During the holidays, and always, it's nice to arrive to a place you've been invited to with a little something extra for your host. It should be known that I don't always manage to follow my own advice with this one, but I do try, I promise. It should also be known that I refuse to call these little tokens hostess gifts. The name is so old-fashioned that it should be scratched right out of Webster's. You have my permission to deface your dictionary.
This gift takes a little more planning and time than the mulling spices that I put together last year, but the result is delicious and inspired, and dare I say, better. Reserve this one for someone really special.
The concept behind boiled apple cider syrup is about as simple as it sounds. Boil your apple cider down until it becomes thick and syrupy. You'll need a few solid hours at home to make a batch, but the good news is that the simmering cider can be left largely unattended. If you put on a pot when you return home from work in the evening, it should be ready by the time you head off to bed, with only a few stirs in between.
Once my cider had thickened to syrup, I strained it through a sieve to trap any solid pieces. A tiny funnel helped me to fill a small glass bottle that I'd sterilized in a pot of boiling water.
Aside from the robust taste, the best part about this gift (in the eyes of this history-lover at least) is boiled apple cider syrup's place in the annals of history. Emily Horton's piece on the subject is a delightful and quick read. Make this and you'll have done your part to revive a classic American culinary tradition (go Pats)!
Once you've bottled your syrup, make a little tag for your bottle and tie it up with a bit of ribbon and a cinnamon stick for merry-making. Encourage your friends to drizzle this tart syrup into sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts, pie crust and hot toddies.
The stuff's so good that if you have a large enough pot, you might consider boiling down a whole gallon and keeping some for yourself. Kept refrigerated, the syrup could last until next Thanksgiving. I have a hunch it'll be polished off long before that.
Boiled Apple Cider Syrup
Recipe adapted from this one in the Washington Post.
1 1/2 gallon apple cider
1. Pour apple cider into a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Bring the cider to boil, stirring occasionally.
2. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook uncovered for 2-3 hours or until it has reduced to about 1 cup. Don't fear: it will take a long time for the cider to turn syrupy. I was convinced mine would just disappear rather than thicken, until finally, thicken it did. Persevere!
3. Once cider has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, pour through a sieve to strain any solid bits. (The original recipe didn't mention this step, but I had lots of little floating bits in mine and wanted them out)! Transfer syrup to a sterilized jar. Syrup is ready to use right away and will store indefinitely if refrigerated.