Despite that being the end of our first cider making day, we’re not done yet – we have some later maturing varieties on the trees still, so hopefully we’ll do another pressing come late November, early December 🙂

Simple White Currant Cordial – Sugar & Sugar Free

This is such a simple recipe for white currant cordial, and one we had a go at last year for a sugar-free version which used red currants instead (essentially the same berry, with more pigmentation).

Every year we struggle to think of things to do with our white currants. I know there are many things we *can* do, but in reality, there’s only so much jelly you can eat, and we don’t eat enough meat to cook a portion up to accompany it when the berries are ripe. So as I stood by the two bushes we have, taking a break from turning some weeds over, I thought I’d look for a useful recipe that would keep, that didn’t involved freezing the blighters, which can be summed up as a ‘putting the (nice) problem off’ solution.

Cordial was the answer. Everyone likes a drink, albeit sugar-laden, so at the end of this post I’ve also added a sugar-free version. It won’t keep for long, but as it’s sugar-free you won’t feel guilty gulping it down!

Step 1 – Pick the currants! Bit obvious, but important, as it’s the step where you make sure you pick as many of the decent currants as possible, and none of the mouldy or dried currants. Just place a bag or similar under the currants and snip them off with a pair of scissors – easiest method. Jay cut ours on the promise that this drink, unlike many recent ones, was suitable for younger people!

Step 2 – Wash the currants thoroughly – stalks and all. Discard any currants that look dodgy, get rid of stray leaves.

2015 white currant cordia 1Step 3 – Place the currants in a pan – we use the invaluable, and much abused, jam pan. We started out with 3kg of white currants – stalks and all – don’t go to the trouble of removing them! We used to for some recipes, and it’s a needless pain if you’re going to seive the liquid anyway. Add 600ml of water for every kg.

2015 white currant cordia 2Step 4 – Cook them gently until they’re soft and the skins have broken down. In reality I forgot ours and left them on their initial high heat for a while. Suz saved them, turned them down again, and there were no noticeable adverse effects.

2015 white currant cordia 3Step 5 – Strain the juice. Finally, after several years of laying a cloth in a colander, we have invested in a strainer! Posh eh?! It’s one of those things you’d wished you’d done earlier, as we use the technique for so many things. They’ll drain pretty much instantly – I left them overnight and only gained an extra quarter cup of juice – not worth it really.

2015 white currant cordia 4Step 6 – Add 700g of sugar to every litre of juice, in a pan, and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. I used demerara sugar, which doesn’t give the most pleasing final colour (dirty dishwater      brown!), but does taste delicious. For the sugar-free version I just added 15 sweeteners (Canderel tablets)  to a half litre of juice.

2015 white currant cordia 5Step 7 – Bottle the cordial in sterilised bottles.

The final cordial should keep for several months, but the sugar free version I don’t think will last anywhere near that. In fact I popped mine in the fridge and give it a week maximum, to be safe. To see the effect sugar has on the 2015 white currant cordia 6colour – the photograph to the right shows the sugar-free version in the foreground, with the two litres of juice with demerara sugar added behind.

I used sterlising powder for the bottles, which you can buy at any homebrew shop, and the bottles are some I purchased in a sale at IKEA ages ago – they seem quite sturdy (better than the new Kilner bottles if I’m honest – more metal in the clips).