Once upon a time, apple cider was much more than an aromatic harbinger of sweater weather and decorative gourds. In fact, it used to be damn near close to being the most important liquid in the United States of America! Colonial America was awash in apple orchards, as the soil was fertile and the water full of strange, feisty bacteria that could cause all sorts of fun side effects, like dysentery and death.
Fresh pressed apple cider, on the other hand, was full of nonpoisonous sugar water that just so happened to taste great, and was pretty dang versatile as well. Straight out of the cider press, it was a refreshing nonalcoholic beverage that provided sustenance and chill autumn vibes. (Vibes are always important, no matter the century.)
Casked up, it would gradually ferment into a hard cider, which provided microbe-free hydration and gave colonists just enough of a buzz to forget their lives revolved around endless toiling and trying not to die. Fermented even further it became applejack, a distinctly American brandy that was considered so valuable, it was used as currency. When you lack a proper country with a centralized financial system and face an endless barrage of harsh, brutal winters, barrels of booze are an excellent alternative to cold, hard cash, even if, as reported by Brian D. Hoefling in "Distilled Knowledge," it caused the occasional bout of blindness.
As time went on, apple cider gradually found itself unraveled from the fabric of American society. Amber waves of grain became an ocean of beer, thanks to a steady influx of German immigrants. Kentucky bourbon, Tennessee whiskey and Caribbean rum spent the 19th century muscling applejack out of its star status in the spirits world, and come the 20th, imports of gin, vodka and tequila all but finished the job, according to "Alcohol in Popular Culture," an encyclopedia on spirits. Nonalcoholic cider found itself filtered and pasteurized into juice, which is smoother, sweeter and - most importantly - shelf-stable, thus extending our enjoyment of liquid apples well past the autumn harvest.
Though cider might have been pushed to the periphery by the 20th century, it never went away. Apple spirits went niche, and hard cider staged enough of a comeback to make its way back onto most bar menus. Fresh apple cider, for the most part, found itself at a disadvantage as a strictly seasonal drink that was available only in autumn. But then, by the good graces of the harvest gods, cider's fortunes changed as America entered the 21st century, and the entire concept of fall became "a whole thing."
Fresh-pressed apple cider's season is unfairly short, which is why it's perfectly fine to make a big fuss about it when fall finally comes around. If anyone mocks you for "being basic" or "making fall your entire personality," do not feel shame or sorrow - instead, feel pity for those who refuse to lose themselves wholeheartedly in simple joys.
How sad it must be to never know the shiver of ecstasy that arrives on September's first crisp breeze! To be nonplussed by nature's colorful displays; incapable of experiencing cute, lightweight jackets on a deep, spiritual level. When apple cider finally comes back into your life, love it as hard as you can, for life is short and time is fleeting.
If there's one problem with a simple mug of steamy cider it's that it's too good, and when things flirt with perfection, it's easy to forget all the other magic it might be capable of. Apple cider can (and should!) be savored hot and guzzled cold; shaken into cocktails or served a la mode. Full of potential and possibility, apple cider doesn't need to contain alcohol to be playful - you can most certainly add a shot of zero-proof whiskey or rum to these recipes for another layer of flavor.
I leaned into cider's past with a rich and creamy eggnog inspired by a Colonial posset recipe that was a popular refreshment come holiday time as the waning cider season dovetailed with the revelry of early winter. To fortify you when winter truly arrives, I took the hot mulled cider we already know and love and added a fat pat of butter, because this is an American drink, and that's the American way. And to embrace during any season, (and at my children's request) there's apple cider milk tea which is delicious hot or cold, even if you don't want to bother with boba.
Hot Buttered Cider
Total time: 10 minutes
This version of hot mulled apple cider adds a fat pat of butter for festive richness. Feel free to add a shot of liquor, too, if you are so inclined. We used unfiltered apple cider, but you can use your favorite kind. From Allison Robicelli, Washington Post.
• 1 c. apple cider
• 1 tbsp. cold salted butter, divided
• 1 1/2 tsp. maple syrup
• 1/2 tsp. freshly grated ginger
• 1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
• 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
• 1 cinnamon stick, optional
In a heatproof measuring cup and using a microwave, or in a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the apple cider until steamy.
Put half of the butter, the maple syrup, ginger, nutmeg and cloves into a mug. Add a small amount of the hot cider to soften the butter, then use the back of a spoon to thoroughly combine it with the spices until smooth. Add the remaining cider, stir with a spoon or cinnamon stick, if using, until combined, and float the remaining butter on top. Serve hot.
Nutritional information per serving (1 drink) | Calories: 253, Carbohydrates: 37 g, Cholesterol: 31 mg, Fat: 12 g, Fiber: 0 g, Protein: 0 g, Saturated Fat: 7 g, Sodium: 113 mg, Sugar: 34 g
Apple Cider Eggnog
Total time: 10 minutes
Lean into apple cider's rich history in America with this rich and creamy eggnog inspired by a Colonial posset punch recipe in "The Thirteen Colonies Cookbook." The spirited punch was a popular refreshment come holiday time as the waning cider season met with the revelry of early winter. We used unfiltered apple cider in this nonalcoholic eggnog, but you can use your favorite kind of cider.
Note: If you are concerned about salmonella, use pasteurized eggs, such as Davidson's, Vital Farms or Organic Valley brands.
Substitutions: Avoiding dairy? Use a nondairy heavy cream, such as Califia.
• 3 large egg yolks, pasteurized if desired (see Note)
• 1 large egg, pasteurized if desired (see Note)
• 1 c. heavy cream
• 1 1/2 c. apple cider
• 1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish
In a small saucepan off the heat, vigorously whisk the egg yolks until pale yellow, then whisk in the whole egg until smooth, about 1 minute. Whisk in the heavy cream and apple cider until combined.
Set the saucepan over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens slightly, but is still sippable, 2 to 3 minutes, then whisk in the balsamic vinegar and salt. Remove from the heat and divide among four mugs. Garnish each with freshly grated nutmeg and serve warm.
Nutritional information per serving (1 drink) | Calories: 619, Carbohydrates: 92 g, Cholesterol: 265 mg, Fat: 25 g, Fiber: 0 g, Protein: 4 g, Saturated Fat: 16 g, Sodium: 186 mg, Sugar: 84 g
Inspired by a recipe from "The Thirteen Colonies Cookbook" by Mary Donovan, Amy Hatrak, Frances Mills, Elizabeth Shull (Praeger Publishers, 1975).
Apple Cider Milk Tea
Total time: 15 minutes
If you love milk teas, give them fall flavor with apple cider. The drink is delicious hot or cold, with or without the boba. We used unfiltered apple cider to test this recipe, but you can use your favorite kind. We recommend steeping a tea bag for this drink, but if you prefer loose tea, use 1 heaping tablespoon of leaves.
• 3/4 c. apple cider
• 1 bag black tea, such as English Breakfast, Earl Grey or Lady Grey
• 2 tbsp. sweetened condensed milk
• 2 tablespoons half-and-half
• Boba pearls, any flavor, prepared to package directions, optional
In a heatproof measuring cup and using in a microwave, or in a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the apple cider until simmering.
Add the tea bag and let steep for 6 minutes. Remove the tea bag, squeezing it well to extract the tannins. (Conventional wisdom says to never squeeze, but in this instance we want the bitterness to balance the sweetness.) Stir in the sweetened condensed milk and half-and-half.
Fill a pint glass halfway with ice, then pour in the hot cider and stir. Add the boba pearls, if using, and additional ice until the glass is full, and serve.
Nutritional information per serving (1 drink) | Calories: 252, Carbohydrates: 44 g, Cholesterol: 24 g, Fat: 7 g, Fiber: 0 g, Protein: 4 g, Saturated Fat: 4 g, Sodium: 64 mg, Sugar: 42 g
Nutritional information analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian's or nutritionist's advice.
Recipes from food writer Allison Robicelli.