Best of Freshman Writing
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PSU – York
Making Apple Cider at Home
Very few fruits compare to the sheer healthiness and goodness of delicious apples. Many people consume apple cider but do not understand the process of making a homemade, healthy brew; neither do they know that it can be made at home in a few relatively easy steps. Making cider at home from scratch allows you to control what goes into your cider and how strong or weak you care to make it.
Apples can be processed to make clear apple juice or, through further stages of fermentation, to make the familiar fall apple cider. Fermented alcoholic apple juice is known as “hard cider,” while freshly pressed, nonalcoholic cider is called “sweet cider.” Cider is made from fermenting apple juice, which takes place in the natural yeast contained in apples. Fresh or unpasteurized apple juice or cider can cause food borne illness from bacteria. Therefore, one must be very careful in the cider-making process to make, pasteurize and store apple cider safely.
The selection of apples is the first step to a fine juice or cider brew. Apples used for cider do not necessarily have to be flawless. However, they cannot be spoiled. You can use blemished apples and small sized apples. You can mix apple varieties together or use all one variety. The only rule is to cut out any spoilage areas on otherwise good apples. Spoiled areas will cause the juice to ferment too rapidly and will ruin the cider. Don’t use apples that appear brown, decayed or moldy. Apples should be firm and ripe. Green, under-mature apples cause a flat flavor when juiced. The best cider comes from a blend of sweet, tart and aromatic apple varieties. A bushel of apples yields about three gallons of juice.
Preparation of the apples before juicing is important. Before juicing apples, sort and wash apples well under clean running water. Discard any spoiled apples. Core and cut the apples into quarters or smaller pieces.
The next crucial step in this process is sanitizing the equipment. Wash glass jars or bottles that will be used to hold your pressed apple juice in warm, soapy water. Rinse thoroughly so no soap remains. Prepare a clean muslin sack or pillowcase for juicing the apples. If using a new muslin sack or pillowcase, wash first in hottest water available to remove any debris. Be sure all soap is rinsed out of the sack. Always start by washing your hands and forearms thoroughly with hot water and soap for at least twenty to thirty seconds before beginning preparation. Utensils and equipment can be easily sanitized after washing and rinsing by filling with or soaking in a mixture of one tablespoon household bleach per gallon of warm water for at least one minute.
Next, you are ready to juice the apples. Small household appliances like a blender, food chopper or food processor can be used to juice your apples. However, depending on how much cider you want to make, this can be a long, painstaking process. Some “cider connoisseurs” actually find it’s better to invest in a winemaker’s fruit press. Apples which have been cored and cut should then be processed via the food chopper, blender, food processor, or press. Put the crushed apple pulp into a clean muslin sack, or pillowcase, and squeeze out the juice. If you want to drink the juice now without making cider, pasteurize it by heating to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, pour juice into clean glass jars or bottles and refrigerate. It will be clear and yellow.
Sweet cider must be kept at the right temperature as well as properly fermented. Begin with freshly pressed juice (not pasteurized). If clear cider is what you want, let the bottled cider stand at 72 degrees Fahrenheit for three to four days. Clean bottles should be filled to just below the brim and stoppered with new, clean cotton plugs instead of a regular lid or cap. The cotton plug is used for safety. If pressure builds up during the fermentation that occurs, the cotton will pop out and release the pressure. If a cap is placed on the bottle, the bottle will explode. After three or four days, sediment will begin settling on the bottom as fermentation bubbles rise to the top. Now is the time to stop fermentation if you want sweet, mild cider. Extract the clear liquid from the sediment by “racking off” or “siphoning” the cider. “Racking off” is done by inserting one end of a clean rubber tube, about three feet long, into the liquid and sucking at the outer end with your mouth, like a straw. As soon as you feel liquid in your mouth, pinch off your end with your fingers and insert the tube into an empty, clean and sterilized bottle, which should be placed well below the filled one. Liquid will flow from one bottle into the other, leaving the sediment behind. Pasteurize the cider to ensure its safety by heating to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Store the cider in the refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower and drink within five days. It can also be frozen after pasteurization for longer life and storage. The final product is brown in color.
If you are seeking a dry cider (alcoholic), with more of a “twang” or “snap” to it, ferment the cider longer at room temperature. Use three thicknesses of clean muslin, tightly stretched over the bottle opening and secured well around the neck. Be sure to use strong, sound glass or the bottle may burst from pressure due to the increasing fermentation. In about ten days the cider will begin looking very frothy and may foam over the top. This is normal. Simply wipe off the bottle, replace the muslin with clean fabric and let frothing continue until the foaming stops and fermentation is complete. Fermentation turns all the sugars in the cider into alcohol; therefore, this cider will no longer be a sweet drink. The cider is dry, or hard, alcoholic cider.
One of the most important things for making a cider that is good and healthy for your body is to thoroughly pasteurize it. Unpasteurized, or fresh, cider may contain bacteria that cause illness, such as E. coli or Salmonella. Harmful bacteria must be killed by a pasteurization process prior to drinking the cider. To pasteurize, heat cider to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit, 185 degrees Fahrenheit at most. Measure the actual temperature with a cooking thermometer. Merely cook it by heating. Do not boil. Skim off any foam and pour the hot cider into heated, clean and sanitized plastic containers or glass jars. Refrigerate immediately. To freeze, pour hot cider into plastic or glass freezer jars.
Remember the rhyme:
If it’s clear and yellow,
you got juice there, fellow.
If it’s tangy and brown,
you’re in cider town!
Lotito, Silvina. “Why Apples Are Healthful.” The Linus Pauling Institute Research
Report. Oregon State University, Nov. 2004. Web. 2 Oct. 2011.
Joanna Evans' essay appears here with her express written permission and cannot be reproduced in any manner or fashion without her express written permission.