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Pressing Apple Cider


Many people have a supply or accesses to apples.  Making apple juice or cider is actually a pretty easy process.  The term apple juice and apple cider are used interchangeably by most people and we are talking about simply getting the juice out of the apples and preparing it for people to drink.


We have helped a few groups by providing a cider press, containers and know how to produce apple cider.  One group, shown below, gathered apples and pressed them to make cider for their own social events but also for the local nursing home.  In addition to the actual pressing of the cider, it can be fun for groups to get apples from various places, often friends and neighbors' yards.

















Another group made cider as a fundraising project as a church youth group to sell to the congregation and for use at various church functions.


 Key learnings and observations:

  • Some of the local orchards were good about supplying us with new/clean containers for the apple cider for a charitable cause.

  • Some of the older consumers had a strong preference for un-pasteurized cider while most of the younger consumers wanted pasteurized.  An unofficial taste test from a number of people involved in the process all thought the unpasteurized tasted better.  Still over 80% of what people took with a free will donation was pasteurized.

  • Creating a unique label for the apple juice was a popular novelty.

  • Blending different kinds of apples into common batch provided some of the better tasting cider.

  • Apples don’t have to be perfect to make good cider.  You don’t need to wash, peel, or cut out bad spots to make cider.  Squeamish people may not want to participate in this part of the process.

  • Pasteurizing the cider by heating it to 160 degrees provided a basis to help people cope with the realities of the point listed immediately before.  For the unpasteurized cider we recommended people drink within 2 weeks time. 

  • The church kitchen provided a good place to have multiple hot pots to do the pasteurization and counter space for processing and cooling.

Example volunteer project in Iowa making apple cider
Less than perfect apples good for volunteer apple cider

Identify a source of apples


Many people have an apple tree in their yard or their neighbor's. These apples can be used for cider and most people will happily let you take them away.


In a general sense, apple trees that are not routinely pruned tend to alternate between big and smaller crops.  Often a late frost one year results in a poor crop and the next year is a big crop.  


Also, some orchards have some apples that are not picture perfect for eating,  but would be great for cider and they may sell them to you at a cheaper price or give them to you.

picture of loaded tree here

example of tree not managed but loaded with apples

Sort through the apples


It is always a good idea to sort through the containers of apples just before pressing, to remove any unwanted items such as rotten apples, attached twigs and leaves, etc..  This is especially important if there are apples from a number of different people and they have been sitting for awhile before the pressing day.

church youth group volunteers sorting apples for cider

Squeezing out the juice


After the apples have been chopped up. they are ready to be squeezed.  Most of the presses you see have the the wooden slates with a space between them.  There is usually a hand turning of the press to slowly push down on the chopped up apples that are in a cloth mesh bag. 



Church youth group pressing apple cider

Get a collection of containers


Milk jugs are a commonly used container.  We use the one gallon jugs that had water in them because they are easier to clean.  For many families, the half gallon size is peferable, but these are less commonly available.


If doing the project as a youth or charity project, I have found that orchards are often willing to donate or sell at cost new containers.

Volunteer project making apple cider example containers

Get a collection of apples


Five gallon buckets or plastic tubs are good ways to hold and move the apples.  A rough estimate is you get a little less than a gallon of cider from a five gallon bucket.  It does, however, vary a lot from one type of apple to another.  Multiple kinds of apples make a better flavored cider than single types of apples.

Iowa gardening for good example of apples for pressing cider

Chopping up the apples


Before pressing the apples, the apples are ground up to make it easier to get the juice out of them.  The apples are NOT peeled, cored or have bad spots removed.  If you dont have specialized equipment, food processors can be used for small batches or apples could be chopped by hand.  

Iowa gardening for good making cider

Separating the juice from the apple


As the pressing occurs, the juice then flows out between the wooden slates into a container.  There are cloth mesh bags sold to strain paint that can be used to hold the chopped up apples.


If you dont have a specialized press, people have a variety of ways to create one - often using a car jack and 5 gallon bucket (a web search will give you many ideas).  

Collecting and mixing the juice


Containers to collect the juice as it is pressed are needed.  The number and size of clean containers is considerable - especially if you want to hold all your cider until everything is pressed so you can mix it.  We found that using new 5 gallon buckets was a relatively inexpensive way of obtaining containers. We tried to mix the kinds of apples while we pressed them and collected five of the five gallon buckets at a time.  Then we used five more buckets for mixing by pouring 1/5 of of the raw juice from each bucket into each of the 5 empty containers.

church youth group apple cider project

Pasteurizing the apple juice


Most people now want to pasteurize their apple juice for safety reasons and to extend the life of the product.  If you want to ferment the apple juice, dont pastuerize it.


To pastuerize the cider, most places recommend a temperature of about 160 to 180 degree F for a minute or so.   This temperature is below a full boil.  


Places like a church kitchen are a good place to be able to heat multiple batches and let them cool down enough to pour into plastic containers.


If your own recycled containers are used, you should consider pasteurizing them. the lids are also important - especially if they have a paper/cardboard liner in the cap.

Volunteers processing apple cider at church kitchen

Give your cider a label


At a minimum you should write a date on each container.  If you are pastuerizing some and not others, you might want to mark the different types.


For many people, making personalized labels adds to the experience if giving the cider to others.  The labels below are from a church youth group.

Iowa gardening for good cider press

Straining the juice


Although the juice was strained through the cloth bags, there are still pieces of apples and other debris floating on the top of the buckets.  Scooping out the unwanted pieces with a handheld strainer or spoon should be done before pastuerizing.

Apple cider mixed in sets of 5 gallons

Letting the cider cool


After pasteurizing, the cider, when cool enough, is poured into containers.  If there is a desire to freeze the containers, you may not want to fill it too full.  Filling a milk jug a couple inches lower than normal is a good targert for freezing expansion.  


Having adequate space to let the containers cool down is another detail that people should consider.

Iowa volunteers at church kitchen cooling containers of apple cider
Iowa church youth group volunteer

Distribute the cider


There are laws that make selling your cider difficult so we wouldn't recommend trying to sell it.  


There are a number of ways the cider can be used at various functions. Shown below, the product was offered for a free will donation to the youth group that made it.

Iowa cider fund raising
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