There are few things that scream "Fall!" to me like apple cider. I love the stuff! But is it just me, or is cider expensive? I've seen it as low as $4 a gallon on sale in stores, but at farm markets (where I prefer to buy it), it's as high as $6-8!
Enter my Hubby's frugal mind. When we really love something and it's on the more expensive side, he likes to find a way to do it ourselves. Off to YouTube he went to find a simple homemade press. And sure enough, he found one here:
Now, our press isn't nearly as pretty. Hubby used this one as a model, but did some things differently.
He fashioned it out of some old scrap wood and fence posts that a contractor friend gave us, and he only drilled some 2x6's on top instead of the fancy overlapped wood. We had some old matching cookie sheets we weren't using, so Hubby drilled holes in the corner of one, and we used the other one to press down. The only money he had to spend was on some $10 bolts, so it was really inexpensive to make.
Making the Cider:
Once we had our frame made, I gathered the other materials we needed.
- two old cookie sheets
- 1 yard muslin, cut in half
- small bowl or two
- wire mesh strainer
- apple pulp (I made this by chopping the apples finely in our food processor)
- jug and funnel for the finished cider.
I know, I have a fabulous video presence... please ignore all the "umms" in there!
Once we pressed the cider, I heated it on the stove to about 180 degrees Fahrenheit to pasteurize it, canned some, and refrigerated the rest. Oh, and I washed A LOT of dishes (food processor pieces, bowls, cookie sheets, etc.).
What We Learned:
There was definitely a learning curve when it came to make our first batch of cider. By the second and third time, we had a pretty good system going. Here are a few tips we picked up along the way:
It's a two-person job: When loading the press, one person needs to hold the sides of the fabric up while the other person piles on the apple pulp. Otherwise, you might have an apple spill.
The amount of apple pulp: The first time, we didn't use enough pulp per pressing and it took forever. The next time, we really filled our fabric and it went much faster.
The way you lay the pulp in the fabric: You need plenty of clearance on the sides of the fabric or all that beautiful, sweet nectar will dribble over the sides of the cookie sheet instead of down to the corner where the hole is. Since we didn't have a nice frame like in the video above, we made a big pile of pulp in the center of the fabric and then pressed it into a fairly uniform shape using a spoon. Then, together we wrapped the fabric into a neat little package.
Do some measurements first: Hubby literally made the press the afternoon after he saw the YouTube video, and while he did draw out some plans before he started, he didn't take into account the size of the cookie sheets or the jack. Therefore, our press was larger than it needed to be. That turned out to be okay, because we just compensated by adding extra wood on top of the press to make the jack reach the top. However, if we were to make it again, we would have made it shorter and more narrow.
We also would probably make the top stronger to better hold up to the pressure of the car jack. And we would make the bottom a bit taller so we didn't have to put the whole thing on a table in order for the bowl to fit underneath and catch the cider.
- fence posts and scrap lumber - $0, already owned
- two cookie sheets - $0, already owned
- 1 yard muslin, cut in half - $2
- 2 half-inch bolts - approx $10
Was it worth it?
Well... yes and no.
The Work: Making cider the way we did definitely took some time and energy. Since we used neglected apples from a neighbor's tree (with their permission, of course), I spent a lot of time cutting out bad spots (and a few worms too). If we were using good quality apples, the whole process would have gone much more quickly!
The Experience: Being the homesteading, do-it-yourself people that we are, there was something incredibly satisfying about making the cider ourselves. And since I was able to can it for later, we'll be able to enjoy the fruit of our labor into the winter months. (Side note: It's more common to freeze extra cider, but since our freezer is pretty full as it is, we chose to can it in quart jars.)
The Cost: Since we used free apples and only spent $10 on supplies to make the press, our cider was very economical. If we were to purchase our own apples, it would depend on the cost per pound and how much cider it would yield. With the seconds we bought at a local orchard for $0.25 a pound, I think it would still be an economical option, especially since we can use the leftover scraps to make applesauce.
Bottom Line: If you like the experience of making something yourself and you don't mind the extra work, this is a fun fall activity to try.
So, what do you think?
Is it worth it? Would you make your own cider using a "hillbilly" press?