Getting started - first steps FAQ
Question: To clean or not to clean?
Hi, my name is Peter. May I first congratulate you on this excellent resource! I am just getting into cider making at home and am unsure about 1 area in particular. When making cider do you normally wash the apples? Do I need to do anything in particular to avoid getting the cider contaminated? If you don't wash the apples do you use anything like campden tablets? Do you use naturally occuring yeast on the apples or do you add ale yeast or something similar.
I have read so many conflicting views it is hard to make the right choice. Basically I want the most natural additive free final product possible but want to balance that against the risk of contaminating the cider with harmful bacteria and other nasties.
Any advice would be much appreciated.
Thanks in advance
A: Wash fruit, Discard Mould and Rot. Some Brown Patches and holes OK
Hi Peter. Inspect the apples carefully and discard any that are rotten or covered in mould. Some bruising is fine, but look closely at any brown areas - is it a bruise or is it rot? Some areas of rot or damage can be cut out. Likewise insect damage, ie. Codling Moth. Some folks insist on cutting all insect damage out, some folks just cut out the worse - some don't bother at all.
The apples should always be washed to remove any unwanted muck, mud, bird-droppings, insects, slugs, etc. etc. We use a plastic bath that we clean thoroughly and then fill with fresh water, but any large, clean tub or bucket will do; the apples are left to soak for 15 minutes or so and rolled around periodically. As they are removed from the bath to drain (we use a plastic washing basket with extra holes drilled in the bottom) we look over the apples to discard any that don't meet the grade. It's often a good idea to add a quick rinse with clean water at this stage.
Adding campden tablets (an easily available, used and measured source of Sulphur Dioxide or SO2) is down to how much of a purist you are, how sensitive you are to SO2 (asthmatics have problems with SO2) - and how prepared you are to pour it all away if it turns to vinegar because some nasty bacteria got through! We cannot afford the latter, so use SO2 sparingly to ensure the unwanted bugs are killed off. Andrew Lea has an excellent chart to take some of the guess-work out of how much SO2 / how many campden tablets to add and it is to be found in the "Science" section of his excellent website which gives lots of very useful information. What is important when deciding how much SO2 (if any) to add, is being able to test the acidity or Ph of the juice, so try and get hold of some narrow-range indicator papers of the range 2.8 - 4.6 or thereabouts (ideally 3.0 - 4.0). They can be ordered on-line from The Home Brew Shop amongst others.
Depending on how much SO2 you use, will depend on how much of the naturally occuring yeasts survive. If you are careful and use the SO2 sparingly, enough natural yeasts should survive to get the cider fermenting, but it may take a week or three before the fermentation is strong enough for you to notice it "working". Otherwise, use a sachet of cultured cider yeast (such as SB24), again available from many Home Brew shops or on-line for less than GB£1. Wine-yeasts can also be used effectively though some claim it gives the cider a slightly different flavour. My advice is not to use an ale yeast, as this is quite a different beast...
If you want to make cider with the minimum amount of interference with chemicals and potions, then cleanliness is paramount.
Keep all equipment sparkling clean, washing with hot soapy water, rinsing and particularly drying very well. Make up some SO2 solution using Metabisulphate crystals and use this to rinse all equipment after and especially before use. Really grubby stuff is best washed using a chlorine-based cleaner and steriliser such as Chempro SDP, Brewclens or Milton.