I nearly tripped over the bushel of apples Donna had left on my porch that morning. Children in fall jackets hurried to school, above them a cool gust shook a branch of red leaves. It was hard to believe that a whole season had passed since I moved into my first home.
Back in April, while traversing the obstacle course of boxes in my living room, I was interrupted by a knock at that door. A woman in her 70s with a white pixie cut exclaimed, “Welcome to the neighbourhood!,” while handing over a tray of carbs, fresh from the oven. Could there be a better introduction for a first-time homeowner?
Donna’s food is as colourful as her former professions — shoe model, music booking agent, and now the unofficial mayor of our street, and baker extraordinaire.
A friendship quickly grew, and on any given day she would knock on my door (or I would knock on hers), offering the daily treats we had just baked in our respective kitchens. Over apple tarte tatin, peach hand pies and sourdough boules, we share life stories and neighbourhood anecdotes. We interrogate one another’s methods and ingredients, and swap spices.
Staring at the bulging bag of Macs and Empires, I was at a loss as to what I could make that would impress an expert apple pie baker. Then I noticed a carton of apple cider in the fridge. I knew Donna had never made cider, not to mention, it would help me with my over-abundance of apples.
I mixed Donna’s sweeter apples with some of the tarter varieties I had on hand. The result was a smooth, naturally sweet, full-bodied cider. That afternoon I knocked on Donna’s door to drop off my twist on Ontario’s finest, and it was a hit. Within a day she guzzled it up, and shortly thereafter, she left a new basket on my doorstep filled with fresh garlic grown in her garden. Was this an invitation for another challenge?
Although Donna and I are generations apart, we found common ground through our love for food. What started off as a friendly exchange of recipes has evolved into something more meaningful. The fluffy scones and moist apple cake represent more than the perfect afternoon indulgence. Donna’s generosity has created a sense of community for many of us living on this street; where family extends beyond four walls.
Spiced Apple Cider
(Makes 8 cups)
Food processor (a juicer or apple press will also work)
Cheese cloth or a food mill if you can find one
A sanitized jar (see this link for how-to sterilize jars for canning)
- 16 medium sized Ontario apples (A mix of Spartans, Cortlands, Macs and Empires)
- 2 sticks of cinnamon
- 3 cloves
- 1 tsp of nutmeg
- a few orange and lemon rinds (optional)
- WASH apples thoroughly in cool water. Remove core and cut into slices. You can leave the skin on, as it adds more flavour and colour to the cider.
- START in batches of four apples at a time. First pulse and then run the processor until the apple is a fine texture (30 seconds), but not thin. You’re looking for small pieces as you want to be able to squeeze the juice from the flesh.
- TRANSFER to a cheesecloth that is secured by a rubber band to a wide and deep bowl. Press the chopped apples into the cheesecloth with a spatula to extract the juices. After 3-5 minutes, lift cloth away from bowl and begin squeezing from top to bottom. Be careful to secure the top so it does not open.
- CONTINUE the above method until all of the apples have been processed and squeezed. Set apple pulp aside. (Do not discard, as the fiber is great in smoothies, breads, muffins and even dog food.)
- PLACE cider in a pot and add favoured spices, such as cinnamon sticks, nutmeg and cloves. To pasturize cider, bring to a boil until it reaches 160F. Remove from heat and place in a heated sterilized jar to avoid cracking. You can also avoid heating the cider and place liquid in sterilized jar with spices. Leave spices in jar overnight for optimal spiced cider flavour.