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Growing Organically Since 1982

Cider Making

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By Rebecca Buell

In this workshop on cider making, author and apple enthusiast David Buchanan presented a broad overview of the cider making process including tips and basic recipes, as well as an introduction to growing apples. He shared his experience planting whips and nursery trees, grafting (using large tree versus dwarf root stock), “tipping” (to encourage fruiting by winding the young tree around a stake), and pruning. David is particularly interested in reviving rare varieties of old-style American apples, once highly prized for the quality cider they produced. In early America, ciders were often as distinct and nuanced as wines are today.

Apples, a wild fruit originally from the steppes of Kazakhstan, traveled into Europe and across the ocean to make a comfortable home in the history and lore of New England.

David joins others (notably John Bunker) in a search across this land to identify long-forgotten trees producing some of these nearly lost varieties. In Maine, some 200 distinct varieties were grown by early immigrants to the area of which 30 survive today. David encourages fruit growers to start to cultivate these heirloom apples, develop regional breeding, bring diversity back to New England orchards, and rediscover the flavors of these fruits.

Some old American apple varieties good for cider include Gold Russet, Baldwin, Northern Spy, Blake, Harrison (considered the best cider apple in the 19th century), and Old New Jersey Apple (a dark, full-bodied apple rescued in the 1980s and blended with Granny Winkle). David has also experimented using Crabapple juice to create a light- colored and bodied cider.

Many of these types can be found at Fedco Trees in Maine, where John Bunker works passionately to grow, re-invigorate, and share these plants to save them from becoming museum pieces. David also referenced books by local authors for those interested in a more in-depth discussion on apples and cider making, including Cider, Hard and Sweet by Ben Watson and his own Taste, Memory. Also noteworthy: cider days happen every year during the first weekend in November in Deerfield, MA.

For the purposes of making cider, apples can be classified as bittersweets: having high tannic, low acid; sweets: low tannic, low acid; sharps: low tannic, high acid; and bittersharps: high stannic, high acid. A well-crafted cider will use a blend of these types to create a particular flavor profile and body. High acidity adds bite and tannins deepen the taste; both also act as preservatives. Highly tannic, inedible apples known as“spitters” are often the best cider apples as the tannins will mellow when blended.

The following is a basic recipe presented by David to make your own dry, farmhouse cider. (Note: this hard cider is not the overly sweet, extra fizzy variety found at the store.)

Press apples or buy juice from an orchard. David recommends this juice blend to start with: 1/3 Jonagold, 1/3 Red Delicious, 1/2 Cortland. The Jonagold has a deep, rich color with high sugar, the Red Delicious adds a nice aroma, and Cortland is pale and watery for balance. For a good single-variety cider, try Kingston Black, an old English apple.

Hydrate your yeast (wine or champagne for clean fermentation, or use natural yeasts found on the fruit). David likes to let the wild and commercial yeasts fight it out, allowing the cider to develop its own flavor. The more sugar in the apple (you can use refractometer to measure Brix levels), the more for the yeast to eat and the more alcohol will be present in the final product. (Traditionally raisins were added into the juice to increase the sugar content.) You can use a hydrometer to determine sugar levels in the fermenting juice.

Cap jar off with an airlock or other method to keep air out (you don’t want to make vinegar!)

After one month, fermentation has slowed down and dead yeast will collect at the bottom. Top the jar off with juice to minimize air contact and recap. Allow to ferment for another couple of months in a cool place (50-60 degrees) before siphoning and bottling.

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