“Let me send you a sample,” Tina Woods said when I first talked to her a few decades ago. I was writing an article about New England’s gourmet food industry for a trade publication, and I’d somehow stumbled on Wood’s Cider Mill in Springfield, Vermont, a small, family run business specializing in boiled cider and boiled cider jelly- products I’d never known existed, let alone tasted.
The jelly arrived a few days later. Looking at the label (see photo), I knew this product would never win a packaging award. Then I tasted the jelly. Tart, but not too tart, it was unlike any other jelly I’d ever had. I tried it on toast, on bagels, even on my favorite Irish soda bread. It was definitely love at first taste.
Like so many regional products, boiled cider has a long and interesting history. Early references date to the 17th century. Then- as now-New England farmers grew a lot of apples, and while apples are good “keepers,” they don’t last indefinitely. To avoid spoilage, growers used part of the harvest to make apple cider and apple cider vinegar, products with a much longer shelf life than fresh apples. In addition, growers made boiled cider, and from boiled cider, they made boiled cider jelly.
As an article posted on the Slow Food USA blog “Ark of Taste” explains, boiled cider is made “…from the concentration/reduction of fresh, unfermented cider.” Continue the reduction process, and you wind up with boiled cider jelly. Boiled cider has one-seventh the volume of the original cider, the jelly about one-ninth. Boiled cider can be diluted with hot water and used as a beverage. Undiluted, it can be used as a topping or as an ingredient in a variety of dishes. The Woods also make maple syrup and a cider syrup that’s a blend of boiled cider and maple syrup.
Pectin, a natural substance that causes jams and jellies to set or ‘”gell,” is routinely added to preserves made with fruits-like strawberries and raspberries-that have insufficient pectin. Apples have a naturally high pectin content, so boiled cider jelly is truly a single ingredient product. Woods Cider Mill and Cold Hollow Cider Mill, which is also in Vermont, seem to be the only companies producing sufficient quantities of boiled cider products to market them commercially.
Willis Wood’s ancestors bought the family farm in Springfield, Vermont in 1798. In 1882, they purchased a cider press from the Empire State Press Company, converted their saw mill into a cider mill, and began making cider. The mill was powered by water until 1910 when it was motorized.
Once the apples are harvested, they’re brought to the mill, placed on the conveyor belt, washed, chopped and dropped into the grinder. The ground apples are pressed to make cider, which is then transferred to the wood-fired evaporator. At harvest time, the Woods process 60 bushels for each pressing and average three pressings a day. Each bushel makes approximately three gallons of cider.
Paul and Gayle Brown have owned the Cold Hollow Cider Mill for 13 years, although the mill has been in operation since 1974. Visitors are welcome; in fact there’s both a gift shop and an on-site luncheonette.
Kaufmann- Mercantile, an online store based in Brooklyn, New York, sells Wood’s cinnamon cider syrup and boiled cider jelly, along with a lot of other interesting products I can’t wait to try.
The following recipe is adapted from a recipe developed by Wood’s Cider Mill.
Pre-heat oven to 325-degrees
1 ½ sticks butter
½ cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
¼ cup cider jelly
- Cream butter and sugar.
- Beat in yolks and vanilla.
- Gradually work in flour.
- Shape into 1-inch balls
- Place on ungreased baking sheet.
- With a floured thimble or thumb, press a hole into each ball and fill with jelly.
- 7. Bake at 325 for 25 minutes.
Wood’s Cider Mill
1482 Weathersfield Center Road
Springfield, Vermont 05156
Cold Hollow Cider Mill
3600 Waterbury-Stowe Road, Route 100
Waterbury Center, Vermont 05677