CIDER HOUSE RULES: Cooking with local craft cider

Modern artisan ciders are delicious to drink and pair with food, they’re also perfect for cooking, baking and even adding to creative cocktails. Cider adds a lively sweet, fruity acidity to any dish – an excellent liquid to use in place of wine in many recipes.



By CINDA CHAVICH


As summer turns to fall, apple lovers celebrate the windfall of local apples destined for the table and the cider press.

Thanks to early settlers and their apple-growing expertise, we have a wide variety of heirloom apples growing in old orchards across the islands, tart apples that are for perfect pies and bittersweet cider apples that make beautiful beverages.

These aren’t the sweet dessert apples that dominate modern supermarkets, but rather the old-fashioned varieties - the Gravenstein, Baldwin, Cox’s Orange Pippin, and Belle de Boskoop - once planted and favoured for their unique cooking, keeping and juicing properties.


And thanks this bounty of rare and flavourful fruit, there’s a growing community of cider makers, building on those traditions and crafting artisan cider from island apples.

From the classic English cider and Scrumpy made by Merridale Cider, to the crisp Pippins cider fermented with champagne yeast at Sea Cider, or the Backyard Blend created by Spinnakers with apples rescued from the city’s urban orchard, there are plenty of interesting local ciders to try, both for drinking and cooking.

So whether you like drink your cider in the pub or tip a pint into a savoury stew or a saucy dessert, it’s time to celebrate the cider season.


Fall is harvest time at Sea Cider on Vancouver Island

CIDER IN THE KITCHEN

Cider is one of the world’s oldest alcoholic beverages, made across Europe, from England and France to northern Spain and Italy. This traditional cider is made with tart, bitter and tannic varieties of apples - inedible and often ugly, but essential to create a complex, dry, fermented drink.

Until quite recently, the only cider made in BC was the sweet and fizzy kind, designed to use leftover or culled dessert apples that now dominate Canada’s apple-growing industry.


But there’s been a move in recent years to plant traditional cider apples and source heirloom varieties, to make quality craft ciders, some still, some sparkling, some infused with other fruits, or aged in oak barrels like fine wine.

While these modern artisan ciders are delicious to drink and pair with food, they’re also perfect for cooking, baking and even adding to creative cocktails. Cider adds a lively sweet, fruity acidity to any dish – an excellent liquid to use in place of wine in many recipes.


Wherever cider is made, there are traditional dishes featuring cider. In Normandy, the Breton cider is used to cook fish and shellfish, the sauce often finished with the local cream.

In Britain, cider is mulled in winter, used to braise chicken with herbs, or reduced with honey and mustard to glaze pork sausages. In Spain, fresh, chorizo sausages are simmered in cider, until its reduced and syrupy, and clams are steamed in cider with white beans and spicy sausage.



In fact, whenever you’d slosh some white wine into the pan, try a nice dry cider instead, whether steaming mussels, deglazing a sauce, braising cabbage and leeks, or making a pot of caramelized onion soup. Apple cider has a natural affinity to pork – whether it’s used to glaze a ham, or in a sauce to brush over ribs – and works well with rich duck, lamb and game meats.

Fruity cider vinegar can be used in salads, sauces and marinades, especially those that include apples, pears or sweeter root vegetables like carrots, squash and beets. Try it with an apple and cabbage slaw or drizzled on hot buttered beets with dill.

Cider likes warm spices – think cinnamon, cloves and allspice – so use it in desserts with tart fall fruit, from apples and quince to cranberries. Use cider to replace the liquid in cakes, muffins and soda breads.

Heat a full-bodied cider and combine with spiced butter and rum for a warming winter drink, or serve a lighter sparkling cider in a breakfast mimosa.

Spinnaker’s chef Ali Ryan says she uses cider in both sweet and savoury dishes on the brewpub menu - braising meat and poaching fruit in cider, adding cider to yeast breads, or using their apple cider vinegar in dressings and sauces.

At Merridale Cidery, owner Janet Docherty says their cider used to marinate ribs, and is an integral ingredient in their house-made Cyser mustard and popular Scrumpy Pot Pie.


CIDER IN THE GLASS


Cider is one of the fastest growing drink categories in North America. It’s naturally gluten free and appeals to millennials and female consumers – but not all cider is created equally.

Although there is no single definition of cider in Canada, craft cider producers, like the 20 members of the British Columbia Farm-Crafted Cider Association (BCFCCA), take the position that cider should be made with 95% real apple juice, not the imported Chinese apple juice concentrate, water and sugar, which forms the base of many large-scale, commercial ciders.

The good news is that BC is leading the pack in authentic craft cider making and innovation.

Craft cideries are planting more sharp, tannic and bitter cider apples and using old world techniques – fermenting with wild yeasts, aging ciders in barrels, and keeving (a traditional French process to stop fermentation, producing naturally sweeter and lower alcohol ciders).

Salt Spring Island was once western Canada’s main source of fresh apples and still has an impressive selection of heirloom apple trees – more than 400 varieties were showcased at last year’s apple festival - so it’s not surprising to find a large community of island cider makers, too.

From Merridale Cider and Valley Cider in the Cowichan Valley, to Sea Cider in rural Saanich, Gabbie’s Cider from Gabriola Island, Pender’s Twin Island Cider, and Salt Spring Wild Cider, turning island apples into hard cider is a popular pursuit. Victoria Cider Co. in is the latest island cider apple grower to produce small batch, handcrafted cider and offer tastings of their various flavours (dry, hopped, keeved, ginger, lavender, barrel-aged among them) at their Saanich farm.


Craft brewers are also experimenting with cider - Spinnakers brewer Kala Hadfield regularly has six ciders on tap at the popular brewpub, and makes Spinnakers Backyard Blend with apples gleaned from more than 300 urban trees by local LifeCycles volunteers.


Tasting cider at Sea Cider near Victoria, BC

Many cideries offer cider tastings and food pairings, as traditional, dry cider has a natural affinity to food.

“Cider is a beverage that is fundamental to so many cultures in the world, once a daily and humble drink,” says Kristen Needham, the owner of Sea Cider,” and, as a cider maker, I’m proud of that history.”

Needham says there’s a “renaissance” happening in the world of cider making, melding traditions with modern innovation. From the first bittersweet English varietals she planted 16 years ago to the organic orchards now contracted to grow cider apples in the Okanagan, the business has grown exponentially, as consumer tastes have evolved.

“The consumer is diverse,” she says. “There are those who enjoy a full-bodied, dry cider like our Wild English, but there are others that prefer a Normandy style that’s sweeter and not as tannic.”


For Sea Cider, that means producing a variety of products, from their traditional Heirloom Series to barrel-aged Rum Runner, and the new Canadian Invasion series, complete with spiced Witch’s Broom, blackberry Bramble Bubbly and pink rose-hip infused Ruby Rose. There’s even a crabapple Pomona dessert cider reminiscent of ice wine, and a fortified Pommeau.

Like Sea Cider, many island cideries now grow their own cider apples on site and augment their inputs with fruit from the Okanagan. At Tod Creek Craft Cider, more than 3,000 cider apples trees have been planted on dwarf rootstock, the orchard of espaliered trees resembling a vineyard.


But crowd-sourcing island fruit is gaining ground, too. Beyond Spinnakers Backyard Blend and Sea Ciders Kings & Spies (both made with fruit sourced from local farms and urban yards), there’s the new Valley Cider Co. near Duncan and its Community Cider, created to engage and support the Cowichan Green Community group.

It’s the fruit that changes the flavour and complexity of cider. When common dessert apples are fermented, the result is a sweet, bubbly apple beverage, but when bitter sweet and bittersharp cider apples are used, the ciders have more acidity and tannins, with drier and far more complex profiles.



If you think you don’t like cider, you’ve probably been drinking the former. Try a selection of craft ciders and explore drinks that range from bone dry, Spanish style ‘sidre’ (similar to a good champagne) to the funky, earthy, beer-like flavours of traditional English cider.

Then expand your horizons with some of the modern craft ciders, infused with other fruits and berries, spices, honey and hops.

And imagine how they might pair with your next meal, or work in your recipes, as autumn and cider season arrives.


SOME VANCOUVER ISLAND CIDERS TO TRY:

There are more than 150 cider producers in Canada, and many of the best are in BC.


Valley Cider Company – Bon Dri

Bone dry with slight fizz, this is a food pairing cider if there ever was one! Pour alongside anything that goes with Prosecco (i.e. everything).

6.5% ABV

ValleyCider.com


Sea Cider – Wolf in the Woods

This is one of Sea Cider’s newest collection, the Canadian Invasion Series, designed to draw attention to invasive species. With hops and grand fir needles in the mix, it has a lovely crisp grapefruit and citrus profile, that’s perfect to sip with spicy and salty food.

9.9% ABV

seacider.ca


Merridale Cider – Cowichan Dry

Find this dry apple cider in tall cans, fermented from a blend of English cider apples. A drier version of their House Cider to serve chilled from the cooler.

6% ABV

Merridale.ca


Salt Spring Wild – Maple Bourbon Apricot

From a Salt Spring Island craft cidery that sources apples from individuals around the island and specializes in infusing its ciders with unique flavours, this rich, amber-coloured cider is fermented with apricots, aged in bourbon barrels and sweetened with maple syrup.

7.8 ABV

Saltspringwildcider.com


Spinnakers - Backyard Blend

This cider is created by Spinnakers in partnership with the LifeCycles Fruit Tree Project, from apples gleaned from backyard trees by their volunteers, with proceeds from the cider (and apple cider vinegar) for LifeCycles’ sustainable, local food initiatives. Each year the blend is unique.

spinnakers.com


Twin Island Cider – Wild Ferment Cider

This Pender Island cidery won the People’s Choice award at the 2019 BC Cider Festival for its natural, wild-fermented cider, made with apples sourced old orchards on Pender, Mayne, Saturna and Samuel islands.

Twinislandcider.com


RECIPES:


SPINNAKERS’ CIDER-BRAISED PORK BELLY

Spinnakers’ chef Ali Ryan starts with pasture-raised, local pork belly from Berryman Farms, then oven-braises it slowly in Spinnakers House Cider. Serve the crisp pork belly and jus with roasted root vegetables and potatoes. Any leftovers can be thinly sliced to add to stir-fries or diced and sautéed into crispy lardons to add to a hearty fall salad with pears, blue cheese, rustic greens and pumpkin vinaigrette.


1 slab pork belly, about 3-5 pounds, skin removed


Cure:

1 cup coarse sea salt

½ cup brown, demerera sugar

1 teaspoon anise or fennel seed

20 black peppercorns

pinch of red pepper flakes


Braise:

2 carrots

3 stalks celery

1 medium onion

2-3 whole star anise

coarsely ground black pepper

2 sprigs fresh thyme

3-4 cups Spinnakers House Cider


Using a small, sharp knife, score the fat cap of the pork belly, cutting shallow diagonal lines about 1 inch apart. Combine the cure ingredients and rub over all sides of the pork belly. Place in a glass or other non-reactive pan, cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Chop the carrots, celery and onion coarsely, into 2-inch pieces. In a roasting pan, just large enough to accommodate the pork, scatter the chopped vegetables and spices. Set the pork on top, fat side up, and pour in enough cider just to cover the vegetables.

Cover the pan with foil and bake in the oven for 4 hours.

Increase the heat to 425 F. Remove the foil from the pan and continue to roast the pork belly for 20-30 minutes, or until the fat is golden brown and crispy on top.

Remove the pork to a cutting board and tent with foil to keep warm.

Strain and braising liquid, pressing out all of the excess juices from the vegetables. Skim the liquid of excess fat and taste – if the liquid seems too salty adjust the flavour by adding more cider. Simmer to reduce by half, to thicken slightly and create a nicely flavoured jus.

Cut the pork belly into 3-inch squares and serve with roasted root vegetables, mashed potatoes and jus.

Alternatively, place the pork into a pan, cover with foil, weight under and board and refrigerate overnight to compress. This makes it easier to cut into individual portions and offers a tidier presentation. You can also sear the portions, fat side down in a hot pan, to crisp and brown the top and reheat to serve.


NOTE: Leftovers can be chopped and fried for crispy pork lardons to serve over salads or tossed into a stirfry, and may be frozen, too. This recipe also works well for braising pork shoulder.


STEAMED MUSSELS IN CIDER

Dry cider is perfect for steaming mussels and clams.



1 tablespoon butter

2 slices of double-smoked bacon, chopped

2 large cloves garlic, minced

2 green onions, chopped

3-4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only

2 pounds/1 kg live mussels

1 cup cider

1/2 cup heavy cream


chopped fresh thyme or Italian parsley to garnish

baguette for serving alongside


Check the mussels to make sure each is alive – tap the shells on the counter, and they should close tightly. Discard any that don’t close. Rinse mussels in cold water, scrub if necessary, and pull off any “beards” still attached to the shells, by tugging downward toward the hinge.

In a large pot or wok, large enough to hold the mussels, melt the butter over medium heat and cook the chopped bacon until starting to crisp. Add the garlic and shallot, and cook together for a few minutes. They stir in the thyme.

Increase the heat to high and add the mussels to the pan. Pour over the cider, cover and steam for about 5-7 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to redistribute the shellfish in the pan and checking to see if all have opened. Don’t overcook.

When all of the mussels have opened, use a slotted spoon to divide among serving bowls (discarding any that haven’t opened). Return the pan to the heat, stir in the cream and boil for a minute, then pour the sauce over the mussels. Sprinkle with more chopped thyme or Italian parsley and serve with bread to sop up the juices. Serves 2.


CIDER-POACHED PEARS

I love to poach pears to serve atop fresh greens with shaved Parmesan, or to serve with sweetened whipped cream for a simple dessert. Use spiced cider, or substitute regular cider and add 2 star anise and a cinnamon stick to the poaching liquid. Make sure to use Bosc or Anjou pears (Barletts will fall apart when cooked).



1 bottle, 750 mL Wassail Cider from Sea Cider (or other cider infused with warm winter spices)

4 tablespoons honey (optional, but add for desserts)

4 pears (slightly under-ripe Bosc or Anjou)


Peel the pears, leaving the stem end intact. Use a melon baller to neatly remove the cores, or cut pears half lengthwise and remove the cores.

Bring the cider to a simmer in a deep sauté pan, just large enough to hold the pears in a single layer, and stir in the honey. Add the pears and poach, over medium heat, for 10-12 minutes. Use a skewer to poke the pears to check for doneness (they should be tender but firm – don’t over cook or the pears will be mushy). Let the pears cool in the poaching liquid, then cover and refrigerate.

If using the pears to top salads, slice lengthwise into ¼-inch slices, leaving the tops attached, and fan over greens that have been toss with vinaigrette, made with the reserved poaching liquid, olive oil, Dijon and a splash of balsamic.

For desserts, you can leave the pears whole, place in a dessert bowl and top with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream and a dusting of cinnamon. Simmer the poaching liquid to reduce to a syrup to drizzle on top.

Serves 4.


APPLE CRANBERRY CIDER CAKE

A spiced coffee cake to serve for breakfast or take to a casual pot luck party. Use heirloom apples, the kind that will hold their shape when cooked.


CAKE:

½ cup dried cranberries

1 cup cider

3 cups chopped apples

juice and finely grated zest of 1 small lemon, divided

3/4 cup softened butter

2/3 cup white sugar

2/3 cup brown sugar

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cup unbleached flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

pinch of ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon salt


GLAZE:

1 cup icing sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

reserved cider soaking liquid


Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Butter a deep, 8-inch or 9-inch spring form pan (with removable bottom).

Zest the lemon and juice it. Set the zest aside and combine 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice with the chopped apples. Set aside.

In a heatproof measuring cup, combine the cranberries and cider. Microwave on high for a minute, until the cider is hot and steaming, then set aside for 15 minutes to plump the cranberries.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter with the white and brown sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the vanilla.

In another large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg and salt. Using a spatula, fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, stirring until just mixed.

Drain the soaked cranberries, reserving the soaking liquid to use in the glaze. Fold the cranberries, 2 tablespoons of the soaking liquid, the apples and lemon zest into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake on the bottom rack for 25 minutes. Move to the centre rack and bake for 30-40 minutes longer, or until the top is golden and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then release the cake from the pan to finish cooling.

To make the glaze, place the icing sugar in a bowl and stir in the tablespoon of lemon juice and enough of the reserved soaking liquid to make a nice pourable glaze. Pour the glaze over the cooled cake, smoothing the top and letting it drizzle down the sides. Makes 1 cake (10-12 portions).


This story originally appeared in YAM magazine