The Cider Press in action
Over the years I have used my old trolley jack to press surplus apples into cider, but I was never really satisfied with my Heath Robinson contraption. Not only was it ungainly, it was also inefficient.
With a bit more time on my hands I invested the princely sum of £4 in some oak battens and recycled lots of bits and bobs from around the shed, including two donated sash cramps, into what appeared to be a workable apple press.
To accompany this bit of the cider making process I also prepared cheap and effective "scratter" to smash the apples into squeezable lumps, but stops short of liquidising them, which is also ineffective. There are many very dangerous looking DIY scratters on the YouTube, so I opted for a safer plasterers whisk with a sharpened blade which was about 80% as effective as a commercial unit and a fraction of the cost.
Scratting the apples with a plasterers whisk
With autumn upon us and windfall apples being offered in abundance it seemed a good opportunity to christen the kit, so my friend and fellow home brew enthusiast Jon came round for a couple of hours and we set to work on the bags of over ripe apples in the shed.
Apple ready for pressing
I should hasten to add that the lovely cider apples provided by Sue and Richard (Indigo Dreamers) and featured in this post were not used in this pressing. They are ripening up and will be processed in a few weeks when they have softened up a bit more. For this pressing the apples we a mix of Emery and Wolferson Bramleys plus some softening cookers scrumped from Pelsall Common and some from my brother's orchard.
Apples awaiting the next pressing
The scratting in a beer vat half filled with apples was remarkably successful. We used the plasterers whisk attachment through a hole in the lid to minimise the splatter and after five minutes of churning up and down the apples had been reduced to smallish chunks.
The next stage was to load the pulp into the new press. Each pressing comprised four layers of apple, each wrapped in muslin and separated by wooden slats to let the juice escape. We found that half a vat of scratted apples fitted nicely into the press.
Then the press was engaged by screwing down both sash cramps and the juice poured out in a torrent. The pressure was enough to force juice through the side slats to it appeared to "cry", but the basket held as the top was screwed down. When the cramps were fully extended we added a wooden block to let us press further and by the time the pulp had compressed to about 40% of its original volume the flow slowed and the nearly dry apple crumb was removed.
Bleeding wood slats
This pressing process was repeated four times and we produced about 13 litres of apple juice. This was decanted into demijohns and left to ferment with an airlock inserted.
In the past I have had to use brewers yeast to start off apples picked straight from the tree but have found that if windfall apples are used the natural wild yeasts are introduced on their skins and it should ferment all by itself.
13 litres of apple juice
We were delighted with the effectiveness of the kit, messing around like a pair of schoolboys as the amber nectar flowed from the press. Time will tell if the fermentation kicks by itself, or if the resulting cider is any good. Past results were very positive so we are hopeful. Not that we will be drinking it anytime soon - the juice needs to ferment out, be bottled with a teaspoon on sugar (to make it sparkling) and then left to mature over the winter. Then, in the spring the temperature will rise and as it reaches 15C a secondary fermentation will take place altering the acids.
So we wont taste the results of our labours till next summer - time for a party!