Maybe you realized those apple trees you planted a few years ago can actually produce quite a bit of fruit. Or, maybe your neighbor has a tree. Maybe you joined a social media group and have listened to enough people talking about pressing apples that you want to have a go at it yourself. If you make hard cider long enough, you will eventually get pulled into pressing your own fruit. However, the biggest challenge can be figuring out how to actually turn those beautiful or even rather gnarly looking apples into as much juice as possible. How should you press apples to make hard cider?
If you read my articles, you will realize that I like making hard cider. You probably also realize that I enjoy homemade pizza. Lastly, you will know that I answer a lot of questions about hard cider with the same answer: it depends. This is because there really are no right or wrong ways to making hard cider. As I often note in my book, making cider is both art and science. Science doesn’t define a right or wrong way of doing something. It only helps explain what you can expect when you take certain actions. You need art to make good cider and like all good artist, it take practice as well as experimentation. I say this because even something that sounds as simple as pressing apples into juice, isn’t really that simple. It impacts your cider. There is no right or wrong way to do it. There are only various means to the end, and each means will have pros and cons.
Many people think of apple cider being pressed using some old wooden crank press like the one referenced in John Worlidge’s Treatsie of Cider from 1675. The grand thing is that there are still many of these old presses and some modern interpretations of this style actively being used. However, that isn’t the only means to press apples into juice to make cider. My main goal of this post is to help you assess what might be best for you and your current situation. It’s also to let you know, there isn’t really a right or wrong way so do what works for you. My goal is simply to help you understand what you might expect from each type so you can pick the option that’s best for you.
Like hard cider styles, it impossible to categorize every type of cider press. However, you can put them into several general categories.
Traditional Grind & Press
The traditional method for juicing apples is the grind, scratter, scatter, or mill them and then press the pomace. Apples are relatively hard fruit with some being harder than others. To press them into juice you need to first break them down into smaller pieces. This is the traditional method and it is still the most common even for home hard cider makers. You can purchase scratters that are manual or electric but you can make your own. You can even just use a piece of wood in a bucket and pound apples into pulp. This pulp is then normally placed in sacks, bags, or some type of material that strains the solids from the juice during pressing. The press could be a small counter top model or a massive wooden structure. They can be basket style or pan style where the sacks of pomace, often called cheeses, are stack. The pressure can come from water (hydro press), hydraulic jacks, or manual screws. The yield, as defined by volume per weight of fruit, can vary greatly but is often defined by how much pressure you can apply and how the cheeses are arranged to enable the flow of juice.
- The yield can vary greatly but some presses, like bladder or hydro presses can be extremely efficient yielding one gallon per 13 pounds of apples (0.64 liter/kg) while others may require as much as 20 pounds per gallon (0.42 liters/kg).
- The use of pressing cloths provide a natural filter for suspended solids and can help provide a clearer juice.
- It permits the maceration of the pomace before pressing, which can breakdown pectin and provide tannin and color transfer from the peels and seeds. However, it is a two step process.
- It can require a lot of room and storage space for the scratter and press. Large wooden presses can have their own barn.
A more modern method is a direct press where you don’t grind or scratter the apple. Instead the entire whole apple is pressed. Again, you can find commercial and countertop versions. The common commercial option in this category would be a belt press, which can also be used with milled fruit. Whole apples can be fed through rollers using a belt and crushed. The home cider maker’s version of this would be the juicer. But, not all juicers are the same. You can find centrifugal juicers and masticating juicers. Centrifugal juicers grind the fruit into pieces and using high speed rotation, push the juice through a fine mesh screen. Masticating juicers use a slow rotating auger to crush whole fruits and push the juice through a screen. The nature of the centrifugal juicers means that you introduce a large amount of oxygen into the juice, which will often make it brown/amber. Note, this can help make this cider clear/silver (see Making Cider Silver). Masticating juicers will be more similar to belt presses and ultimately traditional presses with regards to oxidation. However, the will all need to be strained as they will have more solids in the juice.
- The yield can also vary depending on press type. However, the belt and masticating juicers will tend to produce higher yields. Centrifugal juicers will usually have a wetter pomace that you could press and remove juice. I average around 15 pounds per gallon of juice from my masticating juicer (0.56 liters/kg).
- You need an effective strainer to remove solids. I have used fine mesh stainless kitchen strainers with a rubber spatula but recently switched to a 0.75 micron brew/nut bag.
- You can’t use maceration as a process step so pectic enzyme application happen only in the juice. If you want peel maceration, you can peel some apples before pressing and reserve the peels for use in fermentation.
- Most juicers don’t like really soft fruit. You can end up with mushy applesauce versus juice if you juice really soft fruit. You often have to mix hard and soften together but your yield will suffer.
- Juicers are excellent for small batch single variety fermentations. You can juice 15-20 pounds of a single fruit type for a one-gallon batch and then move directly into the next variety.
- Juicers are compact and don’t take up a lot of room. Also, you can use them for other applications like pressing other fruit adjuncts.
There are other methods used to extract juice from apples and pears. Some of these are related to how the fruit is broken down before pressing while others are related to how the juice is extracted.
Alternatives to Scrattering and Milling:
- Freezing: Freezing whole apples bursts the cells of the fruit eliminating the need to scratter or mill the apple into a pomace.
- Blender: You can use a blender to scratter your apples into a pomace but you need to take care that you don’t over blend it and create a mush.
Alternatives to Pressing:
- Hand Press: Many first time makers will simply wrap the pomace with cheese cloth or a brew/nut bag and squeeze.
- Fruit Fermenting: Ever heard the term bletting? That is what happens when whole fruits naturally start to ferment or rot. It is used for pears and you could potentially do the same with apples. An alternative is when apples are chopped up, some water is added, and the fermentation is started using the entire fruit. You usually still need to press this pomace.
- Spin Dryer: I read a post online a while back about someone putting milled fruit in a pillow case and using a spin dryer to centrifuge the juice out of the pomace. It works and is another great example of an innovative alternative method.
I am sure I have missed other unusual and interesting methods of converting apples into juice for making hard cider. Some of these methods can create great yields. Others can significantly reduce the yield but may be your only option given your situation. Freezing apples and then thawing them can provide exceptional yields. The challenge can be on whether you have the ability to freeze a large quantity. If you live in Arizona, you would have to use a freezer. The other extreme is squeezing apples through cheese cloth that were diced using a food processor. This will work but expect a low yield. Most of these methods will also benefit from some type of strainer or filter to remove solids.
Ultimately, you need to consider the amount of apples you plan to process, how much room you have for storage, and how much money you can afford to spend. The juicer you already have or the freezer and stainless steel kitchen strainer might work great if you just want to process enough fruit for a gallon (3.8 liters) batch, which will normally be between 15-20 pounds of fruit. If you are doing multiple batches of 5 gallons (20 liters), a dedicated masticating juicer or large basket press might be in order. Once you start processing enough to make hundreds of gallons or liters, the post scratter method might become less attractive and a powerful mill and hydropress are probably better options. However, the main point to remember is that there is no wrong or right ways to get juice from your apples so don’t let that keep you from trying to make some of your own cider.
Photo Credits: Special thanks to members of the Amateur Cider Making and Cider Apples & Cider Making groups for photos used in this article: Robin Bornoff, Kevin Strange, Landis Bobandis Odell, Chris Chaplin, Ed Calipel, and Yvonne Hicks.
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