The weather is finally feeling more like November. Last night's lows were in the low 20's, and today, all day, was cold, gray, and breezy - not really a good day to be outside much. So I spent the morning on the computer, creating certificates to give to our Soroptimist Girls of the Month and scholarship recipients tomorrow.
We've had the potted fig trees in the big wagon for the last six weeks, so we could move them into the garage when it was really cold, and then back outside when the nights have been more moderate. The trees can take temps down to the mid-20's, but not an entire winter outside. Today, with most of their leaves finally gone, we pulled the last few off and moved the now dormant trees down into the cellar to spend the winter.
Then, this afternoon, it was cider time. We got no fruit at all from our trees this year - what little bit survived the late Spring freezes, Bambi ate. But a month ago, before the first freeze, we gleaned four bushels of apples from a big old heirloom tree on the west side of Carson City. The ones without bird pecks or worm holes I tucked away in the cellar for fresh eating through the winter. I canned enough applesauce for the year, have been baking a batch of apple muffins every week, and we're eating fresh apples every day. Time to get the rest of the apples out of my living room, where they've been ripening, sweetening, and softening so they'll make more juice.
While I set up the grinder and other equipment in the kitchen, Aries got our cider press cleaned up and ready to go outside on the deck (more about our setup and the entire process here). It took us about 3 hours to quarter, grind, and press almost three bushels of apples into six gallons of cider. Five gallons are now in the fermentation bucket on the kitchen counter, the sixth in a gallon jug in the refrigerator to drink fresh.
A couple of years ago, we tried an online hard cider recipe, calling for added tannic and other acids. We ended up with something that tasted more like hard lemonade. It was ok, but not what we were going for. Last year, we tried brown sugar and champagne yeast. That batch tastes like a dry champagne - not bad, but the added sugar increased the alcohol content quite a bit. It's too strong for my taste, so when we split a 12-ounce bottle, I have to mix my half with club soda. This year, we're trying a cider yeast, with the juice alone. And we have a new toy to play with - a hydrometer. We floated it in the fresh juice, and came up with an 8% reading (sugar content, I think - the little measurements are labeled "potential alcohol content"). We're supposed to take another reading after fermentation has finished, subtract the first reading (or is it the other way around?), and that should tell us the alcohol content. Should be interesting.
When I was washing out the gallon jug, prior to filling it with apple juice, I used a neat little trick I learned when I used to work construction. One of my tasks on one job site was filling up the big water coolers strapped to the work trucks using five-gallon water bottles. To quickly and easily get liquid out of a narrow-mouthed bottle without any glugging or splashing, put your hand over the mouth and give the upside down bottle a quick horizontal swirl, to get the water swirling around inside. Take your hand away, and the liquid quickly and smoothly spews out in a circular motion as the air enters through the middle of the spiral. Try it with any round bottle, and see for yourself.