Apple juice can provide a healthy and refreshing beverage, long after apple season has ended. It takes a little planning and a couple of hours in the kitchen for safely preserving apple juice.
An average sized apple tree can provide 20 to 30 gallons of apple juice.
1. Preparing apples for juice
Wash apples and remove pesticides, dirt and any organic matter. Juice is best made from freshly picked ripe apples. Avoid apples with bruises or rotten parts. A visit to the local farmer’s market or apple orchard is a good source for organic juices also.
2. Short-term juice storage
Juice can be stored in the refrigerator for a week in an airtight container. An empty milk carton or glass jug will work well for this. The USDA suggests pregnant women, elderly adults and children should not drink unpasteurized apple juice; it may contain harmful bacteria.
To pasteurize juice for longer storage, heat the juice to 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius) and store in refrigerated airtight containers for up to 3-weeks.
3. Preserving juice for longer storage
Apple juice may be kept in the freezer for up to a year with only minor loss of flavor and darkening of color.
The best method of juice storage is to preserve it in quart jars by canning, the same process used for preserving jams and jellies.
4. Choosing the right equipment for canning
Canning interrupts the normal decay cycle of food by heating the food inside a glass jar that is closed with a two-piece vacuum sealing lid and ring. Heat is applied and air is driven out of the jar. The lid seals preventing outside organisms from entering and spoiling the food as the jar cools.
Most home canning is done with a boiling water canner; recommended for high-acid foods such as apples, apricots, blackberries, lemons, peaches, pears, pickles and tomatoes.
Boiling water canners are a deep pot or kettle with a wire rack to hold jars off the bottom of the pot. The pot needs to be sufficiently deep to allow water to cover a quart jar and provide another 1 to 2-inches of space to prevent boil-over.
5. Understanding headspace
Food expands as it’s heated. Headspace is the gap between the top of the fruit and the top lip of the jar. Recipes for canning will always include headspace which needs to be followed carefully.
6. Preparing for canning
Clean all jars, lids and rings by washing in hot soapy water. There is no need to dry the lids and rings. Carefully examine jars for cracks or rim chips. Discard any jars that show damage.
Heat the jars by filling with boiling water and place them on the rack in the boiling water canner. For pint and quart jars, add water to the jars and canner until the jars are nearly two-thirds full. Cover the canner and bring the water to a simmer (108-degrees F.) over a medium heat. Do not boil the jars. Heat processing will destroy any microorganisms in the containers. Keep the jars hot until they are ready to be filled.
Set the rings aside and keep them at room temperature. Place the lids in a small saucepan and heat to a simmer (108-degrees F.) over a medium heat. Do not boil. Keep lids hot until ready to use.
Use a jar lifter to remove the jars from the canner, one at a time, pouring the hot water back into the canner. Place each jar on a heat-protected surface; a wood cutting board, a towel or a heatproof tray. Avoid placing any hot jar on a cold surface. This can break the jar due to thermal shock.
Heat the apple juice for 5-minutes at 190 degrees F. Do not boil. Place a jar funnel on the top of the jar and ladle the hot juice into the heated jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Attach the two-piece lid and ring and tighten. Place each jar back into the in the boiling-water canner and process the cider for 10 minutes.
Remove the jars from the water and set on a thick towel to cool. Check the lids for a proper seal. They will make a popping sound as they seal. Any jars that did not seal properly should be refrigerated or reprocessed immediately.
7. Correctly store the juice
Home-canned juices are best consumed within a year. After a year, natural chemical changes diminish the taste and quality. Food stored for long periods is not necessarily bad, but the quality, taste and nutritional value can be reduced.
Cider should be stored in a cool dark area.
Helpful canning tools
Boiling water canner and jar rack
Bubble remover and headspace gauge