Cradle your hands around a steaming mug of sweetly spiced hot apple cider, take your first warming sip, and you'll sigh and be glad that the colder weather is arriving. It's a reason to celebrate autumn. (Skip to recipe)
Start the presses! Start the presses!
Or just start one of them. The apple press, that is.
It's finally arrived. After a whole summer of trying to convince my husband that we need one, I finally wore him down. (Score 1 for nagging wives!) He just didn't want to hear any more of my rationalization as to why we needed this contraption to make our lives more fulfilling.
Our beautiful shiny new apple cider press arrived last week, and though it was getting pretty cold for outdoor washing and pressing of apples here in northern Alberta (we've had two light snowfalls already), we had a great trial run. We pressed over 50 litres of beautiful sweet fresh apple cider.
Our apple trees have been producing more apples every year, and I just cannot bear to see the ground underneath each tree littered with a thick carpet of crisp juicy apples, rotting. What a waste of precious produce. Like with our cherries, it is so deeply ingrained in me to use up every bit of nature's bounty. But after cooking with them and canning and drying them, how many apples can you eat yourself and give away to others, even with your 'apple a day to keep the doctor away' mandate?
I'm excited to see what we can do with this lovely fresh apple cider; lots of sweet cider to drink, some to spice and serve hot, some to cook with, and a trial batch to ferment into hard cider. My mom, a master wine and beer maker, is going to help me with that, since I've never tried any kind of brewing before.
There's some confusion about the nomenclature of apple cider. The sweet fresh cider that comes from pressing apples is called soft cider, or just apple cider. It's distinguished from apple juice by its brownish colour and murky cloudiness due to fresh apple sediment remaining in the juice. You can purchase soft apple cider in the refrigerated section of some grocery stores or health food stores. It can be pasteurized or not. You can make your own apple cider on a smaller scale by using an electric juicer to extract the juice from fresh apples, too. Commercial apple juice has the sediment filtered out and is always pasteurized. It lacks the rich complexity of fresh apple cider. Once soft cider has been fermented and develops a percentage of alcoholic content, it's called hard cider, though to confuse the issue further, some hard cider is also labeled simply as apple cider. You'll need to check the labels to be sure which type of cider you're getting.
Clear as cloudy cider?
Apple Cider 101
We had a little bit of help with the trial run of our new press. We assembled it on Thanksgiving Sunday with our kids and their friends, but it was so cold (4°C) we only got enough cider made to have a good sample sip.
The next day warmed up to a balmy 14°C, so even though fingers got chilly and warm layers were in order, we got to work again. We had a small crew - lots of hands to help wash and trim the apples.
Next, the apples got fed into the grinder. I was so thrilled to get this grinder that my dad had built years ago. Mom had given it to a neighbour and he wasn't using it, so passed it back to me. It was special to have dad's handiwork as part of our day.
Then the ground-up apple mash gets plopped into a mesh bag lining the drum of the cider press, and the cranking starts. A little bit of grunt work and out squeezes the fresh juice through the holes. Sweet apple cider flows into the bucket.
After a few hours of pressing duties in the finger-numbing weather, there's nothing better than a hot mug of spiced apple cider to wrap your hands around. Warm sips of sweet apple nectar slipping down your throat melt away the chill, and suddenly you can think of no better way to celebrate the arrival of autumn.
Raise a toast with a sweet cup of spiced hot apple cider!
* * * * *
Kitchen Frau Notes: You can purchase fresh apple cider at some grocery stores or health food stores. You will recognize it by its murky brown colour. It is an unfiltered, unsweetened apple juice, and can be pasteurized or unpasteurized. Pasteurization is done by heating it to a specific low temperature or exposing the cider to ultraviolet light. You can make small batches of your own cider if you have an electric juicer.
If you don't have star anise pods, you can substitute with a couple slices of fresh ginger. If you don't have cardamom pods, use a pinch of ground cardamom, or omit it altogether. You can use 2 orange slices instead of one lemon slice.
Apple cider is generally sweet enough on its own, from the natural sugars in the apples. However, if you find that your cider isn't sweet enough (especially if you made it yourself from a strain of tart apples), add sugar, honey, or maple syrup to taste.
- 4 cups (1 litre) apple cider or unfiltered pure apple juice
- 3 whole cardamom pods
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 star anise pods
- 4 whole cloves
- 4 whole allspice berries (or peppercorns)
- 1 small bay leaf
- 1 slice fresh lemon
Pour the apple cider into a medium saucepan. Crush the cardamom pods with the bottom of the spice bottle or a glass, to crack the shells. Place the pods and any escaped seeds into the apple cider, along with the remaining ingredients.
Bring the apple cider to a simmer, and continue heating at a low simmer for about 20 minutes, covered. The sediment will foam up a bit and form small cloudy particles. This is normal. Strain out the spices through a fine meshed strainer and pour the hot apple cider into small mugs, adding a cinnamon stick or clove-studded orange wedge to each if you like, or garnish the lip of the cups with a thin slice of apple, notched so it clips onto the rim.
*Add a shot of brandy, bourbon, whiskey, or rum to each glass to make your drinks more 'festive'.
*You can also make a large batch of mulled apple cider in a slow cooker. Multiply all ingredients to make your required amount (but only use up to a maximum of 4 star anise pods, as the flavour can get too strong) and simmer in a covered slow cooker on high for 1-2 hours or on low for 4-6 hours, then keep warm. For convenience when making a big batch so you don't have to strain it, bundle all the spices except the lemon into a cheesecloth square and tie it up. Float the lemon slices in the cider, then simmer, and remove the spice bundle just before serving.
Serves 4 to 6.
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