Few drinks are better than a hand-built cider. Nineteenth-century Americans certainly liked it; they drank a lot of cider—much of it alcoholic. And they swapped procedures for making hard cider.

Henry Wynkoop’s (or Henry Winkoop’s) procedure shows how complicated it can be to make a good hard cider: choose the right apples; handle them carefully; pulp them correctly; ferment them just long enough; filter; skim … And—undoubtedly—hope for the best.

[Notes: This may be the Henry Wynkoop who was a member of the Continental Congress; Wynkoop died in 1816. To “fine” something would mean to refine it, in this case by filtering it]

“On Cyder Making,” by Henry Wynkoop (from The Portsmouth Oracle [Portsmouth, New Hampshire] 5 September 1818; p. 1)


By Henry Winkoop, [sic] Esq. in a Letter to Joseph B. M’Kean, Esq. Member of the Philadelphia Agricltural Society.

Northampton, Bucks County, April 1.

Dear Sir,—Agreeably to your request, I proceed to afford you a detailed statement, of the whole process of Cyder making, as conducted on my farm. About the middle October, we begin to gather apples, when they are perfectly dry, and lay them down in layers, in the cyder house and other out houses on floors, not exceeding two feet thick; where there is space sufficient—thinner will be preferable, for the object is, to promote the ripening of the fruit, and the evaporation of the watery particles. In this situation they are left about two weeks, secured from rain and wet, but exposed to the air as much as possible; early in November, they are again sorted, the rotten ones thrown out, and the sound ground in the mill; the pumice of the common apples is laid in the troughs, for 12 or 24 hours, having regard to the state of the weather: this tends to sweeten the juice and greatly improves the cyder. The process will be exhibited by answering the questions proposed to me in your letter, viz.

Query 1st. What is the best construction of a mill and the least expensive, to grind the apples?

Answer. The best & least expensive mill I know of, is that of two nuts standing perpendicular, with a sweep fixed to one of them, and formed so as to take the apple from the hopper, and break it on the end plank of the frame of the mill, and then convey the broken parts to the other nut, so as to effect a double grinding by the nuts; those of my mill, are made of black walnut, which is to be preferred, both on account of the solidity of the wood and not being so liable to crack and split as those of white oak: they have now been in use for three seasons, and are in as good order as when first made.

Query 2d. Should the apples be ground very fine and more than once?

Answer. The thinner apples are ground, the more the particles of the pulp will mix with the must, and the more difficult will be the fermentation: that degree of fineness is therefore to be sought for that will best promote the expression of the juice, without overloading it with the fine particles of the apples. The pumice after having been pressed may be advantageously ground over again, for the making of water cyder, which when made of the crab, affords a pleasant table drink, during the winter; but as to making whole cyder from it, the must is too thick to answer any good purpose.

Query 3d. The best construction of a press—is the screw or lever preferred?

Answer. Our cyder being made in a house, the screw press becomes indispensable, as the lever would occupy too much space, but were it not for that circumstance, I should prefer the screw press, on account of the simplicity of its construction, the speed and facility of increasing or diminishing the force, and the greater security from accidents to the men that work it.

Query 4th. How long, or to what degree, should the pumice be pressed; may it not be too hard pressed?

Answer. The object in pressing the pumice, is to separate it from the must; the pressure therefore is to be continued until that purpose is effected, which can generally, by proper attention, be done in six or eight hours: the pres[s]ure may be so hard, as to overcharge the grooves in the floor of the press, so as to run over and waste the liquor, but I do not conceive that the hard pressure can be any otherwise injurious.

Query 5th. Does not the first pressure produce the best cyder?

Answer. I do not know whether the first pressure is the best or not; only one circumstance I have observed, that the women applying for sweet cyder, to make their apple butter, prefer the last.

Query 6th. Which of the several species of apples is best to make cyder, and the difference in the strength and quality of each?

Answer. The Virginia crab is the best apple for making cyder, within my knowledge; when all other apples are ground, the particles of the pumice mix with the must, and cannot be separated otherwise than by fermentation, a process which, in the variable weather of our climate is extremely difficult to controul, [sic] whereas the crab when crushed in the mill, no matter how fine, the particles of the pulp adhere together, and are separated from the juice, without intermixing with it, so that when pressed, the liquor flows from the pumice as water from a sponge, and to take off those small particles of apple that may have escaped through the straw, or the crevices of the frame, it can be strained through flannel, which cannot be done with any other kind of cyder: until, therefore, some other species of apple shall be discovered, possessing that spongy quality, or some other yet unknown, which shall occasion a preference, the Virginia crab will remain superior, for making good cyder, to all other kinds of apples. As to the strength, I have not the means necessary to ascertain it, and as to the quality, that has been described in the preceding part of this answer.

Query 7th. Is it injurious to mix several species and grind them together; if so, the effect?

Answer. I am of opinion that no ill effects can arise from mixing and grinding together several species of equal ripeness; but mixing and grinding together unripe fruit with that which is ripe, would induce the acetous fermentation and of course prove injurious.

Query 8th. Do you put the juice to ferment in large vessels before it is drawn off into barrels, and expose it to the air, till the fermentation ceases?

Answer. We put the juice to ferment into the largest vessel we can get, in which it remains until the fermentation ceases: it is then drawn off from the lees, the cask well cleansed, and then replaced in the same or similar sized vessels, till it is again drawn off into similar sized vessel, on the fining, and is not put into barrels before the whole process of fermentation and fining is completed; the juice when put into the cask from the press, is left exposed to the air, until the fermentation begins to decline, when the bung is laid loose upon it, with a gimblet hole by the side, till the fermentation is completed; then the bung is driven in, and the gimblet hole stopped.

Query 9th. How soon does the fermentation commence, in general, and how long continue?

Answer. The commencement and continuance of the fermentation, depends so much on the state of the weather, that it cannot be predicated with any degree of certainty.

Query 10th. How to you ascertain when the fermentation has so far subsided, as to make it proper to draw off into barrels, or other vessels, and what is the consequence of not drawing off at a certain stage of the fermentation?

Answer. By placing the ear, at the bung hole of the vessel, during the fermentation, a hissing is heard in the liquor; when that ceases, the fermentation is completed, and it is then in a proper state to be drawn off, and if then neglected, the particles of pumice that had settled down to the bottom of the cask, will, during a warm or damp state of the weather, rise up again, mix with the juice and thus produce a second fermentation, which is always acetous and injurious to the cyder.

Query 11th. When drawn off, do you stop the cask perfectly tight, so as to exclude all air, or do you leave a vent?

Answer. When cyder is drawn off and put into cleansed casks, a certain ebullition pervades the liquor, and while that continues, the bung is laid loose on, and the gimblet hole left open until it subsides, when the bung may be closed tight, and the gimblet hole gradually, but not perfectly tightened before the ebullition has entirely ceased.

Query 12th. How do you prevent the acetous fermentation, or check it if commenced?

Answer. To prevent the acetous fermentation, is answered in question ten; as to checking it if commenced, the only method I know of is to put the cyder on the fire in kettles, to boil it gently, so as to raise the floating particles of pumice into scum on the surface of the liquor, to be scummed off till the rising ceases, then to be returned hot into the cask, previously well cleansed and bunged up tight; this liquor will afford a pleasant drink, during the months of May, June, and perhaps July, but will not keep good through the summer.

Query 13th. Do you fine cyder; if so, at what time, and with what fining?

Answer. We do fine cyder, and the time is, after the ebullition, which succeeds the second racking is completely subsided; we then draw off some gallons of cyder, proportioned to the quantity of cyder to be fined, into some vessel; to this we add isinglass pounded, and unraveled into shreds, about two ounces to the hogshead, containing 112 or 115 gallons; the liquor with the isinglass, is frequently stirred up for three or four days, so that it is completely diluted into a thin jelly; it is then strained through a fine hair sieve, and put into a well cleansed hogshead, which is filled with the fermentated cyder.

Query 14th. Do you rack the cyder; if so, at what time, and how often?

Answer. We rack the cyder for the first time, soon after the fermentation has ceased, a second time soon after the ebullition of the first racking has completely subsided; the third time, when drawn off to be put on the fining; the fourth time, when drawn off from the lees of the fining; the fifth time, when the consequent ebullition has again completely ceased, and the cyder has lain perfectly still for eight or ten days, when it may be drawn off into barrels, so that drawing from the barrels into bottles may be counted a sixth racking.

I am dear Sir, your obedient servant,

Joseph B. M’Kean, Esq.

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