October 30, 2011


Wood family has been making boiled cider since 1882 (Melissa Pasanen, 10/28/11, Burlington Free Press)

To make boiled cider, the fresh cider is boiled down to a concentration ranging between seven and nine to one for a pourable product with a consistency slightly thicker than maple syrup, but less thick than molasses, Willis continued. It can then be cooked further to a concentration that will jell when cooled, resulting in a spreadable cider jelly.

Both products contain nothing but apples, which have plenty of natural sugar and pectin. The high levels of sugar and acid help preserve the boiled cider and jelly, Willis said, although in modern times they are generally refrigerated upon opening.

Boiled cider was used as a locally grown sweetener in the Northeast and reconstituted with water into a beverage. Back at the turn of the twentieth century, Willis said, "Even though there were only 1,500 people in this small town, there were three people making jelly and there were big factories making it in Brattleboro and Bennington." All the ads for copper evaporators of that time, Willis said, claimed they were good for maple syrup and cider jelly. "It's sort of like dinosaurs, it was everywhere and then it disappeared."

In recognition of the dying art of boiled cider, the product and the Woods have earned a berth in Slow Food USA's Ark of Taste as an endangered regional food tradition worth saving.

"Today, boiled cider is relatively little known except as a cultural artifact, and is certainly under appreciated, even in its traditional homeland of New England," reads the entry for boiled cider on Slow Food's website. "The chief exponents and marketers of boiled cider for many years have been Willis and Tina Wood, who operate a seventh-generation family farm in Springfield, Vermont. More than anyone else, the Woods have kept the tradition of boiled cider (and cider jelly) alive in New England."

When Willis and Tina arrived in Weathersfield in 1970, they took over from an 82-year-old bachelor cousin whose name was Augustus Aldrich. He and his cider jelly had been featured in a 1963 edition of Vermont Life magazine. "It was still a very 19th century place," Willis said.

The Woods have updated the process, particularly through the use of electricity to run the production line, from the power washer to the grinder and the press. They still use some antique equipment and a wood-fired evaporator in which the arch does double-duty for sugaring, but the pans are different.

Their two grown children come and help out with the season. Marina Wood-McNaughton, 33, lives with her family just down the road. Her brother, Josh Wood, 36, comes a little bit further from his home in Guatemala.

As Marina and Josh filled clear glass pint bottles with warm boiled cider, they reflected on growing up with boiled cider.

"My memories tend to be of doing homework late at night, falling asleep on a sheepskin behind the arch," Marina said.

"I think of coming home from school and running up to see what was going on in the cider house and drinking straight from the tank," Josh said.

An average cider-pressing and boiling day begins at 8 a.m. starting the fire in the arch and ends between 4 and 6 p.m. Unlike sugaring season, Willis said, you don't keep the evaporator going non-stop, but clean it out every night. Also, compared to maple, "We're more in control of our destiny," he said, and not dependent on the weather waiting for the main ingredient to flow.

In the case of boiled cider, the ingredient arrives daily in the form of a truckload of apples from various local orchards including Wellwood Orchards just down the road, JRJ in North Springfield and Saxton's River Orchard. Varieties don't hugely matter although, when the end-result will be jelly, the Woods go for a higher proportion of Macs. "They jell really well," Willis said.

Depending on the kinds of apples and the year's weather, the daily truckload (225 bushels) of apples becomes 700 gallons of cider which, in turn, yields 600 pints of boiled cider. The cider is pressed in three batches in the huge wooden rack and cloth, twin screw ratchet press made by Empire Pulley and Press Company in Fulton, N.Y.

Dating from the 1880s, it is the same press Willis helped run by hand when he visited the family farm in his teenage and college years. It now runs on electricity and the Woods believe it may be the last press of its kind in use. Each batch takes about two to two and a half hours from set-up to the final drip-off, Willis said. New hydraulic presses work faster. "This is slower," he said, "and some people think, better."

Posted by at October 30, 2011 9:45 AM

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