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I sure am enjoying all of the fresh, locally-grown fall foods, especially apples.

Living in this part of Indiana, we are blessed that we can have fresh-made cider. One of the first fall foods that comes to mind is apples. Apples provide unlimited recipe possibilities. Apples in liquid form can be apple cider or apple juice. Apple cider is a refreshing and nutritional beverage.

Historically, the production of apple cider in America dates back to the first colonists in Massachusetts and Virginia. Apples were one of the main fruit components available to the colonies to produce a suitable liquid for drinking. The result was a delicious tasting apple cider. Keep in mind, there was no refrigeration back then for such a perishable product, so apple cider had to be consumed quickly, else it fermented.

The apple cider without refrigeration made way for production of fermented apple cider, hard cider or some called it Apple Jack. The fermented apple cider was carefully prepared with low alcohol content, making it a year-round colonial household beverage. This was in practice until the mid 1800s when canning, freezing and pasteurization were developed. All of these processes extend the year-round availability of apple cider.

A question I am asked this time of year is what is the difference between apple cider and apple juice? It is a night and day difference. Apple cider is the freshly-pressed juice of apples that is left unfiltered or partially filtered. The unfiltered suspended apple solids and the natural oxidation give the cider its cloudy, amber-colored appearance and its distinctive flavor. This result is a natural, undiluted apple cider which needs to be refrigerated.

Apple cider will retain its flavor up to two weeks unless frozen, allowing you to enjoy cider year-round. For health reasons, apple cider is best if it is also pasteurized. Pasteurizing destroys the harmful E. coli bacteria that might be present. The flavor is altered some but for food safety purposes, this is the only way orchards and grocery stores can sell cider. Apple cider is also pasteurized and vacuum-packed, thus making refrigeration unnecessary until it is opened.

The additional processing of apple cider is the key difference between apple cider and apple juice. When producing apple juice, the juice pressed from the apples is finely filtered, removing all apple solids. This gives the juice a clear, lighter color.

The juice is then pasteurized and vacuum-packed, allowing apple juice to be kept unrefrigerated for an extended period of time before opening. Like the cider, juice must be refrigerated once it is opened. Commercial apple juice is also made through a steaming process where the apples are heated and the juice removed. Through this process, all that is left is the peel, core and seeds.

Cider is tasty as a cold beverage and when the fall and winter days are cold, hot cider really hits the spot. For a colder beverage try making some apple cooler by using 1 quart apple cider or juice, 2 cups apricot nectar, the juice of six limes and club soda. Combine apple juice, apricot nectar and lime juice. Pour over ice in tall glasses and fill the glasses with club soda. For hot cider use 6 cups of cider, one or two sticks of cinnamon and half of a teaspoon of whole cloves. Place the spices in a tea ball or tie in cheese cloth. Simmer everything in a heavy bottom pan or slow cooker. The longer you cook this, the more enhanced the spice flavor will be. Enjoy!

For more recipes and tips from Purdue Extension Educator Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross, subscribe to the Food & Nutrition email newsletter.
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