Apple Cider Daydreams
On Sunday our neighbors, The Barn girls and family, stopped over at the farm for a full afternoon of delicious autumn food and to teach us to press apple cider with their family apple press. It was delightful; the perfect kickoff to my birthday, which was on Tuesday! We consider The Barn folks as family, and it kicked me right in the homey gut as we sat around the dozens of 3 gallon buckets filled with apples from our own trees, washing, slicing, and pressing, as we chatted about anything and everything. We ate homemade chili with our various vegetables and their homegrown grass-fed beef, potato salad made with our eggs, and pumpkin pie from our pumpkins. Each time we have a gathering like this it makes me realize what truly matters to me in this world: creating community around what is always important… good food.
Around this time of year we always purchase locally made apple cider. It’s one of those traditions that so many people make a reality by stopping at the grocery store and picking up a gallon jug or two. We have a great local apple orchard nearby, Wilson’s, that has acres and acres of trees. Our friends even own a certified organic orchard, Red Barn Organic Farm, right down the road from us. This year, we were able to make almost 28 gallons of cider from our very own apple trees. They produced so much, plus left beauties for our CSA members and other things for our family like apple butter, sauce, and pie filling.
We wandered out to our “mini orchard” with buckets and ladders in hand to fill up on the delicious stock. It took five of us only minutes to dismantle a tree, almost to entirety, leaving what was at the tip top on, out of reach. The apples were ugly, warted and discolored in spots, but they tasted amazing. One or two were almost perfect. These apples could not get more organic if they tried, as we did absolutely nothing to help them grow this year! It did not matter. The juice we made with them tasted out of this world!
I had never pressed my own cider before, so this was a brand new experience for me and our family. We watched with glee as the sliced apples made their way into the grinder and down into the oak slatted barrel. We pressed down all of the ground apples until the sweet brown liquid was expelled and drained into our gallon buckets. We transferred the juice to sanitized jugs and divided them between our families. It was wonderful!
I did not realize until later that evening that we had truly only made apple juice and not cider… yet! Cider is made by fermentation. Hooray! I feel like this entire year, or summer rather, has been a period of learning solely about fermentation. Last year was the year of bread, this one fermentation and canning. I honestly love it more than words can say. So I took our juice (before considered cider) out of the fridge, removed the caps, placed cotton paper towels over the tops secured with rubber bands, and placed the jugs in our basement for 4 days. This fermentation is what creates that classic cider taste. If you want sweet cider, or non-alcoholic cider, then 4 days is the limit. If fermented for 10 days or more, you’ll get an alcoholic beverage, which sounds fun too!
I learned about the process through this pamphlet from the University of Georgia Extension. It pays to know exactly what is safe and what is not when it comes to fermentation with a product that has the potential to carry E Coli or Salmonella. For us, we let the cider ferment, boiled it over the stove to 160-185 degrees, and then rebottled it in sanitized jugs which were placed in the fridge or frozen. This will only last 5 days or up to a week so if you are making a lot of cider, you will have to freeze it!
With the new cider that we pressed away from the family, as we had 4.5 jugs fermenting to become sweet cider, I am extremely curious to let them ferment to the hard cider stage and even the apple cider vinegar stage. If you let hard cider continue to ferment well past the “dry” stage of 10 days, it will eventually become vinegar. Pretty amazing, huh? I’d take a look at the pamphlet if you are curious! Apparently to create the vinegar it can take 4-6 months. Amazing.
Each new experience like this where we use our own food to create the items that we previously purchased at the store creates a jolt of inspiration in me. This autumn has only just begun and I know that it will end sooner than I want it to; it is the same every year. We are having such a blast learning and experiencing and tasting and frolicking. It was a beautiful way to celebrate another year around the sun. Twenty-three is going to a great year!