In theory at least, cider can be made from one single ingredient – Apples! But, traditionally, if the fermentation struggles to get going, it was thought that throwing a dead rat into the vat would help it along. Let's just hope we never have this problem!
In the modern age the cider maker pasteurises his apple juice and inoculates it with a special cider yeast. The only other ingredient would be a very small amount of sugar or honey in the bottling stage to get the cider to be nice and fizzy.
Before I start, let it be said that I am not a great cider lover. Actually, I do not like English farm yard scrumpy cider at all and the only cider I have really enjoyed is that which comes from the land of Normandy in France, and from very particular farm yards in that district. Some of these guys have been making their cider for hundred's of years, passing on their secret recipes from one generation to the next. Some years ago now, I tried to spy on their process by disguising myself as a farmyard donkey and managed to get most of the recipe before being discovered by an amorous farm hand. Sadly, I can not elaborate on this as the full storey is not appropriate for our younger readers.
A big part of the recipe is that they never use any artificial ingredients or chemicals so their product is guaranteed at least 99% apples (or pears). So much cider we buy in the shops in the UK is industrialised rubbish full of chemicals, truck loads of sugar and hardly any apples - YUK! Proper English Farm yard cider is ok, but I just don't like the taste. It's a personal thing. Some of my friends love it.
Other than eradicate world poverty and provide everybody with immortality, there is one last task I wish to do with my life before I die and that is to produce a bottle of hard cider that I actually enjoy drinking - to successfully replicate traditional Normandy Cider.
I realise that this is a perfectly impossible task and so, anticipating my imminent failure, I am psychologically prepared to rectify the situation by turning the bad cider that I produce into very nice apple brandy and relieving my overwhelming sense of failure by drinking that instead!
The finished product was bottled up and taken to Ffarm Moelyci for appraisal by a panel of expert hard cider drinkers, but, sadly, none of them could taste the essential Dead Rat™ flavour and so ultimately the recipe had to be marked down as a failure.
Step 1: Equipment
In times gone by, cider making used to involve some very exotic and complicated machinery that, apart from being very expensive, would add many unwanted bacteria and other microorganisms into the brewing pot.
Living next door to a cider factory had some advantages, for one, unlimited cider as I was small enough to crawl through a hole in the fence and help myself to the brew straight from the giant wooden vats located inside. I always left a few coins as payment .
In those days, cider drinking started at the tender age of twelve and the apples were brought in by horse and cart and dumped in their hessian bags right by the roadside. Quite often, if the vats were all in full production, the apples would be left lying there for several weeks attracting all kinds of animals, slugs and other creatures until they were quite rotten and seeping through the lining of the bag. In this case, rather than discard the precious fruit, the whole bag was chucked into the processing machine, hessian, rats, mice, slugs and all!
Apart from getting slowly poisoned by the acidic liquor going through the lead pipes, it was a wonder that I never actually got food poisoning very often, but I guess I must have built up a natural resistance to it.
Another interesting observation was that most of the workers in the factory were almost constantly intoxicated, except for the first ten minutes after their arrival in the morning. All the workers were allowed to drink as much cider as they wanted.This is how I knew I could get away with the donkey disguise later on in life when engaging in espionage in Normandy – The workers would be too drunk to tell the difference between me and a real donkey.
Knowledge of health and hygiene was virtually non-existent and it was often quoted that the workers deliberately put a dead rat into the cider to help the fermentation. I can assure you that this is a complete myth and the reason why rats were found in the brew was more by accident than a deliberate act. Other than in the sacks of apples, rats would also crawl around on top of the rafters above the open tops of the vats and sometimes, through a badly miss judged scuttle, they would simply fall into the vat and drown.
In more recent times people have been able to use more hygienic equipment, namely a scratter and a press but this has always been quite expensive to do with a reasonable degree of economy of scale and hygiene.
In this recipe, only one machine is required as there is no chopping of apples needed.
- Sage Nutri Juicer If you're in the USA, you'll need a Breville Juice Fountain (which is the same thing!)
- 5 gallon plastic fermenting bucket
- Swing top bottles
- Hydrometer (optional)
- Thermometer (optional)
- 6" PVC pipe x 3' long (optional)
- Filter bag 9" x 16" (23 x 40cm) (optional)
Step 2: Ingedients
- Cider making yeast
Please do not add a dead rat into the brew. Yes, I know it's called 'Dead Rat™ Cider', but actually, there is NO DEAD RAT! There's not even a dead possum. There are no dead animals used in this recipe.
Step 3: Procedure
1.Source your apples and/or pears. Many people on my island have apple trees and let the apples go to waste so they can be obtained for free, with permission of course!
2. Check the apples for bugs etc, make sure that they are ripe and wash in potable water. Bruised apples are ok but not rotten ones!
3. Fire up the juicer and bang the apples through it as fast as possible. It is actually almost impossible to destroy this machine as there are some very fancy electronics that stop it from being overloaded. The best speed that I had with the BJE410UK was 60 L of apple juice per hour!
4. Pour the apple juice into a 30 L plastic tub and scoop off the foamy stuff that rises to the top and discard (see photo). A strainer bag could be used at this point to remove most of the coarse material and increase the yield slightly, but is not essential. My strainer bag is fastened to the top of a 6" PVC soil pipe that has been slotted out with a jigsaw (see photo). The gunk left in the filter bag is called 'Lees' and can be used to make nice apple flavoured bread or cakes.
5. Pasteurise the apple juice by heating it to 80 degrees C for 5 minutes in a large stainless steel stock pot. This will kill most of the bacteria and yeast that will be in it.
6. Allowed to cool to below 25°C and pitch in the yeast. Measure the specific gravity if you want to know the final alcohol strength (optional).
7. Sterilise the 30 l plastic tub with boiling water. Chemicals are totally unnecessary .
8. Snap on the lid, which should have a airlock mounted in it to prevent oxygen fri turning the alcohol to acetic acid (vinegar).
9. Leave in a warm place to ferment. This should be finished after approx. 1 month.
10. Measure the specific gravity again (optional), sterilise the bottles with boiling water and add exactly 8g of sugar per litre of cider for lots of fizz. If you want a more moderate fizz, use 4g of sugar. Don't try and put the sugar into the bottles with a teaspoon as it is very messy - work out the maths and add the sugar to the main tub . An alternative is to use small stainless steel kegs and bottled carbon dioxide. Don't use the plastic pressure kegs as they are totally useless as the pressure causes them to leak. If using bottles, make sure that the tops are very well secured as the pressure may blow them off. All bottles used must be resistant to the pressures generated by the sugar. Swing top bottles are best!
11. Leave the bottles for another 20 days to generate carbon dioxide and go fizzy.
12. Carefully open the top of the bottle, preparing for a whole load of fizzy bubbles to come out. It may well be just like champagne! DO NOT shake the bottle and aim it at your friend as this will waste the cider.
13. Now drink and hopefully it will taste delicious. Please drink sensibly - one 500ml bottle per day would be a maximum amount.
Step 4: Labelling
Feel free to use my amazing Dead Rat™ Cider labels. Not for commercial use.
Step 5: Tasting the Cider
The panel of expert cider drinkers at Ffarm Moelyci put the Dead Rat™ through it's paces. Unfortunately, although people liked the taste of the cider, nobody could taste the special Dead Rat™ flavour.
Step 6: Final
So there we have it, how to make Normandy cider, a recipe handed down through the generations in one family only to be stolen by one man disguised as a donkey. There are lessons to be learnt, for one I would never use the donkey disguise again as I had no idea how intense the relationship between a farm hand and a donkey could get! I think a smelly old goat with very big horns would have been more appropriate.
Also, as you may have guessed, there is probably a lot more to cider making than the aforementioned. One thing that would be a good idea is to brew each apple variety in different fermenting vessels and compare and contrast the different tastes. This would then lead to blending where two or more varieties would be blended together to create a new and more interesting flavour. The possibilities are endless as there are many hundreds of different apple varieties and each tree grows differently depending on the environmental conditions such as soil, sunshine, temperature etc. More information can be found here: http://cider.org.uk/
Happy cider making everybody!
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