27 November 2012

Cider Song

Post & Photos by Elizabeth Miller

A few years ago, I lost what was once a glorious ability to consume sugar at a rate only previously witnessed in lab rats being force fed glucose syrup and child visitors to Willy Wonka’s candy factory. Whereas a normal human might be content eating one or two cookies and then calling it a day, my average cookie intake, when faced with the option of choosing my personal serving, was closer to half a dozen. Cake could be eaten for breakfast, pie for lunch, and sometimes I would eat pancakes with maple syrup for dinner, just because I could.

I’d like to say that the end to this behavior was the result of my realizing that eating so much sugar was bad for my health, bad for my role as a responsible parent, and bad for pretty much every other reason known to humankind, but that would be a big fat lie. I stopped eating so much sugar because my body stopped being able to tolerate it. Eating a great deal of sugar started to give me dreadful headaches and stomachaches, as though my body was finally staging a revolt after so many years of sweet, sugary abuse. I could still eat some sugar, of course, but nothing even close to the amount that I could hoover down during my glory days. It was as though my body was a barrel that had been filled to the very brim with sugar, and trying to top off the supply was just causing the entire load to topple over and explode.

It took a few years, but I have finally reached a place in life where I am able to eat sugar like a normal person. Two cookies are fine. I don’t eat cake for meals anymore, and when I do make a cake or any other dessert, I automatically reduce the sugar content by at least 1/3. The incredible thing about reducing the sugar content of foods is that no one notices—not even me, and sugar used to be my main food group. The one thing I am not able to eat anymore, however, is breakfast foods that have been covered in maple syrup. I’ll still eat pancakes and french toast, but now I dot the tops with a bit of yogurt instead of a wave of syrup. I think french toast is actually better this way, but I have not been able to convince anyone else of this. My son is particularly enamored of maple syrup (as every child is, because we all know that children are part hummingbird), and has been reluctant to resist its sweet, sticky siren song. I’d like to say that he is at least coming around to the yogurt variable, but that would also be a lie. The truth is, the only way I’ve been able to break my kid of his maple syrup habit is to replace one syrup with another, albeit one that is made with fruit juice (which may not really be any healthier, because isn’t maple syrup essentially just made out of tree juice?).

The difference between maple syrup and syrup made from an intensely reduced pot of fresh apple cider is the fact that, with a deeper flavor and a slightly tart bite, a bit of apple cider syrup tends to go a lot farther than a drenching of maple syrup. The two flavor profiles are decidedly different, with the apple cider syrup having a more forward flavor that seems to satisfy the palate more readily. Throw in some cinnamon, like I have here, and the flavor gets an even bigger boost, resulting in a syrup that satiates more, but in a smaller quantity. It’s not just me saying this, mind you. This syrup is kid-tested and kid-approved, which is sort of like saying it has a gilded seal of approval, only the seal is sort of sticky and it has been applied upside down.

Apple Cider Syrup

It’s almost laughable to say that there is a recipe for making apple cider syrup, since the entire process involves nothing more than heating apple cider on top of the stove until the cider reduces into a sticky, syrup liquid that is the consistency of, well, maple syrup. Still, for those of you who want a more formal primer, here goes:

Heat at least 1 quart, preferably 2 quarts (if you want to end up with more than a scant cup of syrup), of fresh, unfiltered apple cider (sometimes called freshly pressed apple juice, unfiltered apple juice, or freshly pressed cider—in any case, you’ll want a jug of cloudy juice with a bit of sludgy stuff at the bottom of the jar, not the clear golden stuff that has been filtered into flavorlessness) in a large pot over high heat. When the cider begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium and allow the cider to boil constantly until it reduces by about 80% and becomes a thick, syrupy liquid. This process can take anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes, depending on how much cider you are using and how high the heat under the pot. You’ll know the syrup is ready when a spatula scraped across the floor of the pot leaves a clear trail that remains open for a second or two before the syrup runs together again. At this point, you can whisk in a shake or two of cinnamon to taste (add as much cinnamon as you want, really), then either use the syrup immediately or pour it into a jar to cool.

When cooled, the syrup will become slightly gelatinous, due to the natural pectin content in the apples. The thicker you boil the syrup, the more firm the finished product will be when cooled. You can simply reheat the syrup in the microwave or on the stove top to return the syrup to its thick and syrupy state. Keep the syrup refrigerated when not in use.