I mean, sure, we have a few short weeks when you finally, after months and months of oppressive heat, feel like "Ahhhhh! Fall has arrived." The air is a little bit crisper in the morning, we can open our windows at night, and there is even an occasional glimpse of a modified harvest moon (we don't really harvest much here, so it feels odd to give the moon the full harvest credit.)
But no leaves turning spectacular jewel tones. No sweater weather. No roadside stands featuring bushels of freshly picked local McIntosh apples, stacks of pumpkins, and funny-looking gourds.
So when Eric asked me what I would like to do when we traveled to Vermont last week to visit his parents, I replied "Fall-ish stuff." Somehow, this was enough of a response for him to come up with some ideas--after eight years of marriage, he has learned to speak semi-fluent "Julie."
The first part of the plan was to go to a local orchard and pick our own apples. Fall-ish? Check.
The orchard was quintessential small-town New England, complete with handmade signs and a little shop that sold apple pies, turnovers, and various Vermont souvenirs. You did have the option of purchasing already picked apples inside the shop, but c'mon, what fun would that be?
So, we geared up with a fancy-schmancy apple picking device, which was a huge relief for me since I was wearing my too-tight-to-climb-a-tree jeans, and the results wouldn't have been pretty. Funny maybe, but not pretty.
I made Eric model the apple picker for my blog. That's his GQ pose right there.
Next on our agenda: Making our own apple cider using an old-fashioned cider press that Eric's parents happened to have. How fun does that sound? And fall-ish?? Is the Pope Catholic??
The process involved placing a few cleaned apples at a time into the top of the press and then crushing them into the bucket below by turning the handle, which took quite a bit of effort when full.
You can see my technique below.....
Now you can see Eric's technique......
While Eric and I exhausted ourselves with the churning and pressing, his mom's sheep watched us with increasing curiosity, and his dad was nice enough to serenade us with his mad fiddlin' skills.
He's really quite talented, especially since he's only been playing for a few years. In fact, in my opinion, if the Zac Brown Band is ever one man down, I think that Bob Hession would be the perfect candidate to fill in.
All in all, I think that we ended up making about 3-4 gallons (maybe more--can't really remember) of cider that day. And wow! Was it fantastic! Store bought apple juice has absolutely nothing on fresh, unfiltered apple cider from the local orchard.
Here you can see Eric enjoying the results of our hard work........and the sheep enjoying the leftover apple mush. No wonder they were so interested in what we were doing.
Unfortunately, we didn't get to bring any cider home to Las Vegas with us, thanks to that no-liquids-in-your-carry-on rule, but it was still great to have the whole fall-ish experience during our stay. After we came home, I still had cider on the brain, so I wanted to create a recipe that somehow incorporated it as well as apples.
I decided to play around with an apple pancake idea, grating lots of fresh tart apples into the batter along with some traditional apple-pie spices. Then for the syrup, I experimented with reducing apple cider to thicken it and concentrate the flavor, then mixing it with equal amounts of maple syrup. I was pretty darn pleased with my results -- the tartness of the reduced cider paired addictively with the super-sweet Vermont maple syrup.
Eric hardly ever eats breakfast, and he had four pancakes. I think that this recipe is a keeper 🙂
Here are a few extra tips for making this autumn in Vermont-inspired breakfast:
- You can peel the apples for the pancakes if desired, but it's really not necessary, so why bother yourself with the extra work?? Besides, the apple peel contains lots of nutritious fiber!
- For this recipe, I used one Honeycrisp apple and one Granny Smith apple, which ended up being a yummy combination.
- The cider syrup can be prepared several days in advance, covered, and chilled until ready to use.
- For variations on this recipe, you can add some chopped toasted walnuts or pecans to the pancake batter, or you could stir in some chopped dried cranberries or raisins.
- If you are serving a crowd at once, keep the batches of pancakes warm by placing them on a sheet tray in a 250F degree oven until ready to serve.
Makes about 12 medium-sized pancakes
2 cups fresh apple cider (not from concentrate)
Cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, star anise (optional)
½ cup pure maple syrup
1 cup flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup light brown sugar, loosely packed
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
2 medium tart apples, coarsely grated (peeling is optional)
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Butter for frying the pancakes
Prepare the cider syrup: Place the apple cider in a medium saucepan. Add any of the following to spice the cider (optional): 2 cinnamon sticks, 5 whole cloves, 1 star anise. Bring the cider to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat and allow the cider to simmer, stirring occasionally, until it has thickened slightly and reduced to about ½ cup (20-30 minutes.) Remove the spices with a slotted spoon, and stir in the maple syrup. Set the mixture over low heat to keep warm.
Prepare the pancakes: In a large bowl, whisk together both flours, the sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Gently squeeze some of the juice out of the grated apples, then add them to the flour mixture, tossing to coat.
In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and mix until combined.
Place a large skillet or a griddle over medium heat and coat it with a thin layer of the butter. Using a small ice cream scoop or a spoon, drop the batter in about 3 tablespoon portions onto the skillet, flattening them out a bit with the back of the spoon.
Cook the pancakes until they are golden brown on one side, about 2 minutes. Carefully flip the pancakes and cook them for another 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown on both sides. Repeat with the remaining batter.
Serve immediately, drizzled with the ridiculously yummy cider syrup!