apples into cider

I was going to tell you about an apple cider pressing party we attended last weekend. A lovely gathering of people, parents of the children at Lu’s new preschool, standing around a large garage, shuffling their feet against the cold while the kids ran under the apple trees outside. They’re lovely people, both the ones I know very well — former students of mine who now have children around Lu’s age — and the new ones we had only passed in the grocery store before. We drank coffee, ate cheese and crackers, and cut apples together. We talked. Nothing much happened. We turned apples into cider.

But tonight, I feel sort of funny writing about this.

You see, we love our community, both the group of people who live on our island and the small clutch of ones here we know particularly well. But we don’t think our community is any better than the thousands upon thousands of communities out there.

In the daylight understanding of how devastating that storm Sandy has been to people in the Northeast corner of the United States, it’s hard to write about a few hours of relaxed pleasure on this tiny island in the Northwest corner.

You must have been watching it too. So many of us have been refreshing our Twitter feeds, eager to hear that friends are safe. Or looking at photos of entire beach communities pummeled into pulpy bits of wood and waste in now-contaminated water. Or hearing reports of people stranded on their roofs on Staten Island for more than 24 hours, or young women dying because they stepped into puddles, or millions of people without power in darkened apartments for at least the next four days.

It’s hard to imagine that our cider press party even matters.

But I noticed something yesterday, before the storm hit. Every single person on Twitter, it seems, sent messages about baking brownies or bread from scratch. People prepared for a storm to howl down upon their necks by making soup or simmering stew, inviting the neighbors over for poached apples and a glass of wine. It was food that calmed people.

And it is food that people need now. Not cans we send across the country but meals delivered to seniors who are used to being served by home health aides. Restaurants are fighting to be open again. Sure, they need to make money, but I think it’s more than that. People need somewhere to gather.

Meals make people feel better.

There were so many stories from this storm that moved me. Hearing of NICU nurses who manually worked the ventilators for fragile premature babies, all while walking down 9 flights of stairs in the darkness? I tear up every time I think of it. Seeing this photograph of people making a human chain for 13 stories, to move fuel to keep the generator going in another hospital? I want to hang it on the wall of this office.

We come together, over food or trying to find the light. That is enough. It’s what makes us human. It’s community.

And in the midst of a disaster of this proportion, I imagine that the idea of standing around talking about not very much, drinking coffee, watching small kids throw apples into a hand-cranked press and running to see the cider gushing out the other side? That must sound like a surreal, lovely dream.

And so I offer these words, about all I have. There will be apples turned into cider again.

BRAISED CHICKEN THIGHS WITH APPLE CIDER SAUCE

We’ve been drinking our friends’ apple cider, in small sips and hot cups. Lu adores it. We thought about making these apple cider doughnuts gluten-free, but we’re already working on holiday treats for you behind the scenes. We didn’t need more sugar.

On a long walk, Danny and I spontaneously had our annual autumn conversation: oh my goodness, we love braising season. Meats that fall off the bone, vegetables softened in their cooking liquid, and the sauces that are rich for all the cooking reduced into even more flavor. We walked home and started prepping this meal for dinner.

We thought you might like to make it too.

8 chicken thighs, bone in
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 large shallots, peeled and quartered
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 cup apple cider
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preparing to cook. Heat the oven to 450°. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Grab a 9x13 casserole dish.

Browning the chicken. Set a large skillet on medium-high heat. Pour in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. When the oil is hot, lay 4 of the chicken thighs into the pan, skin side down. Sear the chicken thighs until the bottoms are browned, about 4 to 5 minutes. Flip the thighs and brown the other sides. Transfer the browned thighs to the casserole dish. Pour in the remaining olive oil. Repeat with the remaining chicken thighs.

Making the braising liquid. Add the shallots to the fat remaining in the skillet. Cook them, stirring occasionally, until they are almost caramelized, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the thyme and cook, stirring, until the scent releases itself, about 1 minute.

Pour the apple cider and apple cider vinegar into the hot pan, scraping up the good bits left on the bottom of the skillet. Cook on high until the volume of the liquid has reduced by 1/2, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and stir. When the chicken stock comes to a boil, pour the braising liquid over the chicken thighs.

Braising the chicken thighs. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. Braise the chicken until the thighs reach an internal temperature of 185°, about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove the chicken thighs from the braising liquid and set aside.

Reducing the sauce. Strain the braising liquid of the shallots and thyme. Pour the strained sauce into a large saucepan, set on high heat. Boil the sauce until it is reduced in volume by 1/2, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the butter and stir it into the sauce. When the butter is fully emulsified in the sauce, you’re ready to eat.

Put 2 of the thighs onto each person’s plate and drizzle some of the apple cider sauce on top. We ate ours with with a mix of black rice and quinoa, plus brussels sprouts sauteed with pancetta. You can eat yours any way you wish.

Feeds 4.

14 comments on “apples into cider

  1. Cari

    Three brothers and their families and an adult niece and nephew in the eye of it all. You bet I have been watching the news and trying to stay in touch. The destruction is unimaginable, and the unrecoverable loss of lives. It is hard to think of anything else but if I had to, this would be it. Apple Cider. We are blessed here to have a lively crop of apples, even my bees forage off the early spring apple tree blossoms. I can’t even remember when it started but all my day end, every single night, in bed with my hands clutched around my favorite mug full of pipping hot cider. It could be 100 degrees or 30 below, doesn’t matter, that is how I end my day. For a short few months in the summer when I can’t get my hands on the real deal I settle of Simply Apple or better some hot cranberry juice. We know too many people directly impacted by Sandy and her wrath. Thanks for weaving it into your writing today.

  2. Connie

    A story like this would warm the heart and give hope to those who might not see life as ever being warm and cozy again. Community has no boundaries.

  3. ExpectsMiracles

    Sometimes it is nice to read about something other than the storm. This post captures a heartwarming community event, complete with a matter-of-fact sense of normacy. Thank you. And I can almost smell the cider from here.

  4. Sam

    Those braised chicken thighs drenched in cider look delicious, perfect with some organic roast potatoes on a winters day.

  5. Sara at The Cozy Herbivore

    In the middle of the worst of the hurricane, while the winds rattled our windows and pummeled the giant oak tree right against our building, I had this sudden impulse to cook. I was thoroughly freaked out, but somehow roasting a big sheet tray of root vegetables and making rice soothed me, the actions of cooking and providing for our holed-up little household held the storm at bay for a little while. You’re so right about the universality of preparing food: my Twitter feed also filled up with people baking and pickling and snuggling in with their comfort foods.

    Thankfully we didn’t sustain any major damage, but many friends and neighbors weren’t so lucky. Thank you for your kind words, and believe me, it helps to know that people are still gathering in their communities for events like cider-pressing. Something to look forward to for sure.

  6. Beth @ Tasty Yummies

    Thank you for such a lovely, from the heart, post Shauna. Everything going on out here on the east coast is just devastating, we are over 6 hours from the city, but we have a lot of family and friends there and I too was online refreshing, checking, texting, tweeting, making sure everyone was accounted for. I too noticed the hunkering down with food, drinks and loved ones. It seems even in the worst of times, a delicious and comforting treat is what we yearn for.
    Thanks for taking the time to acknowledge all of this and for all you do, Shauna.

  7. Susan

    I have been feeling like you Shauna. It has been a sense of guilt that our weather here in NM is crisp and clear, which I didn’t want to share with my mother and sister while they are recovering from the unimaginable. I spent most of my growing up years in NJ by the shore, and it is so heartbreaking. Humans are resilent though and the tough spirit of NJ folks and NY folks will see them through.

  8. claudia

    So beautiful I cried. Really. I’m here in India, in the home town of the Dalai Lama, and reports on Sandy have been minimal. Thanks for sharing doesn’t begin to cover it.

  9. zebe

    I have been thinking a lot about the people displaced by the storm who have food allergies & will get even more sick by eating the food that might be served en mass at the shelters. While any nutrition is better than no nutrition for most, there are definitely those who will end up with a medical disaster on top of the physical one if they don’t have access to safe foods. It really makes me wonder what they do and how it affects the choices they make during these times.

  10. Linda from Wales, UK

    It’s communal activities like this that make a community and bind the people together.

  11. Rebecca

    I have lurked for a long time now, but I tried this recipe and it was SO delicious I had to come back and urge people to make it. You won’t be sorry.