January 23, 2018

Ciders in slow-cookers: How to survive winter

Hot cider is a true pleasure during the coldest months of the year, offering both warmth and a great mix of seasonal flavors. Students at Colorado culinary schools can feature this hearty beverage on their winter menus, both to accompany a variety of dishes and as a standalone drink before or after a meal. Let’s look at the history of cider and some great slow-cooker recipes for making this delicious drink.

What is the history of cider?

Cider is an exceptionally old drink, with various forms of the beverage dating back thousands of years, according to Smithsonian magazine. Specifically, the alcoholic version of cider dates back as far as 55 B.C., when Romans first reached what is now the United Kingdom. Local residents had already developed a process for fermenting apple juice and turning it into a potent and tasty beverage.

It’s worth noting that many varieties of apples didn’t have a flavor profile that encouraged eating them directly off the tree for many years. Instead, they had to be processed in some form before they were consumed. Cider’s alcoholic component and the positive change in taste that comes with fermentation likely had a lot to do with the beverage’s early popularity, turning something barely edible into a popular and valuable drink.

Additionally, with the primitive state of sanitation for much of human history in mind, the fermentation process and alcoholic content of cider served a far more important purpose than intoxicating effects: a safe source of hydration for the people drinking it. Now, without the need to make beer, mead, cider and similar drinks as sources of potable water, cider is far more of a treat for a special occasion.

Closeup of three people holding glasses of cider.There are many variations of cider you can put to work in your restaurant.

Great slow cooker cider recipes

An understanding of cider’s past can help you create a great version of this beverage for your restaurant or choose the recipe that best suits the flavors of your current dishes. Historic cider is clearer in pigment and far less sweet than the modern, non-alcoholic type seen at grocery stores and similar locations, but there is room for many variations in modern restaurants. Consider these examples, which all use a slow cooker to release the flavors of the ingredients and create a more complex and rich character.

Mulled cider

This classic example from The Kitchn, using traditional mulled cider ingredients without any major additions, is especially versatile. Made without any alcohol in the base recipe, it’s easy to add whiskey or similar spirits if desired. It’s also a simple affair to experiment with adding ingredients that can help you personalize the recipe and tailor it for your restaurant’s needs.

The foundational flavors included in the recipe are orange, ginger, cinnamon sticks, cloves and fresh cider or unfiltered apple juice. It’s a simple process of combining the ingredients, with the most time-consuming step being the four hours the mixture needs to spend on the slow cooker’s low setting before serving.

From-scratch cider

The Recipe Critic shared two versions of the same cider recipe, depending on whether you want to make your own cider from scratch – using a quick, non-fermenting method – or use a store-bought product. With a standard slow cooker process to meld the ingredients together, the value of this recipe is a base to make a quick but entirely homemade cider.

Additional spices … and brandy

Serious Eats offered a spiced mulled cider that includes cinnamon, cloves, cardamom seeds, coriander, star anise as well as the optional addition of lemon and lemon zest, nutmeg and brandy. Easily served as both a hard and soft cider, the extra spices offer a unique flavor that you can experiment with to perfect your own recipe.