Down East 2013 ©
It’s pouring rain, spitting a kind of wet, slushy mush. But when friends down the street have their annual “Come Make Apple Cider Party,” people show up no matter what the weather. There’s something about the fall and apples and pressing cider that makes New Englanders happy. Maybe it’s that we know, deep inside, that this is the last harvest — the final bit of local sweetness before the frost takes over and freezes the earth. Or maybe it’s just that apples and apple cider are so incredibly delicious.
They use a hand-crank wooden press, the kind that takes a good bit of muscle and man (or woman) power to operate. Everyone brings their own apples — from their trees or a neighbor’s — along with some sweet local pears, and we begin pressing. Every batch of cider combines several varieties of apples, each adding their own bit of sweetness and spice. The nectar that comes from this fruit always amazes me. The complex Flavors — cinnamon, sugar, maple, and a hint of nutmeg — that are released from the press strike me as perfectly balanced, like a well-made wine. The texture, slightly thick and syrupy, is equally pleasing with its smooth, velvety feel. A glass of fresh-pressed cider is like drinking a whole season in one sip.
As we stand around that cold, wet barn, taking turns cranking the press and throwing apples into the shoot, the talk inevitably turns to cooking. “I like throwing cider into the pan when I’m sautéing pork chops,” one woman told me. “I add it to my applesauce every year,” announces another. “We like mixing it with dark rum and fresh lime juice,” one guy tells us. “I mix it into my pancake and waffle batter” said the mother of two little girls clinging to her legs. “Sunday morning apple pancakes. Use it instead of milk in your pancake recipe.”
And then I innocently mention that I like to boil down a jug of cider to make jelly. The room goes kind of quiet. “Jelly?” someone asks “Sure,” I answer and explain the recipe. Boil a quart of cider for three long hours and eventually you are left with a thick, amber-colored jelly. Real simple. “Wow!” a few people mumble, “Way cool!” Everyone goes back to sipping cider, exchanging recipes, and trying to keep warm. I take my jug of cider (a party favor for each guest) home
and start boiling.
Apple Cider Jelly
There are some recipes that seem to have more in common with magic than plain old everyday cooking. Apples have lots of natural pectin so I wondered what would happen if you simmered down an entire gallon of good apple cider? The answer is you are left with a gorgeous amber-colored natural apple cider jelly. Amazing! The only catch — this is true slow cooking — it can take up to three hours to transform one gallon of cider into about a cup of jelly, but trust me when I say it’s well worth the time.
Making apple cider jelly is a great project when you’re in the kitchen busy baking cookies or other holiday foods.
Serve the jelly as a condiment with holiday roasts — we particularly like it with roast pork, lamb and beef — or on your morning muffins and toast, with squash dishes and even on top of butter cookies. Make a few batches and give the cider jelly as a gift.
This recipe comes from my new book, Stonewall Kitchen Winter Celebrations (Chronicle Books, 2009) co-authored with Jonathan King and Jim Stott.
One gallon unpasteurized apple cider, with no additives
Place the cider in a large, heavy pot and bring to a gentle boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and let simmer for about two hours. After about two hours the cider will begin to thicken and coat the back of a spoon. This is the time to pay attention. Keep cooking over a gentle simmer, on very low heat, for another forty-five minutes or until the jam begins to thicken and the syrupy mixture comes to about 190 degrees on a candy thermometer. Our jelly took almost three hours to thicken. Let cool and place in a glass jelly jar. Refrigerate. The jelly will keep for several weeks.
Makes about 1 cup.