Apples and cider seem to sum up autumn in New England. Bursting with color and flavor, they are doubly precious because they represent the end of the harvest. Winter is coming, and we all know it, but in the meantime we savor the season and its fruit as much as we can.
Last year an ill-time frost made apples scarce here in Massachusetts. This year nature is making up for last year’s dearth with more apples than I can remember seeing in any single fall. An odd tree in my front yard that has never before produced ANYTHING suddenly droops with yellow-pink orbs.
Knowing that I love to make applesauce from a variety of apples, several of my neighbors have invited me to gather fruit from their trees as well as my own. I know that one tree down the road has Gravensteins. Another offers an abundance of Golden Delicious apples. The other trees are mysteries to me. Their fruits vary in color from yellow to such a deep red that the flesh as well as the skin of the apple is imbued with pigment. I don’t care what they’re all called. I just know that I love them!
On Saturday, the actual Columbus Day, the Coopers over on Strawberry Hill here in Hawley hosted their annual cider party. Paul Cooper hauled out his antique cider press, we all brought apples and jugs, and everyone who wanted to went home with fresh-pressed cider. (We also had an opportunity to catch up with neighbors and eat delicious food, but the cider was the main event!)
This cider is amazingly aromatic, with a deep, rich color that seems even darker than the pretty terrific cider I frequently purchase at local orchards. I am unable to tell you how my own jug of cider tastes; I popped it into the freezer in anticipation of a visit from my brother and his family next weekend. (I’m SUCH a good sister and aunt!)
I can’t really give you a recipe for cider, which just involves pressing apples until they release their lovely juice. (The press looks like a medieval instrument of torture, but it works!) So I’m sharing the recipe for the cookies I brought to Leslie and Paul Cooper’s party, snickerdoodles. Their cinnamony goodness is an ideal accompaniment to fresh-pressed cider.
The recipe came originally from Maureen Schaden-Foster, whose family runs the End of the Commons General Store in Mesopotamia, Ohio. Amish families drive up to the store in buggies to buy nourishing basics, and the store also delivers to several hundred Amish families nearby.
It’s one of the very few cookie recipes I make that call for vegetable shortening instead of butter. You’re welcome to try making it with butter, but I have to warn you that only shortening gives you the dreamy, melt-in-your-mouth consistency a snickerdoodle should have.
Speaking of that consistency, please note that you should really eat these cookies within 24 hours. After that they get a little stale and lose some of their appeal.
So haul out the cider and invite friends over to enjoy this bittersweet season with you.
2-3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup shortening, softened
1-1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. Cream the shortening, and cream in the 1-1/2 cups sugar. Add the eggs and beat well. Gradually stir the flour mixture into the shortening mixture. Chill the dough for at least 2 hours. (It will have pastry-like consistency; pat it together a bit before chilling.)
When the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the 2 tablespoons of sugar with the cinnamon in a small, shallow dish or bowl. Shape the dough into balls the size of walnuts, and roll each ball in the sugar-cinnamon mixture. Bake on ungreased cookie sheets for 8 to 10 minutes. The cookies should be lightly browned but still soft.
Yield: About 4 dozen snickerdoodles.