All about Apples
There are over 7,500 varieties grown around the world.
Apple Varieties for cider
Any variety can be used to make cider. The distinction between ‘cider apples’ and ‘eating’ or ‘cooking’ apples is a red herring. All apples make cider, but historically some varieties were grown specifically for cider making and so these are referred to as cider apples.
Foxwhelp, Kingston Black, Yarlington Mill, and Dabinett are well known ‘cider apples’ but most of us grow eating apples. The difference between garden apples and cider apples is the tannin content. Cider apples have lots of tannins, producing a distinctive flavour.
Garden apples are usually grown for sweetness and good flavour and generally have very low tannin levels indeed.
A mix of different types of apples can be used to get that perfect balance of acidity, sweetness and slight bitterness that makes a great cider.
As home cider makers many people get around the lack of tannins in our garden ‘eating apples’ by adding a proportion of crab apples to our brews. Crab apples provide the tannins that ordinary garden apples lack. If you want to make lots of cider, consider finding a bit of space for a crab apple tree in your garden. The added advantages are that crab apples grow well in our climate, produce lots of beautiful blossom, attract pollinators and generally yeild far more crab apples than you will need (so why not also try making delicious crab apple jelly).
Growing a crab apple means you will be able to adjust the tannin content of the cider you make to produce a more enjoyable drink. The added advantage is that a crab apple tree close by will increase the pollination of your fruit apple trees, yielding larger apple crops year after year.
Different mixes of apples are going to give different flavoured ciders. There is no way to know in advance what yours will come out like, so it is a good idea to take notes of the proportions of different fruit varieties you use so that next year you can adjust your recipe.
If you find your cider too sweet, add more crab apples and maybe consider picking slightly earlier in the season. If your cider is too dry, wait till later or (heaven forgive me for even suggesting this) add a little sugar.
If you are considering planting a 100 tree apple orchard and want to know which varieties to plant, then you are an a fabulous position. My pat answer would be to plant 40 Egremont Russet trees and 29 pairs of trees of as many different varieties as you can get hold of (call the RHS and ask about getting a job lot) and don’t forget to plant a couple of crabs too.
If you want to go into mass production, you should consider the venerable Bramley, which is very acidic but produces a heck of a lot of juice. I would reccomend a mix of Egremont Russett, Bramley and Dabnett with a few crabs as a nigh on perfect ‘home’ apple compilation. However, as i said earlier, any apples will do.
Organic is best
“Organic” now has a specific legal term. The specifics are quite complex but the general rule of thumb is simple.
If you haven’t sprayed your trees or the ground around them for more than five years, they are considered ‘organic’.
Now my apple trees haven’t ever been sprayed, so my cider is definitely organic. This makes everyone happy, knowing when we get together and down a few pints we are actively engaging in an environmentally conscious, eco-friendly pursuit. Of course, you do find that after two glasses of the stuff nobody can pronounce “environmentally conscious” much less care.
We give our trees a good pruning as per the instructions in our gardening encyclopedia and we use a tree grease band to protect against winter moth and ants. This is a physical sticky barrier placed around the central trunk that stops the moths and ants climbing up the tree. It is non toxic and very effective.
Other than that, In April and May when the apple blossom is out and the trees are at their most beautiful and most vulnerableI am particularly dilligent about looking for, and picking off greenfly, aphids and catepillars from young tree growth.
Advice for people with just one small apple tree
If you don’t have enough apples trees yourself, why not pop down to your local allottment on a Sunday morning and ask around. Someone is bound to agree to exchange a treeful of apples in return for the promise of a few bottles of cider. Most allotment apples end up getting composted, so go ahead and ask. Of course, you should never take apples without asking.
If you are about to plant a new tree, you might also consider a grafted tree that produces more than one apple type. I have seen trees with 5 different varieties grown on five different parts of the same tree. A really clever idea.
Preparing apples for cider making
Preparation is largely about chucking out rotten apples. If you use these in your cider you get an undrinkable brew with a foul smell.
Here are two bits of good news regarding apple preparation for cider.
- There is no need to peel apples for cider making
- There is no need to core apples for cider making
All you need to do is wash your apples. Although you might not have been using pesticides, are you so sure about your neighbours? It is definitely best to wash your apples in clean cold water.
My favourite option is the two bucket approach, dunking the apples in the first bucket which contains water and just a few drops of detergent. Then rinsing them in a second bucket gets rid of the detergent and you are ready to process your apples.
A quick word about quantities. 16 pounds of fresh apples will eventually make about a gallon of cider. If you are going to be fermenting your cider in a demijohn (which I strongly recommend), then you really should have a full 16 pounds of apples when you start.
Chop each apple in half crossways so you car see the star shape of the pips in the centre. The pests that bore into apples and make them go rotten always head for the middle, so chopping each apple in half horizontally allows you to see if there has been any infestation. Discard bad apples.