Thursday, July 1, 2010

As American as Apple...Cider?

The apple pie has long served as an emblem for all things American, right alongside the Stars and Stripes, the Liberty Bell, and the great golden arches of Mickey D’s. However, the Founding Fathers as well as the rest of Colonial America were more apt to take their apples in a different form: cider. John Adams confessed to starting each day with a “gill” (about a half cup) of hard cider, while Thomas Jefferson ensured that homemade cider was always on the table at Monticello. What better way then to celebrate the fruits of their brave efforts this Independence Day than to indulge in a little homemade cider of your very own?

Unpressed Cider

You’ll need about a bushel of apples to make each 2-2½ gal. cider (or “juice”). Any kind of apples can be used, and you can try different blends for the sweetness-tartness qualities you prefer. Professional cider makers or serious hobbyists can get really picky about how much of what kind of apple, but hey, it’s all apple juice. The important thing is to find a way to make use of what you have. In general, good eating apples are also the best cider apples. The only apples you seriously shouldn’t use are sprayed apples, partly rotten apples, or apples that have been lying on the ground very long.

Fortunately for most of us, it’s not necessary to have a cider press to make cider. Just clean and cut your apples, making sure to cut out any wormholes. Usually it’s handiest to cut all the apples in two pieces as you go, in order to get at the wormholes. Cut out rotten spots or scarred places where the apple rubbed against the tree. It isn’t necessary to take out the seeds. Then put the apple pieces through a grinder or chopper, saving all the juice. Squeeze your grindings through a strong cloth bag, and voilĂ ! Apple cider!

For those who like their cider in a more solid form, here’s a delicious recipe for apple cider butter that’s great on toast, pancakes, or waffles:

Old-Fashioned Apple Cider Butter

This is the traditional apple butter made of pared apples boiled down with cider. Boil 6 c. apple cider in an enamel or stainless-steel pan. (Optional: For extra redness start with 12 c. cider and boil it down to 6 c.) While the cider is boiling down, core and quarter about 10 lb. of apples. Add apples when the cider is ready and continue cooking slowly until they’re tender. Put it through your colander. Put your butter back into the pan and add 1 ½ c. brown sugar (or more to taste—it depends some on the sweetness of your apple variety). Optional: add ½ t. ground cinnamon, ¼ t. allspice, ¼ t. cloves, and a pinch of salt. Continue cooking over very low heat, stirring a lot, until the cider and sauce do not separate when a spoonful is placed on a plate. Then pour into containers for canning or preserving.

If drinking (or eating!) cider to observe the national holiday just isn’t enough, try this inspiring read from Sasquatch Books:

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