What Makes Apple Cider Really Cider?

For flavorful recipes, skip the juice and reach for the cider.

Food Features

“Everyone I know is going apple picking,” an Atlanta-to-DC transplant marveled recently. “Is that a thing you’re supposed to do?”

Yes, yes, you are. It is indeed still fall, despite the influx of eggnog, peppermint and gingerbread. Starbucks is clearly waging a war not on Christmas, but on Thanksgiving.

Now is the time to engage in all things autumnal: Picking apples, jumping in piles of dried leaves, festooning our home with decorative gourds, and consuming gallons of apple cider.

First, let’s get one thing straight. Cider is not just a fancy name for apple juice. That stuff is filtered, clarified, boiled and bottled at 212 degrees F. All of that heat and filtering changes the flavor, making it less complex and more generic.

Sticking a cinnamon stick in a glass of Motts does not apple cider make. “Making cider is just pressing the apples and pressing the liquid out,” said Dudley Rinker, owner of Rinker’s Orchards in Stephenson, Va. Some of the apple ciders that are sold in grocery stores this time of year add potassium sorbate or other preservatives to extend the shelf life. Rinker’s cider is flash-pasteurized at 160 degrees F for six seconds, then cooled down to 32 degrees F as quickly as possible.

“Flash pasteurization kills e-coli, “ Rinker said. “We don’t have it, but it kills something we don’t have. (Americans) have lost natural immunity.”

Also, it’s an FDA requirement.

Apple cider, Rinker said, never goes bad. It just moves through the stages of life. “When it’s first pressed, it’s like a baby—sweet little thing. When it gets older, it gets a little bite—like a teenager. Then it turns to hard cider—you have to be 21—and once you let it go, it will continue to age into vinegar. That’s like grumpy old men.”

But Gerber baby to Walter Matthau isn’t its only versatility. Take cider beyond the cup with some of these fine recipes for your late fall table.

Apple cider pancakes replace some of the milk with cider and add a finely chopped whole apple to boot.

Cider-glazed root vegetables takes apple cider, brown sugar, butter and walnuts to make a sweet side dish out of humble ingredients.

Mussels with apple apple cider and thyme glaze steams the mussels in steamed in a mixture of fresh and hard apple cider, along with some whole grain mustard and cider vinegar.

Red cabbage and apple soup uses apple cider and a bottle of beer (red ale is nice) instead of stock. Garnish with yogurt or sour cream for a gorgeous creamy violet shade.

Apple cider syrup with rosemary and peppercorns would make a perfect accompaniment for cheese—perhaps a baked brie or a good English cheddar?

There was a recipe for apple cider chicken that looked pretty darn good, but it was disqualified due to use of the word “nestle.” As in “nestle the chicken…” It’s not the chicken’s fault. Nor the cider’s.

By the way, do you know the difference between an apple and a pretty girl? One you squeeze to get cider. The other, you get side ‘er to squeeze.

I’ll show myself out.

Holly Leber is a writer and editor based in Silver Spring, Md. When she’s not hunting for stories, she can be found going on produce-related shopping sprees, making jam, wine tasting and reading 1930’s Nancy Drew. Holly is the editorial director of The Daily Do Good.

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