Anyone for cider?

I have been bad, and yes, the blog has been super neglected (I know, excuses, excuses) but I promise it’s because I’ve been out and about doing blog-worthy things rather than well, sitting in front of a screen and blogging about them! There is still the promised sourdough recipe to come, but it’s waiting for me to find the charger for the camera so you can have handy-dandy stage by stage photos. Same goes for the crochet Angry Birds I’m making (ho yiss they are cool!)

So, yeah, get on with the cider Amanda. It is in the title after all.

So for the last few years my friends and I have busied ourselves over the August bank holiday weekend (come rain or shine!) making cider. To start with this was a fairly amateur operation, involving all our mums’ household blenders on the picnic bench outside, and less fruitpress, more squeezing-apple-pulp-with-your-hands-until-juice-comes-out. This doesn’t come recommended, as apple juice will stain your hands nicotine yellow for weeks if you have your hands soaked in the stuff literally all day. Please just take my word for it.

However, as we’ve got older and have more disposable income to hand, and our parents have bizarrely enough, got some random and useful power tools laying about the place, we’ve got more and more pro about it, and we now produce some delicious, clear, dry cider (more on the flavour later). Initially we acquired a little two-litre fruitpress that was a day’s work pressing all the apples, and couldn’t take a great deal of pressure – we were still squeezing the pulp by hand before each press. Next came the wood chipper. Oh the wood chipper. We lovingly sterilised the whole thing and never went back to home blenders again – not when you can get roughly 25 stone of apples (roughly 159 kilos) pulped in less than half an hour. Finally, this year Brunton number one got a 25 litre behemoth of a fruit press for Christmas, which has been laying dormant in the shed waiting for apple season. It is both great and glorious.

So, in the interests of blogging, recipe sharing, and encouraging homebrew cider binging, here is how we do it. Trust me when I say it’s super easy, and none of us have lost a finger/limb to the wood shredder yet. I promise.

Making homemade cider.

Although over the course of several years we have managed to beg, borrow, and steal plenty of nice equipment, you don’t really need that much specialist stuff at all, especially if you aren’t making it on a large scale. You will need:

  • Demijohns, or similar containers for the juice to ferment in
  • Siphon tube – this is literally just a long plastic tube.
  • Bottles
  • Hydrometer – this is the most specialist piece of kit, but essential for ANY homebrewing, so a worthwhile investment.
  • Fermentation locks – not expensive, but absolutely essential. I don’t even want to tell you about the year we used bits of potato as a stopper.
  • Corks with holes in for the fermentation locks
  • Sterilising fluid – milton for example. Sterilise like it’s covered in zombie virus.
  • Something to pulp the apples with (anything from home blender to wood chipper!) and something to juice them with.
  • Muslin or similar fabric to strain the juice (no one likes chunky cider)
  • A couple of big ol’buckets.
  • Fermentation stopper – such as Campden tablets.
  • Apples!

We try to use a wide range of apples to get a good flavour. Less sweet apples will make a lovely dry cider – obviously the sugary ones will give more for the yeast to chow down on = more alcohol. Go for a mix that makes a good tasting juice and you can’t go wrong from there.

In terms of the flavour you are aiming for, in all likelihood, a dryer tasting cider will be stronger. The more sugar that yeast noms up, the more alcohol is produced. If you want to keep a sweeter cider, you’re going to have to either stop fermentation earlier, or add back in some sugar somehow. We usually do this by adding some apple juice after fermentation has been stopped – this year we’ve experimented and pasteurised some of the leftover juice we pressed ourselves to be added back into the cider later.

We normally don’t do this, because unless you can keep everything nice and sterile, leftover sugar = risk of fermentation starting again. Fermentation taking place after bottling produces gas, which in turn produces the classic exploding bottles of homebrew legend. After adding in the juice, chuck in your fermentation stopper and bottle immediately.

Ok so that’s equipment and brewing 101. What about the recipe?

Well, there isn’t really a recipe as such seeing as the only ingredient is apples, but here goes.

  • Collect and wash your apples. Bruised apples are fine – hell, you’re about to blitz them! Apples with white spots on – not fine. Leave them for the wasps. A sterilising agent like Milton can be safely used on food, so we tend to leave our apples in the big ol’ bucket, with the sterilising fluid for as long as the bottle says. They can always be rinsed off later. In the meantime, you should also sterilise/clean your equipment.
  • Next, pulp your apples ready for pressing. A home blender will do the job just fine, but bear in mind that you’ll need quite a bit of juice, so it’s going to take several rounds of blending unless you have the almighty wood chipper.
  • Squeeze those apples! You can of course do this by hand. If you put the pulp in a big colander as you go, you can have the first bit of juice just drain out into your big ol’ bucket. Then either crush the pulp by hand, or crush it in your colander. If you’ve got a fruit press… well you know what to do. Just follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • I would recommend straining your juice into another big ol’ (sterilised!) bucket. Tie your muslin across the top and pour the juice through. Ta dah! Strained juice.
  • Once you’re done pressing juice, time to get it out of that big ol’bucket and into your (sterilised) demijohns. Put in your bung and fermentation lock (don’t forget to put the water in the lock – and no, of course I’ve never done that…). Do not by any means use potato instead of a proper bung. It just doesn’t work.
    It will happy ferment itself from the natural years present in the fruit – no need to add yeast!
  • Save the last little bit and take a hydrometer reading – this will tell you the sugar concentration pre-fermentation. WRITE IT DOWN. Once fermentation has finished, the difference in sugar content will tell you roughly what the current alcohol content is by comparison.
  • Leave somewhere room temperature and dark to ferment. Feel free to taste it after a couple of weeks for sweetness – although don’t expect it to be super tasty at this stage! We tend to leave it to totally ferment – it takes a few weeks and you can tell once it’s done as the fermentation lock will have stopped bubbling. This will make dry cider, but you can sweeten it with apple juice, which makes for a very refreshing cider.
  • If you leave the demijohns to settle, you’ll notice a layer of scuzz on the bottom. This is normal. Once you’re done fermenting, you want to siphon off the good clear stuff into bottles, and leave behind the scuzz. Don’t forget to sterilise your siphon tube and bottles (zombie virus remember?)
  • Patience my friend! The longer you can leave that cider, the better it will taste. It will be drinkable by January, better by spring, and damned delicious by the time you’re busy making more cider next summer!

p.s.

You know that elderflower wine I yakked on about a few months ago? That is beautifully clear, delicious, and bottled up, along with the strawberry wine we made out of the strawberries in the garden this year. Who needs grapes anyway?

Elderflower wine

So this recipe is shamelessly poached from my brewing guru, Basil. He is a medical herbalist, and knows pretty much everything worth knowing about making your own booze at home. More than once I’ve left his house far too wobbly to ride my bike after far too much (just enough?) elderflower wine, so I’ve decided to try the recipe for myself.

A note on brewing…

Now normally I’m keen on writing up recipes that require no specialist ingredients or equipment. It’s all very well saying that ‘this random ingredient you’ve never heard of and can’t buy ANYWHERE’ is the best thing ever, but well… you can’t buy it anywhere. However, brewing is different and does require some reasonably specialist equipment and ingredients.

You will need:

  • A fermentation bin – the best ones have a small hole in the lid for a fermentation lock
  • Fermentation lock – basically a little water chamber that lets gas escape, but doesn’t let anything get back in
  • A demijohn – a glass or heavy duty plastic jar to ferment it in
  • A hydrometer – basically a thermometer without the mercury. It measures the alcoholic potential, and then the actual alcohol produced.
  • LOADSA sterilising stuff. Sterilise everything like it’s covered in zombie virus during an outbreak of the undead.

The recipe

  • 1/2 pint of elderflowers.
  • 3 1/2lb white sugar, a little less if you don’t want it too sweet. This is like a dessert wine.
  • Zest and juice of 2 lemons.
  • A strong cup of tea (no milk!)
  • 1lb sultanas, rinsed under a kettle full of boiling water, chopped
  • Yeast nutrients are a good idea, follow the instructions on the box – usually 1 tsp per gallon
  • Wine yeast (don’t use your bread yeast… it will die off way too soon!) again usually 1 heaped tsp per gallon
  • Water to 1 gallon.

Mix all together in a fermenting bucket and add yeast. This is often referred to as ‘pitching’ the yeast.

Check with your hydrometer the alcohol potential. Bear in mind most yeast will die by 16%, super yeast may live to 18%, so you want a reading of around 1130 – 1140 for the sugar.

Ferment for 5 days then strain into a demijohn. Keep it in the demijohn until there are no more bubbles in the fermentation lock.

Have a taste, and test with the hydrometer for alcohol content, then start bottling!

Make sure that your bottles and siphon tube are fully sterilised and then begin siphoning. I tend to do this with a partner – you don’t want to drag up the sediment at the bottom, so do it slowly and carefully. Once bottled, stopper up or cork your bottles (screwtop is fine if you have them) and don’t forget to label them. It should be fairly drinkable pretty much straight away, though I would recommend keeping it for a few months, or even a year or so.

EDIT: I drank a good proportion of my elderflower wine the following New Year’s eve. The wine was delicious, I drank plenty, had a great time… and had a dreadful hangover to prove it. ‘Nuff said!

Elderflower Cordial

It’s my guess that most people in the UK will stroll past an elderflower bush at least once on a day to day basis. It’s an absolute nuisance to get rid of (you can cut it back and basically watch it regrow) but extremely useful to the home cook and brewer. At this time of year the bushes are flowering producing strongly scented white flowers, and they are amazing for making both cordial and wine.

I have based my recipe on the BBC one by Lotte Duncan – I personally add a little less lemon and a bit more citric acid, and make it in bulk, so the recipe below is a slightly customised version!

Picking your elderflowers

Most advice is to do it on a warm, dry day. Fewer bugs about on the plant, nice dry flowers, and you can get a better whiff of the pollen to see if it is a good healthy plant. Alternatively, if like me you get dreadful hayfever, do it on a fairly miserable wet day and spare yourself the sneezing! You want to pick fresh flowers –  no buds, and no brown bits. Equally, don’t strip out each bush – you’ll want to leave some flowers for elderberries later in the year! Don’t pick them in advance – you will want to use them straight away.

A quick note on citric acid…

Citric acid is advised in most elderflower cordial. It acts as a preservative and is found naturally in citrus fruits. I personally find to get enough citric acid into the cordial to preserve it, it tastes overpoweringly lemon-y, so a tub of citric acid is very useful. Having said that – it’s a pain to get hold of. I have been reliably informed that it is used as an ingredient for class A drugs, so where it used to be easily bought from a large Boots store or chemist, it’s now much more restricted. If you’re lucky enough to have a brewing shop nearby, you should be able to buy some, but don’t be surprised if they don’t allow you to ‘stock up’! Wilkinson’s stores often stock it as well.

The recipe

Makes 9 pints cordial (if you’re not a piggy for cordial like me, then just half this!)

– 60 good-size elderflower heads

– 6 pints water

– 1.8 kilos sugar

– 4 unwaxed oranges

– 4 unwaxed lemons

– 100g citric acid

– 1 campden tablet (optional)

  • Boil up the water and add all the sugar. Stir constantly, and simmer for 5 mins. Leave to cool.
  • Gently rinse off the elderflower heads to get rid of the bugs. Then strip the flowers from the heads into a bowl. I find it’s easiest to do it with a fork.
  • Once the sugar mixture has cooled, chop up all your citrus fruit, and tip it in with the citric acid, and stir thoroughly. Add the elderflowers, and stir.
  • Leave for about 24-36 hours, and stir every few hours when you think of it.
  • Strain out the cordial through a sieve, and then squeeze the flowers for the last of the cordial. Pour into sterilised bottles. Drink it up over a few weeks, or add 1 powdered campden tablet – this should mean that it will keep somewhere cool pretty much indefinitely.

Water down the cordial to taste, and enjoy with sparkling water, lemonade, white wine, or ice cold water.