Cider is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented juice of apples. Apple orchards were first established by the Romans, however it was the Normans who introduced actual cider making to the British Isles. Cider continues to be produced on a large scale in Normandy, where the apple brandy Calvados is also distilled. Varieties of cider are popular in many parts of the world and sales of the drink have enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, with an updated image and trends such as drinking cider over ice.
In the UK, the West Country is the region most associated with cider making, particularly the usually flat, strong traditional cider, scrumpy.
When used during cooking cider is most often paired with meat, particularly pork, and also various fruits.
Cider vinegar is also commonly found in larger supermarkets and is praised for its health giving properties. It can be used as a salad dressing, though the taste is a lot stronger than wine vinegar and so it is often reserved for pickling fruits.
Cider is available throughout the year but the connoisseur will look forward to late spring when the new season's cider usually goes on sale.
Choose the best
Most often, when cooking, dry cider is recommended. This simply means all the natural sugar has been fermented out and you are left with an alcoholic, often clear liquid. Be aware though that distillers add sugar to many commercial ciders (which still sometimes carry the 'dry' tag) and these may not be suitable for the recipes you are following.
Aa a general rule, if you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it. Cheap, commercial 'white' ciders are not suitable for cooking. Single varietal ciders have their own distinctive flavours - try a few to find your favourite. In general, it's best to choose a medium-strength cider (around 6-7% ABV) for cooking as very alcoholic ciders can overpower your dish. Check the label to ensure the cider has a high fruit content and does not contain artificial flavourings.
Perry (pear cider) is also used in some recipes, particularly desserts such as poached pears, as it generally has a sweeter taste than cider.
Store in a cool, dry place and use before the expiry date. Cider that has gone flat can usually still be used in cooking.
Quantities and varieties of cider used when cooking will vary from recipe to recipe, so always check carefully what you will need. Most often you will find you will use cider for braising meat, in sauces and gravy or for pickling fruit. Mulled cider, a warming treat for Bonfire Night or Christmas, is made in much the same way as mulled wine and is best made using a dry, still farmhouse cider.