At primary school one of the stories in our Wide Range Readers was Johnny Appleseed. As I remember, Johnny was presented as a jolly hobo who wandered the length and breadth of America with bags of apple seeds which he planted everywhere for no reason other than benevolence. And this is how Johnny Appleseed is generally known. I never gave him another thought until I read The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan.
Pollan's work shows how people and domesticated plants have formed mutually beneficial relationships. His chosen plants are the apple – our desire for sweetness, the tulip – for its beauty, marijuana – which intoxicates us and the potato which nourishes us. Each of these plants has thrived through selective breeding and genetic engineering. It was a fascinating read which I'd recommend to anyone who takes pleasure in growing – anything!
The section I enjoyed the most was the one on our desire for sweetness and apples. Pollan had a lot to say about Johnny Appleseed or, to give him his true name, John Chapman. The tale I had from school was over simplified. John Chapman was a fascinating man. But he didn't just wander around the United States planting seeds willy-nilly. He planted nurseries of apple saplings and sold them to farmers. When a nursery was established he left it in the hands of a manager and moved on, planted another nursery and continued in this pattern. He made a decent living. Now an interesting fact about apples is that they don't grow true from seed. Indeed, if you were to take an apple and plant the several seeds that it contained, each seedling would be entirely different from the others. And most would be sour. Apple trees that produce sweet fruit may only be propagated by grafting. So the vast majority of John Chapman's trees would have produced sour fruit. So why did people buy them in such large numbers? Because sour apples are just what is needed to produce hard cider and applejack. Our reading book never mentioned that.
Which brings me to my own recent experiment. I've been wanting Bert to make a cider press for ages but he has yet to get round to it. So I was rather pleased when a friend sent me a link to a method of producing cider without using a press. I gathered my apples, a mixture of Bramleys, crabs and dessert apples. Mostly Bramleys as they are what I have at hand. They are not ideal for cider but it is just an experiment.
The recipe uses a juicer instead of a press and we happen to have a sturdy masticating juicer which makes it easier still.
Hard Cider From Whole Apples
What You’ll Need:
- Apples, pears, or crab apples (to be mixed with sweet apples.) About 15 lbs. of fruit gets us about a gallon of juice. Must be fresh and organic. Try to include some crab apples or tart apples with your sweet ones for a better, more balanced flavour.
- A juicer.
- A chopping knife and cutting board.
- A large sieve and a clean kitchen towel.
- Demijohns, a funnel, a siphon hose, rubber bungs and airlocks.
- Swing-top bottles
- Wash your fruit well with plain water.
- Cut your apples into quarters. This is mostly just to check for bugs or other issues with the apples. Discard or cut around any that have an infested core, and cut out major bruises. You don’t need to worry about coring or taking stems out– the juicer will do that for you.
- Start juicing! As your juicer pitcher gets full, pour it through a funnel into a sterilized demijohn.
- Once you have juiced all of your fruit, taste the juice and add sugar. At least a cup of sugar to a gallon of juice, more if you like sweet cider. During the fermentation process, the yeast will eat the sugar (both the fructose from the fruit and the added sugar) and turn it into alcohol– so this step is both for flavour and alcohol level. Those of you in the USA may not really need to add much sugar, as most of the apples there tend to be really sweet. You can add more sugar later if the brew is turning out too dry or tart for your taste.
- Put a rubber stopper and an airlock on your demijohn, and let it sit for a week.
- Rack your cider– siphon it into another sterilized demijohn, leaving the yeasty sediment in the bottom of the first one, so you have a much cleaner cider in the new demijohn. Taste it and see how it’s doing. If it’s already tasting pretty dry, you can add some more sugar before you put the airlock back on.
- For a sweet cider, bottle after a week. Three weeks or more makes a drier end product. Fermenting it this long means that it won’t be very fizzy in the end– but you can also add a little sugar just before bottling to regain some carbonation. The next step is to bottle your hard cider. Use the siphon hose to fill swing-top bottles. The type of bottle is really important, since it lets out small amounts of the pressure that builds up, so you don’t burst any bottles.
For those of you in Northern Ireland all the specialist equipment needed can be purchased at Hillstown Farm Shop near Ahoghill (and Randalstown) or Nature's Way in Belfast.