What is it about apples? There is something about the heft of the fruit. Their flavor is packed in mass, as if each flavor bit is folded upon another flavor bit, creating an elaborate structure of sweet, tart, crisp, crunchy, juicy, and bright. I seek apples that are perfectly imperfect, with golden russeting and blemishes like kintsugi pottery, made more beautiful with a repair of botanical gold.
I grew up in rural New York state, home to many delicious apples such as Newtown Pippin, Empire, Liberty, and my current favorite, the Esopus Sptizenburg. As a girl I would slowly twist the apple’s stem while reciting the alphabet, giving a subtle tug on the letter of the boy I hoped to marry. When I was pregnant with my daughter, my cravings for apples increased. I would cut one up, eat it, and was compelled to cut up and eat another. There are no better apples than those picked fresh from the orchard. I love everything about an apple orchard; breathing in the scent of the wood, the fresh fruit, and even the yeasty smell of fermenting apples on the ground. Some orchards sell hot cups of cider, big wheels of cheddar, and crisp cider doughnuts. Although I love these extras, nothing is better than the first bite out of freshly picked apple or a sip of fresh cider. Fresh cider is my favorite beverage besides water. I prefer cider that has some complexity, blending earthy, woody, sweet, and sour notes.
I recently started reading Rowan Jacobsen’s latest book, Apples of Uncommon Character. I love his descriptions of the different apples, although I was disappointed that Liberty apples didn’t make the cut. I enjoy reading stories about folks who are searching for and cultivating heirloom apples. It was fun to read through this book after a going to a couple of different apple tastings. Our local nursery hosts an apple tasting every year. Portlanders brave the rain and long lines to taste over 60 varieties of apples. Once our favorites are chosen we head over to the large bins of apples and pears to fill our bags. We choose some for baking and some for eating. The nursery will also press apples of your choosing into cider.
Speaking of cider, I want to share a recipe for a fresh cider shrub. This recipe extends the life of fresh cider a bit, without sacrificing any of the flavor. I was surprised at how the apple cider vinegar enhances that fresh, bright flavor. It is important to use the best fresh pressed cider and a really good apple cider vinegar. Some apple cider vinegar is not really cider vinegar at all, but white vinegar, caramel coloring, and apple flavor. Be sure to read the label. My favorite commercial cider vinegar is by Eden, it is deep, rich, and bright. It is raw and aged in cedar barrels. I like it a bit more than Bragg’s. Someday I will have to learn to make my own cider vinegar.
For some reason I have been hesitant to share a shrub recipe. Shrubs are part of the foodways from where I grew up, but have become so trendy. With Thanksgiving approaching, I thought it would be nice to make a cider shrub. And why not share it with you? This shrub is so easy to make and full of life affirming apple flavor.
This time I challenged myself to make a cider shrub that requires no cooking or boiling. A cold process method retains the fresh flavors of the cider. I included some cardamom and ginger for warmth. Instead of heating the cider with the spices, I let the flavors develop together in the refrigerator overnight.
Fill a thermos with this shrub to sip while apple picking or fill a pitcher or punch bowl for an autumn afternoon soirée. I want to serve some with sparkling water and bitters for Thanksgiving afternoon sips. I may also combine it with rum, brandy, or whiskey for some festive cocktails that tie us to Colonial New England.
Spiced Cider Shrub
This yields a little less than a quart of shrub
3 cups of fresh pressed cider
2" piece of ginger root, thinly sliced, peeling is not necessary
2 teaspoons of black cardamom seeds
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/3 - 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
Add cider, ginger, and cardamom to a quart mason jar. Cover the jar with a lid and refrigerate overnight or up to 2 days to let the flavors infuse. Strain the cider into another mason jar. Add maple syrup and vinegar. Add more maple syrup or vinegar to taste. Chill the shrub for an hour or more to let the flavors combine. This will keep for a few weeks in the refrigerator.
Pour on the rocks with a few splashes of sparkling water, if desired. This shrub combines well with hard cider, rum, whiskey, or brandy. I like to add some fresh apple slices and grated nutmeg for garnish.