When the apples start dropping from the tree, there are only so many crumbles and pies one can make. Learn how to make your own cider, it's a fantastic crowd pleaser
You are bowling down a lonely Devon lane, there’s a chalk sign up saying “real farm cider” – you slam on the brakes, negotiate the aggressive farm collie, and buy a flagon. With luck the scrumpy will be nectar, made in time-honoured fashion and probably without the knowledge of HM Revenue & Customs. Nothing washes down a cold game pie like a glass of strong, still cider. We should be drinking more of it, as recent research shows cider to be positively fizzing with friendly phenolics – terrific for your ticker. Learn how to make your own cider with The Field’s top tips.
Learn how to store apples correctly to avoid any going rotten before they make it to the cider press. And learn how to prune a fruit tree if your apple tree is starting to look old and overcrowded. It’s the only measure to take to ensure your harvest is fit for crumbles, pies and cider.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN CIDER
* Take a wheelbarrow-load of windfalls and wash off leaves, mud and slugs. Either put them through the Magimix with a grater blade or place them in a bucket and mash them with a hammer – thinking of a politician’s skull helps get the right consistency.
* Get yourself two square boards, line with clean muslin, place the pulp (known as pomace or pommy) on one of the boards and make a wooden sandwich by putting the other board on top . Using G-clamps – or even a bench vise – squeeze till the juice runs out. Collect the juice – a lipped tray is useful for this. Resist the temptation to forgo the very considerable hassle of the above and buy apple juice; it doesn’t work well. For more reliable results you may want to buy a little cider press. A press will give you some delicious juice even if you can’t be bothered with cider. Freeze whatever you can’t immediately drink.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN CIDER: A WAITING GAME
* Pour your juice into a cleaned and sterilised keg from a home brewery supply store and fill it right up to the top – a half-full keg will guarantee you vinegar. Some people add the petals of a fully opened rose for extra bouquet. Do not add sugar or anything else. Leave the bung off. Traditional cider making relies on wild yeasts and the air through the top will allow them in. The cider should start to foam in a couple of days. Wait for several weeks until fermentation stops and then replace the bung. If the fermentation doesn’t occur don’t give in to the urge to add a rodent.
* Now the difficult bit: you wait. Leave your cider to mature for at least six months – if it has gone wrong it will have turned into cider vinegar, in which case you can clean the windows or rub your varicose veins with it. If it has worked, you get strong, still and slightly cloudy cider of anything from around eight to 15 per cent alcohol, so before consuming a lot of it hand over your car keys to someone you trust. Traditional cider is served completely flat. In Normandy, cider is fizzy and light. To achieve this style try asking a French farmer how. He almost certainly won’t tell you.
* Get hold of Making Cider by Jo Deal (Amateur Winemaker Publications) if you can; it’s like gold dust but has all the gen, plus recipes, and a few drinking songs for those who’ve overdone it.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN CIDER: CORE TRIVIA
* Over 350 varieties of cider apples are known and most are named by the farmers who cultivated them, hence names such as Slack-me-girdle, Handsome Maud, Sheep’s Nose and Cat’s Head.
* The cider industry uses 45 per cent of all apples grown in the UK, pressing some 140,000 tonnes annually. Two million apple trees have been planted in the past six years.
* During the 19th century farm labourers were paid partly in cider and in the 14th century Herefordshire babies were baptised in cider.
* The British drink more cider than any other nation, consuming 900 million pints a year.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN CIDER: THE BEST CIDER
Aspall Suffolk Cyder is a famous family concern, going since 1728. It makes fine vinegars and its ciders are available as Dry Premier Cru, Draught and Organic.
Weston’s Cider has been a traditional Herefordshire cider maker since 1880. Its range includes perries, organic cider and an array of bottlings. Try its Oak Conditioned Cider or, for cloudy cider fans, its scrumpy-style Old Rosie.
Perry’s Farmhouse Cider is a classic Somerset product. Its Traditional Draught Scrumpy is a party favourite.
Ralph’s Cider & Perry use traditional methods for their cider and perry, produced in Radnorshire. In 2015 their Sweet Perry won first prize at the International Cider & Perry Competition.