The first crush of grapes is the sign that wine making is about to begin. Whether done by modern techniques or the ancient method of grape stomping, which a few wineries still use, the skin of the grape often is broken in the midst of rituals and blessings. Cider may have humbler beginnings, but I look forward to the first crush of apples with the same excitement.
Since the cider has been flowing for a while, enjoy this punch as an alternative to the hot, cinnamon-infused variety you may have been enjoying since the season began. Serve it chilled and enjoy the warmth that comes from aromatic vanilla, molasses, and black peppercorn, which approximate flavors found in rum. Those who imbibe will appreciate the taste, and those who prefer a nonalcoholic option won’t have to sacrifice sophisticated flavor, making this a festive drink for entertaining. After the guests are gone, pour another glass or two for cozy sipping.
½ gallon apple cider
2 Bosc pears
10 black peppercorns
1 teaspoon blackstrap molasses
1 vanilla bean
Unlike traditional, hot cider, a chilled drink matches the crispness of the season and goes down even smoother. If you made my recipe for poached pears, think of this as the drinkable version.
First, remove the stems from the pears and peel them. Bosc pears are surprisingly juicy and tender, and dividing them into pieces will help to release even more of that juice. Cut each pear into quarters, remove and discard the seeds, and add the pieces to a pot. Pour in the apple cider.
Split and scrape the vanilla bean, adding the scrapings and pod to the pot. The scent will become even stronger as the bits of vanilla bean warm up and begin to play with the other ingredients. Add the peppercorns and molasses.
Bring the cider mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer over medium-low heat. Cover and cook for 20 minutes so that the ingredients have time to infuse the cider and meld. After 20 minutes, uncover the cider and remove it from the heat. Allow it to come to room temperature.
Once cool, strain the pear quarters and peppercorns from the cider. Chill in the refrigerator. Serve over ice if desired.