I’ve been scrumping (ie picking up the windfallen) apples for some time now. A plentiful supply this year. Partly due to a good crop from our own Tom Putt’s trees and partly to an invitation to gather apples from an old orchard outside Godalming. Once in sacks they will keep for a while but won’t wait for ever and so its time to get scratting and pressing.
Cider is very simple to make, you need to shred the apples and then press them to collect the juice. The traditional method then just allows airborne yeast to ferment the juice. Not being a purist I add my own yeast, thus ensuring a strong fermentation and reducing the chances of making cider vinager by mistake. Unless you have access to real cider apples its best to use a mix of dessert, cooking and crab apples so that the apple tannin , sugar and acid levels are reasonable. This year I have had enough of our Tom Putts to make 5 gallons with just this single variety, as its thought to be useful for cider was as being a cooker and an eater. In fact, the versatility of this Dorset apple gave its other name ‘The cottagers apple’. The rest have all been a mix of cookers (bramley and Howgate Wonder) and eaters (sunset, early worcester, cox and russet) as well as a couple of unknowns.
The apples are milled or ‘scratted’ into pea sized chunks called pomace. The scratter rips the apples apart rather than cutting them to release the juice without pulping them which can release the pectin. making the pressing more difficult and the cider rather cloudy. My scratter is a bit small and it helps to cut the larger apples down before milling them.
My press is converted from an old paper baling press. I use the traditional method of pressing, in which the apple pomace is formed into cheeses wrapped in hessian sacking and separated out by wooden slats. Here the base, slats and top for the press are made from birch which is a waste product from the restoration of the local lowland heaths. Once pressed the juice is collected into 5 gallon barrels and will stand outside over winter. The fermentation, initially fast will slow as the temperature falls. In the spring the cider will finish fermenting and if all goes well it will be followed by a Malo-lactic fermentation in which the malic acid (very sharp taste) will soften as it transforms to lactic acid, resulting in a more palatable, less rough, drink to bottle around May time.
I’ve been making cider in this way for 4 years now and despite the rudimentary nature of the equipment its drinkable, if not the best quality cider. This year I am hoping that a better mix of apples will improve the result. We shall see! In the meantime I still have some of last years to keep me going.