Hand-pressed cider isn’t your average apple juice

Usually nixing juice, I make an exception for cider.

Half the intrigue for my kids is helping to press the nectar-like beverage from apples picked at a local orchard. “Making cider is a lot of work,” my 5-year-old son commented after we climbed ladders, shook limbs, collected apples in 25-pound boxes, then schlepped the boxes to an old barn where the antique, hand-cranked press resides.

And that was before we employed plenty of elbow grease to start a stream of golden liquid flowing from the spout into our 5-gallon buckets. Whew!

So we consider this cider a “treat” and ration it accordingly. If it weren’t such a commodity, I’d allot some for cooking, including this recipe for sweet-savory beans, now that cold weather is upon us.

Recipe testers for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette used half apple cider and half “hard” (aka alcoholic) cider. Because I prefer dishes that aren’t so sweet, I might use only the latter and save the former for my quaffing pleasure.

If you don’t have time — or the patience — for dried beans, substitute two 15-ounce cans cooked beans for every cup of dried beans.

Tribune News Service photo

Cider Baked Beans

3 cups dried great northern beans, picked over and rinsed

6 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped

1/3 cup tomato paste

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar

2 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 dried bay leaves

3 to 4 cups apple cider and/or hard cider, as needed

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place the beans in large bowl. Cover with water by several inches. Refrigerate, covered, overnight, then drain.

Preheat a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker.

In large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until crisp, for  5 to 7 minutes, then drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from skillet, reduce heat to medium-low and add the onion. Cook until translucent, for about 15 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, then raise heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the Worcestershire, mustard, brown sugar, vinegar, cayenne, bay leaves and 3 cups cider. Stir well to combine and simmer until thickened slightly for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Add soaked and drained beans to slow cooker and toss with cider sauce. Pour cider sauce over beans and stir to combine. If necessary, add up to 1 cup more cider to cover beans. Cover and cook on low until beans are tender, for 6 to 7 hours (or on high for 3 to 3 1/2 hours). Season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

— Recipe from “Martha Stewart’s Slow Cooker” from the Kitchens of Martha Stewart Living (Clarkson Potter, August 2017, $26)

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