Making cider – a step-by-step tutorial

I love cider. In the pub. Out of a bottle. From a can, even. Do you? It’s so crisp and lovely! I always thought cider making was difficult and required lots of expensive equipment and precision, like beer making. Spoiler: it doesn’t!

What you need

  • Apples
  • Cider press (ours came from eBay)
  • A crusher (eBay again)
  • Champagne yeast and pectolase
  • Campden tables and Milton tablets
  • A brewing bucket or demijohns
  • Air locks
  • Bottles (we use flip-top but screwtop wine bottles will work, too)

How it works

  1. Collect your apples and wash them – once in water, once with crushed campden tables
  2. Sterilise your bucket or demijohns. We used Milton tablets for this
  3. Chop your apples roughly
  4. Crush your apples in the crusher
  5. Press your apples in the press
  6. Add campden tablets and pectolase to your juice
  7. A day later add champagne yeast to your juice
  8. Wait and enjoy!

More details

We got our apples from our garden. We were lucky to inherit 7 big old apple trees, and we planted a small one ourselves. 5 years later this small one is so full of apples! I’d very much recommend growing your own – you can keep the tree small if you don’t have a lot of space, or even grow it in a container. But of course not all of us are fortunate enough to have s bit of an orchard, so forage! Find that neighbour who doesn’t want to harvest their apples! Or buy some! The more apples you have, the more cider you’ll end up with – but juicier ones give you more juice, obvs. If you’re buying your apples get different varieties – sweet ones, tart ones, big ones, small ones. We find that the apples get sweeter if you don’t use them straight away, but they get less juicy as they age. Leaving them for a week or so after harvesting has worked well for us.

So, you’ve got your apples – what now? Wash them! We wash ours in the sink – once in water, and once in crushed campden tablets. This removes ‘bad yeast’, which you don’t want in your cider! You should also sterilise your bucket or demijohns – we use Milton tablets for babies for this.

Once your apples are dry you can start chopping them. I like to chop them into quarters and then once more, but you don’t have to be precise. Remove any brown bits as you go along. You can leave the stalk and core in – no need to take them out.

Then it’s time to crush the apples. You could do this manually but I’d really recommend getting a crusher. We got ours on eBay and I wouldn’t want to be without it. It looks a bit like a medieval torture device and it’s teeth are quite sharp – be careful not to crush your fingers! Ours fits beautifully onto a washing up bowl, so that’s what we crush our apples into. Two bowl full our press. On fancier, more expensive presses you can set the crusher on top and crush straight into the press, but ours has that long winding pin in the way. Here’s a little video of the crushing process:

Once you’ve crushed your apples, place them inside your press, and start pressing. Screw the wood down until you feel decent resistance and the juice starts running. Don’t lower it any further – wait until the juice dries up before you lower it more. That way the press does the work for you. Remember to place your bucket underneath to catch your juice! We actually screw our press into the kitchen table…

And that’s it! Soon you’ll be knee-deep in beautiful crisp apple juice! You can just drink this – we always sample some in tiny cups – but if you’re patient you can have lovely alcoholic cider in time for Christmas!

So, once you are done crushing and pressing and you have processed all your apples, you’ll need to do the following: add campden tablets (1 tablet for every 5 litres) and pectolase (1 teaspoon per 5 litres). Stir it, and leave it for a day with the lid on, and an air lock fitted. On the next day, add your champagne yeast (1 teaspoon or so). Then, a week later, we decant ours into demijohns, and then the long wait begins…

Seamus admiring this year’s cider

We wait about two months before we drink ours – we make our cider in mid-October so it’s ready for Christmas!

‘It’s the season to be… Apple-streaked

We are drowning in apples. It’s a bumper crop here, much more so than in previous years. We have 7 apple trees altogether, and not only have they been ripe since the end of August – a month early! – but there’s just so many of them. We’ve harvested two full trees and parts of a third and fourth, and we’re up to 160kg of apples. That’s a lot of apples!

They’re stacked in cardboard crates in the doctors’ surgery.

And in the library.

The wardrobe in the doctors’ surgery is also full of them.

The house smells delightful. There’s a fabulous quotation from Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders that I’m always reminded of this time of year:

He looked and smelt like Autumn’s very brother, his face being sunburnt to wheat-colour, his eyes blue as corn-flowers, his sleeves and leggings dyed with fruit-stains, his hands clammy with the sweet juice of apples, his hat sprinkled with pips, and everywhere about him the sweet atmosphere of cider which at its first return each season has such an indescribable fascination for those who have been born and bred among the orchards.

The ‘he’ in question is Giles Winterbourne, and he has just come back to the woods from a day selling his cider. It’ll be cider-making time here soon enough, and I look forward to sharing our cider-making adventures with you. Last year we got 9 litres of sweet, crisp, apple-licious cider. I dread to think how much there’ll be this year!

We have big apples and small apples, red apples and green apples and crab apples.

We have cookers, and eaters.

We’ve made jam, and apple crumble, and apple cake. The pets love them, too – even the cats are intrigued.

Let me know your favourite apple recipes – I can’t wait!

On reinventing yourself

In my last post I talked about the slow life, and I’ve been pondering the concept of changes ever since. I hope you’ll excuse me if I indulge myself a bit more. There’ll be garden and house and Highlands stuff soon, I promise!

This is my first Monday ever of neither being a student nor gainfully employed. I am, at the grand old age of 35, medically retired. My condition is somewhat controversial, and – infuriatingly and unfortunately – not seen as grounds for retirement by my pension scheme. Most days my body thinks it’s 80-odd: my joints hurt, my muscles spasm randomly, my vision is poor, I can’t process what I hear properly, I repeat myself, my memory plays tricks on me, I grumble about the neighbours playing music outside and kids running and shouting and babies screaming. Get off my lawn, you noisy young folks! I have the accoutrements of old age – a walking stick, a rollator, a wheelchair; dark glasses and hats; a slow, unsteady, shuffly walk; the inability to follow conversations about most aspects of contemporary culture.

As I pootled about the garden earlier, enjoying the warmth of the sun but resenting its glare, I thought about how despite all of the above I’m decidedly content. Part of this is to do with being cheerful and positive – I’m a wholehearted optimist. But it’s also circumstantial. It’s partially about being here, in Scotland, in the Highlands, in our cottage and garden. It’s also about being with Seamus – he is my people, in a way that no one ever has been. But most of all it is to do with allowing myself to reinvent myself – to no longer be defined by what I do, or where I workwhat I’ve achieved, but instead to focus on how I contribute to my communities.

The most important step in this process has been changing my name to go with this new persona. I used to go by my middle name and my professional last name, a hyphenated amalgamation of my maiden name and my first married name. This has served me well over the years, but because it was linked so closely with work, and writing, and publishing, it felt no longer relevant to my new life. So at Christmas I decided to go by my actual first name and my married name, and it was announcing this change to the world that made me feel able to let go of the past and get excited about the future. Today I received bank cards in my new name, as well as the official letter from work dismissing me on ‘the grounds of capability due to long term ill-health’. When I thought about this day back in spring I was very worried about how I’d cope, but as it turns out I’m actually ok with it: the letter is about person with my former name, and that is no longer me.

To me, nothing heralds the arrival of summer quite like borage. It transforms the garden from a place of potential to one of overflowing bounty. It’s a fitting symbol for my reinvention.

On taking things slowly

IMG_2990(Lulu the Dalmatian is an expert at taking things slowly).


These days it takes me ages to come to after I’ve been asleep. I often lie there for a good half an hour, awake but unable to move or open my eyes. This used to frustrate me to no end, but I’ve come to view it as the first instalment of the resting that gets me through the day. Whether in the morning or after my 3-hour afternoon naps, that time of forced inactivity has come to be quite dear to me. Just lying there, listening to the world, slowly swimming towards consciousness.

I’ve become a big fan of taking things slowly. I used to be active all the time – always on my feet, always thinking, always doing stuff. I wouldn’t really stop much at work, and I loved the energy I got from being switched on all the time. I used to get a million and one ideas, and I was always imagineering exciting projects. My enthusiasm and energy were always at 110%. I found it impossible to slow down.

All that changed when I became unwell with Myalgic Encephalomyelities (ME, also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). For me, having ME feels like being constantly hung over and spaced out, with no energy to think let alone move. I’ve learnt to take things slowly. These days a good day involves getting out to the garden for a few minutes, or petting the cats in the kitchen, or doing a bit of sewing. Resting after any kind of activity has become so ingrained that I sometimes surprise myself by doing two things in a row – say, going to the garden and petting the cats. Rest for me involves silence, closed curtains, and lying down or sitting in a comfy chair resting my head; as I write this sitting up in bed my heart rate is fluctuating between 90 and 120, just because I’m sitting up, typing and thinking. Thinking takes a surprising amount of energy, particularly when you can’t remember things well, and thus inevitably think the same thing twice (or eleventy-billion times).

So I take things slowly. I take pleasure in small things – watching my cats yawn, hugging my dogs, having a chicken on my lap. Listening to the birds singing at 4am. Hearing the rain pound onto our skylights. The way your body warms and relaxes in the bath. The heaviness of a blanket on top of a duvet. The smell of roses after the rain. The first ripe strawberry of the season. I notice things that I didn’t used to pay attention to, and I’m happier for it. Content. Relaxed.

Instagram has been an excellent companion for this. I struggle with reading more than a paragraph at a time, and even twitter is becoming tricky these days, but instagram, with its cheerful pictures and short captions, suits me well. I love scrolling through my feed and seeing what people’s post – it’s become such an important part of my day, and I’ve made a number of lovely friends there. What I used to think of as wasting time – scrolling through social media and getting lost in that world – now strikes me as another way of taking things slowly. Looking at pictures, reading captions, and liking or commenting on posts is such a cheerful thing to do – it doesn’t take much energy (even for me!), but is such a comfort. It’s about noticing the small things again – that picture in a background of an interior shot. The way that cat’s stripes are almost but not quite symmetrical. The beautiful flowers that someone has arranged. There is so much beauty in small things, and I for one am glad to take things slowly.



Cottage in the Highlands


‘What’s this?’, I hear you ask. ‘Why are you starting your blog with a picture of a colander full of greens, on top of a dishevelled garden chair?’

Because it sums up what we are about. Grow Your Own, Make Do and Mend, DIY. We are homesteaders. Smallholders. Permaculturists. Home brewers. All at 57 degrees north, in Easter Ross in the Highlands of Scotland, on 3/4 acre of garden, on the edge of a quiet village, near the sea.

We are Marie and Seamus. We have been drifting towards the slow life for some time now, but life changed quite dramatically for us over the past 18 months, when Marie became unwell and had to give up work. It has really focused our minds on what is important, and that is resoundingly Us, Home, our Pets. Home is a very happy place, full of colour, laughter and whimsy, where we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

We share our cottage with 4 cats and 2 dogs, and the garden with a rabbit and 3 chickens. We spend rather too much time making up songs about them. 3 of the cats are tiger-and-whites: Penny, Nigel and Xoron; 1 of them, Grabthar, is a tortie. Archie is a bearded collie, and Lulu is a Dalmatian. George is a lop-eared gingerish bunny. Harriet is a white chicken, Herodotus is black, and Hoarce is black with flecks of gray. They all contribute to our cottage economy: the chickens and George provide fertiliser and eat leftovers; the girls’ eggs are a welcome addition to our larder; the cats are good mousers (and ratters). Archie and Lulu are excellent companions, and take their roles as security officer (Archie) and chief snozzler (Lulu) very seriously. They also enjoy eating the vegetables we grow – broccoli is their favourite.

So welcome – we hope you’ll stick around. Every day is bunting day here!