Taking a trip to your local orchard to harvest or purchase apples and then making your own cider can be a fun family pastime with a tasty result. Two types of cider can be made. Sweet cider is a non-alcoholic beverage made from fresh pressed apples, while hard cider is produced from apple juice that undergoes fermentation and contains about 2 to 8% alcohol.
Ciders can be made from just one apple cultivar, but usually juice from at least three or four cultivars tends to result in a more complex flavor. For decades, ciders in Missouri were made from three widely-grown cultivars, Jonathan, Golden Delicious, and Red Delicious. Juice from these cultivars was blended together in equal parts. In this blend, the sweet flavor is derived from Golden Delicious, aromatics are from Red Delicious, and the acidity is from Jonathan juice. To add a greater complexity of flavors, an astringent cultivar may be added but usually only about 10 to 20% of the final blend. The astringency can be obtained from apples with a high tannin content, such as Kingston Black, Dabinett, Porter's Perfection, and Hewe's Crab, but these cultivars are scarce as Missouri growers are starting to grow this type of fruit with the resurgence in interest in making ciders.
Many other Missouri-grown apple cultivars can be used for cider. Those with medium to high acidity include Granny Smith, Empire, Akane, Arkansas Black, Rome Beauty, McIntosh, Pink Lady, Winesap, Wealthy, and York. Cultivars that add sweetness to a cider blend include Gala, Fuji, Honeycrisp. Additional cultivars with a sweet/tart flavor are Braeburn, Jonagold, and Mutsu. For fun, experiment with various blends of juice in different proportions to create a distinctive cider that pleases your palate.
When harvesting apples for cider, only use fruit picked from the tree. Apples that have fallen to the ground may be contaminated with animal feces. Also, fruit that has been on the ground for more than a day may be spoiled. Red or yellow-skinned apples should be well-ripened with no green undercolor present on the peel. Under-ripe fruit produces a starchy flavor that is undesirable. Fortunately, apples continue to ripen after harvest. If the apples are still a bit underripe, they can be left at room temperature and then pressed for cider.
Apples sold at reputable farm markets are usually washed, scrubbed, and sorted into grades. Those sold as grade one apples at Missouri farm markets are free of any imperfections. Utility grade fruit (also known locally as grade two apples) may have minor surface blemishes such as russeting, limb rubs, insect stings, or other superficial scars, but are free of broken skins. Either grade may be used for cider, but lower grade fruit will be less expensive. A bushel of apples (about 42 lbs.) will yield approximately three gallons of juice. Before juicing, sanitize the work area and wash the fruit. Apples may be peeled or not, depending on the type of flavors desired in the cider. For small batches of cider, fruit can be cored and pared into quarters or smaller chunks and run through an electric fruit juicer. For large batches, commercial grinders and presses can be purchased or sometimes rented locally. Refrigerate or freeze the cider immediately after juicing in sanitized containers. If desired, potassium sorbate may be added to extend the storage life of refrigerated cider.
In the past, outbreaks of E. coli, Salmonella, and Cryptosporidium infections in humans were associated with unpasteurized cider. The suspected cause of these diseases was the use of dropped apples where animal manure was nearby or present on the ground in the orchard. Thus, pasteurization of cider is recommended for those at high risk, including infants, young children, pregnant women, older adults, or individuals with a weakened immune system. To pasteurize cider, simply heat the juice to at least 160 to 185°F before pouring it into sanitized containers and refrigerate or freeze it immediately. Pasteurized cider can be stored in the refrigerator for about three weeks. At local markets, unpasteurized cider may be available, but it should be clearly labeled with a warning statement.
REVISED: October 1, 2020