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In the early fall, the apples start coming in, and while they are delicious, for those who have trees, using all of them can be a bit challenging. Of course, there’s applesauce. There are chopped salads, apple pies, and caramel apples. Heck, apples are pretty stellar by themselves, or they can provide the notably sweet and wonderful flavor in green juice. My point is that there are more ways to use apples than a good cook can deal with.

However, a full-grown and productive apple tree can produce up to 10 bushels of apples, which is about 420 pounds of fruit. That’s a lot, and even keen kitchen crusaders might find their knees buckling at the thought of — Gaia forbid — two or three trees in the yard. With so many apples around, we’ve got to find a means for making them ever the more magical.

Hard apple cider, a nectar of the gods, is just the way.

A Brief Interlude into History

Truth be told, hard apple cider has long been a part of our history — both humanity and the U.S. — and, at one point, it was the preferred sipping beverage at the table, for both children and adults. In fact, Johnny Appleseed, of folkloric fame, was actually planting all those trees to produce apples for sudsy sips rather than healthy bites.

Oh, yes, truth be told, apple trees grown from seed produce an unpredictable fruit, sometimes not quite right for snacking. However, these apples are just right for making ciders, which, somewhat like baking apples, don’t have the same rigorous qualifications as eating apples. And, herein lies the point: find some organic apples, the cheapest around, and they’ll work just fine.

The Basics of Cider Production

Not to take any of the well-earned glory from hard cider producers — Woodchuck, Angry Orchard, Wyder’s, etc., but hard cider ain’t all that hard to make. It’s one of the most readily available ferments for beginners, and even better, often if it goes awry, the resulting mistake is apple cider vinegar, which some would argue is more exciting.

Whatever the case, making hard apple cider is the number one goal, and it requires little more than some unpasteurized — fresh is best — apples, juiced. This sweet concoction will attract wild yeast from the air, as is the case with fermentation, and within a couple of days, it will begin becoming alcoholic. Then, it’s ready to drink, and that can provide a lot of fun.

A Real Homespun Hard Cider Recipe

The first rule of making hard apple cider is that it can’t be done with juice/cider that has preservatives, as these will prevent it from fermenting, the crux of the process. It’s possible to buy fresh cider from farms with a press, or, at home, they can be blended and filtered through a cheesecloth. (Apples are around 65 percent liquid.) However it is done, we are looking for unpasteurized, preservative-free apple juice.

Now, with the apple juice on hand, we can begin the process of making it happier, i.e. alcoholic. That simply requires putting it in a large glass container, leaving a little room for bubbling and such, and covering said container with cheesecloth or an old piece of a T-shirt, anything that’ll allow air, i.e. wild yeast, in and keep fruit flies out.

Then, as is the case with all ferments, nature needs a little time to do its work.

The Great Thing about Apple Cider

Obviously, one great thing about hard apple cider is that it is absolutely tasty, and as a fermenter, it’s one of the easier and faster concoctions to make. Within a couple of days of sitting in a glass container on the kitchen counter or in the pantry, it will begin turning alcoholic. Just give it a quick stir or two each day, and within a week, it’s more or less charged and ready for a party.

As with any ferment, at this point (once it’s ready), just stick it in the fridge to slow down the process. It can easily last a month or more, and the potency will increase ever so slightly until it begins to turn to vinegar. Once it starts to taste that way, well, you’ve made apple cider vinegar, and that’s a great thing to have around, too.

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