The first weekend in October is traditionally cider weekend at Pool Cottage and last weekend was no exception. Having assessed the apples and pears in our orchard, we reckoned on being able to make 5 gallons of pear cider (Perry) and 10 gallons of apple cider. Hardly a huge quantity, but 120 pints of cider lasts friends and family for the year, just!
To allow the pears to ripen and sweeten, we picked them a few weeks ago, though we are still getting bombarded from the top of the tree. The pear tree in question is reputed to be over 100 years old and we can quite believe it, though we have no idea as to the variety.
The fruits are rock hard when first picked and slowly soften when stored carefully, even then they are difficult to enjoy as an eating pear, but the juice is divine even before we ferment it.
Saturday morning is spent organising and sterilising all the equipment. Everything is then set up in a production line, where the first stage is picking and the final stage is the drinking.
In the case of the pear cider, we had already completed the first stage, with the pears loaded into crates, from here the pears were individually checked over and any stalks or bruising removed, before being washed in a black bin full of cold water. From the bin the pears passed into the crusher, which as its name suggests, crushes the pears into little pieces called a pulp. Crushing the fruit before pressing allows for more juice to be extracted and more juice means more cider. We didn’t have a crusher the first year we made cider and we crushed the apples in a large jam pan with a 4” round fence pole. We bought a crusher for the following year!
The crushed pears then moved along the production line to the press, which unsurprisingly, presses the pure juice from the pear. This whole process is repeated on a continuous basis, until approximately 100 lbs of pears had been checked, washed, crushed and squeezed, from that amount of pears we get our 5 gallons of juice ready to ferment into Perry. At this stage we could allow natural yeasts in the atmosphere do the fermenting, but we prefer to interfere with Mother Nature (in the nicest possible way) and add specific cider yeast to ensure a consistent result. Our cider will now sit on the central heating pipes that run under our hall floor to ferment until around Christmas.
Whilst the Perry making was in progress, the apples were also being picked ready to follow a similar process. Unlike the pear cider, a few more decisions needed to be taken, which variety of apple do we mix together? When do we mix them, before crushing, before fermenting or after fermenting? We always mix before crushing and trust in the cider Gods to give us a good flavour, though many cider makers will recommend blending after fermentation to get the flavour and sweetness required, much like a blended Malt Whisky.
A question often asked is “how strong is your cider?” Well, we work from tables of Specific Gravity which allow you to estimate the alcohol content based on the sugar content before and after fermentation. The more sugar in a juice the denser the juice becomes and the higher the specific gravity. A typical reading for apple juice will be between 1035 and 1070.
This years apples have given an initial Specific Gravity of 1060, thus once fermentation is complete, we should have a brew knocking on the door of 8%, which compares to 4.5% for Magners. If you want (or really need) a stronger brew, then you can add extra sugar, but we think it’s better, cheaper and slightly more responsible to leave it at only 8%.
Another question asked is “What do you do with all the waste after removing the juice”? In brewing terms this waste is known as “cake” since it looks like a large cake when it comes out of the press. At Pool Cottage we feed some of the cake to the pigs and sheep and they love it, especially after a few days when it has fermented slightly! What we can’t use for our own animals is given away to neighbours for their stock. We will have some of the happiest animals in the whole of Shropshire over the coming weeks. Sober in October? No way.
We finished clearing up Sunday afternoon have finally reached our goal of 15 gallons of juice for our cider. The yeast has been added and in a few days the familiar “blup blup” of the fermentation gases passing though the airlock of the barrels will fill the house, now we wait.
In addition to the juice for cider, we also bottled a good quantity of pure apple juice, some of this we will drink over the coming weeks, helping us achieve our “5 a day”, the remainder we have frozen in plastic milk containers for later.
We also laid down apples for both eating and cooking. When we store apples we ensure that only the cleanest undamaged apples are used. Over the years we have been eating our own apples right through to late February, early March. Any bruised or wormed cooking apples not used for cider, are chopped up, minus the worms and frozen for a range of uses throughout the year, including; apple pies and crumbles as well as apple sauce to go with a joint of our own pork. Finally, we still had about 100 lbs of apples and pears leftover this year, guess who will eat them?
If you would like to try your hand at cider making next year and would like to know more, we hope to run another cider making day at Pool Cottage in October 2015, just go to our contact page and drop us a query for more details. It’s great fun and you get hands on experience of all stages of the process, with emphasis placed on the finished product throughout the day!