Monday, September 23, 2013

When the pears fall, make hard cider

We are making a 5 gallon batch of hard cider from most of the pears we harvested off our two trees.

We could have chosen several other options to preserve and use the pears. You've got your canned pears, pear sauce, pear marmalade, pear crisp, pear bread, pear fruit leather, pear popsicles and I hope you get the idea. We could have gone in any of those directions and we still have more pears so we will see, but we decided to juice them for hard cider.

I made a little of my own home brew last year before we left San Diego because I was inspired by a post I somehow stumbled upon while searching for basic sewing techniques on Google. Go figure, home brewing and sewing seem to go together. Last time we came up with a decent brew that didn't kill anyone so Farmer D got a 5 gallon carboy that we could use instead of the 1 gallon bottles we used the first time.   

Some of you may assume that I went the hard cider route because I'm lazy and want to get drunk. You are partially right, but I have some other reasons for deciding that this was the best way to preserve our first pear harvest in Elgin, TX. Primarily, it is because during this first fall season, we are busy trying to get to know our property, manage it and transform it. I am not experienced yet with canning and did not think taking the time to learn right now was the best use of our time. We will start canning in the near future but not with this batch of pears.

Pears curing in pantry

We are blessed with an incredible property with insane potential but I don't think it has ever seen a compost pile. We are the stewards of more than 100 trees including about 80 pecans, 2 pears, 3 figs, a mulberry, some sort of tiny persimmon and the list goes on. We also have a great garden area that has been drying up in the Texas sun for years.

We're making cider because it's an interesting craft that is as old as fruit itself, we already own the equipment and have a general idea about how to do it. The process yields what will hopefully be a fun fall season elixir and the pulp gives us a great source of organic material to add to the sheet compost garden bed that we are building. There will be a strong focus on composting here for quite some time because building this nutrient starved soil will mean the difference between having a successful small farm or not.

The first time we made cider we used preservative free, store bought apple cider and hardened it up with yeast and an airlock for a a couple weeks and then bottled it. That resulted in murky cider and some exploded bottles because we didn't take it through a second fermentation. The cider that didn't explode had a decent alcohol content and wasn't terrible. I'm shooting for a little higher standard than not terrible this time and no exploding bottles. I'm going to take it through a second fermentation which is much easier with the 5 gallon carboy Farmer D bought. If you are planning to make your own cider, please find some resources other than this post because I am a novice and do not have a final result yet.

I'm still adding my own yeast and this time we bought some champagne yeast rather than the plain active dry yeast we used last time. We could be really brave and try fermenting it with the natural yeasts on the pears but that can have varied results that aren't always successful.

Before you start, you'll want to make sure everything you are using has been sterilized so that you don't add any bad bacteria to your brew that could ruin it. I got some sterilizing powder from Austin Homebrew Supply and sterilized my juicer, utensils, pots, airlock and carboy.

The first step is turning the pears into plain cider. I did this with my Green Star juicer and I probably won't do it that way again. If this cider turns out and we want to do it again, I think I will try to find an old apple press to make the cider with. The juicer took a long time and started over heating after awhile so I had to do it in batches while I let the juicer cool.

This is a tiny bit of the pulp that we will put right into the sheet compost garden bed we are building
I juiced almost 4 gallons. One of the pear varieties is too soft and did not go through the juicer well. I had been at it for hours when I decided to make up the difference with a gallon of store bought, organic apple cider. The carboy needs to be close to full.

I put the juice in my 2 largest pots and kept it covered as I went. Then I had to pasteurize the juice to kill off all of the wild yeast. I brought the temperature up to 165 and maintained it there for 45 minutes. Do not allow the cider to boil.  

Heating the cider to kill the wild yeast
I had 2 pots this size full of juice and after it was heated through at 165 for 45 minutes, I dissolved about 5 cups of sugar into each pot for the yeast to feed on. This seemed like a huge amount of sugar but supposedly I could have added up to 5 cups more if I wanted a sweet cider. I don't, I want it dry. 

Next I covered the cider and cooled it in an ice bath before pouring it into our carboy. I added the gallon of store bought juice and then I swished the bottle around as vigorously as I could for 2 minutes to aerate the cider before adding the yeast.  
Cider in carboy with airlock
After I added the yeast I put the airlock on and wrapped the bottle up in a towel to create a dark environment for my brew to do its work. The airlock keeps bacteria from entering your brew while allowing it to breathe. You need to fill it with a sterile liquid of some sort. The sanitizing solution I bought would have worked but I chose to fill mine with vodka.  
We used Red Star champagne yeast that we got from Austin Brew Supply for $.79
We are keeping this in our dining room because it's the coolest area of the house. Ideally the cider should be between 65 and 70 degrees but our temperature is higher than that. The yeast is active up to 86 degrees and I'm confident that the temperature has remained below that. The warmer the environment, the faster the fermentation process. A slower fermentation makes a better cider.

Within a few hours our airlock was bubbling and everything looks good. It's been 5 days and the bubbles in the airlock are slowing down. Ideally this first fermentation process will take two weeks. I have a feeling ours will be shorter than that. We'll know when the airlock quits bubbling. At that point we will siphon the liquid into a food grade bucket and add the sediment from the bottom of the bottle to the compost. This will help to clarify the cloudy cider. Then we'll add the liquid back into the carboy and go through another fermentation process. 

We will update this post after we do that to show you what we did and give you our review of the pear brew.     

Gidget says, "Everyone knows you just want to get drunk."


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