Cider Making Back In October

[This is from an email that I sent on October 2, describing the first pressing of the season, and the first with the new cider press that we built this year.  I’m sticking it in to give a flavor of the year’s press-making and cider-making activities.]

Lots of apple action to report this weekend.  I’ve had about 80 lbs of apples mellowing for the last two weeks, approximately equal quantities of:
Stoke Red
Brown’s Apple
Foxwhelp
Redstreak
Kingston Black
False Chisel
(all early- to mid-season English Bittersharp, from Poverty Lane orchard)

With all of these apples being bittersharp, this should make quite an assertive cider; perhaps we will want to blend it with gentler stuff.  Anyway, last week they were getting pretty mellow so I switched into expedience mode.  The press was pretty much done but I busted out a base grate and four stacking grates out of leftover maple flooring that I got from my dad in Maine, spread paraffin on them and cooked it in in the oven.  I got 5 yards of heavy muslin (“drill”) at the fabric store, and washed it in hot water and cut it up for press cloth.  I had some blocks of wood left over from the press making that served to distribute the pressure from the screw.  I hacked a ½” hole in one end of Holly’s stainless service tray; we’ll have to put a fitting in it sometime but it’s fine for now.

For the grinder I bought a new ¾ hp garbage disposal at the Home Despot, and mounted it in a piece of scrap countertop I had lying around.  Placed over two sawhorses with a clean 5 gallon pail, and I was ready to go:

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I started with the small apples, and I had half a bucket of very finely ground, juicy pulp in about five minutes, at which point the internal breaker tripped on the disposal.  This was attributable to a couple of things.  First, the disposal was not designed for continuous heavy load.  Second, there was an undesirable mode in which the apples would catch on the spinning disk and whiz around the perimeter of the disposal, generating copious quantities of apple-flavored steam and bogging the motor.  The first problem was solved by tapping a ¼” NPT pneumatic fitting into the electric access plate on the bottom of the disposal and sending a steady blast of air from a compressor directly onto the stator windings.  The second problem was solved by holding a wooden stick in the plenum of the disposal to stop the apples from spinning whenever they got going.  The larger apples were actually more annoying than the small ones, since I had to cut them in quarters to get them through the hole.  Even then they went plenty quickly.  The result was a system that ground apples almost as fast as I could feed them:

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Then came loading the press, which went smoothly with the help of a 3.5” thick wooden form.  With four layers of pulp, I estimate that the press has a capacity of about 3 gallons per go:

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I had planned to use a pneumatic impact wrench to drive the screw, but I only have one air hose and it was busy cooling the disposal motor.  So I lubed the screw with a bit of canola oil and used a ¾” box end wrench with a ~2 foot cheater, and that seemed to be quite enough force to drive the juice out, and avoided the racket of the impact wrench.  Best of all, the yield was an amazing 70%!  This compares to about 40% last year with the antique press.

I also had about 8~10 lbs of utility grade Clapp’s Favorite pears from Poverty Lane that were perfectly ripe, and just for fun I ran them through the disposal, which absolutely liquefied them, faster than I could push them through the hole.  They pressed out into about ¾ gallon of very nice sweet pear cider.  I had previously thought to ferment a small carboy of perry with the utility pears that Poverty Lane sells at $9 per half-bushel, but Steve Wood (the owner) said that he has never had any luck getting decent perry from dessert pears; the juice is not that sweet and lacks acid and tannin.  He has planted some perry pears from England, but they are not producing much yet.  There might be some hope of making a good apple-pear blend using the sweet pears and a healthy minority of crabapples.  As it was, I turned the majority of the pears I bought into a couple of transcendant pear-blueberry crisps with berries from my grandfather’s bushes.

The gravity of the pear and the apple cider were both about 1.045, which should come in just under 6% ABV.  I sulfited the juice with ½ tsp of Potassium Metabisulfite, and I have a 1.5 pint starter bubbling with 2.5 Tbs of corn sugar and 2 thief-fuls of sulfited cider and a Pasteur champagne yeast (the stuff that Steve uses at Farnum Hill); I plan to pitch in the morning when the sulfite has been going for about 32 hours:

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Inspired, I went back to Poverty Lane and bought another 130 lbs of colorful cider apples, arrayed as follows in the picture below:
Esopus Spitzenberg/Chisel Jersey/Medaille d’Or
Ashmead’s Kernel/Wickson

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M d’Or and Chisel Jersey are quite bitter, and the other three have a strong acid character, so they should also make an assertive blend, or we can mellow them out with some dessert apples.  I don’t know if they will make it to early November, but we can play it by ear and I’ll grind them if they seem to be getting dodgy.  I am going to need some more 6 gallon carboys…

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2 Responses to “Cider Making Back In October”

  1. Carl Lindberg Says:

    As a novice cider maker, I was very interested in reading about your experiences. I found several other home cider makers that have been using garbage disposal units as their apple grinder. I recently built a wooden cart upon which I assembled a stainless steel and 1 HP disposal unti on one end and a apple press on the other. Like you, I have found the disposal unit to be a fast grinder. However; several times with a dryer apple, the material seemed to stick in the grinding chamber. My remedy was to pour abouit a quarter cup of previously squeezed cider into the chamber and it cleared immediatey. Also, I have run the disposal unit for periods of 1-2 hours without any problem. My biggest problem has come with the pressing process and next time I plan on using rice hulls mixed in with the pommy to gain a better yield out of the press.
    This coming weekend (Nov. 2008), I plan on squeezing additional cider for a run of hard cider with two cider apples (Brown Snout and Yarlington Mill) mixed with several sweet varieties.

  2. Mike Says:

    I’m in the process of building a press. Does anyone have any experience with using a hydrolic jack for pressing?

    Would anyone be willing to sell/send me some scion wood from Chisel Jersey or Brown Snout (or other) trees? If so, e-mail mwhitehead@mail.com

    I’m in the process of adding bitters to my orchard as sweet juice seems to make poor cider. This is my first year making hard cider. Thanks for the great posts. Its a big help!

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