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Processing Fresh Fruit For Fermentation

Processing Fresh Fruit For Fermentation

Processing Fresh Fruit for Fermentation

Fresh fruit is amazing!  This time of year, it's everywhere for the taking, and we really hate to see it go to waste.  You can only make so many cobblers and jams before you go a little nuts, so our approach is to ferment everything that's left!  

All we have to do is get all of that wonderful juice separated from everything else in our fruit.  This means processing, and a lot of work, no matter what fruit you are using.  We'll go over some basic processes for different types of fruits, then move on to yeast selection, enzyme additions, and benefits of sulfites vs. pastuerization.

Apple Cider
Processing Apples
There is a lot of good literature and how to's on making cider, and it's probably the most home brewed drink there is, especially with apple juice and cider so readily available.  Pears fall into the same category, and can be processed similarly.  There are tons of recipes online, and everyone knows someone who likes to make a cider.  Check our recipe out here!

To Juice or Not to Juice
Using your juicer to pull that sweet nectar from apples is an easy way to separate fruit fibers from the fruit itself.  It's time consuming, and you'll probably burn through a juicer or two before you're done.  The time consuming part is going to be true for all of fruit processing.  It's a labor of love, labor being the operative word!

If you only plan on doing 10 or so pounds of apples or pears, a juicer might be the way to go.  No press, no crusher, just a beer and a few hours at the kitchen counter chopping apples or pears and feeding them in a slice at a time.

The Almighty Blender
I am a huge fan of making fruit purees, as you will see as this post goes on.  With a good blender, you can juice just about anything.  For apples, make sure you chop and seed them, then Frappé the chunks.  This method is super effective, generally faster than a juicer, and you can process way more in reasonable amount of time.

For cider, it may be easier to pour your puree through a bag to catch any fibrous leftovers.  Even better is to pour through a bag into your fermentor, then use a fruit press on the bag after to make sure you get every drop for all of your hard work.

Do It Like The Pros
Commercial cider makers, as well as home cider makers with access to equipment making lots of cider every harvest, use the fun toys.  Apple Crushers are insanely fast, require little preparation to get the apples ready, and are the way to go when you have a ton (sometimes literally) of fruit to crush and press.  Used with a good size press (we like the line of bladder presses made by Spiedel), you can make 50 or 60 gallons in an afternoon with minimal comparative work.  

Once you have all of your fruit crushed from the apple crusher and in buckets, pour it into your press and press it!  Collect that sweet juice!

Blending Berries
Processing Berries
We won't talk grapes this time around, because that is a whole post by itself, but we will talk the rest of the berry family.  Berries are pretty easy to process.  Blender-and-go is my go-to method!  Berries are really easy to puree, but make sure you pit the cherries (these are really a stone fruit, but they are small and fall under the same processing method as berries), or any berry that has seeds.  Some berries, like blackberries and raspberries, you won't be able to seed at all, so don't worry about those.  

Once your berries are pureed, pour them through a bag or strainer into your fermentor to keep the majority of the flesh or skin out of the fermentor.

Frozen Peach Fruit and Pit Homebrew
Processing Peaches, Plums and Other Stone Fruits
Stone fruits are fun to work with, as you can see in some of the pictures.  There are a couple of ways to prep them before you start.

Braise and Peel
Braising peaches and plums, even tomatoes, is a fast way to make the skin easy to peel off.  You generally want to peel the skin to keep from adding unwanted tannins to your finished product.  You can always adjust tannins later if you need to.  

First, get a pot of boiling water and a pot of ice cold water.  Those of you who can fruits or vegetables will be familiar with this part, since it's the same.  You'll want to lower your fruit, whole, down into the water for 30 -60 seconds.  Remove it and place it in the cold water immediately so that it doesn't actually cook.  From here, you can peel and pit your fruit with relative ease.

A couple of notes on this process.  First and foremost, if you are doing a large amount of fruit, remember to keep your cold water cold.  Every piece of fruit you put in the cold water will warm it up some, so you'll have to keep ice in it or change the water often enough to keep it cold.

Second, higher temperatures can denature some of the aromatic compounds that we love, so this might not be the best route for fruit you plan to ferment.  

Peeling Frozen Peach
Freeze and Peel
This method is wonderful.  It's easy, super effective, and although it makes a mess for the rest of processing, it's still easier and less time consuming than braising.

Take all of your fruit, separate it into freezer bags, big enough to work with, but not so big that it's a nightmare to thaw them out, or that they will burst with any expansion.  Then freeze them.  Deep freeze if you can, but any freeze will do.  Allow a few days at freezing temperatures, then pull them out and let them thaw.  Make sure your freezer bags are well sealed, because they will definitely have a ton of liquid in them as they thaw.  

From here, wash your hands and get your blender ready.  I told you, puree is the way!!  As you can see in the picture below, we did not puree this time around, and it was a bit of a nightmare.  We still got a lot of good juice, but a puree would have been more efficient, and easier to press.

Josh Operating Fruit Press

Moving along, once your fruit is thawed out, it's easy to pull the skins right off and the seeds right out, now that the cell walls are broken from being frozen and thawed.  When you pull the skins, they are sopping wet with fruit juice.  I like to hand squeeze that into the blender or press, despite some tannins that can get into the must this way.  Waste not, want not!  

Collecting Peach Must
Collect the Good Stuff

All of the pits and skins get discarded, and the rest goes into the blender or press.  Once blended, press as much as you can get into your fermentor.  From here, we are on to making fruit wine, fruited mead, cider, or whatever you have planned for your fruit! 

Adjust Your Gravity

We always plan on having to adjust gravity up a little.  Fresh fruit, with the exception of actual grapes, is generally a little lower in gravity.  Apples, for example, are usually 1.045 to 1.055, and peaches generally come in around 1.040 – 1.050.  The key here is deciding what exactly you want to make, and what kind of alcohol you want out of it.  You can always boost your gravity with a Vintner's Harvest Puree or Wine Base, too! 

Some of the best cider I've had (thank you Peavine Mead and Cider!), the cider maker used honey in their recipe to add sugar, body and character.  This is a lesson well learned!  Different sugars will add different characters, some of which add a lot to the finished product, some that simply don't deter from it too much, like pure cane or dextrose.  Think of this, and what you want to make, when or if you adjust your original gravity.

In this recipe, we used about 25 pounds of fresh peaches that we froze and pressed, and adjusted gravity and volume with Premium Blue Agave Syrup to make up the extra gravity points.  We love the way that this agave ferments and we love the flavor and perception of sweetness that it gives post fermentation.  

Don't be afraid to use different types of honey, different sugars, or other fruit concentrates to adjust gravity and back sweeten!

Sulfites Vs. Pasteurization

Sulfites, like Campden Tablets, Potassium Metabisulfite and Sodium Metabisulfite are used to kill of wild yeast and bacteria before fermentation.  The real benefit to this is that you get to choose exactly what ferments your must.  You kill everything in it, and start with a clean slate.  

The benefits to sulfites are ease of use and effectiveness.  You can add the recommended dose to your must, wait 24 to 48 hours, and pitch your chosen yeast strain after it dissipates.  Next is fermentation and nutrient additions with little fuss.

Pasteurization is definitely more work, but is also an all natural way to sterilize your must before you pitch your chosen yeast.  

Bring your must to 150° F and allow 15 minutes for pasteurization to finish.  From there, cool immediately, transfer to a sanitized fermentor, and pitch your chosen yeast strain.

Pectins and You

Many of these fruits are high in a soluble, gelatinous polysaccharide called pectin.  Pectin is used for all kinds of things, from making jams and jellies to a stabilizer in commercially available fruit juices.  For us, it is going to make our fruity fermentation a hazy one, in the form of what is called a pectin haze.  Depending on the fruit, and how much pectin is actually in solution will determine how much it really affects the finished product.  

As a rule of thumb, I like to add Pectinase, or Pectic Enzyme, to all of my fruity fermentations.  Pectic Enzyme, added at a rate of .4 grams per gallon, will ensure that the finished product clears up as it should.  

Pectinase can also help you increase your yield and flavor characteristics, in red wines and many other fruits.  To do this, you add pectic enzyme after you have crushed or pureed your fruit.  This will give it more time to work, especially if you are using sulfites.

 Yeast Selection
Most places where you read about fruit wine, they recommend Lalvin EC-1118.  This is a clean and neutral white wine strain used predominately in Champagne production.  The strain itself is called Prise de Mousse, and is one of the most used home wine strains.  This is because it has high alcohol tolerance, is a hard worker, and, let's be honest, you can't kill it with fire.  For a clean, champagne style wine, it's perfect.  But there are other strains out there!
For peaches, stone fruits, melons, and anything heavy on the honey or agave, I really love the way that German Aromatic White Wine yeast strains come out!  They bring out the varietal character of the fruit that you are using, but generally stay at or below 16%.  A personal favorite is Lalvin ICV D47, which produces a full bodied and fruit forward white or rose.
I like to treat berry wines like reds, and always have the thought of a big, jammy Zinfandel in my mind.  Using Red Star Premier Classique or Lalvin Bourgovin can bring out the berry flavors and aromas, while helping create good structure.
For apples and pears, there are SOOO many amazing strains.  If I had to pick two, Mangrove Jack's M02 Cider strain is probably top of the list, enhancing the apple flavors and overall characteristics.  A close second, and one that comes out tasting drier, is Safcider.  This strain is very similar to EC-1118, except it leaves more of the apple flavor and character behind.
Whatever process and yeast you choose, making fruit wine, and regular wine, is super fun, and a great way to preserve the harvest every year!
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Paul Romero - September 26, 2018

Very timely and interesting article! I especially like the “Freeze and Peel” method, as we have a sturdy blender, 2 freezers, but not very much ice! We planted about 15 new fruit trees this year, so we hope to pursue fermentation as a way to use the fruit increasingly in the future.


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