Have you looked at a juice label recently? Even if you get “100% juice” or “All Natural”, you’ll probably find ascorbic acid, potassium benzoate (or other preservatives), and who knows what else. Some even add “natural flavors” (which can legally contain MSG)–why would natural fruit juice need to add extra flavor?
To make your own juice, you typically use one of two methods–a mechanical juicer, or a steam juicer.
A mechanical (or electric) juicer gives you a quick and easy way to obtain fresh juice. Since no heating is involved, the juice retains most (if not all) of the vitamins and minerals.
A steam juicer, on the other hand, produces filtered, pasteurized juice in larger quantities per pound than a mechanical juicer, but with a loss of some vitamins. The juice can then be bottled or turned into excellent jellies or wine. Additionally, a steamer works fine on a wood stove, so it could be used in an off-grid situation.
Now, a steam juicer definitely takes longer than the mechanical variety –you may have to run it a few hours for several gallons of juice. If you’re cooking on your home stove, you’ll probably spend more in electricity or gas than you would in operating an electric juicer.
A typically steam juicer has three layers:
- The bottom pan that holds the boiling water, basically a stock pot.
- The middle collection pan that catches the juice, and usually has a hose to drain it off. It has a single hole in the middle, in the center of a raised pipe. Think of the post in the center of a bundt cake pan.
- A colander sitting on the top where the fruit is held.
The way the juicer works is that the water boils and turns to steam, and rises through the middle pan up into the colander holding the fruit. The fruit is steam-heated, and the steam condenses back to liquid and drips back down into the middle pan where it can be drained off.
You can steam juice just about any kind of fruit, including citrus. We just purchased a Victorio Steam Juicer and were anxious to try it out. For our first attempt, we wanted to make apple juice, which we will soon turn into hard cider (watch for a post coming soon). In the meantime you can try out this apple butter recipe that uses apple cider or juice from my friend Melissa K. Norris.
So to make apple juice, you have to start with apples! As you know, different apples have different levels of sweetness or tartness. The typical apples you’ll find in a store, ranging in order from the most sweet to the most tart, are:
- Fuji (most sweet)
- Golden Delicious
- Red Delicious
- Honey Crisp
- Pink Lady
- Granny Smith (most tart)
For a good flavored juice you’ll probably want a blend of apples on the sweet side – I’m thinking your juice would be pretty bland if you used all Red Delicious. We used a mixture: about 20 pounds of Gala, 4 pounds of Granny Smith, and 2 pounds (or so) of Honey Crisp.
We put the boys to work peeling the stickers and removing the stems.
Wash the apples in a sink filled with water and a bit of veggie wash.
Cut the apples into 1″ – 2″ chunks. There’s no need to core or peel them; we just removed any seeds we saw, and the stems.
Fill the strainer as full as you can – just make sure the lid can still go on tightly.
Our 26 pounds of apples will completely fill the strainer a few times, so this is going to have to be done in more than one batch.
We’ve got the bottom pan filled with water, and the collection pan sitting on top with the hose clamped off.
Adding the colander filled with apples…
…and putting the lid on.
Turn the burner on to high until the water comes to a rolling boil (you can lift the collection pan up to check), then turn it down until the water is at a gentle boil. After a while steam should start to form, and juice should collect in the collection pan.
After the apples have steamed for a while, they’ll begin to compress. You can add more raw apples to keep the colander full.
Adding more apples…
Never let the bottom pan run dry or you risk damaging the steamer. Here you can see we’re lifting off the collection pan to check the water level. It doesn’t actually need more at this point, but we’ve got it off so we may as well go ahead and add some more.
Your water will cool down when you add more, so you may want to kick the heat up a bit to bring it back up to boiling. Just remember to turn it back down, you don’t want a rolling boil.
Now we’re ready to collect some juice. The hose works as a siphon, so the jar (or pot) used to gather your juice needs to be lower than the collection pan.
You could just use a huge pot to gather the entire day’s juice, but we prefer to use 1/2 gallon mason jars. Knowing how much juice you get per pound of apples is not an exact science–some people say you get a quart per 4 pounds, while some say more and some say less. If you collect it in small batches, you can do a taste test on each batch to determine if the flavor is getting too diluted and it’s time to stop, or put in a new batch of fruit. We collected about 3 quarts from the first batch of apples, then emptied the colander and started again with a brand new batch of apples. Don’t throw out the mushy steamed apples, we’re going to use them in a bit!
We ended up with 3 half gallon jars full of apple juice, plus another quart that we quickly chilled and drank. It was delicious! The last jar of juice produced from each batch of apples was still very flavorful, so I’m sure we could have gotten at least another quart out, if not more.
If your last batch tastes a little weaker than the first, then you could always mix the jars together in a large pot to even everything out.
So will this process save you money? If you’re able to pick your own apples, or even glean some for free, then it probably will. However, if you’re paying $1 a pound or more, that’s a different story. Let’s say we got 2.5 gallons of juice from our 26 pounds of apples (but probably could have gotten more). At $1 per pound, that works out to a bit over $10 per gallon. We can find organic apple juice in the store for $7 a gallon or less in our neck of the woods. So how can we bring that price down? Let’s use up the the leftover steamed apples!
We ran the mushy apples through our Victorio Food Strainer (see Jennifer’s review here) which gave us a huge bowl of applesauce. We could have stopped there, but we decided to make apple fruit leathers.
We used these fruit roll trays to hold the applesauce. The Excalibur dehydrator is great but the fruit roll sheets do not have a lip on the edges to prevent the applesauce from spilling over, so we do use the Nesco trays for fruit leathers and a few other things. Just add applesauce to the tray…
…flattening it out evenly as you go. You want about 1/8″ thickness all around.
We put the circular trays onto the drying rack and loaded up the dehydrator. Even after filling all 9 trays we still had a good-sized bowl of applesauce left over, so the boys got a fresh snack. We dried the leathers at 135 F° for about 12 hours.
Making fruit leather is not like dehydrating food for long term storage where you want at least 90% of the moisture removed. When making a fruit leather you still want some moisture to remain to make the leather pliable. These leathers will last out of the fridge for awhile. Probably long enough for a weekend hike, but remember they have no preservatives in them. So we recommend you store them in the refrigerator or freezer.
The leathers are completely dry but not brittle and a bit transparent. You can roll them in parchment paper and store in the refrigerator, or freeze them for long-term storage. They’ll defrost in just a couple minutes at room temperature.
So, the Victorio Steam Juicer worked wonderfully – after all, there are no moving parts, so it’s pretty hard to mess up the juice! We’re going to use some of the apple juice for hard cider, if there’s any left… every day the boys ask “can I have some homemade apple juice?”. As soon as grapes go on sale we’ll steam them for juice, jelly and maybe even some wine!