Last fall my boyfriend and I decided to finally make good use of the apples from the ancient apple tree in our backyard. I'd heard that F.H. Steinbart Co. rented out one of their cider mill/presses every weekend in the fall for $20. I called as soon as I found out last summer when our apple tree was set with loads of good looking fruit. I thought it would probably ripen around late October just as it had the previous fall so I reserved the press for the first weekend of November. That happened to be a very busy weekend -- Wordstock, my first face-to-face with my publisher, an all-day rain garden/stormwater management class for the Organic Gardening Certification Program, and cider making 101.
Two things happened that had a huge effect on the latter. First, we lost a major limb of the apple tree mid-summer, which completely obstructed the street behind our house and sent tennis-ball-looking, unripe apples all the way up and down the street. Because of that we had to do some major emergency pruning to save the tree. The next impediment to our home cidery: the slim-pickings apples that remained ripened early. Very early. Most were good to go by early September. Although apples keep well -- two months was pushing it and to be honest there just weren't that many still on the tree. Our cider press reservation was firm, however, and no other weekends were available. I started hunting for apples.
I surfed Craigslist and found a man with a small home orchard in Woodland, Washington with ripe heritage red apples (not a variety just a description -- he's not sure what kind they are) ready to sell for a good price that sounded like they'd make a decent, but probably not great, hard cider. I was ok with a small batch of decent cider for a small chunk of change. It'd be good practice for our future bumper crop cider. I drove out with my puppy picked up the loot and headed home. The apples had been sweated (stored for a couple weeks so that they'd ripened into peak flavor and sweetness) and were ready for cider. We rinsed them, halved them and threw them into the apple mill/grinder -- stems, seeds and all...
After milling we put the apple pomace (the resulting bits and chunks) into the press and then started hand cranking the juice. That took the most time.
As you can see a lot of bits made it into the cider. That didn't matter because before pouring the cider into the carboy, with a packet of champagne yeast, we filtered it through cheesecloth. Apple Bits was a nickname my friend Mary Ellen gave me in grade school. If only she could see me now.
80-plus pounds of apples became a mere 3 gallons of cider. Our how-to book Cider Hard & Sweet: History, Traditions, and Making Your Own by Ben Watson for The Countryman Press doesn't suggest an apple to juice ratio but surfing around online it seems like the consensus is that roughly 15 pounds of apples usually translates to about a gallon of cider. Either we need to do some push-ups in prep. for this fall or our apples weren't exactly up-to-snuff juice wise.
After all that, which took the better part of a day, we had three gallons of cider in a carboy with a purge tube stoppered to the top leading to a half-full bottle of water. This way nothing noxious or foreign could travel into the cider but if the fermentation got particularly feisty and bubbly the cider would overflow into the bottle of water. We kept it in the utility room and checked on it every few hours at first and then every few days. Once the initial fermentation was over, about a week or two I think, we removed the tubing and topped the carboy with a regular fermentation lock. Then we left the cider largely unattended until January.