Hard Cider has quite the colorful history here in America; in fact, during Colonial times in the Eastern States, Cider was more popular than beer, wine or whiskey. It was far more difficult to grow grains for beer than it was to grow apples so seeds were brought over from England, orchards were established and cider-making was as popular here as it was in England. By the mid-1800s, the New England states were producing nearly 300,000 gallons of cider every year.
What I didn’t know was that as settlers moved west, John Chapman, aka ‘Johnny Appleseed’, traveled ahead grafting small nurseries of apples in the Great Lakes and the Ohio River region; these weren’t sweet, eating apples, but rather apples specifically used for cider and by the end of the nineteenth century, most homesteads were making their own because it was safer to drink than water. Orchards were burned to the ground during Prohibition and by the time Prohibition ended, German settlers were establishing large breweries for making their beloved beer. Thanks to the popularity of microbreweries, cider is experiencing huge growth here in the US with cider production increasing nearly 264 percent between 2005 and 2012.
When we moved into our house 12 years ago, we were fortunate enough to inherit mature fruit trees: three apple trees and one pear tree that reside in a sunny patch of our yard. I’m not really sure how old the trees are but they’re prolific producers of sweet apples and pears. It’s impossible to consume all the fruit each season before the bees and raccoons claim them; we’ve made pies, pear caramel sauce, jams and jellies – and last year, we had our first attempt at making pear cider.
When I learned I needed to eat gluten-free, traditional wheat-based beer wasn’t an option – but apple and pear ciders are a wonderful alternative and ciders also happen to be one of my favorite fermented beverages to sip.
In our research, there are many different methods and opinions when it comes to home brewing. This was our first experience in home-brewing and while ‘true’ cider apples are called ‘bittersweets’ or ‘bittersharps’, our trees produce Golden Delicious and Forelle fruit which typically aren’t used for making ciders. We were still pleased with our results and we’ll be making more.
You’ll need a few basic pieces of home-brewing inexpensive equipment – and it’s fun! Pear cider is also great to serve at holiday get-togethers and makes very nice DIY gifts!
GLUTEN-FREE PEAR CIDER
Makes 10, 12-ounce bottles
- 18-20 pounds fresh pears (our tree produces Forelle pears)
- 1 Campden tablet (for sterilizing)
- 1 teaspoon Cuvee Active Dry Wine Yeast
- ½ cup simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water)
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT NEEDED:
- Two 1-gallon carboy
- Siphon hose
- Juice approximately 18-20 pounds of pears to fill a one gallon carboy (glass bottle); we used an electric home juicer
- Be sure to sterilize all the tools and carboy. We used a product called Star San, that is available online and in local homebrew shops
- The juice can either be pasteurized (slowly heating it to 170 degrees and then cooled back to room temperature) or sterilized using a Campden tablet to it and letting it set for 24 hours; both methods kill any bad bacteria that might be present
- Funnel the treated juice into a one-gallon carboy and add a teaspoon of yeast (known as ‘pitching’). We used Cuvee Active Dry Wine Yeast, but you could substitute Champagne yeast or other recommendations from a local homebrew shop. Some brewers choose to add the active dry yeast directly to the carboy like we did, but most will recommend you rehydrate the yeast according to the instructions on the packet
- After pitching the yeast, cap the carboy with a “bung” (stopper) and an “airlock”; the airlock lets the gases escape without outside air getting inside the carboy
- As the juice ferments, tiny bubbles will rise to the top; once you stop seeing bubbles, fermentation is complete. (approximately two weeks)
- At this point, it’s time to carefully siphon the fermented juice into another one gallon carboy – try not to siphon any of the sediment at the bottom. Add ½ cup of simple syrup which is used to create a secondary fermentation in the bottle
- Siphon this mixture into individual bottles. We have used both bottles with caps and bottles with swing-top rubber stoppers. (We prefer the swing-top rubber stoppers because the seal seems more secure.) One gallon of cider will fill approximately ten 12-oz. bottles OR four 32-oz. bottles.
- Put the sealed bottles in the refrigerator immediately. After about a week (or up to six months) your sparkling pear cider is ready to enjoy!