Take some tips on using all that smallholding produce to make cider and wine! Kim Stoddart offers some thoughts
Fun with fruit
With the hedgerows and, hopefully, your veg patch full to bursting with produce, now is the perfect time of year to consider home brewing. There are so many options available, from country wines made from any number of delectable fruit (or indeed vegetables), many different home-flavoured beers and of course, cider. Now is the time to get picking, pressing, bottling and mustering up your own smallholding produced stash to see you through the long, dark evenings ahead.
Here are just a few ideas from those in the know to help you on your merry, booze producing way!
I am always both amazed and dismayed at how many good folk with apple trees in their garden just allow the fruit to fall and rot on the ground each year. It’s such a waste, but it does mean that even if you don’t have many (or indeed any) apple trees on your land, if you’d like to make some apple juice or cider, then it shouldn’t be hard to find people happy to pass some on.
I spoke to Paul Courtney at Vigo Presses to get the lowdown on this increasingly popular craft beverage. “Until recent times there was a great deal of mystique surrounding the art of cider making, combined with some elementary misunderstandings about the process,” he said. “Yet making cider at home is a very rewarding way of using apples which might otherwise go to waste, to produce a refreshing and wholesome drink, renowned for its health promoting properties.”
Now is the time to get picking, pressing and bottling
The Vigo Presses Guide to Getting Started Choosing your apples
Cider is fermented pure apple juice and can be made from almost any variety of apple. Each county has its own traditional style of cider. In the West Country there are special varieties of cider apple which produce a deep coloured, somewhat bitter cider, while in the Eastern counties a paler cider is produced from dessert and culinary varieties. Both styles can be excellent and have their following. Most home cider makers make use of the apples they have to hand.
Choose ripe fruit – when cut in half the pips should be dark brown or black. Ripeness is important because ripe fruit will contain the highest sugar levels and it is the sugar level which will determine the potential alcohol of the finished cider.
Lightly bruised and slightly browned apples are acceptable, but it may be best to avoid rotten fruit. It helps to learn to distinguish between sweetness, acidity and bitterness. Bitter, tannic cider apples leave the mouth feeling dry while acid apples pucker the mouth. Acidity can mask sugar and sugar can conceal acidity. Try to avoid too much really acid fruit as, once the sugar has been converted to alcohol, the acidity will become more obvious. Cooking apples will mellow if left to mature until late in the season. With a little care, there is no reason why you should not make a very drinkable cider from the apples available to you.
Tips on milling and pressing
Apples must be crushed before pressing; the degree of crushing will determine the yield of juice from the press. The simplest method is to place a layer of apples in a strong tub and pound them with a length of heavy timber – a 4ins x 4ins section is ideal. This will soon reduce the fruit to a pulp. Freezing, then defrosting your apples before pounding them, will make this process easier.
However there are many purpose-built apple crushers which reduce the fruit to a suitable consistency for pressing without the brute force of pounding. For larger presses in particular, a motorised highspeed mill will produce a fine pulp that will give very much higher yields than can be achieved by hand-crushed fruit.
Once crushed, the pulp can be pressed. For small-scale pressing, there are three types of press available. The simplest to operate are basket presses which consist of a cylinder into which the pulp is poured and a piston which is driven into the cylinder, usually by means of a screw; the juice escapes through gaps in the cylinder and is collected in a channel in the base of the press.
Cider making in six steps
1 Choose sound apples. 2 Crush and press the fruit to produce juice. 3
To each 30-litre container add one sachet of yeast and shake well. Rest cap on opening. 4
Place the container in an unheated room. Replace any juice lost by foaming. Fit a water-primed airlock once the fermentation quietens. 5
The fermentation process may take anything from 10 days to 10 weeks or more. When the fermentation is finished, syphon the cider from the fermentation container to a clean container and top up to exclude all air. Consider the use of Campden tablets. 6
Put the container in a cool place, such as a garage or outbuilding. It will clear more quickly if cool. Leave for a couple of months and then taste. If it does not taste ready, then leave for another couple of months, always taking care to keep brim-full and preferably under a primed airlock.
The best of the country wines
Again, at this bountiful time of year, you can take your pick of a wide range of produce for home-made wines. If you are a regular tipple maker yourself, you’ll no doubt have your personal favourites and those that you wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. There is most certainly an element of personal taste involved, so one smallholder’s parsnip wine preference would be another’s (my) idea of torment. That said, some produce lends itself especially well to booze production, and on the highly recommended list this includes: plums, strawberries, elderberry, blackberry, cherry, rhubarb, blackcurrants and peach.
John Wright has written various books as part of the River Cottage series and one specifically on Booze. Like many other good books on the subject, it covers the wide range of home brewing on offer. From rhubarb wine and orange beer to blackberry whiskey or pomegranate rum, there really are a large number of DIY tipples you can try. John says two of the most popular wines mentioned amongst his fellow home-made enthusiasts are elderberry and parsnip – the latter of which apparently had an excellent reputation. Although this is a wine best made in the spring, when the roots are sweeter, and adding a banana into the concoction can add a little something. Maybe that might convince me to give it a try after all… MORE: http://www.ediblebush.com On twitter Rachel from @ CambridgeGoats suggested: “Elderberry v reliable! Best with specific red wine yeast. Rhubarb & cherry make lovely pink wines.” Whilst @ walk_ eat_ repeat recommended: “Definitely sloes... they make the best gin and jam too! Or you could try elderberries, lots of them everywhere at the moment”
How about blackcurrant wine? Apple blossom in spring
Squeezing out the juice
Your cider should be ready for drinking by early summer. Some ciders clear, others remain slightly cloudy; this does not impair the drinking quality. If you would like a sweet cider, mix up a little sugar with warm water to make a syrup and add this to the cider prior to drinking.
Do not add sugar to the cider before bottling as this may cause explosions owing to fermentation in the bottle. Happy cider making! All the equipment for juice and cider making is available from Vigo Presses at www.vigopresses.co.uk www.primrose.co.uk also sell a wide range of fruit crushers and presses.