Most of us are familiar with the notion that few foods are as “American” as apple pie. But we usually don’t think of apple cider in the same genre, or specifically “hard” cider.
The first apple trees planted in the New World, in fact, were intended to yield fruit for an alcoholic beverage that would be safer for the Pilgrims to drink than water. As today’s A la Carte story explained, fresh cider ferments into hard cider, then eventually becomes vinegar. In Colonial times, cider was so popular that children commonly drank it diluted, and John Adams downed a draught for breakfast daily to settle his stomach, according to a recent column by McClatchy News Service.
If hard cider is a bit obscure in the United States today, blame the Temperance Movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s, when apple orchards across the country were razed, followed up by Prohibition, from 1920 to 1933. The advent of German settlers and mammoth breweries, though, already had started turning American palates toward beer.
But cider is making a comeback amid the craft-brewing, eat-local, artisan-food movements. Cider sales soared 50 percent to $71.5 million in the past year, according to the Chicago market research firm SymphonyIRI Group. Taking a piece of Hornsby’s pie, so to speak, are Samuel Adams Angry Orchard Cider and the low-calorie Michelob ULTRA Light Cider.
If these brands don’t paint the most flattering picture, rest assured that cider’s complexities of fruit, acid and tannin can be evaluated in much the same way as wine. A good, dry cider tastes clean, fresh, crisp, refreshing. Most cider has 5 to 6 percent alcohol, about the same as many beers, and half that of most wines. It ranges from 120 calories per 12-ounce bottle, similar to many light beers, to 180, like many regular beers.
And cider can pair with a wide variety of foods from sushi and other seafood to smoked sausages and spicy ethnic fare to, predictably, the cheese course, especially blue, Gouda and Emmenthaler.
In Europe, where cider never lost its popularity, it’s still used in many traditional dishes, such as Brittany and Normandy’s steamed mussels (even better with a glass of cidre brut). England remains a hotbed of cider drinking (Brits leave off the “hard” descriptor).
Both fresh and alcoholic ciders are worth exploring along with apples this season in your cooking. Start with the recipes in this week’s food section.
And because there’s always room for more apple pie in the fall, here’s a “super” recipe developed by celebrity chef Alton Brown. In addition to fresh apple cider, it makes use of applejack (another beloved Colonial beverage) in much the same way as chilled vodka for a flakier crust.
Super Apple Pie
12 ounces flour (2 cups and 6 tablespoons)
1 1⁄4 teaspoons salt, divided
1⁄2 cup, plus 1 tablespoon, sugar, divided
6 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut in 1⁄2-inch pieces
2 ounces cold vegetable shortening, cut in 1⁄2-inch pieces
5 to 7 tablespoons chilled applejack liqueur
3 1⁄2 pounds apples, about 6 large (a mix of Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Braeburn and Golden Delicious)
3 tablespoons tapioca flour
2 tablespoons apple jelly
2 tablespoons apple cider
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground grains of paradise (aromatic, peppery seeds; available in spice shops or online)
Pulse the flour, 1 teaspoon of the salt and 1 tablespoon of the sugar in a food processor to mix. Add the butter; pulse 5 or 6 times, until texture looks mealy. Add the shortening; pulse 3 or 4 times until incorporated.
Sprinkle in 5 tablespoons of the applejack. Pulse 5 times. Add more applejack as needed; pulse until mixture holds together when squeezed. Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a disk; wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to overnight.
Peel and the core apples; slice into 1⁄2-inch-thick wedges. Toss with 1⁄4 cup of the sugar. Place in a colander set over a bowl; drain for 11⁄2 hours.
Transfer drained liquid to a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Set aside to cool. Toss apples with remaining 1⁄4 cup sugar, the tapioca flour, jelly, cider, lime juice, grains of paradise and remaining 1⁄4 teaspoon salt.
Heat oven to 425 F. Remove 1 dough disk from refrigerator. Place dough on a lightly floured piece of waxed paper. Lightly sprinkle top of dough with flour; roll out into a 12-inch circle. Place in a 91⁄2- to 10-inch tart pan that is 2 inches deep. Gently press dough into sides of pan, crimping and trimming the edges as necessary. Set a pie bird in center of bottom of pan or substitute a hollow tube of aluminum foil for pie bird.
Arrange apples in shell in concentric circles, starting around edges, working toward center and forming a slight mound in center. Pour any liquid that remains in bowl over apples.
Roll out second disk. Place over apples, pressing pie bird through top crust. Press edges together. Brush top with reduced juice everywhere except around rim. Trim off excess dough. Place pie on a parchment-lined baking sheet with sides; bake on bottom shelf of preheated oven until apples are cooked through but not mushy, 30 minutes. Remove to a rack; cool until almost room temperature, about 4 hours.
Makes about 10 servings.
— Recipe from Alton Brown’s “Good Eats.”