It’s hard to beat the freshness of home-pressed apple cider, but that freshness doesn’t last long. Fresh pressed apple cider begins to ferment on its own in as little as 24 hours if left unrefrigerated, or in about a week in the fridge. Depending on where you live, you may not be able to get fresh cider without chemical preservatives, so canning your own is the best way to savor the taste of fall all winter long.
We can up home-pressed cider in quart and half gallon mason jars, and warm it on the wood stove with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and clove for a quick mulled cider mid-winter. I save a couple of half gallon jars of canned apple cider for parties, and a thick bottomed enameled cast iron pot on the wood stove makes the whole room smell like fall. Having it slow cooking like that means that anyone can serve themselves as they please, and the spices gently infuse as it heats.
I’m also a huge fan of sparkling cider, and adding a bit of seltzer to home canned cider will give you something that tastes exactly like the Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider I grew up drinking on special occasions as a kid. I have so many good memories tied to sparkling apple cider that anytime I’m having a particularly tough day, I pour myself a cold glass of half home canned cider and half seltzer water and my cares just fade away.
Our homestead orchard has more than a dozen apple trees, many of which are perfect winter storage apples. With a little preparation, good storage apples will keep all winter in a cool basement or back room. Those that don’t store well on their own go into canned applesauce, canned apple pie filling and then anything that’s left is pressed on our double barrel cider press into tasty cider for canning. If you don’t have a press, you can always make a DIY cider press for small batches.
Technically, apple cider is unfiltered apple juice that’s never been heated, so canning your own cider means that it’s not cider anymore by a legal definition. Give it a try, and there’s no way you’ll call this home canned cider plain old “juice.” Store bought apple juice is heavily filtered and has little character. Home canned cider tastes like it just came off the tree, even a year after it was put up.
How to Can Apple Cider
Apple cider is naturally high acid and doesn’t need any added sugar or lemon juice to preserve by water bath canning. Start by preparing a simple water bath canner and bringing it to a boil. Be sure to test your pot and make sure it’s deep enough before you start canning in half gallon jars, or simply put it up in quart or pint jars. If you’re using half gallon jars, the pot will need to be 2-3 inches taller than a sealed half gallon mason jar. The water level needs to be at least 1 inch above the top, and then you’ll need at least 1-2 inches of headspace above the jars for a vigorous boil.
As the canner comes up to a boil, bring the cider to a boil in a separate pot. You don’t want to cook it, just bring it right to a boil and can it immediately. Fill clean canning jars (pint, quart or a half gallon) leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Center 2 part lids canning lids on the jars and seal them to finger tight.
Place the canning jars filled with boiling hot apple cider into a boiling water bath canner. Make sure that the jars are at least 1 inch below the water line. Process in a water bath canner for 5 minutes for pints and quarts, and 10 minutes for half gallon jars. (Remember to adjust for altitude.) Once the canning time is complete, turn off the canner and leave the jars in the water for 5 more minutes before removing them to cool.
Once the jars are cool, check the seals and store any unsealed jars in the refrigerator. Sealed jars will keep at room temperature for 12 to 18 months. After that, I’ve noticed that quality begins to degrade and the juice will lose flavor.
Here’s the process in a nutshell:
Method: Water Bath canner – Hot pack – Bring cider to a boil before filling jars and place into a hot boiling water bath canner.
Headspace: 1/4 inch
Process Time: 5 minutes for pints and quarts, 10 minutes for half gallons (adjust for altitude). Turn off heat, wait 5 minutes and then remove jars.
Low-Temperature Canning Cider
My old school canning book Stocking Up from 1977 has a different process. They note that long boils in water bath canners can hurt the delicate flavors of some juices. I’d hardly call a 5-minute water bath can a “long process time” but still, they suggest a low-temperature pasteurization for apple cider.
“The delicate flavor of most fruit juices can be spoiled by the high temperatures of a long boiling water bath. For this reason, directions state that some juices be poured boiling hot into sterilized jars and sealed without processing, and other juices be processed in a hot water bath, which means that the water is steadily kept at 185 to 190 degrees F….Pour [apple cider] into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Process pints and quarts in a 185-degree hot water bath for 30 minutes.”
From the directions in stocking up, it’s unclear whether or not the juice is first brought to a full boil or if it’s just brought to 185 degrees F before being poured into hot canning jars.
The National Center for Food Preservation doesn’t explicitly condone low-temperature canning for apple cider, but they do have instructions for low-temperature canning pickles. Pickles have a similar process time as apple cider, and here are the instructions they give for low-temperature pasteurization:
“The following treatment results in a better product texture but must be carefully managed to avoid possible spoilage. Place jars in a canner filled half way with warm (120º to 140º F) water. Then, add hot water to a level 1 inch above jars. Heat the water enough to maintain 180º to 185º F water temperature for 30 minutes. Check with a candy or jelly thermometer to be certain that the water temperature is at least 180ºF during the entire 30 minutes.”
I’ve been told by a friend who’s used this method that all the jars sealed and it worked well. I’ve yet to try it, but in theory, it canning cider at a lower temperature for a longer time should be sufficient to render them safe for room temperature storage. Be aware though, to the best of my knowledge this method is not considered a “safe tested recipe” by the National Center for Food Preservation.