When you pick apples in Southern Arizona, whether you sweat or not isn’t often a choice. Even at cooler elevations over 5000 feet, the sun can be brutal and I often work up a good sweat gathering apples for my hard ciders. Believe it or not, apples can also sweat or at least they lose water, which could be why it’s called sweating. However, while we sweat to help keep our bodies cool, sweating apples or pears is about making them better for hard cider. Let’s first explore the sweating process before we go talk about what happens to the fruit.
In its simplest form, sweating is the storage of apples after harvest for a set period of time. However, just like the fermentation process, if you ask 100 people how they do it, you will get 100 different answers. Should you sweat them inside or outside? Should you sweat them in a pile or spread out? Should you rotate or mix the fruit? Should the temperature be warmer or colder? Should the air be humid or dry? Should you even sweat your fruit?
As I am known to say, the answer is that it depends. Ultimately, there is no right answer to any of these questions. There is only what works for you and your circumstances. I live in Arizona. It is very arid here and the sun can be brutal. It can also be pretty warm: 100-105F/38-40C. As a result, I sweat my fruit in totes sitting in my home office. Yes, I do enjoy the sweet smell of the orchard some days wafting out of the office! However, in other locations the sweating process might look quite different. In many traditional cider locations, you might see large piles of apples sitting outside. Ultimately, you need to understand your environment and the goal so you can decide how to best sweat your apples.
Whether you sweat your apples inside or outside, the process is generally one of waiting. You harvest the fruit and then place it somewhere and wait. How long you wait goes back to the temperature, humidity, sun, and other conditions that are available to you. Overall, there are three main things that can happen during the apple sweating process and all of these can help make better hard cider.
- Fruit Ripening: Sweating allow some residual starches in your apples to turn to sugar. This will increase the specific gravity of the juice once you press it. However, sweating isn’t a replacement for tree ripening. You can’t pick an unripe fruit and expect it to properly ripen through sweating. You want to pick or harvest when the fruit is ripe but sweating can help ensure your apples are as ripe as possible.
- Fruit Softening: I find this to be a two-edge sword (i.e. it can be good and bad). Fruit will tend to soften as it ripens. This can be the cell structure of the fruit breaking down, which allow more juice to be extracted and more flavors to be released. However, it can mean you juice becomes a sauce with a lot of solids suspended in it. My process, which involves a wide-mouth masticating juicer, doesn’t work well with mushy fruit. I believe traditional presses can suffer from the same situation. This requires mixing softer fruit with harder fruit and more solid waste when I strain it. I’ve read that people use grain hulls to help flow juice from softer fruit.
- Water Evaporation: The final activity that happens during sweating is water loss. Apples will lose water through evaporations as they sit. Spreading them out, placing them in low humidity, and rotating them will increase this evaporation process. While this doesn’t make them riper, it does make the sugar in the remaining water (i.e. the juice) sweeter because it is more concentrated. This can increase your specific gravity by several points.
The last question you might have is how do I know when your apples or pears are done sweating. Most books and articles recommend sweating them until the peel takes on a greasy feel. If you never felt it before, you will know what I mean as soon as you have experienced it the first time. Arkansas Black apples that I sweat get This greasy skin. Others signs that the apples have sweated enough are slightly wrinkling of the skin. Lastly, the apples soften where you can just start to leave a thumb print when you press. These conditions are signs that your apples or pears are ready for pressing and fermenting.
I sweat most of my apples but I have found that some culinary pears don’t sweat well, especially Bosc. Fruits that ripen later and are normally very firm seem to benefit most from sweating. Personally, my main goal is to elevate the specific gravity of my fruit by a few points and it always seems to help me achieve that goal. I can also just run out of time some weekends so I clean the fruit but let it sweat to sweeten up. Ultimately, you can make great cider whether you sweat your fruit or not. So, if you pick your apples and immediately press them or you let them sit for a bit, you shouldn’t sweat it. Pun intended. 😂
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