The joy of making stuff. (Especially when you can drink it afterwards.)

Posted: August 24, 2013 in Humour, Popular Culture et al
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Now leave it alone ... leave it alone ...

Now leave it alone … leave it alone …

There is a total pleasure, unalloyed, simple and honourable, in making something oneself. Devoid of the ability to carve a Taj Mahal out of whalebone or paint a dashing watercolour by the dying light of the day, I get my kicks from matters culinary. In this case, alcoholic or “hard” cider.

Cider is in my blood. (Literally, as well as figuratively, as the act of bottling this year’s brew has, I admit, required a little subtle sampling of a pint or two.)

It is the drink of choice in the South and West of England where I come from, and also in many parts of Europe, where for centuries it has been the “peasants’ drink”.

It's a well-known fact that scrumpy drinkers in the west of England live to be over 200 years old regularly: well, not so much live, but their bodies miraculously do not decay. They're pickled before death.

It’s a well-known fact that scrumpy drinkers in the west of England live to be over 200 years old regularly: well, not so much live, but their bodies miraculously do not decay. They’re pickled before death.

The reason is easy to divine – apples were plentiful, grew wild, or were inexpensive, and do not keep awfully long when ripe, after a long growing season.

Rather than lose the accumulated goodness of an entire summer’s growth the medieval peasants did the only sensible thing – turned it into alcohol to keep their Vitamin C stores up and keep the winter woes away.

They didn’t know that’s what they were doing, but whatever it was they did think they were doing, it sure felt good.

Country-style cider (by which I mean, fascinatingly cloudy, dry as a dog’s water bowl on a hot summer’s day, and always non carbonated, served at room temperature not chilled) is ridiculously easy to make.

Essentially it is the result of mixing crushed apple pulp and apple juice, water, and yeast and leaving it alone for a goodly lump of time. Tens of thousands of farmhouses in Europe still have an “apple crush” where apples are squashed between bales of hay, the juice collected in vats, and allowed to ferment. Paired with a cob loaf, crisp salt-free butter, some spicy home-made tomato chutney*, a bitingly severe mature Cheddar cheese and a sunny summer’s day sat at a wooden table somewhere picturesque, “scrumpy” (home-made cider) is the core of one of the great meals (a “Ploughman’s Lunch”) that one could ever enjoy, anywhere in the world.

Stories of rats falling in the barrel and drowning – all good for enhancing the taste – are not merely apocryphal, I knew one farmer in my youth who hunted them specifically to chuck a couple in the vat. What the Occupational Health and Safety Standards and Food Standards people don’t know will never harm them.

Not a complicated concept, really.

Not a complicated concept, really.

The Wellthisiswhatithink brew is a tad easier. I will keep this simple:

Get a big “thingy” to brew in. You know: made of plastic, (easy to clean), bobbly-bubbly valve thing on top so the lid doesn’t blow off, spout at the bottom.

To a tin of apple concentrate (any home brew store has them) add a mixture of 22 litres of warm water and supermarket-sourced apple juice (or crush your own apples as we did last year, but it’s too early for that currently in the Southern Hemisphere) with the proportions of water and juice being entirely up to you. Using more juice may add some natural yeasts to the brew if the juice hasn’t been heated to within an inch of its life, and also adds sweetness.

Now chuck in a load of sugar of some sort or other (un-refined gives a deeper flavour, refined becomes more alcoholic), and your yeast of choice. Part of the fun is trying different yeasts – “cider yeast” should theoretically produce a predictable result, but “champagne yeast” is good too. Or mix and match yeasts and hope they don’t go troppo – or even chuck in some unpeeled apples and apple peel and let the natural yeasts on their skins do their thing. The result, however, is less reliable, as a lot of natural yeasts floating round on the breeze aren’t, um, very tasty.

Leave in a warm-ish room for two to three weeks and wait till its stops going “plop”. (That means there’s no more fermentation happening.) Leave 1 day to be sure, and then drain off the cider and leave it as long as you can before drinking it – the taste and quality deepens and expands – but not more than six months or risk it going bad.

Oh, be still my beating heart.

Oh, be still my beating heart.

Six months?


Our batch is ripe for drinking immediately, just as the peasants would have.

It might get left alone for a couple of weeks.

Or then again, it might not.


*I will make my Aunty Sylv’s chutney recipe the subject of another posting.

  1. Interesting post, Yolly. Never have tasted hard cider, but it sounds good.


  2. Paul says:

    There’s a farm near us Yolly which produces the most amazing cider of which I know a certain geordie was feeling ever so tipsy after two pints. You would love it.


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