‘Tis the season for apples. We live in an area where apples are locally available, and some of them are very good, but I grew up in the heart of apple country, the Wenatchee Valley, and west-of-the-Cascades apples just never taste as good to me. So every year I make a point of buying a box of Jonagolds at a fruitstand near my parents’ house. Many of them are destined to become applesauce, but there are always leftovers.
It’s also, of course, the season for apple cider. I’ve always hated apple juice – the smell of it reminds me of the Tree Top factory that we drove by several times a week when I was a kid – but I have a moderate tolerance for apple cider, especially if it’s hard (dry hard cider with a buckwheat crepe – bliss!) But fall often brings jugs of fresh-pressed cider from various friends that are inevitably stuck in the freezer and forgotten about for six months. But! My father, when perusing a recipe for baked beans in his copy of Serious Pig by John Thorne, discovered a reference to a product made by seriously reducing apple cider into a sort of thick jelly. No instructions were offered, just a mail-order contact. But my father, having several jugs of brand new cider in his fridge, decided to experiment. He simmered a gallon of fresh cider for several hours. Then, since it didn’t seem to want to gel, he added several cut-up apples with the skin on and simmered them in. After the liquid was strained into a storage container it set up into a firm, amazingly intense apple jelly. Wow.
J tried doing the same thing at home with a jug of cider. It didn’t set up into jelly the way my father’s did, but we strained it into small freezer containers and have been using it in pan sauces for porkchops. It gives the most amazing apple flavor, even used in very small amounts. I also think it would be great to heighten the flavor of an apple pie. Where has this idea been all my life?