Over the last few weeks the winemaker from Blackledge Winery and I have occasionally chatted about our various projects. During one of those conversations he mentioned that he exposes his juice to the open air during the first few days of fermentation to encourage yeast growth. Until he said that, I thought you were supposed to prevent air from coming into contact with the juice. Now I had to check the sources to see what they said.
Somehow I missed that most pre-twentieth-century cider writers recommended starting fermentation in open vessels. Since I had always put my batches in jugs with airlocks right from the start, I wanted to try not doing that.
While I was going back through the sources I came across this unusual cider receipt from John Nott’s The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary; or, The Accomplish’d Housewifes Companion (1723):
It’s unusual because it uses honey and wheat flour instead of the more usual raisins and sugar. That got me to wonder how that tasted, which got me to want to make it (this is also the basis for all my cider making projects). Happily, I already had raw honey and I was fortunate to get some fresh-pressed juice.
The juice consists of:
25% Granny Smith
15% Sun Crisp
15% Others: Keepsake, Pink Lady, Gold Rush, Enterprise
I mixed up a paste of two tablespoons of honey and one tablespoon of unbleached wheat flour, warmed the paste in a bowl set in hot water, and mixed in some raw juice. Then I poured the mixture and cider yeast into the jug.
Warming the honey wheat paste.
I added yeast because the juice had been sulfited and there wasn’t enough wild yeast for fermentation.
Once everything was mixed in the jug I covered it with cheese cloth to allow oxygen in and carbonic gas out.
Nott is specific about his process. He suggests letting the cider and paste ferment for a week and then either rack it off into a storage vessel or bottle it. I’m not doing either. Mine is going to ferment for a couple more days before I put an airlock on. After that I’ll let it finish its primary fermentation for three or four weeks, when I’ll rack it into secondary and let it condition until I bottle it later this summer.
Why am I not following his instructions? Partly it’s because Nott’s process involves a lot more effort than I have time for (who wants to open every bottle every day for “some time”?) and partly because I’m not at the point where I’m ready to faithfully recreate every receipt. At least not yet.
The next time I make Nott’s cider I hope to have unsulfited juice so I can let the natural yeasts have at it. When that happens, I’ll follow his instructions more closely.
After fermenting for about 36 hours the fermentation seems minimal. At the very least it’s not very frothy, but it is dropping lees and clearing up pretty well, as you can see:
I don’t know if the fermentation is slow because of the honey flour paste or because the temperature is several degrees below the yeast’s optimal temp, or what. Slow or not though, it does seem to be fermenting, which is the goal.