Apples are ready for harvest at the same time each year. However, the apple harvest time varies dependent upon the apple variety. While harvest times range from as early as mid-July to as late as early-November, it does remain that a majority of the apples are ready for harvest in September and October.
Essential to harvesting apples is preserving them for use until the next harvest. This can be done in a variety of ways. As I just attended Harvest Days at Garfield Farm Museum, LaFox, Illinois, just west of St. Charles, an 1840s living history farm, I thought it would be interesting to share how the apple harvest was processed in the 1840s. While basic preservation of the apple harvest still remains the same today many of the tasks have become mechanized. Apple cider is one of the most basic ways of preserving the apple harvest. In the 1840s it was the primary way apples were preserved. Apple cider was produced primarily by hand cranking the apples through the cider press. A portion of the apple cider would also be set aside to ferment thereby creating hard cider and apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar itself would then be used to preserve other foods from the harvest.
In the United States the fresh pressed cider is referred to as “sweet cider”. After pressing the apples the juice is then allowed to sit for 3-4 days after which time a sediment will form at the bottom indicating that the fermentation process has begun. To produce sweet cider the fermentation process is stopped by extracting the clear liquid from the sediment. This is referred to as “racking off” the cider.
If one wants to produce a dry or hard cider, the fermentation process is allowed to continue. In about 10 days the cider will be quite frothy and foam may begin to form at the top. Frothing is allowed to continue until it stops which means that fermentation is now complete. “Fermentation turns all the sugars into alcohol; therefore, this cider will no longer be a sweet drink. The cider is dry, or alcoholic cider.” [Making Apple Cider, Univ. of Georgia] Interestingly, in the early 18th century and up to 1825, even children drank hard cider for breakfast. In addition, the average adult would consume about a gallon a day. Temperence movements that began in the 1820s impacted the consumption of hard cider and even apple harvests. It remained a popular drink into the 1840s after at which point its popularity fell.
To turn apple cider into apple cider vinegar, the cider is allowed to ferment past the stages of sweet cider and hard cider and thus becomes apple cider vinegar. The fermentation process takes 4-6 months depending upon how strong one desires the vinegar to be. During the fermentation process a jelly-like substance forms on top. This is called the “mother of vinegar” which can be trapped and used to produce another batch of vinegar. Apple cider vinegar actually has many health benefits and is better for you than a white vinegar.
Is apple cider a part of your fall harvest tradition?