Cooler temperatures and shorter days usher in fall. Sure, I love summer and the bounty that it brings, but there is something special about autumn. Not only does it signal the beginning of the end of the harvest, but it heralds in a drink that I associate with crisp days, bonfires, and hayrides. Yes, I am talking about apple cider.
Whether you buy yours from at a farmers’ market or at the local grocery store, great cider is a beverage worth seeking out. Or if you are fortunate and have your own cider press, it is worth spending an afternoon or two turning apples into cider.
But before we delve further into apple cider, I will clarify the difference between apple cider and apple juice. Yes, there really is a difference. Apple cider still has sediments from the pressing of the apples and is usually made from a variety of apples. This is generally in the form of apple pulp and/or perhaps a bit of apple skin. These sediments in no way negatively impact the flavor of the cider. They are in fact what help give apple cider its unique taste. Apple juice is the result of the sediment being removed from the liquid and juice is typically made with just one variety of apple. The flavor tends to be a little less distinctive, but still tasting of apples.
After much research and speaking with numerous apple growers, great cider boils down to the apple itself. Ideally, by blending at least three apple varieties, you can create a cider with a wonderful, complex flavor. Now don’t worry. If you only have access to just one type of apple, you can still make a very tasty cider, but it won’t have the depth of flavor that a blend will provide.
There are three areas that apples fall in. Sweet. Tart (sharp). Aromatic (bittersweet). Examples of sweet apples include: Red Delicious, Braeburn, Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp, Gala, and Fuji. Examples of tart apples include: McIntosh, Northern Spy, Granny Smith, Jonathan, Pink Lady, Gravenstein, and Winesap. Examples of Aromatic apples include: Newton, Cortland, Spartan, Empire, and Jonomac. While these three lists are not complete given that there are hundreds of apple varieties across the country, this will give you a good starting point. If you happen to be at an orchard, ask them which varieties they would recommend blending to produce a great tasting cider.
If you have access to multiple varieties, by all means, please use apples from those areas. A good starting point is to equal amounts of sweet, tart, and aromatic apples.
Now that you have an idea of which varieties to use, it is time to talk quantity. If you buy apples by the bushel, a rule of thumb is that one bushel of apples can produce 2 – 3 gallons of cider. Fresh cider does not have a long shelf life at room temperature. It is best consumed shortly after pressing or it should go into cold storage, such as the refrigerator. If you have plastic containers, you can move your cider to the freezer for longer term storage.
So friends, I encourage you to visit an orchard or go to a farmers’ market. Ask questions, purchase a variety of apples, and you too, can be enjoying the amber liquid that tastes of autumn. Cheers!