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Tuesday 4 October 2016

113. Seasons and cider

Isn’t autumn the best? I love the change in temperature, clothes and food. I get strangely excited by getting out my favourite jumpers, wearing woolly hats again, the first lighting of the woodburner, harvesting squash, making toad-in-the-hole. It’s like living in a glossy catalogue. With more batter.

Best of all, even better than oversized cardigans and sheepskin slippers, it’s booze-making time. A few weeks ago, we started this year’s cider batch. I’m not really one for instructions (giving or reading, I’m far too impatient. Any new gadget or appliance is simply plonked down in front of Rob with a whine of, ‘Rooooob, make it woooork.’), but here’s a skip through how we do it.

Get a shit-load of apples and chop them up. We started with around eight sacks of apples this year. Don’t ask me what kinds of apples they were, it’s whatever we can get our hands on – our eating apples, our crab apples, apples from friends, sometimes even pears. We chopped them all into eighths (quarters for the little crab apples) and got rid of any that had worms living in them (yep, we’re all about the health and hygiene). By the end of this stage, we had three giant plastic tubs (each 60 litres) full of chopped apples – double what we had last year. Our livers trembled in fear.

Three of these bad boys full of apples.

Bash the apples in the container. Last year, Rob just bashed them with a big old bit of wood. As we had so much more this year, he decided to get creative. First he made a tool out of a wooden pole and our garden strimmer blades (fully sterilised, obviously). 

Improvised apple-bashing tool.

Unfortunately, the pole broke after about five minutes. Then, he thought he’d try with the actual strimmer itself. We have a big Stihl petrol strimmer. Words can’t quite convey how hilarious it was seeing Rob stood on a chair ‘strimming’ a container of apples. Luckily, I took a picture.

There are no words.

This worked well, although the strimmer was starting to smell a bit, erm, hot and smoky after a while. Chunks of apples are obviously quite a big tougher than grass blades. So we switched to something a little more low-tech: a bulb planter. Ours is only a cheapy plastic thing, but it’s got a sturdy handle and serrated edge which made it brilliant for bashing up the apples. Lots of elbow grease required, though. I suddenly had something very important to do far, far away….

Pressing. Once you’ve got a brown, puply, disgusting mess, it’s time to press the mixture to get out the apple juice. Rob used to do this with a car jack and a simple, homemade wooden box with a hole in it for the juice to run out. It worked really well, but was slow going because you could only press a tiny amount at a time. Benevolent dictator that I am, this year I bought him a proper fruit press from Metro (we think it’s designed for grapes but it works well on apples). This pressed all the fruit in next to no time, leaving us with one 60-litre container of yummy apple juice.

Mmmm, get in my belly. Not.

Fancy new press.

Liver. Trembling. Mouth. Watering.

Turning apple juice into rocket juice. Basically, you heat up some of the juice, dissolve sugar in it and then add the sugary mixture to the container of juice. How much sugar, you ask? Anywhere between a kilo and four kilos, depending on how sweet your juice is. (Trying to get exact measurements out of Rob is like trying to get a red wine stain out of a white shag carpet.) He started with around a kilo for our 60-litre container, then tasted it and decided another kilo was needed. Rob says it should taste sweet at the beginning, but most of the sugar will get turned into alcohol. Then we left it for a week or so, went on holiday to Sinemorets (hurrah for holidays), and came back for another taste. Rob has just informed me he put another two kilos in at this stage! Christ almighty. ‘We *probably* won’t have to put in any more,’ he says. (Note: we make a pretty darn alcoholic cider. We think last year’s batch was around 7%. Presumably, less sugar would make a less alcoholic cider?)

Bottle it. After about a month, when it tastes like delicious cider, decant the cider into sterilised bottles. We like a slightly fizzy cider so we bottle it while it’s still fizzing a bit. If you want a still cider, just wait until it’s stopped fizzing. Ours is always the colour of a badly dehydrated marathon runner’s urine, but, hey, it tastes good. Oh, and for heaven’s sake store it in a cool, dark place. We inadvertently put a bottle on a shelf in front of a hot water pipe once. Cider explosion all over the pantry. Sticky, sticky, sticky. We’re still finding sticky patches almost a year later.

Ours should be ready to bottle in a couple of weeks. So, come Halloween, we’ll be sitting in front of the woodburner, enjoying a supremely tasty, ridiculously alcoholic, dubiously coloured glass of cider. Isn’t autumn the best?