David Robson Extension Educator, Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois
Yard & Garden
Apple Cider Making Explained
The perfect apples for the cider press may be falling now
As happens, fall air can be as crisp as a Honey Gold apple, or as damp as a gallon of apple cider. Sometimes, both.
Apple cider has been around for centuries, if not a millennium. As more and more apples are being grown, more and more apple cider is being produced.
Most ciders are opaque, while apple juice tends to be clear. The main difference is the filtering of the apple particles, which can give cider a full body texture on your tongue compared with the smoothness of the juice.
In years past, you could judge a cider’s freshness by sniffing or tasting a drop on your tongue. If it smelled and tasted like vinegar, it wasn’t fresh, but still good for cooking and cleaning out the kitchen drain.
Several years ago, cider was required to be pasteurized. It’s next to impossible to find the pure unadulterated apple pressings unless you did it yourself. Most of us don’t have the large wooden cider presses, which means younger generations will never get that mixture of apples, worms, leaves, stems and anything else that might be on the apple at the moment it’s squeezed.
Of course, pasteurization means the cider will last longer. No longer after three days is the “Honey, does this taste right to you?” sentence bounced around kitchens.
In most cases, cider will last weeks, if not a month, in the refrigerator. (You can always freeze it, removing some from the gallon to allow for expansion unless you thrive on cleaning up frozen apple liquid in your freezer. Frozen cider can last for a year or more, though the flavor does start breaking down. As it thaws, though, the sugar and water don’t thaw uniformly, so wait until it’s fully unfrozen before drinking.)
Cider quality is directly tied into the quality of the apples that go into the jug.
You can imagine that less-than-perfect apples are used for cider. The cream of the crop go on to the market as out-of-hand eating, or cooking apples, though it never ceases to amaze me, while watching at a farmer’s market, the customers who will pour over a display of apples, looking for the most perfect ones, to make applesauce.
Our philosophy with our half dozen apple trees growing up was if it just fell off the tree, it was okay for sauce. If it had fallen off the tree within the last week, it probably was good enough for cider. If it was black, it stayed to fertilize the tree the coming year.
These days, even dropped apples are seldom used for cider. Growers tend to know to the second when the apple might fall and are out there picking it so it’s not bruised at all. Spray programs have curtailed most of the worms or half worms you might find in the apple.
These days, cider tends to be the culled apples, or less than beautiful, but if you were to really think about it, the apple would still be good enough to eat.
Cider presses are no longer the little wooden barrel-like contraptions with a screw press. Walk into a modern orchard and you’ll see stainless steel vats and drums to hold the cider until it’s sent to the conveyor line to fill the jugs.
Not every apple is a good cider apple, just like not every apple is a good cooking apple.
Red delicious, with their aroma and high water content are a component of many ciders. (They turn to mush when cooked.) You may find tart Jonathans, low acid Golden Delicious, and sweet smelling McIntosh in a cider. State law does NOT require the percentage of apples or even their types to be listed.
No two orchards create a similar cider, nor does the same orchard have the same combination throughout the entire season of pressing because not all apples ripen at the same time.
Most orchards can get about 3 to 4 gallons of cider out of a bushel of apples. Home presses usually top out at 2 gallons.
Of course there are all the benefits that cider provides: all the wonderful vitamins, all the great fiber. All the opportunities that keeps Charmin in business.
David Robson is an Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension, P.O. Box 8199, Springfield, IL 62791. Telephone: 217-782-6515.
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