Venturing into the orchard and filling baskets with fresh apples has been an Orris tradition since before we were married. One of our first dates involved crisp apples, hot doughnuts and the intoxicating bite of cold apple cider.
After this year's trip to the orchard, we looked at the bushels of apples hogging the counter space in our kitchen and decided: This is the year we make our own cider. Hours of research ensued. Could we figure this out without buying a cider press? Is it even possible to capture that complex flavor at home?
After much experimentation and some very messy countertops, we found a method that requires no special equipment and is ready in mere minutes. Some might consider it blasphemy. There’s no need to turn on the stove and there are no spices or sugar involved. Four servings of this chilled, refreshing beverage is ready in just about five minutes.
Simply core the apples and put them in a blender. Then press the pulp (including the skins) through a cheesecloth, collect the juice, and your cider is basically done. Put it in the fridge for a couple of hours to cool it down and drink it chilled. Or heat it up with mulling spices, just as you would with a jug of cold cider from the orchard.
Now for the question of which apples make the best cider. The key is finding the balance between tart and sweet. For this batch we used a combination Mutsu, Golden Delicious and Ambrosia. The ratio of 2 sweet apples to 1 tart apple seems to work best. The oxidation of the crushed apples gives the drink its rich brown color, so don't worry about green versus red skins.
Most of our region's U-pick apple orchards are open through mid-October, so now is the time to take a drive, fill up a bushel basket and make the sweetest, freshest cider your kitchen has ever seen.
1 bushel apples (mixed sweet and tart)
• Wash apples.
• Core and rough chop enough apples to fill the blender.
• Puree the apples in blender. You maybe want to start on chop and switch to puree as the pieces get smaller.
• Place strainer over a large bowl. Line strainer with cheese cloth.
• Pour apple puree into strainer and let sit for a minute to let the initial juice strain out.
• Gather the corners of the cheese cloth together. Lift above the strainer and twist the top to create a ball of apple puree inside the the cheese cloth.
• Squeeze or press against the strainer to extract the remaining juice. Once you open the cheese cloth, the apple puree should be fairly dry and pulpy.
• Refrigerate for an hour and then gently pour cider into a re-sealable container for storage. There is often some white sediment at the bottom of the original container that you want to avoid.
Note that this recipe is not pasteurized. It is one of the simplest forms of nonalcoholic cider — basically just raw, homemade apple juice that has not been filtered. To kill the bacteria in fresh cider, heat to at least 160 degrees. Cider keeps in the refrigerator for two weeks, whether it’s been heated or not.