A soup for cider time: In honor of Cider Days this weekend, a Honeynut Squash Soup that features cider and apples
|Published: 10-31-2023 12:05 PM
Most New Englanders see late October and early November as a time for winding down from summer and harvest activities. The leaves dwindle, the air takes on a distinct chill, and farm stands begin closing their doors.
For cider lovers, however, this season is the highlight of the year.
Here in Franklin County, we are lucky to have a weekend devoted to the joys of apples and cider, a weekend that seems to become richer each year.
November 3 through 5 will mark the annual occurrence of Cider Days. This celebration was founded by the Maloneys of West County Cider in 1994.
The weekend is part of a regional renaissance for hard cider, although it celebrates apples in general and sweet cider as well.
In colonial days, New Englanders drank a lot of hard cider. Water from wells wasn’t always reliable before testing became possible; well water sometimes contained harmful bacteria.
Cider, which could be made at the end of the harvest and would last for months, was pressed and bottled at just about every farmhouse, and it was safe to drink. Children even consumed a slightly less alcoholic version of the beverage called ciderkin.
This weekend we all get a chance to celebrate that heritage … and to explore the many different types of cider made today.
This year’s Cider Days festivities include open houses and more at local orchards, farms and shops. The events are generally free, although you may want to go home with some cider.
This weekend I plan to return to Headwater Cider on Forget Road here in Hawley to sell cookbooks. I’ll also sample the ciders and agricultural products that will be for sale there.
Headwater’s cider maker (and apple picker) Peter Mitchell brought Cider Days to Hawley in a big way last year for the first time. He rented a tent and invited many of his colleagues to distribute tastes and sell their wares.
Hawley is technically a dry town, but Peter has a permit to hand out small samples and sell sealed bottles.
That first weekend in November of 2022 brought more people to Hawley than I have seen since the town celebrated its bicentennial 30 years earlier.
They were not all locals. Quite a number drove over from the Boston area. I even sold a cookbook to a young woman who lived in the District of Columbia.
When the deadline for this article arrived, Peter had recruited at least four cider makers to come to Headwater. He also expects Hawley’s own Billingsbrook Farm (with jams, jellies, baked goods and cutting boards) and Meadowsweet Dairy (with its delicious dairy products).
Grace Hill Farm from Cummington will be on hand as well to sell cheese, and Eric Lewandowski will display his apple-themed posters and prints.
Peter bills the event, which will take place on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., as “a small farm festival.” It’s a large farm festival for Hawley. I hope readers can venture to Headwater this weekend, as well as to some of the other venues on the Cider Days trail.
I’m tickled that West County Cider is having an oyster-truck pop up on Saturday from 11:30 to 5:30. The combination of oysters and cider sounds like New England heaven.
Last year the weather cooperated over Cider Days. Saturday in particular was warm and sunny. This year’s festivities will take place even if we get rain or even snow, as we have in the past. Cider lovers are hardy folk.
For a full listing of Cider Days events, visit https://ciderdays.org/venues.
Meanwhile, enjoy this warm soup featuring apples and cider.
During a long-ago fall I was featured on the program “Making It Here.” The producer wanted me to cook something seasonal and serve it to neighbors on camera. I decided on a butternut-squash soup, which was a hit. (Actually, I think its cider-cream reduction would be a hit in just about any soup.) I made it last week again with honeynut squash, which was what my farmer friend Ed Hazel had available. I love honeynut squash; they’re tiny, sweet, and very manageable.
The skin is edible if you eat the squash straight from the oven, but I thought it would be hard to pulverize the skin, which the heat had rendered crunchy. So I scooped the squash out of the skin after I baked it. (I did snack on a few morsels of skin.)
This recipe could be rendered vegan if one were to sauté the vegetables in olive oil instead of butter and eschew the cream. I’m not sure I could bring myself to do the latter, however.
If you want to minimize work, you may make the soup but not the reduction the day before you want to serve it, and reheat the soup while you’re reducing the cider and the cream.
2 to 3 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 large onions, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 medium apples (fairly solid ones for cooking), cored, peeled, and roughly chopped
3 cups roasted butternut or honeynut squash puree (to roast it, scoop or cut out the seeds; rub the squash with olive oil, salt and pepper; and roast it at 425 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until it browns a little and softens)
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon (at least) freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional; it gives the soup a little kick, but be careful not to use more, or it will dominate the flavor)
3/4 teaspoon salt
lots of freshly ground pepper
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups hard cider
2 cups heavy cream
In a 6-quart Dutch oven melt the butter. When it begins to talk to you, sauté the onions and garlic until they are soft (about 5 minutes).
Add the apple pieces, and sauté until they are moistened, about 2 minutes.
Stir in the squash, followed by the syrup, nutmeg, cayenne, salt and pepper. Stir for a minute or two, taking care to keep the mixture from burning; then stir in the stock.
Bring the soup to a boil. Cover it about 7/8 of the way, and turn it down.
Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat, and puree it with an immersion blender. You may also use a blender or food processor, but be very careful to process this hot soup in batches.
In a skillet over medium-high heat reduce the cider in half. (This takes only a few minutes.) Add the cream and reduce in half again, whisking (again quite a short process).
You then have a choice. You may either stir the cider/cream reduction into the soup and serve it or put the reduction into a pitcher and let your guests drizzle it into the soup at the table.
Tinky Weisblat is an award-winning cookbook author and singer known as the Diva of Deliciousness. Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.