Pear Cider Syrup

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The fall is well on its way–foliage is now at what I see as its second peak. The first peak is when the leaves are screaming their bright colors, but there is still enough green that all the colors sing. The second peak is a bit more subtle, rich, not as demanding of your attention. Everything has more or less turned, many leaves are down, and a subdued wash covers the whole countryside. Last week was the first, and quick, wave, glorious fall days full of sun and blue skies.

The beginning of this week we had a serious cold snap. When I woke up at 6 a.m. the thermometer outside read 25 degrees. That is cold! A hard frost killed some soft basil left in the garden, turning it black. As my son and I walked to the bus stop, leaves were dropping at such a pace that it looked like snow falling. Large flakes of golden and orange snow. It was beautiful. I couldn’t stop watching it. I took several videos, but as always it fails to grasp the real magic of it. This is where the second wave starts–the more mellow peak.

What is it about autumn that so captures our sense of wonder and appreciation of beauty? Is it that it goes by so fast? “Wow, that fall just dragged on by, didn’t it?” Said no one ever. Every day there is a newness that most people’s eyes can’t resist. We are all feeling so great, even though it’s almost winter! How can that be? Is it some kind of drug the leaves are putting out in their last moments on earth that lulls us into this good feeling?

I have read that feeling gratitude is a good way to keep your mood on the upside. It has been easy with all the bounty that is falling our way, along with the leaves. My porch is filled with baskets of various apples, pears, tomatoes, chestnuts, drying herbs, and mushrooms. I feel a little bump of joy every time I pass them by. Such abundance! Lucky us! The fridge is also full: with soups, and stocks, and ciders. As soon as I clear something out, there’s something new to fill the void. Sometimes it’s a bit too full. There’s a lot of planning and thinking regarding all this food, and thankfully for me, it’s one of my favorite things to do.

The other day I bought a half-gallon of pear cider, which is always a treat for our family. You don’t see it as often as apple cider, which we also love. But this pear cider was a bit flabby, as they say in wine tasting circles. It was overly sweet, with no acidity to make it lively. Even my son, who, like most kids, loves cloying sweets, didn’t want to drink it. What to do? Why, make cider syrup of course.

This is super easy, a non recipe, a method. All you do is boil the cider down until you have syrup. You will boil it so much that you think it’s not going to work. A half-gallon will turn into a half-pint. But you are just boiling out water, and leaving all the good stuff, so it takes a while. All that sweetness that we couldn’t drink, turned into a slightly caramelized, glossy and thick syrup that I can’t wait to drizzle on vanilla ice cream (maybe that ice cream is on top of a slice of pear pie?), or use in an autumnal cocktail with rye whiskey, or maybe even tossed with some sautéed carrots in place of maple syrup? There are a lot of possibilities in that little jar of concentrated fall.

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Apples!

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It’s that time of year! Where I grab my buckets and a sweet hoe/rake combo that I acquired somewhere, and head out to the various apple trees I have met in the past ten years. I am much less zealous than I ever have been, because I have been brought down by too much fruit in the past. There’s just so many apples you can eat, you know? I just avert my gaze now when I see trees full with fruit that people are neglecting.

All I make these days with apples is applesauce and lots of it. I wouldn’t make so much if it weren’t for my son, who loves it. This year I added some pears to my applesauce, and my son declared it the best applesauce I’ve ever made. (Honestly, I think he’s realized that complimenting my food makes me happy, so he does it a lot now, which is, of course, very charming.) It’s also a good thing to have on hand if you want to make this chocolate applesauce cake, because don’t you want to make that? I do!

If you are setting out to make an apple pie, however, do you cook your apples first? I’ve always made apple pies with uncooked apples. Always. When I was a teenager I worked in a restaurant that did catering, and we made billions of pies. It’s how we did it there, and it was how I learned apple pie at my mother’s side. However, I think I may have just changed gears. The other day when my son turned seven, he requested an apple pie instead of cake. I had read about the precooked apple idea recently, I forget where, and thought: I should try that. More than not, I’m disappointed by a high risen top crust and a liquid-y apple mixture. It seems like it was always hit or miss. Always tasty, but somewhat aesthetically off, in my opinion.

For those of you that can apple pie filling this time of year, you are probably shaking your head at me with pity. I never liked the idea of pre-made pie filling, but I really do see its benefits for throwing together a quick pie. It has just never been my thing. Maybe now I’ll change my ways. What I did this time was to gently sauté the apples in some butter and sugar, adding cornstarch at the end. I followed along with this recipe from the Times. It was probably the best apple pie I’ve ever made, and you know, I’ve made some pies in my life.

What do you make with your apples? Brandied apple rings? Candied pickled apples? Apple tomato chutney? Apple vinegar? Apple pectin stock? Let me know!

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