In the Northeast, the apple harvest was smaller this year, because of the drought. But the apples were sweeter than usual and they made great cider.
Gallons of cider. On average, one bushel of apples will yield 3 to 3 1/2 gallons of cider, though small, hand-cranked presses may yield less. But, regardless of the press you use, you probably have more cider than you can consume fresh.
In the past, much of that cider was allow to ferment into hard cider, which was enjoyed morning, noon, and night, by the young and old alike. Unless you have a huge appetite for hard cider, chances are you are freezing the cider to keep it fresh, which takes up a lot of freezer space.
An old New England tradition that is just barely still alive is to boil down fresh apple cider to make either boiled cider (also called apple molasses) or to boil it with the addition of sugar or another sweetener, to make apple cider syrup, as a maple syrup alternative.
To make boiled cider, boil the cider on top of the stove until it is concentrated down to about one-seventh or one-eight of its original volume and reaches the syrup point on a candy thermometer (7 degrees Fahrenheit above the point that water boils at your altitude). This can take 4 to 5 hours. At that point it will be thick, dark, sweet, and somewhat sharp-tasting, like sugar cane molasses. Use it instead of molasses in baked goods. Like sugar cane molasses, it is a fine addition to baked beans and certain baked goods, such as gingerbread and ginger cookies.
Figure that you will get about two half-pint jars of boiled cider for every gallon you boil down. You can keep the jars in the refrigerator or freezer or process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes for long-term storage.
Cider syrup is also boiled down cider, but it has sugar added to make it sweet enough to pour on pancakes and to be used interchangeably with maple syrup in baked goods. Because of the added sugar, it reaches the syrup point sooner (7 degrees Fahrenheit above the temperature at which water boils) than with boiled cider, when it is reduced to about one-quarter of its original volume.
I make apple cider syrup and I like it on pancakes and to flavor granola and home-cured bacon. It makes a lovely drizzle for roasted vegetables or for a pound cake that is going stale. It is excellent as a sweetener for oatmeal, tea, and baked goods. It can be used as syrup for pancakes or waffles.
When making cider syrup, you can multiply the recipe below by a factor of four (to still fit in a 5-gallon stock pot and make 8 pints, or a boiling water bath canner load), but the time to reduce the syrup will also increase significantly. I make mine a gallon at a time and I store my syrup in the fridge, without bothering with the boiling water bath. My timing for the boiling water bath is the same as the USDA canning time for apple butter, which is 10 minutes.
Sweetened apple cider will reach the syrup point at about 7 degrees above the boiling point of water at your elevation, or 219 degrees on a thermometer (at sea level). But note that the jelling point to make jelly is just 8°F above the boiling point of water at sea level. When boiling apple cider, it is possible to cross the line from making syrup into making jelly (though other factors come into play as well). My point is, pay attention at the end of the process.
Finally, another caveat: Unless you are starting with pasteurized cider, you are likely to make a syrup that appears hazy, caused by the pectin and particulate matter in the original cider. Over time, the particulate matter may settle to the bottom. This is just a cosmetic issue and nothing to worry about, though you can strain the cider before boiling if you like.
1. Thoroughly wash two pint canning jars and prepare the lids. Put a plate in the freezer if you don’t have a reliable thermometer or hydrometer.
2. Pour 1 gallon of fresh or frozen and thawed apple cider into a tall, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. For a clearer syrup, avoid any sediment that has settled to the bottom of the jug. When the cider has reduced by about half, after about 2 hours of boiling, stir in 2/3 to 1 cup of sugar (the amount depends on how sweet your cider is at the start and how concentrated you want your syrup).
3. Continue boiling until the syrup reaches the syrup point, which is 7 degrees Fahrenheit above the boiling point of water at your elevation, or until a spoonful poured on the chilled plate has the texture of syrup (when you run a finger through a puddle, the syrup doesn’t flow instantly over your finger trail). For 1 gallon of cider placed over a high-powered burner, this will be about 3 hours after you started.
4. Pour the hot syrup into the hot canning jars (using a canning funnel to avoid making a mess), leaving about 1/4 inch headspace and seal with canning lids. Either cool and store in the refrigerator or freezer. Or process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, then store in a cool, dark place.
Andrea Chesman has written more than 20 cookbooks, including The Pickled Pantry, Recipes from the Root Cellar, Serving Up the Harvest, and The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How. She teaches and does cooking demonstrations and classes at fairs, festivals, book events, and garden shows across the United States. She lives in Ripton, Vermont. Read all of Andrea's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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