Thursday, September 5, 2013

Building Unity Farm - The Cider House Tools

The orchard at Unity Farm has 36 trees, of which 24 are heritage apple varieties.   Since each tree will produce 5 bushels (a bushel is 42 pounds), we'll have 120 bushels (over 5000 pounds of apples per year) when the trees reach maturity.    Of course we'll eat, sauce, jelly and produce various apple products from them, but my favorite way to enjoy fresh apples in the Fall is to make cider.

One bushel yields about 3 gallons of cider, so we could make up to 360 gallons.

Cider can be frozen and kept for a year but even with pasteurization (which changes the flavor), unfrozen cider will not keep more than a few weeks.

The easy answer to preserving cider is to make traditional fermented hard cider.

Here's how we'll do it.

In the orchard, we have a cider house, pictured above.  All our orchard harvesting and honey processing tools are kept clean and dry in that building.  We have a 36 liter cider press and grinder which can produce about 9 gallons of juice per pressing, pictured below

We'll test our apples for flavor, acidity, tannin content, sweetness, and bitterness then choose a combination of apples that will make a balanced cider.  Our hand cranked fruit grinder sites on top of the press and we'll fill the pressing basket with approximately 2 bushels of ground apples.    We'll apply pressure via the hand cranked ratcheting screen and gather the juice a gallon at a time.  I prefer a two stage fermentation with racking of juice from the spent yeast for a clearer final product.   I have two fermenters made from food grade HDPE plastic, which is unbreakable and easy to clean.   I've had good luck in the past with Champagne yeast  and will make a starter culture the night before pressing.   Once inoculating, I'll let fermentation proceed naturally in the 60 degree outdoor temperatures that are typical in late September/early October.  When the initial fermentation is done, I'll siphon the juice from one fermenter to another and let it ferment another week.  

I prefer my ciders to be very dry, so I do not plan on adding any sweetener before bottling.   I will likely make a few bottles of sparkling cider as well, adding a bit of sugar solution then bottling in swing top containers.   After a few months the cider will mellow and carbonate, ready to ring in the new year if all goes well.

Since hard cider has been an American home brew tradition for hundreds of years, the laws regulating production and distribution are simpler than wine.   In a few years, I hope invite friends and colleagues to bring their growlers to fill with Unity Farm cider, hand made with our cider house tools.


Joe Stewart said...

There is a burlap bag hanging from the apple tree in the photograph of the cider house - what's in the bag and what purpose does it serve?

John Halamka said...

You're very observant! When we planted the young trees we placed small bags of rocks on the main branches to provide tension that encourages the plant to direct resources to growing the :"infrastructure" of the tree. Our arborist friends have told us that this technique results in a strong, long-lived, heavy bearing apple tree. Think of it as a stairmaster for the tree.

Henryhbk said...

John, have you considered doing a traditional cider jack with some of the cider using the clay-pot method? Might be fun to try.