Sui-Cider the traditional Norfolk brew

-Every kitchen garden grows apples; but what are you to do with the inevitable surplus and the many imperfect ones? Turn them into cider is the answer. Cider is the traditional British drink. Some think of beer as the traditional beverage but beer is relatively modern being a sixteenth century corruption of honest ale (-they found they could use less malt and maker a weaker beer that would still keep if hops were added as preservative). Ale had to be strong stuff to keep and was full of body so acted as much as sustenance as drink. The beer that replaced ale was poor by comparison; thin, pale and weak. To say nothing of modern lager which so closely resembles that which it is about to become..

Mediaeval man drank many pints of ale a day in northern Europe while the rich and those in the southern part of the continent drank the same amount of wine. Water was too dangerous. (Mead was also brewed but could never be had in any quantity and was more of a medicine than beverage.) It was only in the wetter regions where cider developed; those parts with a climate too wet for barley or grapes but ideal for apples.

The Normans are credited with introducing cider making to these islands but there is evidence to suspect the Romans may well have done so much earlier. Both Roman and Medieval cuisine used a sour liquid, verjuice, for much of their cooking and pickling. This verjuice was the thin acid juice of unripe fruits; especially grapes but also apples and others. Indeed many of the old vineyards were intentionally built to produce verjuice not wine -though one suspects it may have been hard to tell the difference between the two in many cases! One reads that some Roman wines, such as Falernian, were much esteemed however most were likely to be pretty weak, acid and rough by modern standards. Whether or not this was improved by the Roman's habit of customarily adding sea-water to their wine one hazards to guess.

Anyway cider making has been going on for at least the last thousand years if not since the stone age. I'm still making cider, some of it from the same trees, as my granpop did before me, and his grandfather before him. It is a bit different now though with more consideration given to quality and hygiene than in times past! The dead rat is no longer added to give 'body' (personally I reckon this is a bit of a shaggy dog story invented to deter self service from the vats) nor are bits of bread floated on top (which would have been the source of the yeast). Also with better yeasts available it is now possible to make a light crisp cider much like a fine white wine. This is not too strong or acid with a pleasant apple over-tone and makes a refreshing drink. Of course you can always add more sugar and make a super-strong sui-cider that will make most illegal drugs look tame but I can't handle the hangovers any more so I'll leave them to you.

It is not hard to make bad cider and not much more effort to make good stuff either. Apples are like grapes and want to ferment to an alcoholic beverage and their juice likewise has just enough sugar to make the proof strong enough to store unaided by other preservatives. However whereas grapes carry many of the right yeasts on their skins apples carry the wrong ones. Particularly if they have lain on the ground or got muddy! Thus to make good cider scrupulous hygiene is necessary and it helps immensely if a good white wine yeast starter is added to outpace any natural ones.

As to varieties of apples; almost any will do. Although many of the west country county ciders were made of specific cider varieties here in East Anglia we have always used the spare apples from our dessert and cooking apple orchards. This tends to give our ciders a greater strength as the sugar content is higher but less bite as the acidity is less. (-this also saves on dentists' bills for re-enamelling teeth if you drink a lot of cider). A mixture is better than all one variety and cooking apples have more useful acidity and often a firmer texture better for squeezing. Small slightly under-ripe and late keepers all seem to have a bit more acidity and are more use for cider than for storing anyway. The early desserts such as Discovery make an almost white juice while some make one that browns quickly and russets add a wealth of flavour.

All sound apples can be used, early ones just as well as late except you have to move quickly before they go too soft. However there is no point collecting or using rotten, infested or even bruised apples as these will spoil the taste and give you headaches. And worse! Decaying apples create, among other things, patulin, which is a poison and not good for us. Thus I use my apples as soon as possible and do not wait for them to soften or rot on me. Of course you may accumulate them for a while as there will be less lost to birds in one place than if left under the trees. I find apples are easiest gathered in big buckets which are then later filled with water to wash them.

I am scrupulous. Every apple is not only washed but also rinsed, inspected and cut open. Any small rot, maggot or bruised part is cut away but if more than a small imperfection is present then the whole fruit is rejected. I cannot stress how much of a difference this makes. If you would not eat it do not include it.

Once prepared the apples are pulped. The ideal pulp has a texture resembling coarse mince rather than a slurry as this gives a finer less cloudy more wine like cider. I have used an oil cake crusher, a sugar beet chopper and other old agricultural implements. All, just like granpop's press, have gone because of hygiene problems and the large scale of their operation. I now use an imported stainless steel crusher that has plastic cogs which make a good 'mince' and is worth employing on small batches.

I have given up using granpop's type of press, a big model with oak platens and cheesecloth bags. The hygiene and size has proved too much to handle (not the produce just the effort!). Now I use another imported article, a small barrel wine press that is easy to clean and use yet can make a couple of gallons of juice in an hour or so. I now use a bank of one gallon glass demijohns to ferment the filtered juice in. I no longer make forty gallon batches as I used to. It was fun and less work but if it went wrong you lost most of the year's supply in one go. One gallons are safer but more variable- which just adds interest.

I measure the specific gravity and once the initial fermentation has subsided add sugar to bring that batch of juice up to nine or ten degrees or so. This keeps better and more resembles a white wine. To ensure rapid fermentation I add an already going starter of a white wine type yeast to each demijohn. These are kept at a constant just warm temperature in a dead deep freezer body. Once all fermentation has stopped the cider is drawn off the sediment and bottled.

For white wine like cider I just bottle it with a cork but for cider champagne I use proper heavy duty champagne bottles, corks and wires. For champagne style cider I add half a teaspoon of honey or sugar before sealing them up. There is a small sediment to avoid but the pop is good and the cider froths well. Do not use ordinary glass bottles for fizzy cider as these make lethal bombs!

Surplus pears and plums are not easy to use in the same ways as apples though. Dessert pears do not make a very sweet juice if squeezed when under-ripe and once ripe they ooze out of a press like toothpaste. When I've fermented this pear puree it makes a perry with too many harsh overtones. Likewise for the plums. However these can be preserved in boiled down apple or pear juice syrup. The same equipment is also great for making fruit wines from all the soft fruits and of course for just extracting the juices to make jams , jellies or squashes. Indeed you can always drink the fresh unfermented apple juice - it's delicious. Juices can also be frozen in plastic bottles for drinking or cooking with later in the year.

All the discards, cleaned off bits of apple and the squeezed out pulp is good for feeding my geese and chickens and the sediment from the demijohns is rich in yeasts so makes an excellent additive to the compost heap. The only bit I can't get seem to get any use out of is the bubbling!

Oh, and the name- well I was out the front one day and an aged friend of my late granpop went past with a barrow load of the rottenest apples I think I've ever seen. They were black and bubbling. I asked the old boy why he wanted to bother with such poor fruits when there were better to be had nearby for the begging. He reckoned his were the best! He showed me how when he squeezed one it's juice ran out and explained they were already made into cider and so were easier to press. Now I understand why my granpop always said of that chap's brew "don't touch tha' stuff borr tha's real sui-cider".

Traditional Norfolk (not PC) Cider Making / Drinking song-

With more cider inside ya

With more cider inside ya you'll feel good inside

With more cider inside ya you'll be well revived

With more cider inside ya you'll not be tongue tied

With more cider inside ya you're in over drive

With more cider inside ya your brain say's good-bye

With more cider inside ya your bladder'll say Hi

With more cider inside ya you'll walk with legs tied

With more cider inside ya you'll go all pie eyed

With more cider inside ya you'll look for a bride

With more cider inside ya her wrinkles will hide

With more cider inside ya she won't look so wide

With more cider inside ya her hair won't look dyed

With more cider inside ya it's best you have lied

With more cider inside ya you'll wish you had died

With more cider inside her you're best satisfied

With more cider inside ya -now that's suicide!