Farmhouse Apple Cider

25 Oct 2011

A few weeks ago, I blogged about one of my favorite autumn traditions in America: sipping apple cider and nibbling on cider doughnuts at the local apple orchard or pumpkin patch. Some of you may have already seen + heard me carrying on via Twitter or Instagram sharing our happy success with, “Rosie”, our charming new fruit press, and the first batches of pressed cider here at the farm this week. And, yes, we sipped cider with doughnuts by the turf fire immediately! Now all is good in the world.

Some excellent questions popped up during my initial exploration into cider making, a fellow blogger asked, “So, what is the difference between apple cider and apple juice anyway?” Of course, my farmer questioned how/if we could make batches of boozy cider with our apples and new press. {In case you were wondering, YES, WE CAN!}

The truth is, fresh cold-pressed apple juice is nearly the same as apple cider. It can be made any time of year when apples are available, but is most commonly pressed in the autumn when apples are plentiful. Cider and juice are both made in the same way, but the difference is that apple juice is pressed and strained through a thinner mesh than cider. Cider tends to be cloudier and darker in colour than juice and has a more tart and raw flavour than the juice. Also, the bottom line is, depending on the quality of apples, which vary from year to year, the taste, sweetness and consistency of apple juice and cider can vary widely.

Alcoholic cider or perry (pear-based cider), an institution in Ireland, UK and France, is made by fermenting the juice after pressing, either by a naturally occurring fermentation or by adding a yeast strain.  This type of cider is one of my favorite drinks here on the isle, something that was new to me when I first arrived in Ireland & which I took an affinity towards….rather quicky. Fermented alcohol cider, such as Bulmers or Strongbow have dry, complex flavours and are not sweet. Perfection. I have also just learned of a new craft cider in Ireland called Stonewell which we will be sampling soon.

Thankfully, this type of cider libation has also been making a comeback stateside. In doing my cider research, I discovered that during the 18th century, hard cider was actually the drink of the people, from farmers to fighting men, and deservedly so as President John Adams himself drank a tankard of cider every day. Children drank a less potent version, called ciderkin.

However, when the Germans arrived in America, beer fell more into favour and after the prohibition, cider was virtually nonexistent. Now, with wonderful artisanal ciderys cropping up across the country such as Bellwether and Tieton, the cider tradition is swiftly being reborn in America.

Whether a warm mug of autumn apple cider or a cold glass of dry {alcoholic} cider suits your fancy, I say long live apple cider!

I am thrilled to announce that we will be packing up “Rosie” and heading to Kilkenny at the weekend to press cider at Savour Kilkenny, a fabulous food festival in it’s fifth year running. Please come along and sample a taste of sweet cider with me in the Forgotten Skills tent on Parade Plaza from 11:30AM on Saturday. I’d love to see you there! There is an amazing schedule of events at the festival including food demos by Donal Skehan, Catherine Fulvio and Edward Hayden. The Great Irish Food Debate, a panel discussion about whether or not ‘Irish Cuisine’ exists will take place during the Food Camp on Friday, and reknowned American food writer/food historian and founder of Saveur magazine, Colman Andrews, will be weighing in. Not to be missed!  www.savourkilkenny.com

So, here’s how we made our apple cider:

Procure a mix of apple varieties. Apple juice tastes much better if sweet, tart and fragrant apples are mixed together. We used the two types of apples that we currently have in the small farm orchard: Bramley and Pippin varieties. Yields can vary widely, but as a general guide, 20 lb/10kg apples will yield a gallon/4 litres of juice.  Wash the apples by running cold water over them and removing any dirt or other contaminants. Remove any obviously rotted or discolored parts of the apple. Be cautious when using apples that have been picked up from the ground after falling from the tree as these will require extra cleaning to remove possible contaminants. Never use “ground apples” from an area where livestock graze.

Chop and mash the apples. For larger quantities, an apple chopper is the easiest method. For smaller quantities, you may use a food processor, meat grinder, or just cut the apples into very small cubes. I used our food processor. Do not worry about stems, seeds or peels–they can all be included in the mash. (I originally cored all the apples, a waste of time!) 

Insert a mesh bag into the fruit press. Our model came with a two bags. Bags with larger diameters are used for cider, while a smaller mesh will product a more juice-like product. Place a large pot under the spout of the fruit press to catch the juice as it is pressed.

Fill the fruit press with apple mash. Add 1 tbsp. lemon juice, if desired, to help reduce oxidation ofthe apple juice. Apples and apple juice, will react with oxygen and produce a brownish color. Lemon juice will lessen but will not eliminate this effect.

Tighten the fruit press to begin the flow of juice. Keep tightening the press until the flow of juice comes to a halt, which takes approximately 10 minutes. The pressed mash can be composted, discarded or fed to local wildlife or in our case, resident donkeys, Conor and Cormac.

Pour the apple juice into plastic or glass containers. Drink. If you plan to freeze the juice, fill the containers three-fourths full, to allow room for expansion.

If the apple juice has not been heated, it will keep in a refrigerator for one or two weeks before yeast naturally present in the juice starts the fermentation process.

APPLE CIDER DOUGHNUTS

Makes Approx 20 Doughnuts

1 cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted

¼ cup buttermilk

½ cup apple cider

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

4 cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon allspice

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup sweet apple finely chopped

Topping

1 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

Mix 1 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon in a brown paper bag. Set aside.

To Make the Doughnuts

  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat eggs and sugar until thick and creamy
  • Add the melted butter
  • Combine the milk, cider, and vanilla. Set aside.
  • In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and salt
  • Alternately add the flour and milk-cider mixture to the eggs, beginning and ending with the flour. Combine thoroughly.
  • Fold in the apple
  • Turn out the dough onto a large piece of parchment paper.
  • Fold the paper to cover the dough and place in freezer for 30 minutes. Dough will be very sticky but will become workable after it firms up in the freezer.
  • Roll out firm dough on a lightly floured surface ½-inch thick.
  • Cut 2-1/2-inch circles with 1-inch center holes (or use a doughnut cutter). Dough will be soft, which makes light, tender doughnuts when fried.
  • Let cut doughnuts rest five minutes on a cookie sheet.
  • Heat 3 to 4-inches oil to 360 degrees in a large pot.
  • Fry three to four doughnuts at a time for about 1-1/2 minutes per side or until golden brown. (Be sure to maintain the temperature of the oil, lowering or raising stovetop heat accordingly).
  • Shake fried doughnuts in the cinnamon sugar mixture.
  • EAT IMMEDIATELY WHILE SIPPING WARM APPLE CIDER! (do not take snaps, if you want to see what they look like, here’s a great example)

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell.

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Each October, Ireland welcomes the tradition of baking Barm Brack, a fruit-filled tea bread. This sweet tea bread was traditionally eaten on Halloween, when a token is baked into it to be used as a form of fortune-telling. The eater may find a ring (predicting impending marriage); a button or thimble (portents of bachelor or spinsterhood respectively); or a coin, (presaging wealth). In earlier, less sensitive times, items may have included a rag or dried pea, (for poverty); or a matchstick, (for an abusive spouse). These days, the tokens aren’t always included, but the tradition of eating brack at Halloween remains. {if you buy a brack at the supermarket or bakery that is labelled “Halloweeen Brack” there still will be a ring or another piece hidden inside}

As I have noted before, my magnificent mother-in-law still insists on preparing an enormous roast lunch with plenty of boiled potatoes, gravy and fresh vegetables for everyone who is working each day. There is always a hot cup of tea afterwards and something sweet like an apple tart baked on a plate or a fruity brack to accompany . Often, she will make one of her favorites, “Railway Cake”, which is basically a tea brack that is bespeckled with black currants (each currant symbolizing a train stop, of course).

In the spirit of Autumn on our farm, I would like to share the “Farmer’s Sunday Cake”, which is essentially a Barm Brack risen with soda instead of yeast. It could also be considered a dressed-up version of Peggy’s Railway Cake. I like it fresh out of the oven in the morning with a little butter and a cappuccino, but most would have it with a cup of afternoon tea.

I know everyone on the farm will love a loaf of this today and I hope you will enjoy it too…

Farmer’s Sunday Cake

From” The Country Cooking of Ireland” by Colman Andrews

6 ¼ cups/625 g white flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cream of tartar

1 cup/200 g sugar

¾ cup/170 g butter, softened. Plus more for greasing

1 cup/150 g sultanas {golden raisins}

1 cup/150 g dried currants

2 tbsp candied orange or lemon peel finely chopped

Grated zest of 1/2 lemon

2 farm fresh free range eggs, beaten

2 ½ to 3 cups/600-720 ml buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 F/230 c {Gas mark 8}

Lightly grease 2 loaf pans

Sift flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and sugar together into a large bowl and mix well..

Rub butter into the flour mixture with your hands until the mixture resembles course bread crumbs. Add sultanas, currants, orange or lemon peel and lemon zest. Mix well.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the eggs and 2 ½ cups/600 ml of the buttermilk. Stir liquid into the flour mixture, working in a spiral motion from the middle toward the sides of the bowl, and adding a bit more buttermilk if necessary to make a moist but cohesive batter. Do not overmix.

Spoon batter into the loaf pans and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce over temperature to 400 F/200 C {Gas mark 6} and bake for 20-30 minutes longer.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Master Geoffrey McDonnell

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Farm Fresh….Foodie?

24 May 2010

Nettle Soup

Last Thursday I was privileged to attend an amazing Irish Foodie event in Dublin, organised by Donal Skehan and Bord Bia (the Irish food board).  I met loads of fabulous foodies such as: 9BeanRow, Dinner DuJour, The Friendly Cottage, The Daily Spud, Icanhascook?, Bibliocook and An American In Ireland and was thoroughly inspired by all the warm personalities and informative food demos put forth on the day. {Oh yes, and for those of you who have a bit of a crush on Donal, he is every bit as charming and lovely in person as he is on television or via his website and twitter}

Truth be told, I had always intended to bring food to the forefront of this blog. It just made sense…it’s what we do best out here in the countryside. Cook, eat. Eat, cook. In particular, my idea was to feature traditional Irish farm dishes combined with a modern American girl’s cookery style. {ahem, yes that would be me}

Somewhere along the way, I was sidetracked by the many distractions of life on the farm, but also, I had a few apprehensions about going in that direction. These foodie fears are as follows:

  1. Does the world really need another food blogger?
  2. If I start food blogging will my body become large (or large-er)? *

Two obviously very important concerns. The good news is that I was not worried about the actual cooking/devising recipes part of the equation. I feel fairly confident in my culinary skills to pull it off and have frequently been told that my little “gift” may be be worth pursuing more seriously. {having said that, I suppose they were all drunkenly delirious at the time of  these said statements}. I also have wide-ranging experience with filming food from my years in advertising production which should work to my advantage as I imagine my OCD tendencies would too.

So does the world really need another food blogger? Well, up until I went to the event last week…it was definitely questionable in my mind. In the USA, this niche is completely saturated and dare I say, nearly “old news”.  Still, I see things differently. I see that for so many people {myself included} food is truly a complete passion and to be able to create and share this vibrant passion with the world brings a tremendous amount of joy to their lives. And, we all know that joy certainly makes the world a better place.  If that weren’t enough, I’m convinced that food blogging is very much a highly creative endeavour. At least it will definitely be for me. Creating a scandalously delicious dish, taking a pretty photograph of it, followed by carefully composing 200-500 words about each preparation takes loads of creative thought, time and energy-if you want to put your best foot forward. Whether it’s mixing up a prosecco cocktail made with a cardamom-pear infusion or a simple traditional Irish stew, your senses are put to work on so many levels. So, because this kind of passion is sensationally creative and simply fuels my raison d’etre then I say: long live cooking/baking/blogging/writing/photography/television…anything foodie, really!

My plan is to proceed by collaborating with my mother-in-law and other Irish foodies to discover the best traditional Irish recipes around. I will draw from the farm as well as Ireland at large and then will lovingly prepare and imaginatively shoot them for you all to nip in and have a look as you see fit.  I will also continue to write about all the other bits and bobs that I experience here as well as featuring Irish talent whom inspire me. If food isn’t your thing, please don’t go away.  I promise I will still share all the silly snags and shenanigans of my Irish country life.

Well, having spilled the beans on my new adventure I am looking forward to the glorious month of June which will be spent in the USA where I will be shopping for a shiny new camera like this.  And this time, I will have even more fun going to my favourite foodie haunts such as Williams-Sonoma, Cooks of Crocus Hill and the one and only Target to find some fabulous new utensils for our kitchen. I’ll finish off with an afternoon or more spent at Crate&Barrel, Pottery Barn, PatinaAnthropologieAmpersand and Victory for colourful and smart accents to add to our collection..and to make for really lovely props.

I am so thrilled to get started on this and I hope you will join me on my Foodie journey! I’m looking for your favorite Irish traditional dishes and would love to hear your suggestions. Just leave a comment below.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

*As far as my concern about getting “large”. Well, I guess that’s my own problem! (But, Donal, we all want to know your secret to staying thin and making all that yummy food all the time?!)

Photo courtesy of “The Country Cooking of Ireland” by Colman Andrews and Christopher Hirsheimer, photographer.

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